The picturesque lakeside village of Hallstatt, nestled between the towering peaks and narrow valleys of Upper Austria, is a small piece of paradise. Idyllic Alpine beauty almost overwhelms the centuries-old market town. Swans and boats dot the surface of the mountainous lake, while the town’s Baroque architecture, its stone-and-timber facades, narrow streets, and steep churches evoke a classic picture of rural Austria – a picture made famous mostly through The Sound of Music.
It’s perhaps understandable, then, that the entire village has been the source of inspiration for poets, painters and artists across Central Europe. What’s more surprising is that the village itself has been replicated brick-for-brick 8,000 km away in Guangdong Province, China.
At a cost of just under a billion dollars, the replica village was conceived and funded by a Chinese mining tycoon in 2011. However, it was designed and built in secret, without the knowledge of the original Austrian villagers, who view the copy with mixed parts of pride and disgust.
Though ‘Hallstatt 2.0’ is still unfinished – and allegedly only populated by builders and estate agents – the Chinese village is also attracting tourists from across the globe. In 2012, citizens of the original Hallstatt, including the mayor Alexander Scheutz, visited the new village for its opening ceremony. “You recognise immediately,” Scheutz told German magazine Der Spiegel, “that this is Hallstatt.”
Many locals and architects view the new village as a cheap knock-off, as yet another addition to the low-quality, mass-produced copies of goods coming out of China. But Scheutz has taken a more positive attitude, highlighting the potential for cultural exchange and tourism income. The original village has fewer than a thousand residents, but its beautiful surroundings make it a popular tourist attraction for Austrians – and, given its newfound celebrity status - also the Chinese.
But as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hallstatt now faces a challenge: with the increase in tourists, the village will struggle to preserve its Alpine features. Many signs in the original village are now written in German, Chinese and English; the models in photos of ‘Dirndls’, the female version of the traditional ‘Lederhosen’ clothing, are Chinese. For locals, the worry now is that the unusual tribute to Hallstatt’s beauty may actually threaten the original’s identity.
Have you visited Hallstatt, Austria? Have you heard of similar copycat cities in other countries? Share your thoughts and city’s stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Ajit Niranjan. Data linked to sources.