This border region between Germany and Austria includes many towns that share a foundation built upon salt.
by Jackie Guigui-Stolberg
From its source in the Kitzbühel Alps in Austria, the “salt river”snakes two hundred and twenty-five kilometers northwards until it joins the river Inn, which then meets the Danube at the Bavarian town of Passau. The Salzach is now the border between Austria and Germany for seventy kilometers north of Salzburg. In 1346, the Holy Roman Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria decreed that all salt from the mining and salt-processing town Hallein (once part of the independent archbishopric of Salzburg) must be transported to Bavaria on the Salzach.Until the construction of railroads in the late nineteenth century, salt and the Salzach defined the history of this region. From the south, the river carried floating logs to Hallein, where the wood was needed for myriad purposes in the salt industry. From Hallein, flat-bottomed wooden boats called Plätten carried salt past Salzburg, twenty kilometers to the north, and further downstream to be sold. Salt from salt works in Berchtesgaden and Bad Reichenhall in Bavaria southwest of Salzburg (still in operation) was also transported on the Salzach.
Salt production ended in Hallein in 1989, but the towns along the river are rich in history and have well-preserved castles and old town centers lined with colorful buildings in the typical Inn-Salzach style. Most tourists rush from Munich only to Salzburg and on to other cities, missing out on this lovely and historically-significant area. The Salzach is now a peaceful and scenic waterway explorable by car, bicycle, boat, or on long-distance hiking routes. Discover these “salty sights” along the river from south to north:
Hallein and the Dürrnberg
Hallein (pop. 20,000) was once the epicenter of the salt industry. The name comes from the Celtic word hall: a place where salt is found. From circa 600 B.C. until the first century A.D., Celts dug out rock-salt at the Dürrnberg Mountain, just above Hallein, then abandoned the site. The Dürrnberg slumbered for the next one thousand years, but Hallein’s position—near an immense salt deposit, in a forested region, and on a waterway—predestined it for a new, glorious future, also thanks to better salt-extraction techniques. When mining began again, underground caverns were flooded with water to leech salt out of the stone. The brine was channelled down the mountain to Hallein where it was heated in huge pans over wood fires to evaporate the water. The soggy salt solidified in cone-shaped wooden buckets, then was stacked in warehouses and further heated for drying. Workers pulverized and repacked the salt in smaller buckets, then Plätten took the salt northwards on the Salzach.
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