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Hallstatt makes peace with Chinese copycat

Austrian residents in the picture postcard Alpine village of Hallstatt are to sign a deal with a Chinese carbon copy village which officially opens on June 2.

Residents of Hallstatt in Austria were furious when their village was copied and rebuilt in China but now a legal challenge over the copyright breach has been dropped, and instead a delegation including Halstatt mayor Alexander Scheutz is to travel to China to sign the friendship treaty between the two.

Scheutz said locals had decided that the decision by the Chinese to create a copy was in fact a compliment and can only help to further spread the fame of his own village of 900 residents.

Never afraid to ‘borrow’ or  imitate, Chinese planners were accused of making the ultimate counterfeit with a settlement copied wholesale for the benefit of wealthy industrialists and located just an hour or so by chauffeur-driven limousine from their grim factories in in Boluo in Guangdong province.

News of the plans for a fake version of the idyllic lakeside village generated a mixture of astonishment, amusement and finally threats of a legal challenge when it was revealed that ‘spies’ from a Chinese developer had been secretly preparing detailed blueprints on furtive European trips, posing as tourists.

No expense was spared on the project. The original buildings were copied and reproduced with startling precision by the China Mine Metal Group. It includes Hallstatt’s 1860 Protestant Christuskirche (Church of our Lord)  at the heart of the town. But the church will not be used to worship – it's a restaurant and concert hall.

Horse-drawn carriages and flocks of white doves have even been imported to lend authenticity to the project where a new villa here built in the style of a 300-year-old lakeside home is being offered at between 200,000 and 500,000, GBP, much higher than the real thing in Austria.

Some things don't measure up. The fake lake, for instance, is not just muddy, it is 50 times smaller than the original, a stagnant shallow pool. Then Chinese Halstatt lacks the two-mile-high snowy mountains that surround the real thing, and instead is ringed by parched yellow hills, a few hundred feet above sea level.

And while the 800 residents of the real Hallstatt breathe pristine mountain air, China’s ‘Alpine’ residents will gaze out only as far as the smog allows across the nation’s black industrial heartland. Pollution is chokingly high in Guangdong province, known as the workshop of the world, causing sickness in almost half the residents.

Promotional literature claims: ‘You can go to Viennese cake shops, a beer house and a romantic Austrian-style square,and there will be a famous international school and kindergartens so children can have a wonderful childhood and get the best education.’ The facilities will include a mountain-top swimming pool, the region’s only mountain sports club, and restaurants serving the best of European cuisine.

There are some geographically improbable extras, too. Hallstatt, China, will include a replica of the street where Mozart was born, Getreidegasse, complete with a Mozart library and a period ironmonger. Getreidegasse is actually in Salzburg. The neighbouring street is named after Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, 200 miles from the real Hallstatt, although the developers have stopped short of trying to reproduce the 18th Century castle.

Wealthy Chinese are the world’s biggest buyers of fine French wines, and a taste for European culture is seen as a mark of sophistication. Luxury homes are often modelled on French chateaux while historic neighbourhoods in China’s own cities are bulldozed to make way for glitzy apartment blocks and shopping malls. China might have thousands of years of history and culture, but such things don’t seem to count.

Because the original is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site locals in Austria had announced plans to take legal action over the copy – but they have now decided that he the Chinese project is actually good advertising - and an honour.

The original Hallstatt’s website even now carries a motto: ‘Hallstatt – the original.  Photographed a million times.  Copied once.’

Mayor Scheutz said: "We only just got the news that the other Hallstatt is almost finished and we are a bit surprised that they've done it so quickly. They haven't really been keeping us informed about their plans but the feeling here now is that it is an honour that they have done this.

"We contacted the Chinese developer and now we have been invited to the official opening will take place on 2 June. They also asked if I could bring a traditional Austrian band with me and I'm going to bring the local Salinenmusikkapelle Hallstatt band with me, complete with lederhosen."

At the same time the Mayor plans to sign the friendship treaty with the Chinese recognising their twin origins.

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