The regional museum in Unken offers tangible history of the area…

…local idiosynchrosies  and interesting special exhibitions.  

„Lovingly cared-for, in original condition“, is my first impression of the old masonry as I find myself in front of the Kalchofengut. The old farmhouse opens its doors every Friday for a guided tour. Different types of Pinzgauer fences border the car park – from the „Stoahog“, via the „Pinzgauer“ fence to the „Stangen“ fence. Freshly stacked haystacks flood the Streckhof (farmhouse) with their spicy scent.

I notice immediately many small details of this wonderful farmhouse. I realize I want to find out much more about the wooden boards, marked with a date and a name, which have been mounted below the shingle roof. On my way around the building to the entrance of the museum, I admire the neat herb garden. I meet Josef „Sepp“ Auer, from the Museum Association, in front of the Kalchofengut. He is showing a small group of guests how shindles are made. „ For our roof, around 3000 shindles are required, which must be replaced every couple of years“, he explains, while demonstrating this ancient craft.

Wooden Memorials to the Dead

Before the guided tour of the museum begins, I take the opportunity over a cup of coffee on the sunny bench, to ask Sepp straightaway about the wooden boards. „Those are funeral biers or supports for corpses. In the past, the dead would be laid out at home first and then taken to their last resting place by horse and cart. During the transportation they would be laid on one of these boards. After the funeral, the board would be inscribed with a personal epitaph and then nailed to a stall or a chapel as a memorial to the deceased. If you like, these were the forerunners of death notices and prayer cards“, Sepp explains.

The Last Streckhof (farmhouse) in Middle Pinzgau

We learn that the farmhouse was built around the 13th Century and belonged to the farming family Haider for over 360 years. Later, until the 1960s, the farmhouse served as an almshouse until the village vet began to adapt the building for the use as a museum. „Today, the building is in the possesion of the Museum Association and is run as a regional museum for the lower Saalachtal. The special feature of the Kalchofengut is that it is the only Streckhof remaining in Middle Pinzgau which has been preserved in its original condition. In other words, a farmhouse where the living quarters and the stall are found under one roof. The open range, which we will see during the tour, remains exactly as it was built in the 13th Century“, says Sepp and we follow him inquisitively to the entrance.

Every Detail Tells its Own Story

At the front door Sepp points out the next feature, „The doorframe is made from stone conglomerate – a relic of the Ice Age. The glacier moraine, which used to cover the Saalachtal, compressed the loose gravel into rock. Millstones, as well as doorframes like this one, used to be manufactured in the nearby quarry“.  Inside the house we are greeted by pleasant coolness and it seems as though the thick masonry could tell a few stories. I catch sight of interesting details in every corner. Sepp has a story ready for all of our questions about the various historical objects. We see a small cast iron toll cashbox and learn that before 1816, when Salzburg was not yet part of the Kingdom of Austria, all those travelling through had to pay a toll in the village centre of Unken.

Stilt Dancers and Soldiers Killed in Action

Each of the remaining rooms are dedicated to a particular topic. There is an Unken Room where local traditions and costume are described. The stilt dancers here are unique – they are only found in Unken. Sepp tells the legend of the foundation of this regional tradition, „This rarity developed from the Tresterbrauch. Trester groups went from house to house on stilts wearing extra-long trousers so that they would not get wet during a flood. The stilt dancers can be seen even today at some of the traditional events, such as the Harvest Festival.“  

Upstairs there is a special exhibition by the Unken Schützen (farmer troopers), „For God, the Emperor and the Fatherland – or when are we coming home?“, which remembers the fallen soldiers of the First World War. A lifesize photo of the previous owner Farmer Percht indicates the way to the special exhibition. „61 soldiers in Unken alone never returned after the war. This room shows us that these soldiers aren’t just names on a war memorial, but real people with a tragic history behind each“, relates Sepp. A film produced by a member of the Schützen, gives a historical overview of the events. Contemplating the old helmets, uniforms and equipment, loaned to the museum by families from Unken, we get goosebumps. We continue on our discovery journey through the Kalchofengut.

Smuggler Trails in the Hayloft

After visiting the religious chamber we enter another room with church cribs and a scale-model of farming estate with farmhouse, warehouses, alm huts, flax hut, feeding station and many other outbuildings. Sepp spent around 3 months building this miniature artwork and even included the typical types of fence found in the region.

In the hayloft, alongside the histories of the wheelwright and timber industries, we find an exhibit which links all of the communities of the Salzburger Saalachtal: a room-sized model of the region with all villages, mountains, rivers and paths between Weißbach in Saalachtal and Weißbach near Schneizlreuth represented. There is interesting information about each place and Sepp describes his next project, „Next, I will add all of the historical smuggler trails to the model.“

Real Lumberjack Muas

We could spend hours studying all of the details and exhibits, but Sepp has a surprise for us, „Our old lumberjack Bert Falter has conjured up a real Pinzgauer Muas on the open range for you. Typical fare of the lumberjacks.“ The smell of the delicious, but admittedly less figure-flattering, sweet dish already fills the kitchen. While we watch over Bert’s shoulder as he cooks on the open fire, he describes the history of the lumbermen who transported the logs along the Saalach.

It is already dark as I close the door of the Kalchofengut behind me and I am sure there are many more stories to discover here. Next time, I must ask what secrets are hidden behind the little wooden doors in the hayloft; in the wall of the kitchen or in the old hat on the ceiling of the parlour.

To the regional museum

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