Umhausen is located on the second terrace of the Ötztal valley, comprising the villages and hamlets of Tumpen, Östen, Niederthai, Farst and Köfels. The village itself has its origins on top of a large detritus plateau formed by Horlachbach mountain brook which can be found right between two rockslide areas. Looking towards Umhausen from the western side of the valley, you still see the broad mudflow region shaped by Lehnbach brook winding its way down from Hirschberg mountain along Farstrinne. Coming from Oetz you reach "Gstoag" area near Tumpen, the valley's first real barrier. Leaving behind Umhausen you get to the next natural hurdle called Tauferberg which emerged from a giant rockslide in Köfels (opposite) thousands of years ago. The giant masses of rock dammed up Horlachbach brook and built a huge lake. As the waters corroded the entire rockface, the Stuibanfall - Tirol's biggest waterfall - can be found here! The remaining masses of rock form a natural, bow-shaped bridge while parts of the former lake and the moraines are still visible in Niederthai. This natural phenomenon is dating back to approx. 8000 B.C.
Some 8000 to 9000 years ago, in the early Holocene Age, a huge rockslide in Köfels formed the high Alpine plateau of Niederthai and the Stuiben Waterfalls. Probably it was the Alps' biggest crystalline rockslide ever. This natural catastrophe can be compared to an 7.5 earthquake on the Richter Scale. About 2-3 km³ of sliding rock masses were spread over an area of approximately 12 km².
The giant rockslide, today known as "Tauferberg", blocked the whole Ötztal Valley and the Ötztaler Ache Brook on a total length of 3 km. Therefore a big lake was formed at the height of Längenfeld and the basin of Längenfeld was built. In the course of time, the water masses decreased and broke through the Maurach Ravine, close to today's federal road.
On the opposite part of the valley the huge rocks blocked the natural drain of the Horlachbach Brook. In Niederthai a lake district was formed by the waters, which developed into the giant Stuiben Falls, Tirol's biggest waterfall with a falling height of 159 meters.
Still today, geology experts are not sure about the reason of this huge rockslide. Weather conditions, earthquakes or volcanism? A quite interesting theory of the British scientists Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell centers on a comet's impact. The flight path of a celestial body - noticed by an ancient Sumerian astrologist - was visible far beyond the European borders: the "Nineveh clay tablet" is widely known and much discussed among experts.
According to historical documents, Umhausen is Ötztal's oldest settlement. Already around 1000 AD the first Bajuvarian settlers brought their cattle herds to the pasturelands surrounding today's Umhausen - although the entire area was permanently threatened by mudflows and glacier slides. Only Horlachtal high altitude valley, where you find Niederthai today, was permanently populated. Historical documents prove the existence of farmhouses as early as in 1145. Also Farst is known as an ancient settlement area; already at the time of Ötzi (the Iceman) forests were cleared to make way for farming.
In 1220 a small parish church was first mentioned in Umhausen; its pastor was responsible for the "inner Gstoag" area. The oldest documents found at Frauenchiemsee Benedictine Convent, the territory to which the Ötztal belonged, mentioned a village named "Umbhausen" and "Umbehusen". "Nidirtaige" (Niederthai) was documented already in 1145 and "Tumpein" (Tumpen) in 1288. The chronicles of Ottobeuren Benedictine Abbey, which belonged to Frauenchiemsee, prove the early existence of farmhouses. Among the secular landowners in this area were the Counts of Hirschberg, Starkenberg and Schwangau. Records indicate that the Counts of Hirschberg (they came from nearby Wenns / Pitztal valley) owned a place of retreat which was destroyed by a mudflow. The so-called "Turn" in Rosslach (people still live in this tower-shaped building) belonged to the Starkenberg Dynasty and was the former Court of Frauenchiemsee. Later on it was also used as a granary. C/14 tests and old wooden elements proved that the building dates to 1200. In 1465 the first officially elected mayor was mentioned in documents.
The dramatic history of Umhausen is characterized by countless nature catastrophes. Records indicate several glacier slides and ice water floodings of Vernagtferner, as well as mudflows. The biggest mudflow disaster happened on 11 July 1762 when two mudslides at the same time - coming down from Hirschberg and Horlachtal - buried the village and destroyed 70 houses as well as flax storage and processing places. 10 persons died in this incredible catastrophe. The houses were rebuilt, not in the same area but in a new hamlet called "Offne Maura" (Neudorf). Such horrific disasters recurred regularly. A very interesting document, dating back to 1317, reported that the landowner fixed a tax reduction for the people of "Umbhausen" because their village was again destroyed by floods and mudslides. Today the area around Umhausen is safe as the glacier-covered areas shrink and the mountain brooks are equipped with control structures.
Originally the inhabitants of Umhausen were self-sufficient. Fields and farmland was cultivated up to 1500m above sea level. One of the most important branches was the production of flax. Umhausen was renowned for its high-quality products. These extra earnings guaranteed a certain standard of living to its inhabitants. In 1886 historical papers documented that there was only one poor family in Umhausen. Already in 1905 a Flax Processing Association was founded in order to promote common marketing aims. Also the heraldic symbol of the village features a stylized flax blossom. Due to industrialization and increasing imports of cotton, the production of flax almost disappeared around 1956.
As early as in 1830 the first "foreigners" (guests) came to Umhausen. Most of them were passionate hikers and mountaineers who enjoyed a stopover while exploring the valley. Historical "Gasthof zur Krone" was the most popular refreshment stop. A traveler from Bunzlau wrote in 1837: "The brave host Mister Marberger and his family made our stay as pleasant and comfortable as possible". The construction of the Arlberg railroad in 1884 and the completion of the valley road between 1898 and 1905 promoted tourism considerably. Carl Marberger, the then owner of "Gasthof zur Krone", built his own electric power station in 1906. In his advertising brochure he could already guarantee "electric light in all rooms". From 1950 onwards summer tourism became more and more important. Farmhouses offered guest rooms for travelers, several inns opened their doors, and Ötztal's first heated swimming pool was built in Umhausen. Over the years Umhausen has become a popular holiday village in both summer and winter, without focusing on mass tourism.
Strolling through the village, you can enjoy a great variety of artistic and historical highlights. First of all you should not miss out on the Gothic Parish Church consecrated to St. Vitus. Mentioned already in 1220, the church was enlarged in 1482 without using any Baroque elements. In the course of renovation works in 1964 precious fresco paintings - dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries - were found. Also the wonderful Pietà and the Crucifixion Scene are of the same period. A wonderful Renaissance-style cross on the triumphal arch goes back to the year 1580. Next to the parish church you see the lovingly renovated"Gasthof Krone", the seat of Umhausen's local authorities since 2001. The most impressive feature of this historical building is the polygonal oriel which hosts a late Baroque "Stube" parlor with wooden panels dating back to 1684. Today this marvelous room is Umhausen's wedding registry office. A splendid place deeply rooted in history.
Also the Parish House of Umhausen is truly exceptional. After a giant mudslide in 1762 it was newly built in the southern part of the village. Featuring Baroque facade paintings, the parish house ranks among the highlights. Another wonderful building always worth a visit is the renovated Farmhouse no. 38, dating back to 1763, which can be found in Umhausen's old village center.
The parish churches of Tumpen and Niederthai refer to more recent periods. The Church in Tumpen consecrated to St. Martin was built in 1664. This unsophisticated Baroque church had to be enlarged already in 1719. In 1884 the small Baroque-style tower was replaced by a slender church tower which has become the symbol of Tumpen. The Baroque Church of Niederthai was consecrated to St. Antonius in 1698. Rich stucco ornaments prove the importance of this religious place. In former times the House of God was essential for everyday life. The scenic Pastoral Church consecrated to the "Virgin Mary of the Seven pains" in Köfels is a well-loved pilgrimage site.
Driving towards the upper Ötztal Valley, a real eye catcher awaits you amid the wide open fields of Platzl - Lehn: the Baroque style "Maria-Schnee Chapel" originally built in the village center. Devastating mudslides and lightning strikes destroyed the small hamlet and the church in the 17th and 18th centuries. Therefore a new church was built some 100m north of its original site in 1797. After extensive renovation works, the wonderful chapel has become a popular place for weddings and a renowned pilgrimage site.
With the series of events "3 Days Umhausen", held in 1990 and 1995, Umhausen gained fame as international meeting point of the art scene. Herbert Fuchs, an artist from Innsbruck, organized this truly outstanding program in collaboration with Umhausen's local initiative group guided by Regina Doblander, Eduard Scheiber, Christian Eder and Walter Preyer. The main aim was to mix up traditional culture of an authentic Tirolean village with modern art elements and experimental literature, initiating a quite constructive encounter between artists, spectators and locals. Herbert Fuchs could convince also his most skeptical companions to take part in the program, mainly because there were no formal, technical or conceptual guidelines for the artists' work. Most of the internationally renowned participants - among them artists from New York, Los Angeles, Vienna, Hamburg, Zurich and Madrid - created a made to measure concept for the special event in Umhausen. Some works were designed on the spot, others were inspired by photos or mere fantasy.
"Larchzieh'n" means tree trunk pulling, it is one of the oldest traditions in Umhausen. In the past, the tree trunk pulling event took place only if no young man got married within the last calendar year. This happened for the last time in 1968. A few years later, in 1996, this old tradition was revived thanks to an initiative by Edi Scheiber and his companions. Since 2000 the traditional "Larchzieh'n" event is scheduled every 5 years - much to the pleasure of Umhausen's unmarried young men. Three cheers for all of them!
Tree trunk pulling called "Larchzieh'n" signs the highlight of carnival season in Umhausen and the entire Ötztal valley. As documents prove, tree trunk pulling was a widespread custom in many villages of the Tirolean Oberland region in the early 20th century. In Umhausen larch tree trunks were used and only unmarried young men were allowed to pull the heavy trunks through the village.
Records indicate that tree pulling ranks among Europe's oldest traditions during carnival. The first documents describing carnival events are dating back to the early 13th century. Between 1200 and 1400 historical papers prove the existence of themed events and programs. Later in the 14th and 16th centuries the single carnival highlights were organized in a more systematic way, including parades of active carnival groups and spectators. Tree trunk pulling was first mentioned around 1450: this old custom focuses on mocking at young men of marriageable age who make a parade through the village. Most of the time also young women and old maids were harnessed to the heavy tree trunk, a de-branched larch or stone pine tree. In 1460 Archduke Sigismund der Münzreiche ("rich in coin" was his nickname), ruler of Tirol, mentioned "Larchzieh'n" already in his accounts book. At the beginning there was just an unorganized crowd and no real parade accompanying the tree trunk pullers. Only later real festival parades were organized also for other carnival groups and spectators.
In the past, the event used to take place only on Ash Wednesday - one of the reasons why this old tradition focuses on the MARRIAGE.
Carnival time is still one of the favorite wedding seasons as the end of carnival signs the beginning of Lent. It was an ancient Catholic custom to abstain from eating meat and sexual activity. On Ash Wednesday, the first day of the fasting period, the chance to get married was over once and for all.
Fortunately the tree trunk pulling tradition has been maintained in Umhausen. Today the giant larch trunk is accompanied by a festive parade and the outstanding Sterzingermoos cart. Bride and groom meet for the wedding ceremony in the village center. In all Europe, marriages are the number one topic of parodist theater performances and carnival parades, including also the "plundering ride" of the young couple. In former times the bride's dowry was placed on a separate cart which was brought directly to the groom's house. It was of utmost importance to show in public what the bride contributed to her future family life. The most precious dowry pieces were fixed to the cart so that everyone could see them.
Among Umhausen's most important carnival customs ranks the "court of rebuke" which reveals local occurrences and affairs that happened secretly in the last years. Thanks to the crazy carnival season it is allowed - and strongly recommended - to make fun of politicians, neighbors and all other locals. The sophisticated "Sterzingermoos" cart represents another highlight of the parade. Legend has it that all unmarried old maids were brought to the Sterzinger Moos marshlands in order to do penance. The same happened to all unmarried men, they were sent to a nearby mountain in the vicinity of the forlorn marshlands. The punishment consisted in being compelled to do useless things - such as polishing rocks or moving clouds. What's most important: the unmarried men must pull the tree trunk without stopping all across the village. The parade is followed by an auction that includes not only the giant tree trunk but also other pieces of wood provided by local companies, private persons and agricultural associations. There are only few other carnival events looking back on such a deeply rooted tradition: larch tree trunk, wedding couple, court of rebuke and Sterzingermoos cart are highlights not to be missed when it comes to traditional "Larchzieh'n" in Umhausen. German source: „VOKUS" Dr. Petra Streng, Dr. Gunther Bakay