Wilder Kaiser

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Legends from the Kaisergebirge mountain range

The saga of the Kaiserkopf

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The Emperor's head in the Wilder Kaiser

The famous "Kaiserkopf" - the Emperor's head - can be seen most clearly from the south. Not by any stretch is a lot of imagination required to be able to make out, that the rocky knoll between the Treffauer and Ellmauer Halt peaks, behind which the "red gully" leads upwards, is really the noble profile of a head gently slumbering in death; you just need to be observant.

Yet, when the hollows in the rocks are covered with fresh fallen snow, it takes on a striking similarity with that of a skull. It is here that the people have left Emperor Charlemagne to rest in peace. His large imperial crown (Ellmauer Halt is indeed like a crooked crown) has slumped off his head - his hands are clasped in death; the white snow-covered surfaces proceeding downwards are like imperial ermine, with the three giants of the Treffau keeping chivalrous guard on this imperial place of rest.

However, some day when the only fountain on the Hohen Grutten stops trickling, that's when the mighty emperor will awaken and will fight a great battle, in which he will vanquish all his enemies. Legend has it that in his day, when travelling past and looking at this spectacular mountain range, Emperor Charlesmagne called out: "Long after I am gone, you will still be 'Kaiser'!", and when almost 900 years later in 1665 Emperor Leopold spent some time in St. Johann in Tirol, the Archbishop of Salzburg said to him that he knew of another, even greater, emperor, and when questioned by the mystified emperor, he pointed to the mountain range, whereupon Leopold was utterly delighted.

So is the name of this mountain really associated with such a high degree of worldly grandeur as this anecdote presumes? There have been no lack of attempts to explain otherwise. A Windish (Slavic) word - "koza", or chamois - has been used to explain the name; Celtic words have been sought for its derivation, whereby the allegedly Celtic roots "caid" (with a sibilated 'd') - mountain - and "er" - have been used as the main basis; translating as "large mountain". People also took the 'Kaiserberg' (imperial mountain) to signify 'Kaserberg' (cheese mountain). Of these attempts to explain the name, there is something in the latter, if you consider that the mountain area, especially in earlier times, was known for its dairy productions. Yet this explanation not only contradicts the vernacular pronunciation of "Koasa", but that even the oldest events and all derivations and compositions of the name, only point to the forms 'Kaiser' or 'Kayser'.

There is every indication that this mountain range was at one time imperial property and that popular tradition, based on truth, believed in a link with Charlemagne. It need not be assumed that the great emperor had been in the mountain himself in the 8th century, though the names Karlspitze, Scharlingerboden (Scharlinger - Karlinger!), Kaiserfelden and Edelfelden, might be directly attributable to his hunting activities; suffice to say that the mountain range belonged, as an uninhabited wilderness, to the Agilofing dynasty and upon the fall of the Agilolfings, it passed over to a new territorial lord, Charlemagne, later to be emperor. Though it would subsequently remain in the ownership of his imperial successor, and was passed over to Bavarian dukes for tenure, until the entire section of land passed to the Habsburgs under Maximilian, this was not decisive in the formation of the name, which came about much earlier.

Even at the end of the Middle Ages, the farmers in the Kaisertal valley still referred to the Kaiser as the "free mountains of the Kaiser". Later documents repeatedly stress that the forest in the Kaiser actually belonged to the sovereign princes, and right up to the modern era there is the official term "Gebirge des Kaisers" (the emperor's mountain range). All this legitimately compels us to conclude that the Kaisergebirge mountain range was once an imperial crown estate and the origin of its name is due to that.

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