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Land of Crystel Waters

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Ice and rock - rock and water. Rocks that grew in water and have been shaped by its erosive force. Wetlands and woodlands – this is the very heart of Austria. An archaic landscape but boasting a rich cultural heritage. A river set in stone, shimmering like a crystal - winding its wild way from the Alps down to the Danube. Water – pure water it’s one of the prime treasures of this land. It makes the Salzkammergut one of Austria’s natural treasure troves.

Director & Writer: Erich Pröll, Klaus Feichtenberger
Camera: Erich Pröll, Hubert Doppler
Wescam / Cineflex Operator: Ralf Marterer, Javier Gonzales
Editor: Sonja Lesowsky
Dubbing Mixer: Stefan Fiedler
Music: Kurt Adametz

Coproduction: ORF, WDR, NDR Naturfilm and Erich Pröll Film in association with Upper Austria and OÖ Landesfischereiverband

The River Traun is the central axis of a hugely complex and varied water system of raging glacial streams, waterfalls, 76 lakes, innumerable springs of all kinds, cavern waters, tranquil lowland floodplains and thousands of kilometres of stream and river courses – all of it, in the end, feeding a single river. It’s a portrait of a complete river system, following the water’s journey from glaciers through cave systems and canyons through mountain streams, crystal-clear lakes and, finally, down one of Austria’s most beautiful and swift rivers, the Traun, all the way to the wooded wetlands where it finally calms before flowing into the Danube.

For millions of years, unimaginable masses of water have eroded unimaginable masses of rock, sculpting limestone into bizarre shapes and, eventually, making entire mountain ranges disappear. After its long journey through the darkness of conduits and cavities, the water comes to light at the base of these karst mountains.
Once the huge caverns inside the mountain are filled to overflowing, mighty waterfalls gush from openings high up in the rock walls. Due to the wealth of water and its erosive action, these karst ranges boast the deepest and longest cave systems of the Alps.

As soon as the water tumbles through ravines and chutes over rock walls, it mixes with air. Thousands of such wells feed into the river system, but this mountain lake is considered the Traun’s main source. It’s the first and smallest of three lakes through which the Traun’s main tributary flows.

Masses of timber were once needed in this region: Timber for the region’s salt mines, and firewood for the many huge salt pans. But even though the mountain forest produced enough timber, getting it out of this rugged terrain was a challenge. Dams were built in the ravines.

Underneath these dams, masses of timber was piled up in the riverbed. For a few hours, the flow of water was shut off. Once, thousands of logs were drifted through these canyons in one go. This is the last one that’s still intact.

This reservoir holds the volume of ten Olympic pools – 75.000 cubic metres. Carrying long hooks, the men go to their positions in the canyon. They must make sure that the timber will move on and not clog up the flow. This is a historic day: The last timber dam operates one last time – just for filming. Then, timber-drifting is history for good.

When spring arrives, advancing valley by valley after seven months of cold, it’s time to celebrate. The daffodil festival of the Salzkammergut region in May is more than a local tradition – its roots go back to ancient Rome, China, to the days of the pharaos and to early Muslim culture. Mohammed himself was touched by the beauty of these tender white stars. “Bread nourishes the body”, he wrote, “but daffodils refresh the soul”.

The Grundlsee is the third lake passed by the Traun. For one and a half centuries, this region has produced masters of an art that requires precise observation of nature, great creativity and meticulous handcraft. Fly fishing is a game with strict rules and no fluke.

The Traun and its tributaries are among Europe’s most highly prized fly fishing waters. But for Humphrey Davie, father of all fly fishermen and author of the fly fishermen’s bible “Salmonia”, this Alpine river was a new discovery. Humphrey Davie wrote an enthusiastic book about his ramblings with a fishing rod along the river Traun.

In the gorges, avalanches take half the summer to melt away. The Traun’s upper reaches are a white water paradise. A paradise not only for fly fishermen but also for their competitors. the canoeists.

The Koppentraun runs through a vast alluvial fan created by the river itself. It flows into Lake Hallstatt, right opposite the ancient town of Hallstatt. For at least three thousand years, a settlement has been squeezed onto this narrow piece of land between the lake and the mountain. Hallstatt is the world’s oldest salt mine and a world heritage site. Until the nineteenth century the town could only be reached by boat or mule. Even from house to house people went by boat.

Salt, water, timber – for millennia, those were the three pillars of the region’s wealth.
Once, hundreds of lumberjacks worked the woodlands of the Traun valley, far from any settlement. The men would spend weeks in the mountains, in a rough and often wet climate. This is Austria’s rainiest region.

There were no forest roads. All the timber had to be hauled to the riverside. Below Lake Hallstatt, the river Traun was big enough to carry rafts and, much later, boats.
For centuries, thousands of rafts would glide down the Traun each year, often all the way to the Danube - and sometimes on and on for weeks to the shores of the Black Sea.

For rafts, it was a one-way journey, and in the early days even boats were built for just one trip down-stream. But when timber became less plentiful, the boats were pulled back up again. This required massive changes along the banks. Solid path-ways for horses were built, and dykes to create ideal currents for the vessels.
Today, remnants of these structures are found under water, upstream from hydro-electric dams.

The fourth, last and largest lake the river Traun runs through before it leaves the steep mountains and enters the gentle hilly country bears its very name: Lake Traun.
Its banks offer ample space for settlements. In the days of the monarchy, many of these towns were famous summer resorts: Schloss Orth, Bad Ischl, Gmunden.

Once the Traun has left the mountains behind, its flow is slower, broader. Yet it still has enough energy to drive another handful of power stations. The backlog above a dam goes back for miles. Here the water is deep and still and warms up more easily.
The fish grow much bigger than in the rapid current. There’s more food available, and they lose less energy.These pikes are giants – up to a metre long and weighing ten kilos.

This hydro-electric station on the river Traun has been in operation since 1922. Over the years, it has become an organic part of the river. The old dam marks the last steep drop and gorge in the course of the Traun – the impressive Traun waterfall.

When the operation of the power station leaves sufficient water in the river, the Traun thunders down the natural cataract into a deep gorge. Then the mossy rock walls echo the river’s wild days of old. In the gorge, for one more time, the Traun displays its enormous energy.

Then, just a short stretch downstream the Traun calms down again. This is its deepest, calmest, clearest part. The Traun reaches the Danube within the city borders of Linz. And yet, to its very end, it remains a wild thing.

Wetland forests are Europe’s last jungles – below the water surface as well as above.
Wherever sunlight reaches down to the lowest level, the underbrush explodes. Luxurious green fills every gap. Here nature can unfold in wild profusion.

Fotos: Copyright by Pröll-Film