Eight of Tyrol’s alpine huts now have protected status, meaning they cannot be altered or knocked down. The authorities in Bavaria and South Tyrol are set to follow suit.
Initially, some alpine associations were wary of huts being given protected building status as they feared they would have to foot a large bill for renovations. But Robert Kolbitsch, who represents huts and trails maintained by the German Alpine Association (DAV), says that now the protected status is seen as an award which brings advantages - for example when negotiating about fire safety measures.
The ‘New Prague’ hut in the Hohe Tauern national park in east Tyrol, built in 1904, now has protected status. At one point it was threatened with demolition, but the DAV decided the historically important building should be preserved. Its natural stone facade and wood panelled rooms have been lovingly restored by local craftsmen, and it boasts original Thonet chairs and scenic illustrations of Prague.
The magnificent Berliner Hütte. Photo: ORF
The Berlin hut in the Zillertal Alps was one of the first to be given protected status. The original hut was built in 1879 but soon became too small and was extended. The building now resembles a grand hotel, rather than a simple hikers’ hut.
In its heyday, facilities included a bowling alley, a photo laboratory, a shoemaker's workshop, a post office, and room service. It was of course frequented by rich people from the towns and cities, rather than mountain folk. The servants’ rooms were small and cramped but a spacious, wood-panelled dining room has high ceilings and chandeliers.
Nowadays it’s a more democratic affair and offers simple accommodation for mountaineers. Over the last eight years, one million euros have been invested in the renovation and modernisation of the building.
Whilst the number of mountain hikers in Austria has increased, the number of beds on offer have not. However, the alpine associations have agreed they won’t build any new huts - except in cases where the existing structure is in such a bad state that it can’t be renovated. Any new buildings must have a low carbon footprint and be as sustainable as possible - using features such as solar panels and wastewater collection.