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Irene Heisz

Mountain Huts Up Close: The Falken Hut in the Karwendel Mountains

03.05.2021 in Architecture

Falkenhütte-Karwendel

For more than 70 years now the Kostenzer family has run the Falken Hut. Surrounded by the majestic Karwendel Mountains, this alpine refuge is a popular base for hikers and climbers.

Fritz Kostenzer sums up his relationship with the Falken Hut in one short sentence: "The hut is my home." He is the third generation of his family to run this alpine refuge located in the heart of the Karwendel Nature Park to the north of Innsbruck.

Fritz Kostenzer's family has run the Falken Hut for three generations. "The hut is my home."
Fritz Kostenzer's family has run the Falken Hut for three generations. "The hut is my home."

Falkenhütte (7)

It is 41 years ago that Fritz took over the hut from his parents, Peter and Mathilde, who had themselves been in charge since 1946. "My father was a cheesemaker at the nearby Engalm hut. My mother worked as a waitress here at the Falken Hut," he explains. Born in 1957, Fritz was the only boy in a family's five children. "Our childhood was like on a mountain farm. We would spend every summer up at the hut. It was great, but we also had to help out from an early age. Times were different back then – it was the only life we knew."

When his mother died aged 44, Fritz was just 16 years old – and his sister was just 8. His father Peter and the five children continued to run the hut. That meant Fritz became responsible for the day-to-day operation of the hut at just 20 years of age – a challenge had not anticipated. "The original idea was that one of my older sisters would take on the hut, but they all got married and moved away. In the end it came down to me. I can't say I was delighted with the idea. At 18 or 19 years of age you have other things in your head than running a mountain hut!"

Looking back now he admits that it took him a while to realise that a life in the mountains was, in fact, "what I enjoy and what I am good at". But how does he know he is doing a good job? "The vast majority of the guests who stay with us are happy when they leave – and we have lots who come back year after year." At the same time he is keen to emphasise that he couldn't wish for a better clientele. "Hikers and climbers are really friendly, down-to-earth people. That makes them great gueststs. I'm not just saying that – it's true."

The infamous Laliderer Wände were long popular with rock climbers, but today the area attracts first and foremost mountain bikers – including lots of many e-bike riders.
The infamous Laliderer Wände were long popular with rock climbers, but today the area attracts first and foremost mountain bikers – including lots of many e-bike riders.

The hut used to welcome large numbers of climbers wishing to take on the steep Laliderer Wände, but the deteriorating quality of the rock means this area is now more or less off-limits. "The limestone here in the Karwendel Mountains has become brittle. There have been accidents," Fritz explains. The climbers have been replaced by more and more mountain bikers – and in recent years e-bike riders. "Unlike some other places I know of we don't really have any problems here between hikers and bikers. Everyone seems to get on really well."

A quick glance at the menu reveals that the hut serves all the classics you would expect in Tirol, ranging from hearty dumplings (bacon, cheese, etc.) to carb-heavy pasta dishes for hikers and bikers to replenish their energy reserves. "When it comes to cooking we like to keep things simple. We don't need a huge menu with loads of different options. We want to offer guests genuine local food at reasonable prices. That's what I believe in – and that's the way it is going to stay."

Fritz runs the hut together with his wife Ursula, who looks after bookings, and his two sons Alexander (below), who is head chef, and Peter (bottom), who is responsible for service and provisions.
Fritz runs the hut together with his wife Ursula, who looks after bookings, and his two sons Alexander (below), who is head chef, and Peter (bottom), who is responsible for service and provisions.

Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Karwendel Gebirge, Falkenhuette; Huette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut; hier: Huettenwirt Sohn Alexander Kostenzer 07/2016
Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Karwendel Gebirge, Falkenhuette; Huette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut; hier: Huettenwirt Sohn Alexander Kostenzer 07/2016

A trained chef, Fritz spent 35 winter seasons (the Falken Hut is closed in winter) cooking in various hotels and restaurants. Today he has handed over the running of the hut's own kitchen to his younger son, Alexander (22). They are supported by Fritz's wife, Ursula. "My wife has the hardest job. She deals with bookings and helps out in the kitchen. I wouldn't be able to do it without her. I am lucky that I found someone willing to take on this kind of lifestyle."

Last but not least there is Fritz's elder son, Peter (30), who is responsible at the hut for service and provisions. Fritz himself helps out "wherever and whenever I am needed", adding that he enjoys doing different things. "We are lucky to have the four of us plus a great team of staff who have been with us for years and supported us through thick and thin. It is something I never take for granted."

Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Karwendel Gebirge, Falkenhuette; Huette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut 07/2016
Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Karwendel Gebirge, Falkenhuette; Huette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut 07/2016

Built in 1848, the Falken Hut is owned by the Oberland division of the German Alpine Association. When Fritz's father, Peter, took over the running of the hut after the end of the Second World War there was no road or cable car – everything had to be transported up by horse-drawn carriage. Today the hut receives twice weekly lorry deliveries. Plenty else has also changed since 1946. Back then the only light was provided by gas lamps. Later a power generator was installed, and soon the Falken Hut will be hooked up to the electricity grid.

Plans are underway for major renovation work which will see the hut, a listed building since 2015, close to the public for two years. When it re-opens it will feature a new building with larchwood tiles designed to complement the hut. The work will also be used to install new toilets, a new kitchen, a new washroom, new windows, etc. "And we will also have a new wood-panelled dining room," says Fritz. "Until now we could sleep up to 140 people at the hut but only had space for 100 in the dining room." The existing dining area, which dates back to 1922, will not only be kept but made even better by returning this beautiful room to its original glory after the addition of several incongruous features over the years.

The Falken Hut has been a listed building since 2015. After this season it will be shut for two years for comprehensive renovation work.
The Falken Hut has been a listed building since 2015. After this season it will be shut for two years for comprehensive renovation work.

When the hut re-opens in two years' time Fritz will no longer be officially in charge of things. After dedicating his whole life to the Falken Hut, he will be taking well-deserved retirement in 2018. As of now, no decision has been taken on whether sons Peter and Alexander will continue to run the hut – conversations are underway with the German Alpine Association, but they are hopeful that things will stay in the family. So does Fritz think he will miss it all? "I don't think the hut has seen the last of me," he laughs. "There will always be a few bits and pieces for me to do. Honestly, I am looking forward to relaxing in a deckchair next to my wife while the boys take care everything." Another thing Fritz and Ursula are looking forward to is using their voucher for a spa weekend in a luxury hotel in Bavaria, a gift to them from the head of the Oberland division of the German Alpine Association in recognition of the couple's outstanding dedication to the hut over many decades. "The head of the division personally came all the way to Tirol to present us with the voucher. It was an honour and certainly not something I was expecting."

Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Karwendel Gebirge, Falkenhuette; Huette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut 07/2016
Oesterreich Austria, Tirol Tyrol, Karwendel Gebirge, Falkenhuette; Huette; alpine chalet cottage, mountain hut 07/2016

All photos: Tirol Werbung/Jens Schwarz
All photos: Tirol Werbung/Jens Schwarz

The Falken Hut can be reached on foot in around 2.5 hours from Eng (toll road) via the "Hüttenweg" walking trail, in around 3.5 hours from Rißtal (toll road) via Laliderer Tal and Lalidersalm-Niederleger or in around 4 hours from Hinterriß via Johannestal and Ladizalm. For more information visit www.tirol.at

From the Stüdl Hut at the foot of the mighty Großglockner to the Berliner Hut in the Zillertal Alps and the Pfeis Hut in the Karwendel Mountains, the landscape of Tirol is home to countless mountain refuges. In this eight-part summer series we tell the story of Tirol's mountain huts and the people who run them.

Witty and sharp-tongued, Irene Heisz is a journalist and author who writes blog posts about Tirol, Tiroleans and their peculiarities – and there are many of them!

Irene Heisz
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