Appreciate your home country, cultivate the roots

Most Ötztal locals only really feel "at home" if they actively contribute to the maintenance of customs, community and traditions. Six of them will bring you closer to the valley's most important institutions and rituals.

The parish fair

Längenfeld's local farmer Petra Holzknecht describes the change in meaning of the once most important village festival celebrated on the name day of the church's patron saint

"Housekeeping at its best for an entire week. Baking and cooking in maximum quantities. In between, praying and going to church even more often than usually: Everything for the parish fair day and the relatives from near and far. I only remember it from stories of older people. The original parish fair days were quite different from today's festivities. In my childhood we had no school on parish fair day. Today the schools take part in the "healthy snack" campaign. In rural families women still cook the dishes typical for the parish fair: 'Nuies Schmalz' buttered porridge, 'Kirchtagskrapfen' - a kind of donuts filled with figs, poppy seeds, cinnamon and sugar - or 'Hofnkraut' fermented sauerkraut that had to be served in Längenfeld on 25 November, St. Katharina's patron saint's day. Some Ötztal villages postpone the parish fair day to the Sunday after the patronage day so that everyone can celebrate it.

Kirchtagskrapfen

The female merchants

Female merchants in Ötztal

Anna Pienz, a member of the Oetz Brass Band, explains why village music and Schützen clubs never move without their female merchants called "Marketenderinnen"

"I have been a merchant of the local brass band for five years, together with three young women from Oetz. My motivation: I like the community and the music. I put a lot of time into it. My outfit: Like the female musicians, I perform in a traditional Ötztal women's costume. However, we wear fine stockings made of thread instead of wool. There are no regulations for makeup and jewelry. My job description: The statutes of the brass music bands state that female merchants must be unmarried and are responsible for the well-being of the musicians. We are not married, of course, but we take care of the audience and listeners first. We accompany the conductor, surely it looks very good. During the breaks we walk through the rows and offer schnaps from our 'Panzele', a wooden barrel that holds about two to 3 liters. Of course, we make sure that also our musicians can enjoy a tasty fruit schnaps after the performance."

The brass bands

Franz Gstrein, flugelhorn player and honorary member of the Oetz Brass Band, explains why there is "no village without brass music" in Ötztal since the 19th century

"DJ Ötzi comes from Oetz, everyone knows that. We and our neighbors from Sautens or Ötzer Au have always been musical people. The Oetz brass band was founded already in 1829 as one of the first in the Tirolean Oberland region. Today, Längenfeld is our main musical location with two highly ambitious and competitive music bands plus the headquarters of the Provincial Music School for the entire valley. We are traditional brass bands with a lineup that varies between 30 and 60 people, depending on the village. A good third of the musicians are women. Just like the Vienna Philharmonic we have adapted to modern times. As the average age of our musicians of both genders is under 30, our repertoire has also been modernized. In addition to landler, marches, polkas or waltzes, the audience also appreciates jazz and rock music. Our brass bands are organized in clubs, all members rehearse and play on a voluntary basis in around 90 performances per year. In addition to our instruments, we also buy, maintain and care for the traditional costumes. This cultural achievement would not be imaginable without generous private sponsors.

The Oetz Brass Band

The "Sennelar" Alpine pasture fair

Anita Riml, owner of Kleble Alm mountain hut in Sölden

Anita Riml, owner of Kleble Alm mountain hut in Sölden's quiet part, reminds why 15 August has been a lavish feast for Sölden's pasturelands

"For 26 years already I have been the owner of the hut that my husband's grandfather had turned into an inn in 1927. On an Alpine pasture which is actually an entire Alpine hamlet with seven 'Thayen' - that's how we call the wooden huts here. In the past, farmers used to come up with all the family to graze the cattle in Windachtal valley and mow the steep mountain meadows of Kleble in the summer. Far away from the main village, everyone looked forward to the 'Sennelar' celebration on 15 August. It was a holiday in the double sense of the word: Our Lady ascended to heaven and the hay of the mountain meadows descended into the valley.

Days before, the women brought the huts to shine and the excitement among the children was steadily growing: Finally some visitors to the mountain solitude! Friends, relatives and neighbors came from everywhere to celebrate the feast of Alpine pastures, they walked from hut to hut, sang, gossiped, drank a schnapps in every house and enjoyed traditional pasture fair delights: 'Nuies Schmalz' buttered porridge and 'Krapfen' similar to filled donuts. Some of Sölden's Alpine pastures still celebrate today's Sennelar in a particular way with music and dance. Here at Kleble we bake poppy seed strudel and 300 donuts, serve schnaps and trust that people talk to each other and have fun, just like in times without cellphones."

The haystacks

Senior farmer Johann Leitner explains why his Chrysanth-Hof farm still favors the old harvesting method of drying hay on wooden bars

"The more often you cut the grass on the meadow, the less flowers and herbs can survive. The hay loses valuable aromas and nutrients, as does the milk. As we are health-conscious and self-sufficient we don't want that and therefore we only mow our meadows twice and let our Tirolean gray cattle graze the rest when it comes back from the mountain pasture. Milk, cream, butter - everything tastes much better if the hay is piled traditionally. Making haystacks is more complex than mechanical harvesting. It takes at least four people to work in a chord. Experienced farmers set up 80 to 100 of such small haystack piles one day after the grass has been cut, turned and dried so that it can be piled up properly. In general, each farm has its own technique. In the end, every haystack features a kind of hay hat on which the rain can run off during the week until the hay is brought in. My grandchildren grumble about that as we are the only ones in Umhausen to bring in the hay in such an old-fashioned way. But they still learned it in this manner from an early age."

Haystacks in Ötztal

The "Schützen" club

"Schützen" clubs in Ötztal

Battalion commander Toni Klocker reports how the seven Schützen Clubs between Ötztal Bahnhof and Sölden are still active in the here & now

"For us North Tirolean Schützen, shooting is a secondary virtue. Today we are very well anchored in society, especially through social work. Of course we also march out for feasts or processions in traditional costumes and with a rifle because the festival culture strengthens the entire community. This is more important than ever in the anonymous digital age. Additionally, we donate the profits to support church and social organizations. Among the undisputed highlights ranks the Ötztal Battalion Festival, established since 1950, on the penultimate Saturday of July. But hardly anyone knows that our volunteers keep "meals on wheels" rolling all year round in almost every Ötztal village. How successful our youth work is can be judged by the fact that Ötztal boasts the biggest number of young Schützen and female merchants in all of Tirol - almost half of our young people are female. And no, we don't promote 'shotgun women' or 'teenage gunmen'. Firearms are only for adults and are firmly in the hands of the gun masters in the well-protected shooting range centers."

Guest author: Isolde v. Mersi

Isolde von Mersi comes from South Tyrol's Pustertal valley and lives in Vienna now. As a popular reporter and book writer for Austrian and German magazines and publishing houses, she explores a huge variety of cultural, culinary and naturalistic treasures of the Alpine countries and its people.

She has been feeling at home in Ötztal for many years already as she contributes to the ÖTZTAL MAGAZINE on a regular basis. And she has found many friends in the valley.

Isolde v. Mersi
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