Austrian city Hallstatt at the lake Hallstaettersee

Hallstatt is so famous, the Chinese copied it

Hallstatt/Austria (2010). – I still remember my very first visit to Hallstatt, the little old village at
the lake which carries the village's name, the Hallstaettersee. It was during my school years
and I was in my teens. The town where I went to school is not even 10 miles from Hallstatt.
I made many trips to Hallstatt, especially in summer when swimming in the lake with my friends
was so much more than just refreshing. One of my school mates lived at this time in this famous little jewel of the “Salzkammergut” – a region famous for its beautiful landscape with lots of mountains and lakes, belonging to Upper Austria. Even though I also come from a little village located at the bottom of a whole mountain range and was used to the "little village's charm",
I had never seen a place like this one. Houses built onto the mountain on one side and homes built so close to the lake that some parts of the houses seem to touch the water. Stairs wherever
you go, tiny houses, small alleys and very traditional people. I was incredibly fascinated then and after many decades I still am.  Just like all the tourists are who come with tour busses from far almost on a daily bases. It seems everybody wants to see the village, the lake and how the
barely 800 inhabitants live their daily lives in their very tight space. The salt mine village
Hallstatt became famous over the years, so famous that even the Chinese copied it.
Graves at the little cemetery in Hallstatt, Upper Austria, with view onto the lake Hallstaettersee
My friend’s home was located right on the lake shore. He never understood why I envied him so much for that luxury to have a lake as a playground and most of all a wooden boat. It was not just a boat it was a "Zille" a very old, long wooden boat, almost comparable to the gondolas in Venice. These special boats are used at the Hallstaettersee for hundreds of years. “Come on”, he used to say with a grin in his face, “it’s not that special; it's just a boat, a funny looking one but still just a boat. Everybody here has one.” He was right but for me, it was still special and not only because we could use it all summer long.

Settlers saw potential in Hallstatt - they came and stayed
In Hallstatt, people never had much space to build up their village. And it never was a secret that the lake and the mountains just left a tiny little plot of land to live on. But settlers many thousand (!) years ago did see in Hallstatt some potential. And they partitioned the little land between the steep mountains and the lake shore as best as they could; every little tiny square was converted to living space, right down to the shoreline. In fact, the space was so limited, there was not even enough room to build a road between the lake and the mountain. Hallstatt could only be reached by ship, boat or anything else which floated on the lake or via some very narrow trails. Also within the village, to access other houses, one had to use a boat or the “upper path”, a small corridor passing through the attics of a number of houses as the only possible “walkway”.

Seeing Hallstatt from the other side of the lake makes one still wonder even today, why people centuries ago were under the impression, it was a good idea to settle exactly there. Today this would be not so much of a problem, some dynamite and “boom” some free space. But then? So why did they settle in Hallstatt? The answer to that question I received in school in history class: the salt was the reason. Hallstatt’s rich salt history dates back thousands of years and explains the settlement. I guess not much has changed from then to today. Where work is, there are people and where people are there is a settlement. Also then it seems, people didn’t care so much to commute to work too far.

Hallstatt is a roughly 7.000-year-old village
Interesting to know is also the fact that this little Hallstatt gave its name to the early “Iron Age Hallstatt culture”. I remember learning in school about Hallstatt and its very rich history owed to the salt and about the great archaeological finds from this area. The oldest finding, by the way, is a “shoe-last celt”, dating back to around 5500 BC. That just gives an idea of how old Hallstatt truly is. “There was a Hallstatt before there was a Rome”, say people who should know about it. We’re talking about a roughly 7.000-year-old village!

Hallstatt claims also to have the oldest pipeline in the world. Supposedly constructed 400 years ago, made out of 13,000 hollowed out trees. With the help of this great invention, the Hallstatt salt mine workers were able to deliver the liquid salt from the mine to the 25 miles distant Ebensee, where the main salt production took place. Until today there is activity in the salt mine not only to gain the mineral we all need very much in our daily life but also to maintain a tourist attraction one just have to see and experience.

The picturesque village is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Speaking of tourists: today Hallstatt is a very popular tourist attraction, very well known worldwide. Maybe the name doesn’t come to one’s mind right away – even though the village is a UNESCO world heritage site – but certain views of the village – like the few from the lake or the from the cemetery onto the lake – seen on postcards, calendars or on TV, are very well known, especially by photographers.

Strolling through the old village requires quite “a bit” walking and climbing stairs. But it’s well worth it. Especially if one would like to see one of the tourist magnets of the village, the “bone house”, the ossuary. Since there is so little space also for the cemetery of the village, every ten years bones used to be exhumed and removed into the “bone house”, to make room for new burials. Until today it is possible to visit a room next to the church on top of the hill and see a collection of decorated skulls of former inhabitants. The owners’ names, professions and death dates are on most of these skulls artistically painted on.

Hallstatt is losing its inhabitants
Walking through the village and observing how people live their lives in Hallstatt stirs up a certain admiration. For sure it is not everybody’s desire to live in a very tight settlement, where generations hold onto their houses without having the opportunity to ever build a new bigger house or at least an addition to the house or have a bigger garden, a second garage or whatever one wants and would need. To walk hundreds of stairs every day, plus carrying shopping bags might give you a great work out and keeps you fit, but also seems to be “a bit” of an effort not everyone is up to. And most of all, only a few people have the luck to have work in their hometown in Hallstatt, the rest needs to commute, some of them even very far. No wonder that a lot of young people from Hallstatt rather move away. Also, no wonder that the inhabitants of Hallstatt become less every year. The last census showed that in 1981 Hallstatt had a population of 1.126 people, in 1991 a few more, 1.153 and in 2001 the number of inhabitants went down to only 946. About ten years later in 2012, not even 800 (794) people called Hallstatt their home. Tendency falling.

Chinese copied the beautiful village at the lake
How famous this little Austrian village truly is showed China in the past year. The “copy nation" reproduced Hallstatt! Unbelievable but true! In the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the Chinese duplicated Hallstatt in an unbelievable way. Now also China has a Hallstatt, without the mountains of course and the original size lake and most of all without the history, the flair, the tradition and the real life. Well, even though the Hallstatt copy might lack some important values, I’m sure the “Hallstatt made in China ” has what the original doesn’t have - enough space to expand.
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