Konrad Bechter and his mother moved from Lingenau to Hittisau in 1812, when Konrad was 16. His father had died 10 years before, when Konrad was only 6 years old and he’d also lost his 5 siblings, who all died very young. Mother and son sold their home in Lingenau and used the funds to buy a new homestead in Hittisau. In 1814, self-dependent since early manhood, Konrad bought the ‘Sonne’ inn opposite as well as the farm that came with it. 2 years later and still only 20 years old, he married 27 year old Kristina Hagspiel from the ‘Hirschen’ inn. 1820 saw the purchase of another adjoining homestead. In his day, all the above were courageous steps for a man as young as Konrad in tremendously difficult economic circumstances.
1816 into the first half of 1818 brought extremely snowy and prolonged winters as well as cold and rainy spring and summer months leading to severe food shortages which, in the end, could only be overcome by importing grain from Egypt. From 1817 to 1820, Kristina Bechter gave birth to five children, only two of whom survived. In that same period, her husband Konrad turned his hand to major building works, entirely rebuilding the ‘Sonne’ and adding a spacious ballroom on the first floor. The lower part of the house remains to this day. First and foremost, Konrad saw himself as a farmer, establishing a thriving dairy farm in Hittisau-Rain.
During Konrad’s lifetime, good milk production was already highly sought after and he acquired tremendous expertise in all aspects of livestock trading. He’d been born into an era where high quality milk processing was greatly valued and he seized this opportunity, making good use of the excellent sales prospects offered by the vast market of the then imperial monarchy.
Konrad was also very lucky with his purchases of alpine meadow shares from childless relatives. Even on hard to reach high alpine ground he built major cattle sheds and farm buildings in order to realise his longterm and hugely progressive alpine farming and dairy undertakings. On one of them, Oberbalderschwang, he had the old house and sheds demolished and a shed built to house 100 cows – no mean feat. Slowly and steadily he became the biggest farmer and owner of alpine ground in all of the Bregenzerwald.
The logical conclusion for the successful farmer then was to take on a fitting role in the running of his village and in 1827 a still very young and enterprising Konrad was elected mayor of Hittisau, a position he held until his premature death in 1845.
An increase in cattle and cheese exports as well as a growing population in general made the expansion of transport and traffic facilities an urgent priority. Eager to face the challenges, Konrad was the driving force behind the construction of a new bridge across the local river Subersach, thus connecting the area with the larger villages of Alberschwende and Egg as well as other parts of the Bregenzerwald. Alois Negrelli, the very same engineer who developed numerous worthy planning projects for Vorarlberg and who would go on to plan the construction of the Suez Canal, was working for the county authority in Bregenz at the time and he devised the plans for the new bridge, supported wholeheartedly by Konrad Bechter. Today, this bridge, built between 1833 and 1835, is one of the very few remaining covered wooden bridges.
Konrad also extended his active support to district commissioner Ebner to overcome massive resistance against building the Schwarzachtobel road (1835 to 1837), linking the Bregenzerwald with the Rheintal and beyond and opening valuable new opportunities for trade. He acted as spokesman for the regional villages and committed 90,000 guilders to these road building projects against the promise of a connecting road from Müselbach to Lingenau, thus expanding the network. However, this suffered years of delays before its realisation.
Ultimately, there are two buildings right on the village square of Hittisau which would be the lasting legacy of this extraordinary man and visionary. The most imposing is the parish church (1843–1845) and the other directly opposite is the Krone (1838), originally meant to become the seat of the county court. This would be one of the many schemes of a restless and ambitious mayor which would not quite turn out the way he’d intended. The provisional inauguration of the church took place 5 months after Konrad Bechter’s death but it took another 8 years to completely finish it.
The cost estimate for the church in 1841 came to 40,000 guilders, its final cost increased to around 60,000 guilders. Sheer incredible sacrifices and work efforts were asked of the parishioners: sand and gravel had to be scooped out of the river Subersach a mile and a half away and passed along a long line of buckets back to the building site.
Beside all his success during a time of strong economic upturn, Konrad suffered his own personal tragedies and economic calamities. His wife died in 1835, when the surviving six children were between 4 and 18 years old (Kristina had given birth to 15 children in total). At least once between 1838 and 1841 his large stock of cattle was decimated by foot and mouth disease which put a halt to all cheese trade and cattle markets for fear of spreading the disease and in July 1841, a heavy storm felled at least 100,000 trees in the area, causing widespread damage.
(Reference: Dr. Anton Stöckler, Platz 336, 6952 Hittisau)
Recommended reading: werkraum krone, ISBN 978-3-902612-67-0, Bucher Verlag, Hohenems
Sources: Diary of district commissioner Ebner, Vorarlberg archives, Bregenz
Birth, marriage and death register of C. Bergmann, Hittisau municipality, Nr. 52
Originally built in 1837, several changes of ownership. The Krone has been in the hands of the Natter family for three generations now; for the last 10 years, it has been run by Helene Nussbaumer-Natter and Dietmar Nussbaumer.
As the character of a business our size depends so much on the individuals running it and how well they collaborate, I’ll start with how Dietmar and I came together.
We actually first met very early on: I was 15 and attending hotel and catering college in Innsbruck, and we went out together a few times in a bigger group. But then there was a long gap. Dietmar went on to Lech and worked there for 10 years as assistant manager. After college I ended up there too, in 1997 – we could easily have run into each other, any time that winter, but we never did. That finally happened when we were both at an event in Wolfurt – was that Fate, or was it just chance? We often wonder. We have been together ever since. Just the personal relationship to start with, but later as business partners.
Then Dietmar joined the staff at the Krone, and little by little he became part of the Krone family, the business, and Hittisau, really. It was in 2005 that we formally took over the Krone, but I feel it was not till the time of the first rebuild that we took over in the true sense – came to terms mentally and emotionally with what we were doing. That was autumn 2007.
Since then, it has been all go – we have now, in collaboration of course with our friend and architect Bernardo Bader and a number of local craft-workers, remodelled virtually every bedroom in the hotel as well as the social rooms (the “Stuben”), the reception area, the chimney-corner room, and then of course there are our two lively sons Oskar and Max ensuring there’s never a dull moment ;-).
We are both into the cultural side too, what with the reading-room sessions, the Proust Days, the “A Guest at the Krone” series and other joint efforts. Dietmar and Florian Aicher jointly edit and produce the Edition Krone – a little series of books picking up particular topics to do with our hotel. And of course there is always some new venture being planned!
I really think Dietmar and I make a good team. He is the creative one, and a natural host, body and soul. I prefer to keep more in the background (best of all is in the patisserie kitchen, as I simply love desserts!), and try to be a good team player and someone that any of the team can come and talk to if they want. We do both set high standards, and we are consistent.
Another good way you can see our different personalities is to come along to our “Krömle-Kasten” (treasure trove) to purchase small, personal gifts: I contribute the homemade jam, the various Krone tea blends I make with the herbalist lady in Alberschwende, biscuits that we make here, pretty candles and so on. Dietmar’s offerings feed the mind rather than the body – the “Edition Krone”, also the “Werkraum Krone” book, which tells the story of our first big rebuild, and then some recipes from our kitchen – and a selection of other books from the local area.
One thing I’m proud of is that our two major rebuilds (2007 and 2010) are still a pride and joy to us today. I think that speaks for some good decision-making at the time. I’m also very proud that some of our staff here have kept faith with us for many years now – Manu has been here 30 years, Beate over 20, Nadja and Johanna 10, Michael 5 – it’s a great feeling! Among the guests too, we have some who keep coming – some of them in fact ever since I was little! And I love the moment every day when our home-baked bread and cakes are in the oven and rising as they should. But what means most of all to me is that we all get along as a family and pull together – and that’s three generations of us, Nussbaumers and Natters.
Herbert and I first met at a St. Nicholas party in Bludenz at the Young Hoteliers club – he asked me to dance. I had hoped he would… I’d noticed him already! Herbert was the club treasurer at the time, and he was sitting at the end of a long table, wearing a sharp suit and smoking. That was in 1969. The very next day, there was Herbert, installed in the Angel Inn at Schwarzach, which was my parents’ pub, drinking coffee …
My father took to Herbert– who is 11 years older than me – straight away. He always used to say a man under 30 is a “Trüllar” – which means a good-for-nothing – and he appreciated Herbert’s good manners and dry sense of humour. I still vividly remember one of the very first times I came to the Krone: there was to be a wedding party in the ballroom that night, and I was invited to come to the veranda. And then I was treated to a Bosnia Cake (still being made in the Krone from the same recipe) and some crème caramel (which had been made for the wedding feast) – it was simply wonderful. I could see it was very sophisticated cuisine, and everything was spotlessly clean. However: it was also a bit austere, with hardly any flowers, anywhere. I wanted to take the decor in hand there and then. Later on, I did help out sometimes at the Krone. One night I’ll never forget was a Fasching dance: I really had to run the gauntlet that time – found myself under scrutiny by half the village!
In 1971 Herbert and I got married.
In 1972 , i.e. still a new couple, we launched the Cellar Bar. That was quite something in those days… our personal Young Hotelier project. The fashionable tipples at the time were cocktails like World Peace and Mocca Flip, and we brought in a professional bartender from the Arlberg. The Cellar Bar at the Krone was the only bar in Hittisau, with all the advantages and disadvantages that that entails…
In 1973 our daughter Isabella was born.
It may sound a bit comical now, but the other big event for us in 1973 was that we splashed out and bought the Saladette – really just a refrigerated salads cabinet, and wildly expensive for the time, but believe it or not it is still doing the job even now! On the weekly closed day we had often crossed into Switzerland for a meal out, and there you could get fresh salads, while here in Austria we relied on cooked vegetables. I have always felt salads are important, and I still say you can tell a lot about any restaurant kitchen from the way it prepares and dresses them.
In 1976 our daughter Helene was born.
1976 was important for Herbert and me on the business side too: dance evenings had gone right out of fashion, and frankly the ballroom was becoming a bit of a headache all round – for the neighbours here, for our own guests, and for ourselves too with our young family. So with a heavy heart we had the ballroom demolished – in practice that meant 50% of the whole building – and replaced it with guest accommodation, 35 new beds altogether. Now we had a hotel with a lift, a proper foyer, and the chimney-corner room. How I remember those long sessions with Walter Hauser, our architect. Helene would be there in her pram beside us while we talked, evening after evening.
From 1977 on, the thing was to fill the hotel. One area we had had guests coming from was Alsace, and they in particular just loved the Bregenzerwald. So we thought: it’s the right distance, they’re nice people, that might be a good market for us. So we got together one day in the shoulder season with Gertrud and Otto Seiz who ran the Ifenblick in Sibratsgfäll, and just tootled off to Alsace and went round the travel agents drumming up business.
This proved a big success, brought us in nice guests by the busload, and then they would recommend us back home in Alsace, and so we got another wave of visitors from tours laid on as staff outings from chemical plants and refineries, or by clubs and senior citizen groups.
A bit later on we got into a very beneficial partnership with a coach operator in the Netherlands, Leo Thyssen – they brought groups here for years on end.
Then at the end of the 1980s the quality coach tour market collapsed – the price war was on, and suddenly we hit hard times. We had to tender very low, and before long we had two different breakfast buffets – one for coach parties and another for people who had booked individually.
We had no option but to buckle down and build our clientèle of independent travellers – it was a hard time.
We were helped a lot by our good restaurant, family celebrations, and restaurant guests who would spread the word. And very gradually we got more of those individual clients coming.
In November that year Walter Amann, the wine merchant, came round for a chat, and congratulated us on having been awarded a star in the Gault Millau gourmet guide, which was just out. This was the first we heard about it, we had not even been asked if we would like their inspectors to visit. So we were taken completely by surprise, and of course highly delighted! From then on we had lots of chefs coming in for a meal – Ernst Huber, for instance, who at the time was almost certainly the most prominent celebrity chef in Vorarlberg.
Of course, it had always been normal enough for our colleagues in the hotel business to come along as guests. There was never a sense of it being them against us – thanks in part to Herbert with his dry wit and his strict business ethic.
Chefs and hoteliers are great guests, we have always appreciated them!
That was the year Helene and our son-in-law Dietmar took over the Krone. We are so happy and grateful that our own life’s work is staying in the family and thriving and progressing so well. Herbert and I moved out long ago, of course, but we still come round two or three times a week and enjoy helping out as needed.
We always travelled a lot, and every year we would pick up ideas and inspiration. Then we’d come back home and import or adapt what we had learnt – using locally sourced ingredients.
One of the people from Alsace who came to the Krone on holiday was a chef called Edgar Husser – he ran a top-notch restaurant back home, the Auberge d’Arzenheim. He invited me to come for a week’s internship there in his kitchen, and that’s where I really learnt how to cook fish; and I also picked up a lot of know-how that we didn’t have then in Austria.
Over all those years we kept drawing inspiration from so many different places: Ticino, Alsace, Friuli, Tuscany, Piedmont, Umbria, Liguria, Cinque Terre, Rome, the Canaries, Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong – but then also from spa towns not far away, like Waltersdorf or Rakersdorf.
What we enjoyed most – everywhere – was what they were cooking and eating locally – simple regional cuisine: steamed onions with corn broth, whole fish en croûte, sama fish steamed with pink garlic in the Canaries, dried fish and tomato in Lucca, whole roast kid with herbs in Friuli, fennel salad with orange, or lemon ice-cream with wild strawberries in Tuscany; down in Australia, sea fish in a white wine reduction using new chardonnay …
What I am proud of:
That we get on as a family – that we are there for each other. That we have very able successors. That our two daughters have gone their own way. And I’m proud, of course, of our four grandchildren, all of them. They are such super little people.
Herbert and I have always been close. Together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve! We both enjoy the good things in life, and we are creative in very different ways, and full of ideas.
It was always my wish that we could be a good country inn and stay that way – not a posh hotel. A good country inn, where everyone feels at home. I hate the idea of some people being “not entirely welcome”. It was always open house here.
The past is another country …
(an excerpt from our book Werkraum Krone)
In 1930, brothers Oskar und Walter Natter – already owners of the Post inn at Bezau – bought the Krone here in Hittisau from the Lässer family of Alberschwende. They soon split up their rights in the two establishments, with Walter (1899–1971) taking on the Krone. He also engaged an experienced cook from the Post by the name of Appolonia.
Things took their natural course, and the wedding bells rang out. Appolonia, or Plone for short (1907–1980) joined the succession of notable ladies in charge at the Krone. At her husband’s request she wore the Bregenzerwald’s traditional regional costume year in, year out, even for summertime work in the sweaty heat from the big wood-burning range.
Daughter Erika was born in 1934. Very quickly she became her mother’s right-hand woman, here, there and everywhere in the Krone. When her brother Herbert, three years younger, eventually took over, she had already been running the Krone for some time.
Once the war was over, business gradually began to pick up again. Sundays saw the Krone’s public rooms crowded with pre-lunch social drinkers. On offer were lemonade, bottled beer (the brewery supplied draught beer only on major feast days), and wine: Kalterer, Lagrein Kretzer, Gumpoldskirchner. Wartime refugees from the East occupied rooms on the third floor. There were occasional weddings, and wakes.
The first dances were held in 1947/48: the gentry drew up in sleighs, there were grooms to unhitch the horses and see to their hay and water; the dancing was in the big Krone ballroom above the stables, its place taken now by hotel rooms; and the “Stuben” or taprooms saw the feasting: steaks, roast pork, meat loaf, bratwurst with sauerkraut. Regional sourcing of food for the guests was not a marketing boast in those days: it was all you had.
The mid-1950s brought the conversion of the smoking-room and the South Tyrol room into a large dining-room. In 1952 the equipment store to the rear of the premises had been turned into a ballroom – this was the scene of the legendary Wednesday night dances that for years on end were to be the Lower Bregenzerwald’s foremost marriage bureau.