Experience an impressive journey in time through the history of alpine tourim. The “Touriseum” in Merano offers fascinating insights.
In 2003, in the fully renovated Trauttmansdorff Castle near Merano, the first museum in the Alps which addresses on a grand scale the subject of the history and current state of tourism, opened its doors: the “Touriseum”.
The Museum designers – Franco Didoné/architecture, Uli Prugger/graphics, Josef Rohrer/organisation of information and texts, Paul Rösch/exhibits and coordination – have captured two points of view – that of the tourists and that of the locals. Together the Touriseum and the botanical gardens make up the “Attraction Trauttmansdorff”.
Empress Elisabeth, a wooden sculpture by a Gröden artist, welcomes the visitors to the castle courtyard. She is just one of many life-size figures whom visitors encounter during their tour. A mechanical theatre, true-to-life models, films, sounds – each of the 20 rooms offers lively scenes and is full of surprises.
The Touriseum takes the visitor on an exciting journey in time through the history of tourism, which is at the same time a history of South Tyrol.
At the outset, the journey takes you along a frightening passage through the rocks, past the remains of an overturned coach. This is how travellers would have experienced crossing the Alps until the early 19th century. In this period it was no pleasure to be travelling. A realistic model, however, shows that there were already well-equipped staging posts, offering everything that one needed on the journey. Then, in 1867, when the railway line over the Brenner went into service, the Alps could be reached relatively quickly and comfortably.
In the Touriseum the visitor walks through an imitation railway carriage and finds, among other things, a miniature version of Empress Elisabeth’s saloon railway carriage. “Sisi” spent the winters of 1870 and 1871 in Merano, and the small spa town became famous as a result. Throughout Tyrol, the arrival of tourists resulted not only in the founding of improvement societies, but also gave rise to a heated controversy over the advantages and disadvantages of tourism. The clery regarded the foreigners as bringing with them all sorts of moral threats to the ‘Holy Land of Tyrol’, but their opposition was to no avail. Increasing numbers of spa visitors and mountain climbers arrived via the new rail route.
On a high rock face in the castle, extending over two storeys, you can see the conquest of the mountains with Alpine refuges and route markings. At the turn of the century, tourism achieved a first high point. Southern Tyrol had become the “southern balcony of the Habsburg Empire”. Many members of Europe’s so-called upper classes came to take the cure, and numerous grand hotels were built.
Among those for which the legendary tourism pioneer, Theodor Christomannos, was responsible, was the Karersee Hotel with its spectacular location at the foot of the Rosengarten. There is a model of the Karersee Hotel in the Touriseum allowing to see the furnishings of the rooms, and the electric lift, which was a real sensation at the time.
The exuberant attitude to life of the Belle Époque can be felt in the stairwell of Trauttmansdorff Castle, which is set out as a hotel foyer. With the outbreak of the First World War, this carefree world came to an abrupt end. The holiday region turned into a war zone. The Dolomites, once admired for their beauty, turned into a bitterly fought-over war front. The visitor stands in a gloomy trench, which then leads on to an Italian bar in 1920s style. At the end of the war, the ”southern balcony” of the Habsburg Empire had turned into the most northerly province in Italy.
Although it suffered under Fascist repression, southern Tyrol’s annexation by Italy opened it up to a new market, which shapes South Tyrol’s tourism to this day.
From the bar, the visitor reaches a hotel terrace in 1930s style. The rock face projecting from the lower floor forms the screen for excerpts from the famous mountain films of Luis Trenker, which made skiing popular. But the short upturn soon ended with the Second World War.
Around 1950, Italian tourists were the first to return. Then, with the economic miracle and the spread of motor car ownership to the masses, German holiday fever set in. “Bella Italia” became a synonym for a proper holiday. With their own cars, the tourists were no longer dependent on the rail network. Many preferred a rural setting to the established tourist resorts, and looked for accommodation in the countryside. Farmers recognised the opportunity and offered holiday accommodation.
The exhibition takes the visitor through a farmhouse “Stube” from the 1950s – the symbol for holidays offering contact with the family – which appealed especially to German guests. Immediately after this, the visitor enters a motorway tunnel. Its construction led to a dramatic building boom with many guest houses and hotels, which soon transformed the appearance of the countryside.
After the farmhouse “Stube” of the 1950s follows a hotel foyer in 70s style, with lots of plush and heavy wood. A series of small models show the transformation from a small farmhouse into a guest house, and again into a large hotel. At the end of the 70s, the tolerable limits for the environment and the population were reached. Criticism of the unfortunate results of tourism incre sed, until a halt to expansion paved the way for a new approach, based on quality.
At the end of the exhibition, the players in the world of tourism have a chance to speak again. The film-maker, Karl Prossliner, has conducted well over 100 interviews with tourists and locals for the Touriseum, and put the most striking ones together in a witty and, at the same time, in-depth, video film projection. Many interesting exhibits, ranging from a large travelling trunk dating from 1900 to rare posters, are incorporated into the scenes in the individual rooms. In the historical rooms on the second floor of the castle can today be found a small exhibition on the Empress Elisabeth and her time in Merano.
Trauttmansdorff Castle has become a delightful museum, in which humour, insights, information and entertainment are successfully combined.