The Discomfort of Austrian village Hallstatt

The 800 inhabitants of Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut, Austria, are outraged. The Austrian media revealed last week that a Chinese property developer wants to build a copy of their village – including its famous lake – in the Guangdong province in southern China.

According to the mayor of Hallstatt, Alexander Scheutz, Chinese architects have secretly visited this picturesque village a few months ago. He got information of this project completely by accident in May, following the visit of a Hong Kong Economic delegation to Austrian, where the Chinese real estate developer has proposed to combine the two villages. But a few days ago, Scheutz discovered, thanks to what he calls an “indiscretion” that plans for the Chinese version of Hallstatt were much more advanced than what he had been led to believe. “I’m surprised but not shocked,” he said. He alerted the Austrian authorities and Unesco. In this village, where up to 800,000 visitors each year take a picture of “everything and everyone,” said the mayor at the Austrian news agency APA, the Chinese architects were able to operate as “espionage” without get noticed. The case also raised concern from representatives of the church in Hallstatt. Copy a house of God into a tourist attraction is a problem, said a Catholic priest, Richard Czurylo to the daily Die Presse: according to the priest, the new church should at least be declared a place of prayer.

For the mayor, the copy of the village, however, could have a positive impact. “This could encourage tourism,” he said, adding however that he understood the unease that some people might feel to see their homes cloned. Tourism experts also believe that the project could be beneficial to Hallstatt. The project in China is a “gift” and a “good publicity” towards the Chinese market. Asian visitors are an important source of income. But to replicate the same city may not be legal, warns Hans-Jörg Kaiser, Icomos of Austria, the agency specializes in the conservation of monuments to Unesco. “The legal situation has yet to be studied,” said he. Construction of new buildings from photographs is legal, he says, but the owners of the originals may require permission for measurements.

This is not the first time a Chinese company to clone on a European city. The municipality of Anting, about thirty kilometers from Shanghai, has built a district designed to accommodate 20,000 people which was called “German city of Anting.” Built on the model of a medium sized city Teutonic by the architectural firm Albert Speer & Partner, it has Bauhaus facade and a fountain with statues of Goethe and Schiller. British Town of Chengdu was built in 2005 on the model of the town of Dorchester, UK. A year later site of Thames Town completed near Shanghai , the town includes a church 66 feet high resembling Bristol Cathedral. There are also miniature versions of Barcelona and Venice near Shanghai, and a Nordic Town [northern city] in Scandinavian style. The architectural copies are popular for the Chinese middle class, who use them as the setting for their wedding photos.