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Of the Serpent, Alpine life and stories from the Kleinarler Talschluss
history of Kleinarl in Salzburge Wagrain
Behind the scenes

Of the Serpent, Alpine life and stories from the Kleinarler Talschluss

I have already taken you on a journey into the past in part 1 and part 2 of the history of the Kleinarler Talschluss. And now, in the third and last part of this series, I would like to introduce you to the history and legends of Tappenkar.

Legend has it that the original inhabitants of Tappenkar were shepherds and hunters. They lived on game and fish, and later also from farming and rearing livestock. Due to the sudden cold spell that heralded a change in the climate, the people emigrated south. In other neighbouring areas such as the Übergossene Alm, the alpine pastures had also been very fertile, so that, according to legend, shepherds and dairymaids used to play skittles with balls of butter and dance naked on the dance floors. And as is usually the case in such stories, the wrath of God was not long in making itself felt, bringing about an end to the fertility of these mountain pastures. There are actual facts behind this particular legend because trees formerly grew at much higher altitudes and thus the pastures could be farmed higher up.

history of Kleinarl in Salzburg

The Serpent of Tappenkar

In the middle of Tappenkar lies the Tappenkar lake, around which many stories and legends have grown up. It is the largest mountain lake in the Eastern Alps and definitely worth a hike there. The Tappenkar lake has steep, rocky sides and only on the southern shore are there marshy meadow slopes. Even today, these are still known as “Wurmfeld” because it is said that, long ago, a mighty serpent (“Lindwurm”) lived here. The shepherds and hunters feared it and avoided it. The serpent ripped their horses, cows and sheep to pieces while the shepherds and hunters looked helplessly on. Eventually, they had an idea and tried to defeat the serpent with a cunning trick. They filled an old cowhide with moss, so that it looked very much like a live cow. In the stomach of the cow, however, was a large amount of gunpowder. The shepherds presented the serpent with the delicacy, and it was not long before the monster sprang out of the lake and devoured the cow. Straight away, a flame shot up, followed by a bang. Smoke, spray from the lake and countless parts of the serpent flew through the air. Following this, the Alpine people celebrated their success. However, the serpent was not completely torn apart and has since been recovering in the Tappenkar lake. It gnaws at the rocks and one day it will break the rocks apart and the lake will flood the whole valley – it is thought that the water will travel as far as Wagrain …

history of Kleinarl in Salzburg

Another legend tells of a beautiful “Tappenkarfrau” (Tappenkar woman). She loved the son of a knight and wanted to be his wife. The only obstacle was that he had to kill the serpent. Unfortunately, like so many others, he died in the attempt. Following his death, the beautiful “Tappenkarfrau” threw herself into the lake.

Another legend tells of a water sprite in the Tappenkar lake. The sprite said to a hunter who wanted to explore the lake: “If you find me, I’ll eat you up.”  Maybe there is a grain of truth here too, because many divers who want to explore the lake don’t get a second chance to do so…

history of Kleinarl in Salzburg

The origin of the name Tappenkar

The origin of the name is not quite clear and can be found in old records in various forms. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was written as it is today, then in 1653 it became Dabbenkar, in 1628 Tatpenkar or Tothenkar, in 1728 Dabenkar and then Tappenkar again. It may be derived from the word “Etappe”, meaning place of rest. Another possibility is the old German word “tapin” (hidden, locked, enclosed Alpine bowl). The Celtic word “Dapfen” is another option, meaning cow pasture. Or its origin is in the Dutch word “tappe”, meaning paw. Every interpretation has its own merits and may be the one responsible for the name.

history of Kleinarl in Salzburg

The Alpine summer season in Tappenkar – shepherds, dairymaids and animals, and what the archbishop has to do with it

Some legends suggest that the Celts were the first to cultivate the alpine pastures. This cannot, however, be proven. But they definitely knew how to cross the Alps, because “Tauern” means mountain pass. And there are many of these in our area, such as Obertauern. Only later was this term used for the main Alpine ridge in our area (Hohe Tauern, Niedere Tauern, etc.). But when the alpine pastures were farmed for the first time remains a mystery. Around the year 1850, however, about 1,000 sheep, 800 cattle and 200 horses were raised in the area of Tappenkar. For there are 712 hectares of pasture, and the animals can also enjoy mountain clover and aromatic herbs at over 2,000 m above sea level. This area is considered a particularly healthy pasture with few cases of sick animals.

Alpine life on the largest mountain of the Pongau district was wonderful, supposedly better than anywhere else in the archbishopric. The mountain people were joined by the “Samer”, people who were passing through, usually transporting various goods across the mountains. On the mountain pastures in Tappenkar they were offered rest and refreshment, often also a place to stay. The original hut used to stand at Hüttenstein, southeast of the lake. Because from there, the shepherds had a good view of the pastures as well as the earlier upwards migration of the cattle over the Draugsteintörl. In addition to wrestling and roughhousing, shepherds, dairymen and dairymaids, “Samer” and traders, drovers and peasant lads and lasses from near and far could let themselves go and enjoy their freedom, as this saying makes clear:

ånga kemman Paar um Paar,
zur Almafreud ins Tappenkar,
der Samer und der Kramer,
der Senner und der Hirt,
alle bringen saubere Dirndl mit
(Roughly:  they come in pairs to Tappenkar for Alpine fun, the “Samer” and the grocer, the dairyman and the shepherd, all bringing young lasses with them)
Sie heben an zu jodeln und zu singa,
zu hupfen und zu springa,
tun sich mit d’Händ fest umschlinga,
zum Tanz und Ringelreihn,
am Tappenkar, dem frei’n.
(Roughly: they start to yodel and sing, to hop and to spring, holding hands to dance and spin around, at Tappenkar the free)

history of Kleinarl in Salzburg

For a long time, little was known about the life of the shepherds. But in 1645, Archbishop Paris Lodron banned the shepherds’ dances. And later, women were banned from being sent to the alpine meadows as dairymaids.

It is said that a Salzburg speciality was the “Sendinnen Wäppelung”. Since dairymaids were strictly banned from the alpine pastures and dairymen were used instead, the farmers tried to find a different solution. Finally, the law was modified in 1767 so that shepherds and dairymaids could be given a licence by the clergy for the alpine pastures. So, the farmers had to accompany the people who were due to go to the alpine pastures on a visit to the clergy, and if the clergy found them satisfactory, they were allowed to go to the pastures. It may well be that an old woman was brought to the clergy and received approval, but it was a young girl who ended up spending the summer in the alpine pastures… “Wäppeln”” or “wappeln” means a quick stamp of approval or being provided with a coat of arms. Today, the term “gwappelt” tends to mean refined.

Right of pasture for almost all Pongau communities

Originally all Pongau communities were allowed to take their grazing cattle up to the Tappenkar. This was done via the Draugsteintörl from Grossarltal, as this was much less dangerous than the way directly to the Tappenkar lake. This was followed by disputes with the farmers from Grossarl and Hüttschlag, as they seem to have driven too many animals too early up to the Tappenkar. Numerous disagreements, contracts and agreements that were not adhered to were the result. None of the documents certify a suspension of the Großarl and Hüttschlag grazing rights on the Tappenkar, but this is what happened. Even in the archives, nothing specific can be found. Whether the Großarl and Hüttschlag farmers gave in or whether an exclusion took place, is not documented. The time when this took place is also unknown. Whatever the case, it was no longer possible to ascend from the Großarltal side via the Draugsteintörl, and a new path had to be created on the western shore of the lake. The Großarl and Hüttschlag farmers probably refused to let them ascend via the original route. Time and time again, accidents happened on the new route. Today the hiking trail to the Tappenkar lake is very well defined and with the right footwear is a very nice hike.

Today, 150 to 180 animals spend the summer up in the meadows and pastures, the Alm consists of a total of 22 Pongau communities, which is quite a rarity in the alpine life around Salzburg. Hikers can find refreshments in two Alpine huts. For more detailed data on history and grazing rights, the Ortschronik Kleinarl is the best thing to read after a relaxing hike to the Tappenkar lake. But beware! The serpent may still be lurking close at hand. 🙂

history of Kleinarl in Salzburg

Tips & Info:

The information comes from the Ortschronik Kleinarl. If you would like to know more about the history of Kleinarl, you can purchase the Ortschronik Kleinarl in Kleinarl

Tour tip to Tappenkar lake

Photo credits: Ortschronik Kleinarl, Wagrain-Kleinarl Tourismus, Eduardo Gellner


Ich lebe mit meinem Freund in Goldegg am See. Meine Freizeit verbringe ich in der Natur und genieße die Aussichten der Pongauer Landschaften, am liebsten im Wald, am Berg oder an einem See – egal in welcher Jahreszeit.

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