Hallstatt has 923 inhabitants. The Chinese version may have quite a few more.
The city of Huizhou has announced plans to build a clone of the Austrian village – a UNESCO World Heritage site snuggled up against a lake in the Alps.
The replica is being built by state-owned China Minmetals. That a state-owned metals and minerals trader is taking the lead is less of a surprise when so many Chinese companies dabble in real estate on the side (see WiC54). The head of Minmetals property arm told website Soufun.com back in May that the sector would account for more than 10% of company profits this year.
But in Austria itself, the response has been less relaxed, with plenty of grandstanding from local politicians on getting the project halted.
Quite how this will be achieved is unclear. The bulldozers are already hard at work in Huizhou and there is no real consensus that the Chinese have done anything illegal in seeking to build their own Austrian idyll amid the Guangdong smog.
The plans won’t come as much of a shock to regular WiC readers. Back in issue 74 we reported on similar ambitions to build a copy of the port of Cadaques, a small town on the Costa Brava that once served as inspiration to Spanish painter Salvador Dali. Villas at the project in Xiamen Bay will go on sale in October.
A community designed to reflect Thomas Hardy’s fictional Dorchester has attracted wealthier buyers in Chengdu, and there is a replica of an English market town about an hour’s drive from Shanghai. Developers thought they’d make things more authentic by putting up a bust of Winston Churchill in the town square.
Nearby is German Town, where planners have swapped Churchill for Goethe. Sensible stuff.
So why are the Austrians getting so hot under the collar? They seem to feel deceived by the news of Hallstatt’s eastern reincarnation, despite one local hotelier recalling his suspicions that Chinese tourists seen sketching the local houses were not doing so for their love of art alone.
The local Catholic priest also has concerns, telling newspaper Die Presse that any replica of Hallstatt’s historic church would have to be declared a place of prayer.
Presumably he hasn’t had much experience of themed karaoke lounges…
Generally, the Chinese press doubts that the proposed development will resemble its Austrian counterpart too closely. Minmetals representatives have said that the design will take some of Hallstatt’s “architectural elements” rather than copy it outright. And for the People’s Daily it is obvious enough that developers won’t be able to recreate the surrounding lakes and mountains, nor the “authentic village culture” built up over hundreds of years.
Perhaps they’ll compensate by installing loudspeakers on street corners to play Edelweiss…
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