When the Danielsberg hunting lodge of Baron Kaltenegger was advertised for sale at the beginning of the 1950s, it caught the interest of my parents, who lived in Catholic Pongau in the Salzburg region. They did not realise this beautiful place was in historically Protestant Carinthia. Nevertheless, the die hard Pongauer finally settled in what turned out to be the warm embrace of Carinthia's Möll Valley - and so began our story as the host family at Danielsberg. Read on to discover the modern history of our mystical mountain. Hannes Viehhauser & Shane David Sansom
Baron Kaltenegger: a dreamer and visionary
In 1905, Baron Franz Ferdinand Kaltenegger , a friend and confidant of Emperor Franz Josef, bought the mountain of Danielsberg in the Möll Valley. He also purchased the source of a spring on a peak across the valley and piped its crystal-clear water to Danielsberg, thus enabling settlement. He built a hunting lodge between 1906 and 1908 to host the emperor when he came to open the Tauern Railway in 1909. The lodge was modelled on Villa Schratt, the Bad Ischl home of Franz Josef's reputed mistress, the actress Katharina Schratt, who the emperor frequently visited there. With the opening of the railway line, one of the most important north-south trunk routes in Europe, the baron's lodge was a convenient new destination away from the hitherto popular holiday spots of the monarchy.
Europe in chaos
In the war-torn, politically unstable period from 1912, Danielsberg became a target of speculators, with 10 changes of ownership in just 24 years. Then, in August 1936, two Jewish brothers forced to flee their homes near Berlin, merchants Franz and Wilhelm Sohn, acquired Danielsberg in the hope it would be a safe haven from the Nazis. But following Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, Danielsberg was expropriated by a local family. Franz managed to escape to London, but Wilhelm was deported to the killing station in Bendorf-Sayn and his Protestant wife returned to Germany. Wilhelm died on 23 May 1942, shortly before his deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp, under circumstances which have not yet been clarified.
Masters of the Universe
The Nazis took over Danielsberg with the goal of turning it into an army training and recreational camp. However, in their attempt to add an extension to boost accommodation, the 1,000-year Reich failed miserably. Their amateurish work caused part of the lodge to collapse, and the scars of their incompetence are still visible.
At the end of World War II, with millions of Europeans displaced, a never-ending stream of humanity walked the Tauern Railway to return to home. Danielsberg was convertedinto a refugee camp and became an important waypoint on the route, offering protection and sustenance to the displaced on their long journeys.
A New Era
Josef and Margaretha Viehhauser were looking for a bigger home for their growing family. An advertisement for an inn on a mountain caught their attention and they decided to visit. Despite being dilapidated after its years as a refugee camp and a few more standing empty, and despite the lack of electricity and an access road (only a footpath led up the mountain), it was love at first sight. Credit was not available, but the couple were not without resources. Honey was outrageously expensive at the time and bee hives Josef had inherited from his father turned out to be a goldmine. And Margarethe had a nest egg after several seasons earning good money at a ski lodge. A deal was eventually struck and the Viehhausers moved in. After weeks of repairing and scrubbing, they opened their mountain inn, giving Herkuleshof a new lease on life.
Riding the Wave
Once established on the mountain, Josef and Margarethe’s hard work gradually built up a loyal following among locals. Then the post-war boom of the 1970s arrived, sweeping them to greater success. Danielsberg was discovered by tourists from all over Austria and Germany. With their coffers filling, the Viehhausers were able to invest in a sealed road and a telephone line up the mountain, modern central heating, en-suite bathrooms for all guest rooms, and a larger aqueduct to boost the supply of water from their spring on the neighbouring mountain.
In the early 1990s, the Viehhausers, now in their 60s, became concerned about the future of Danielsberg. Three of their sons had chosen careers away from the mountain, their daughter had recently married and become the landlady of an inn in nearby Möllbrücke, and their fourth son, Hannes, was living in Australia with the man who would become his life partner, Shane Sansom. It looked like none of their children would take over and Danielsberg would have to be sold. But Hannes and Shane had an epiphany in 1991 and returned to take the reins. Eight years later, after living and breathing Danielsberg for 44 years, Josef and Margaretha retired and moved to a new home down the mountain.
Making Their Mark
The Viehhausers had always lived in the inn among the guests. But in 2001, Hannes and Shane built a new guesthouse with a private attic apartment for themselves a short distance from the original lodge. Though a waiter and a cook, they did all the planning, architectural design, supervision and even some of the construction work – blithely unaware beforehand of the 365 days of utter chaos it would bring to their lives. They have also done extensive landscaping to make the most of the natural beauty of the mountain, and have made numerous improvements to the property, such as extending and partially covering the terrace, and building the popular wedding pier over the pond.
Art at Danielsberg
It was only a matter of time before Dietmar Fian, the Möll Valley’s exceptional wood sculptor and fire artist, would find his new artistic home at Danielsberg. Herkuleshof’s most photographed motif, Dietmar’s riveting heart at the bathing pond, inspired the birth of the art association “Arte Danielsberg.” The entire mountain now serves as a large open-air vernissage of Dietmar’s works in wood. His Fire Organ, a series of sculptures on the slope in front of Herkuleshof that spout flames choreographed to music, delivers a multimedia experience second to none. The open-air exhibition is managed by the Kunstverein Danielsberg, which also organises unique events to showcase the art.
The Next Generation
As Hannes and Shane contemplate retirement at some stage in the future, they don’t share the fears about finding a successor that bothered Josef and Margaretha. Their nephew Rupert Viehhauser junior is already working in the business and keen to take the reins. Herkuleshof’s tradition of family hospitality is in safe hands.