Posted by: Nazausgraben | May 18, 2010


Warm, lazy and sunny…a typical Spring day here in Pinswang. The apple blossoms signal the start of the growing season, and there is a magnificent carpet of wildflowers ennobling our valley. Looking across the farmers fields that surround our house, ones eyes are bathed in a delight of pinpoint blues, yellows, whites. The grasses are already a few inches high; cutting season is not far off. The winds are strong today, blowing in from across the mountains separating Germany from our Tirolean Valley. The grasses whisper as they move in unison with each gust. The few growing leaves on the trees twist and turn; their sound will become lush as the mid-Summer approaches…but for now they produce a slight pleasing windchime rustle.

It is a time to breathe in deeply the perfumes that lace the Springtime air, to sit on the sun-bleached wooden bench on the wall at the front of the house, to close ones eyes and relish the newly risen sun that is now bathing our valley. Relish this indeed, for the days now approach that will, as certain as the turn of the hour, bring with them a return to the dreary cold Spring rains. The skies will darken and there will be seas of gatch between our house and the beginning of the asphalt across the field by Oma’s house. But not today…not yet.

I crank our ancient and steadfast off-white French steed into life; its tired diesel belching forth a dense plume of something decidedly toxic from somewhere deep in its mechanical bowels and generating quite a nasty clatter (ergo, it acquiring the nom de fume, ‘The Tractor’). It’s time to take it out for a run.

There are a plethora of directions toward which we can point our sheet metal nose. After some moments of bantering about the merits of heading into Italy or Switzerland, we make a command decision and select the former. Susi and I elect to head south, eschewing the Autobahn in favor of the slower (but decidedly more interesting) local back roads. Our goal is the the upper Vinschgau borderland between Austria and Italy…between north and south Tirol. It is there that the mountains meet the sea; well…not exactly. It’s more akin to the mountains meeting the lake.

From Pinswang we head south-east, toward the majestic Fernpass. If we continue over the pass, we will turn due east and find ourselves not far from Innsbruck, Stams and other notable points of interest. However, today, we divert away from the pass, and continue chugging southward. We  wend our way through the colorful Tirolean towns of Imst, Landeck, Pfunds and Nauders. A stop in any of these towns would reveal Austrian country life lovingly preserved, with ancient farmhouses surrounded by placcid pastures, villas and castles, ancient ruins and museums. We do not stop today…that is for another time. Our goal lies abit further on.

We soon note a roadside marker stating that we have crossed the border and are in the Suedtirol…in Italy. We pass by magnificent abbeys and castles, perched on rocky mountain prominences. There is a mixture of Gothic and Baroque periods to be seen everywhere. The colors change; amidst the whites and yellows characteristic of so many baroque facades, one can now see the more ancient structures whose exposed stone and mortar are decidedly darker.  

After driving a couple of km from the uncontrolled border, we find ourselves plying the Reschenpass (Passo Rescia); a thin serpentine two-lane path hugging the side of the mountain in this region. The Tractor is not at all happy with this course of events; its water temperature gauge inching into the upper red extremes with each climb of over 20-deg. Still, it manages to chug its away along this sinuous lower portion of the Via Claudia (yes, the same Roman Road outside our front door back in Pinswang). We soon find ourselves gazing down upon a very large lake…the Reschensee (Lago di Resia) and the lone monument to its rather tragic story.

It was in 1920 that, in search of a means for the generation of electricity, that the Italian government laid plans to create a body of water…a lake… that would eventually raise the levels of three existing lakes…the Reschensee, Haidersee and Mittersee… by almost 25 meters; essentially combining these natural lakes into a single entity.

Now, all of this would have been ideal, save for the notion that noone bothered to query the inhabitants of the villages Reschen and (Alt) Graun as to whether or not they agreed to this massive project. For if the lake was created and filled as planned, both villages would be underwater; Graun completely submerged and Reschen partially flooded.

These villages were lovely, Graun especially so. It was described by many travellers as very picturesque; frescoes were painted by local masters on the facades of many of its homes and lovely decorated  ‘Erker’; the often gothic extensions protruding from the edges or main rooms of older buildings that provided for more space within, could be found on some of the most ancient buildings in Graun. Flourishes of Spring and Summer flowers graced the window boxes of every home.

The villagers of both Graun and Reschen were granted a bit of respite during the war years, as the project was temporarily placed on hold; there were other priorities to be considered and critical resources were expended elsewhere. It was desperately hoped that in the midst of the war (and its subsequent loss) that this madness would be forgotten, swept away with the other remnants of the past decade.

Sadly, this was not to be the case. It was not long after the close of the war that new life was breathed into the lake creation project.  The hopes of the villagers were vanquished…the fears and frustrations of the past returned.

So it was that in 1947, with Italy in the midst of a frenzy of post-war  rebuilding, that the populations of both Graun and Reschen were informed that their beloved villages…family homes and lands farmed for generations…were to be destroyed and that they would have to leave.

The villagers became incensed; feelings of helplessness, impotence and despair now dominated their lives. They pleaded with local politicians on both sides of the border to support their cause…to force a reversal on the decision….but to no avail. A modest rebellion by some farmers and even intervention by The Pope were not able to persuade project managers to cease and desist.

Thus, the following three years were characterized by a massive forced displacement of both village populations; 150 families…almost 650 ‘Einheimisch’ were made to abandon all that they held dear and begin new lives elsewhere. They carried as much as they could, seeking refuge with relatives and friends in nearby villages. Many, especially the very young and old, faced the prospect of long arduous journeys searching for new homes.

Finally, in 1950, the villages were prepared for the terminal stages of destruction. One final Mass was celebrated at a side altar in the Pfarrkirche Graun on the 9th of July. A week later, the bells in the tower tolled for the last time….ringing a heartbreaking 30-minute farewell to Graun.

On Sunday, 23 July, the waters began rapidly filling the valley, flooding almost 525 hectares, 163 homesteads, 120 farms, churches and priceless historic sites….beloved lands. Only the protected tower of the Church was left to stand as the cold waters flowed ever-higher above its base. (Note: For more about the history of the ‘Church Tower in the Lake’, see the references below.)

Today, the large lake area (about 6 km long and 1 km across at its widest point) glistens in the afternoon warmth; the sun reflecting as millions of golden streaks rippling across the breeze swept blue-green expanse. The snowcapped alpine vista provides a spectacular backdrop to the moving scene before us. The waters of the lake have receded abit, and the bare silty shoreline is visible. 

And there…in the midst of it all, is the lonely tower of the Pfarrkirche, still pointing majestically heavenward, proclaiming for all the story of Graun and Reschen…the villages whose beauty and histories now exist only in the minds eyes of those who can still recall those fateful days when the waters came.

All that Remains: The Bell Tower of the Pfarrkirche Graun



  1. As usual, this post was so well written that I could visualize every detail! When we were traveling the River Neva in Russia between St. Petersburg and Moscow, we passed a city that had suffered the same fate as this village. I couldn’t help but feel great sadness for the lives that were disrupted in the interest of progress. And as in Graun, only the bell tower of the church remains to tell the world that here, at one time, lived people who loved this place, who built their lives here, raised their families, and were then forced to leave.

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