July 25, 2008

Austrian Impressions

Preparation. A fair amount of time went into planning our trip to Austria, not only because I wanted everything to run smoothly, but also because I enjoyed the historical aspect of
researching our family heritage. I found it fascinating to be able to pinpoint the exact farms that the Walder and Waldner's lived on as far back as the 1490s. Understandably, I wasn't able to get as much official information as I had hoped, so despite my efforts there are still a few gaps. I sent several inquiries to various historical archives in the region, but of course obtaining records from the 16th and 17th centuries is not something that is easily done by email, particularly when not conversant in German. I do have some contacts though, and someday I would like to return and spend a few days digging through old archives and see if I can fill in the gaps in our family tree from 1490 to the 1655. The history behind the change of name from Walder to Waldner is also a mystery that would be interesting to find out more about.

While I'm fairly certain we were on the original farm where the Waltner family name originated, it would have been nice to have more time and not have felt so rushed. The farm itself lies high on a mountain ridge overlooing forests and mountain peaks. It is truly a spectacular and beautiful location. I felt a strange sense of nostalgia thinking back many centuries to a time when my elders farmed the rugged mountainside. Even today, farming here maintains a sense of history and tradition. On the day before our visit we visited the farm we took a gondola to the top of peak that the Walder farm lies below. As it turns out, we were able to look down upon the summer pastures that belonged to the Walder farm. It is easy to imagine that our ancestors once made trips up and down from the farm to the summer pastures and likely ventured to the top of the mountain where the gondola and ski area now lie.
We owe a big thank you to our tour guide for the day in Stockenboi and the visit to the Walder farm. Elisabeth Nadrag, although always seemingly in a rush, made the entire visit possible and added an invaluable local touch to our tour. Without here it would have been very unlikely that we could have made it to the Walder farm.

It would have also been nice to have been able to visit the Ertl farm in Unteramlach, where the Waldner family resided until being banished from the region in 1763. Due to logistical issues we were only able to get as far as the neighboring village of Oberamlach, which although certainly had some of the same look and feel, was not the same as visiting the actual farm. I do have the address and have actually been welcomed to come for a visit by the family there. While not as spectacular as the Walder farm up on the ridge above, the Amlach region is still quite beautiful, lying down in a lush valley surrounded by forests and alpine peaks.

The two days visiting the Walder farm and Amlach, was just a small part of our stay in Austria. The white lake, Weissensee, was quiet and relaxing. The water was calm and clean and perfect for bathing and swimming. The surrounding mountains offered numerous possibilities for less leisurely pursuits. Dad and I had steep hike to the top of on peak above the lake, stopping for lunch in a rustic hut for an Austrian pancake and apple wine. Austrian cousine and culture are unique and provided a nice contrast to both Norway and California. When it was time to leave Weissensee, we all agreed that it would have been nice to have stayed longer both to enjoy more hiking as well as relaxing by the lake, not to mention the wonderful locally made dishes we devoured every night for dinner.
Despite wishing we could have stayed longer, in the end we didn't regret our decision to move on. Our next destination, the Matreier Tauernhaus in the Hohe Tauern national park, proved to be just as worthy of a stay, if not for different reasons. Here we truly felt among the Alps. Matreier Tauernhaus, the place we stayed, has an 800 year history and lies nearly alone on a one lane road leading a few short miles further into the heart of the national park. Despite being the middle of vacation time, we felt nearly alone for the four days we were there. The pictures tell much of the story, of glacier covered peaks, lush mountain pastures filled with cows and goats, old farms and buildings all decked in brightly colored flowers. Austrians are seemingly perfectionists when it comes to adorning their homes with flowers. Everywhere we went we were impressed by the flowers hanging from the balconies and below the windows.

As our stay came to an end, we were again left with a feeling that it would have been nice to have had more time to enjoy the beautiful scenery as well as culture. We are already talking about going back, maybe in winter to do some skiing, or maybe in a few years to do more family research. Someday though I'm sure we'll be drawn back by the memories from our short sojourn there this summer.