|• Mayor||Herbert Pichler (ÖVP)|
|• Total||92 km2 (36 sq mi)|
|Elevation||712 m (2,336 ft)|
|Population (1 January 2014)|
|• Density||20/km2 (51/sq mi)|
|Time zone||CET (UTC+1)|
|• Summer (DST)||CEST (UTC+2)|
Altaussee is a municipality and spa town in the district of Liezen in Styria, Austria. The small village is nestled on the shores of the Lake Altaussee, beneath the Loser Plateau. Occupying an area of 92 km², Altaussee is home to 1,777 people. The municipality includes two cadastral communities: Altaussee and Lupitsch. The designated climatic spa is within the Salzkammergut region. Altaussee has the biggest salt deposits of Austria, which are still mined today.
The municipality is located in the small Ausseerland-Region within in the Styrian part of the Salzkammergut in the district of Liezen in Styria. Altaussee covers an area of 92.11 km ² and is located at 712 m above sea level on the western shore of Lake Altaussee on the southwestern edge of the Totes Gebirge. The community center is located in a valley, which is encircled by mountains. The most noticeable of these peaks are the Loser (1838 m) to the north, the Trisselwand (1755 m) to the east and the Sandling (1717 m) to the west. The highest mountain within the community area ist the Schoenberg (2093 m) close to the border with Upper Austria. Due to the alpine location and the strong share of the Totes Gebirge about half of the municipal area consists of alpine wasteland, the rest are forests, grasslands and other land forms.
The characteristic pale grey mountains which surround Altaussee are made of limestone, a carbonate rock. The age of these rocks are Triassic and Jurassic. The mountains themselves did not form until the Cenozoic, when immense forces between the colliding African and Eurasian plates caused the mountains to be uplifted. The limestones which make up the mountains are white to pale grey in colour, and formed relatively deep in the ancient Tethys ocean. Because the rocks formed so deep, fossils are rare. However, corals are reported from the lower slopes of Loser mountain.
Tectonics: a major tectonic fault line runs directly beneath the Lake Altaussee, approximately east-west, and terminates in the valley west of the Seewiese. The fault is seismically active, with small earthquakes common. On a hot, clear day in August 1998, a small earthquake on the fault (M=3) caught summer bathers by surprise with a low, rumbling sound and, a few minutes later, unusually high waves.
Evaporites: Large evaporite reserves are present in the Sandling mountain, and have been mined at least since 1147 for salt. Since the discovery of a Roman settling on the Sandling massif in the 1990s early rock salt mining is supposed to have been taken place there from 200-400 AD. The mines are still operational today, and salt is pumped - dissolved in water - to the market town of Ebensee. It is for this reason that Altaussee, and other local towns and villages such as Hallstatt, are now part of the Salzkammergut region. The evaporites formed as a result of a major period of marine lowstand, when the sea level was low and the sea dried out.
The oldest settlement on the ground of the modern village of Altaussee dates back to the Roman rule (200-400 AD). However, there is no historical continuity of a settlement before the Middle Ages. The salt mine on the ground of the modern village was first documented in 1147 AD, the village itself in 1265.
Around 1250 Philipp of Spanheim, the Archbishop-elect of Salzburg, occupied the Ausseerland and the Ennstal. For the coverage of his claim to power he built the small Pflindsberg castle on a hill east of the Altaussee village. He had to withdraw in 1254 and the region returned to Styria. In the following centuries the Pflindsberg castle developed into a regional seignory with the right to hold high justice. It was administered by an official of the styrian Landesfürst.
In the 19th century Altaussee evolved into a popular summer-resort. Especially writers and intellectuals, for example Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Jakob Wassermann, Theodor Herzl and Friedrich Torberg, spent their summer holidays in the small alpine village.
World War II
After the annexation of Austria into the German Third Reich in 1938 the entire Ausseerland region (a small region in Styria consisting of Bad Aussee, Grundlsee and Altaussee) was incorporated into the new administrative unit Reichsgau Oberdonau (Upper Austria). The autonomy of the municipalities Bad Aussee, Grundlsee and Altaussee was dissolved and one single Bürgermeisterei (mayoralty) was established in Bad Aussee. The municipal offices of Altaussee and Grundlsee were henceforth field offices of Bad Aussee. The 29 country residences in possession of Jewish families were aryanized. In the following time the community attracted many top Nazis who inhabited these aryanized country estates. For example three Nazi Gauleiter regularly spent their holidays in Altaussee: August Eigruber, Konrad Henlein and Hugo Jury. The Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels spent his holidays in an "aryanized" country residence at the neighbouring Grundlsee.
As of spring 1944, there was a permanent shelter for Wehrmacht deserters, draft dodgers and resisters hidden in the rough terrain of the Totes Gebirge north of the village. This hideout called Igel (hedgehog), was provided with food by trusted third parties in the population. At the end of the war the Igel sheltered 35 people.
The Ausseerland region was part of the so-called Alpine fortress. It is for this reason, why 1944/45 it became a last refuge for Nazi party, government and army staffs. Also entire pro-fascist governments that had been used by the Nazis in the Balkans took refuge in the region. As of the end of the war, nine pro-Nazi governments in exile from Eastern Europe stayed in Altaussee. Günther Altenburg for example served as head the Department of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria and Romania in Altaussee, where he oversaw the Germany-impaired exiled governments of Bulgaria and Romania (see also: Bulgarian government-in-exile). Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the SS-Reichssicherheitshauptamt, moved his headquarters from Berlin to the Villa Kerry in Altaussee in late April 1945. From here, with the help of Wilhelm Höttl, he was trying to contact the Western Allies to reach a separate peace. At the end of the war several high Nazi and SS officials, some central individuals responsible for the Holocaust, like August Eigruber, Hugo Jury, Adolf Eichmann, Franz Stangl (commandant of the Sobibor and Treblinka extermination camps) and Anton Burger (Commandant of Theresienstadt concentration camp), tried to go into hiding in the village.
On 8 May 1945 an advance party of the U.S. Army reached the Ausseerland region followed by the main force of the U.S. Army on the next day. Previously to the arrival of the U.S. Army, a self-employed civilian government was formed in Bad Aussee which preserved the order and ensured the supply of the population. Ernst Kaltenbrunner fled to the Wildensee alp nearby Altaussee where he was captured by a U.S. patrol on 12 May 1945. At the end of the war a box of 60 kg Nazi gold was found near the mansion in which Kaltenbrunner had lived. Much of it has been lost since the turmoil of the early post-war days.
On 1 July 1948 the village became part of the Austrian state Styria again. Until 1955 Altaussee was part of the American occupation zone in Austria.
Nazi Stolen Art Repository
During World War II (1943-1945) the extensive complex of salt mines in Altaussee served as a huge repository for art stolen by the Nazis, but it also contained holdings from Austrian collections. Initially, in August 1943, art treasures from Austrian churches, monasteries and museums were transferred into the mines for safekeeping, followed by, starting in February 1944, a stock of about 4,700 works of stolen art from all over Europe. These artworks were accumulated under the alias Sonderauftrag Linz (Special Commission: Linz) by Adolf Hitler and were intended for the planned Führermuseum in Linz, Austria. At the end of the war the entire depot included around 6,500 paintings, as well as many statues, furniture, weapons, coins, and libraries. Including was some of Adolf Hitler's so-called Führerbibliothek (Führer's library). The largest component of this library had been deposited at a country residence in neighbouring Grundlsee.
The contents of the repository included: Belgian-owned treasures such as Michelangelo's Madonna of Bruges stolen from the Church of Our Lady in Bruges, and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece stolen from Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent; Vermeer’s The Astronomer and The Art of Painting which were to be focal points of Hitler’s Führermuseum in Linz, and paintings from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, Italy that had been stolen by the Hermann Göring Tank Division (Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring) at Monte Cassino in Italy.
In April 1945, as the Allied troops approached the salt mine, Gauleiter August Eigruber gave orders to blow it up. For this intention he had eight bombs with 500 kg each transported into the tunnels. Hitler countermanded Eigruber's order, but after the "Führer's" death the Gauleiter ignored this. Nevertheless his order was not carried out. The destruction was prevented at the last minute by the local mine administration, the repository officers and the miners. On the night of 3–4 May 1945 it was possible to remove the embedded bombs from the mine. To bluff Gauleiter Eigruber and to prevent further access to the treasures the major entrances into the mine were blown up. After the occupation of Altaussee on 8 May 1945 by an American infantry unit, the art depot was seized by the U.S. Army (Monuments Men). The entrances were opened again and the rescue work began. The artworks were brought to the Central Art Collecting Point in Munich in the following years, where the difficult process of restitution began, which is still going on today.
Leisure and Sport
(Station Bad Aussee, 4 km distance)
|Climate chart (explanation)|
A 7.5 km trail goes around the clear Lake Altaussee surrounded by 1838 m high Loser mountain the Trisslwand, the Tressenstein and other mountain ranges. Brown and white alpine-style houses with a beautiful church are in the center of town. The tourist bureau has a few English pamphlets, but most information, including the Literatur museum inside, is in German. A saltmine tour through the Altaussee saltmine and the former Nazi Stolen Art Repository is available every hour in the summer. Hiking trails abound, with various gradings. They are marked with green and white signs. The lower ones are easy to follow while the more difficult routes are sometimes less well-marked. A paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and hikers. Flora and waterfalls make the forests and mountains even more attractive in the summer. The 9 km-long Loser Panorama Road leads to a perfect base (1.600 m) for hikes into the heart of the Tote Gebirge Mountain Range. From where the road ends it is only an hours walk to the Loser Peak (1.838 m). In the wintertime the ski resort of Loser offers 29 km slopes with all levels of difficulty. In addition there are other nearby ski resorts available.
View of the Lake Altaussee and Altaussee, in the background the Hoher Dachstein
- Karin Brandauer (1945–1992), Austrian film director and screenwriter.
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- Marianne Feldhammer (1909–1996), Austrian resistance fighter against Nazism.
- Barbara Frischmuth (* 1941), Austrian writer of poetry and prose.
- Joseph Fröhlich (1694–1757), court jester of Augustus II the Strong.
- Michael Moser (1853–1912), Austrian photographer.
- Hermann Markus Pressl (1939-1994), Austrian composer and music teacher.
- Paul Preuss (1886–1913), Austrian alpinist.
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- Numbers of the fallen citizens according to the death roll of the Altaussee war memorial.
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