Alpine villagers bewildered as China clones their home

The idyllic Austrian village of Hallstatt boasts fine traditional wooden chalets, ancient churches and breathtaking panoramic views over its own lake and the surrounding snow-capped Alps: "Many describe it as the most beautiful lakeside village in the world," insists the local tourist board.

Nobody, it seems, would agree more with this assessment than the Chinese. And it has emerged that a development corporation in the distant southern province of Guangdong is busy building a carbon copy of Hallstatt, which it has started advertising as a "low density, high-end residential development with mountain and lake views".

The news has come as a shock to Hallstatt's 800 residents. The beauty of their village may have earned it Unesco World Heritage site status, but nobody in the picturesque tourist magnet in the heart of Austria's Salzkammergut had any idea the Chinese planned such a project, let alone that they would go ahead and build it.

"The people are not very amused that this has happened behind their backs," is how Hallstatt's mayor Alexander Scheutz put it. "But I found myself confronted with a fait accompli. I am stunned," he admitted. Mr Scheutz said he had complained to Unesco about the Guangdong project.

The Hallstatters have concluded that a team of Chinese "spies" must have mingled among the estimated 800,000 tourists who visit the village each year. They are believed to have taken hundreds of photographs for use as the basis for the housing scheme in the town of Huizhou, north of Hong Kong.

Monika Wenger, the proprietor of a 400-year-old inn in Hallstatt said most villagers she had talked to were "outraged – not about the fact but the approach" taken by the Chinese. "I don't like the idea a team was here for years measuring, photographing and studying us," she said, "I would have expected them to approach us directly – the whole thing reminds me of Big Brother."

Mrs Wenger found out about the Huizhou project only earlier this month. A Chinese woman staying at her hotel allowed her to look at drawings she had of Hallstatt's market and other key landmarks which, she revealed, were due to be faithfully reproduced in China.

The Austrian authorities are still deciding how best to respond to the Chinese plans. The Unesco-affiliated monument conservation office, which looks after the village, said that while copying structures on the basis of photographs was legal, owners had to grant permission for their buildings to be measured. "The legal situation still needs to be examined," said spokesman Hans-Jörg Kaiser. Yet some of Hallstatt's residents admit they welcome the project because it gives the town publicity, which will attract more Chinese tourists. "We are happy they find it beautiful enough to copy," said Ingrid Janu, who runs a souvenir stall.

In China, however, the cloning of European towns and villages is not only highly popular but big business. The city of Chengdu is proud of its "British Town" completed in 2005, which is modelled on Dorchester.

Crystal He, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Minmetals Corporation, which is building the Hallstatt copy, told the Associated Press the five-acre village would include a shop selling Austrian souvenirs. "Homesick Caucasian people from Hong Kong will like it as well," she insisted.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable