Eine “Kurzgeschichte”

von Sonja Nothdurfter-Grausgruber 2013


Settlers came from the hills to this mountainous region near Salzburg in the Neolithic to mine the copper found here. People had learned to work the malleable metal and its alloy bronze for use in tools and weapons, marking the beginning of the Bronze Age (1900 – 1250 BCE). There were people living around the Krimml in the Early Bronze Age. Close to the Salzach river on the natural plateau of the Falkenstein, approx. 2 km east of the present town centre, there was a settlement that dates back to 1600 BCE.

It consisted of sixteen huts and reached its greatest extent by the Middle Bronze Age. Even at that time, people had begun to cross the mountains to reach areas to the south. They chose the route over the Tauern mountains in Krimml past the Krimml Waterfalls and then further through the Achen and Windbach Valleys over the main ridge of the Alps and then down into the Ahrn Valley. The small Falkenstein plateau remained inhabited during the Urnfield Period of the Late Bronze Age (1250 - 750 BCE).

In this transitional phase from the Bronze Age to the Hallstatt Period of the Early Iron Age, the prehistoric copper mining in the Salzburg region gave way to salt and iron mining. Only isolated settlements remained across the whole of the local Upper Pinzgau district during this time. The people had abandoned the mountain settlement on the Falkenstein located between the present-day villages of Krimml and Wald in the Pinzgau.

Around 200 BCE, the Celtic kingdom of Noricum arose in the Eastern Alps (mostly modern-day Austria). One of the thirteen tribes of the Noricum, the Ambisonti, lived in the Pinzgau. However, the centre of its tribal territory was relatively far from Krimml, located in the fertile upper Saalach Valley near Saalfelden.

The mountainous region remained thinly populated, even when Noricum became a Roman province. While many Roman settlements were founded in the foothills of the Alps, thanks to the ease of transport, only isolated farms and agricultural settlements were found in the Upper Pinzgau during this period. The first major phase of the Bavarian takeover of what is now the Austrian state of Salzburg through the end of the 10th century CE included primarily the foothills of the Alps and the Salzburg and Saalfeld basins. Nevertheless, evidence of some early settlements in the Upper Pinzgau on the eastern bank of the Salzach Valley dating from the 9th century have been found.

It was only the intensive development at the end of the High Middle Ages which resulted from population growth that led larger numbers of people to move further into the mountains and Alpine valleys. In the Pinzgau, the Bavarian counts of Mittersill-Lechsgemünd, supported by free noble families like the Felber, organised the mass felling of the forests, creating farms on the newly cleared soil. The peasant farmers paid a share of their crops to their landlords as rent. Krimml is mentioned in writing for the first time in 1224, in a contract between the Lechsgemünds' house monastery at Kaisheim with the Archbishop of Salzburg for the purchase of a farm called "Chrvmbel". This farm at the end of the Salzach Valley gave its name to the settlement that arose there. As early as 1244, there was a church in the "Khrumbe", which now belonged to Salzburg after the acquisition of the Counties of Upper and Lower Pinzgau by Archbishop Eberhardt II in 1228. About a century later, archdiocesan records indicate that there were 12 houses in Krimml.

Even though not many people came to Krimml at the time, the small village was not far from two mountain passes. One could cross the Alps to Italy via the Krimml Tauern, although it was a rather steep and difficult crossing. The Gerlos Pass took travellers to the Ziller Valley. In the Late Middle Ages, the trades and merchants from the surrounding valleys used the trail over the Krimml Tauern to move wine and livestock. The peasants from the upper reaches of Salzach Valley and from the Ahrn Valley would bring their livestock to graze on the fertile mountain pastures of the Achen Valley in Krimml in the summers. The old tavern on the Achen, the Krimmler Tauernhaus, which was first mentioned in writing in 1389 as a stop for travellers and hunters passing through, was located at the westernmost Tauern crossing from Krimml to the Taufers in Tyrol.

Krimml was the westernmost parish in the Mittersill deanery of the territory under both the temporal and spiritual rule of the archbishop of Salzburg. Krimml parish was further divided into Oberkrimml and Unterkrimml (Upper and Lower Krimml), a division that survives to this day.

The archbishops lost temporal control under Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century, an even which brought several changes in ruler and profound political transformation to the region. When Bavarian and French troops occupied the territory of Salzburg after Austria declared war on Napoleon in 1809, the peasants of the Pongau and Pinzgau districts, supported by Tyrolean freedom fighters, resisted. Among the Salzburg commanders, Anton Wallner, a native of Krimml, distinguished himself with his bravery. Today, there is a monument to Anton Wallner in the centre of Krimml. The house where he was born has been listed. The freedom fighter has also lent his name to the local shooting club, a band, and a local brewery.

The establishment of the Crown Land of Salzburg in 1849-50 ended a difficult era when Salzburg had been lumped with the province of Upper Austria under Habsburg rule. At this time, the village of Krimml, like half a millennium before, consisted of only about 15 estates, farms, shops, and a few private houses. The farmers, who were only freed from serfdom in 1848, concentrated on the livestock industry and the production of milk and dairy products. The earnings from their labour, however, remained below average in comparison to that earned in all of the other Austrian crown lands. The labour-intensive livestock and dairy industry in the mountains required a lot of manpower and was therefore not competitive.

Even if the conditions in agriculture and trade were difficult, Krimml still experienced an economic upturn. A love for the mountains began to attract tourists to the Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in Europe, and the Hohen Tauern.

The waterfall area had already been developed by DuOeAV (German & Austrian Alpine Association) with bridges and vantage points in 1879. The Pinzgau local railway, which ran to Krimml until 1898, allowed many lovers of nature to come to the area. Guests from Austria and abroad found accommodation at the Gasthof zur Post, the Hotel Krimmlerhof, the Gasthof Hofer, the Gasthof Schönangerl, and the Krimmler Tauernhaus.
Finally, in 1899, the DuOeAV placed the custody of the waterfalls trails into the hands of its local Warnsdorf group, which had been founded in 1887 by Zittau-based thread wholesaler Friedrich E. Berger. The association than erected the Warnsdorf hut (2336 m) in the Achen Valley at Krimml in 1891, the Zittau hut (2328 m) in the Wildgerlos Valley in 1901, the Neugersdorf hut (2568 m) in the South Tyrolean section of the Zillertal Alps. Its deputy chairman Anton Richter privately built the Richter hut (2374 m) in the Rainbach Valley in 1897. All of this established a lively Alpine tourism trade in Krimml, which lasted until the First World War. Despite the severe disruption this caused to the social and economic life of Krimml, the town welcomed many wounded soldiers and war refugees during and after the First World War. In the years after the war, Krimml once again became a popular summer destination for fresh mountain air.
The world economic crisis in 1929-1933 and the thousand mark fee that the Nazi government began to levy in 1933 on anyone crossing over to Austria almost brought the tourism trade in Krimml to a standstill.

The end of the war and the invasion of American troops into the Salzburg region in May 1945 was both an act of liberation from the reign of terror and an act of occupation by foreign troops. For the people of Krimml, the difficult post-war years meant steady flows of refugee, black market trafficking across state borders, denazification, and the rebuilding of democracy and the economy.

The Brichah, an aid organisation which mainly provided assistance to Eastern European Jews who had survived the Holocaust and helped them escape to Palestine via Italy began to transport groups of refugees in convoys through the Achen Valley to the Krimmler Tauernhaus in 1947. There, innkeeper Lisl Geisler, who had continued to run the inn after the death of her husband, tried to help the aged, the sick, the weak, and children out of her own resources. In the summer of 1947, about 5,000 people crossed over to Italy via the Tauern mountains in Krimml. The Alpine Peace Crossing is still held every year in memory of those refugees who made the crossing then and raise funds for today's refugees who come to Austria seeking protection and asylum.

In the peaceful decades since Austria regained its independence in 1955, a lot has happened. Important events for Krimml included: the construction of the new Gerlos highway in 1963, receiving the European Nature Conservation Diploma for the waterfalls in 1967, and the creation of Hohe Tauern National Park in 1981, expanded from Krimml to Rauris three years later. Tourism remains the most important driver of Krimml's economy in both summer and winter. As early as 1963, the first towing lifts on the Filzsteinalm and the Plattekogel replaced the old cables to help skiers get to the top of the slopes. The connection of the Hochkrimml ski area to the Gerlos Pass with the Zillertal Arena 2003 was another important step for the growth of the area as a modern winter sports destination. In the warm season, the Krimml Waterfalls continue to draw visitors from all over the world. The uniqueness of this natural wonder has been further highlighted by research showing the beneficial effects, including the relief of allergic asthma, that come from spending time in the fine spray mist at the bottom of the waterfalls. WasserWunderWelten has been opened by Großglockner Hochalpenstraßen AG to tell about the benefits of water for a wide public.

But being an attractive tourism destination is not the same as a high quality of life for locals. The past three decades have seen the ability to live in this mountain town threatened by the successive closure of grocery stores, butchers, and bakers. Initiatives such as the establishment of the SEkO Center Krimml, a centre for the provision of local services, are helping to preserve this world-famous town at the end of the Salzach Valley, not only as a place for fun and relaxation, but also as a liveable and lovable place to call home.

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