arrow-down

South Tyrol's History Is Displayed Everywhere in the Historic Hotel Pragser Wildsee

How do you create a dynasty? We would like to ask Emma, the "original mother" of the Heiss-Hellenstainer and founder of the historic Hotel Pragser Wildsee. She would probably answer something like this: with a sense of family, foresight and thrift. What Emma exemplified in the 19th century still holds true in the family. "I'm not pushed by a trend; when I remodel, I take my time with each decision. I go back and forth about how to best preserve character and flair for the hotel and the lakefront site," says hotel owner Caroline Heiss.

She thinks in terms of ancestors and grandchildren at the same time. A quote from great-aunt Therese circulates in the family: "Whom God wants to punish, he gives a hotel." Caroline doesn’t accept this and negotiates with God: she got the hotel from her parents and thanks heaven that her ancestors kept the house afloat even in stormy times. The hotel has experienced everything: fate, war, flight and splendor.

Take a look at the hotel's history here.

Discover the Pragser Wildsee Zeitgeschichtsarchiv (contemporary history archive).

We Are Your Hosts. Get to Know Us a Bit.

Caroline Heiss was in the Swiss banking business and controlling is her strong suit. Her life partner Jens Kappel is a lawyer. Together they run the hotel with a team of 70 employees. Not because they have to but because they want to. A detour was necessary for this to happen though. Caroline grew up in the hotel and at a boarding school. She had a strict upbringing, knew what etiquette demanded; as a child, she had to change her clothes three times a day to show off excellence in the hotel. She was 23 when her father died and her mother Heidi Bürgisser continued to run the hotel. Caroline and her brother were given some time to think. Time to make a plan to preserve and modernize a hotel that seemed to have fallen behind the times.

Caroline is aware of her responsibility: "What I change today, my son will have to manage in the future." Andreas is already ready to do so.

Five Spots Sharing Our History

How do you make sure that a hotel makes it through decades and hardships? By keeping the hotel’s milestones and family history in mind.

1856

Joseph Hellenstainer Buys The Pragser Wildsee

history-year
pragsar-footer-logo

1856

Joseph Hellenstainer Buys The Pragser Wildsee

100 Austrian florins devoted to the happiness of his wife Emma. Joseph Hellenstainer, innkeeper of the "Schwarzer Adler" in Villabassa, buys the Pragser Wildsee at an auction price and pays cash. The seller is the Bishop of Bressanone, and the deal is thus approved by the highest authorities.
The Hellenstainers are considered pioneers of tourism in Tyrol atCuis that time. Joseph died in 1858, only two years after the purchase. His widow, however, becomes a legend. "Frau Emma, Tirol" is a household name in traveling circles throughout Europe. Emma rocks the family inn on the new railroad line through the Puster Valley, raises six children and sets new standards in the hotel industry during the time of establishment. Early on, she advertises the lake as the most beautiful in the Dolomites. She organizes excursions for her guests to enjoy the beauty around the lake. Later on her son, Eduard extends the mule track to the lake and offers boat trips. The excursionists have to take provisions with them; there is no inn at the lake, not even a snack bar. For a good 30 years, the Hellenstainers guard the lake like an insider tip until it is time for Emma to step aside. Eduard buys a plot of land on the lake.

1899

Otto Schmid Builds the Grandhotel Pragser Wildsee

history-year
pragsar-footer-logo

1899

Otto Schmid Builds the Grandhotel Pragser Wildsee

Mother Emma and son Eduard want the original. So they commission the Viennese architect Otto Schmid to build their Grandhotel. Together with Theodor Christomannos, Schmid founded the Association for Alpine Hotels in Tyrol. He built the Grandhotels in Sulden and in Trafoi, and follows up with it in 1897 at the Pragser Wildsee using his etablished method: modern comfort, without luxury. It will be a monumental building in front of the massive mountain backdrop, built from the simple material that is "lying around" on site. Stone and wood, unplastered. Even the furniture is designed by the architect himself. Two years after the start of construction, the hotel is opened. It is immediately fully booked. In 1902, the first extension is built on, following by the second in 1929.
The hotel is one of the summer fairy tales of the Belle Époque: electricity and light from the hotel's own power station, a bakery in the building, a post office and telegraph station, lounges and extra rooms, regular bus service to the railroad lines. And, as the crowning glory of its progress the hotel was equipped with an elevator operator and a darkroom for amateur photographers. All surrounded with a view of the lake and mountains. Word gets around, and soon vacation plans are being made in the imperial house in Vienna...

1910

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Vacations on The Lake

history-year
pragsar-footer-logo

1910

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Vacations on The Lake

The best advertising: the family of the heir to the Austrian throne stays longer than planned. Three weeks turn into five, and at the farewell they are so touched that gifts are sent back and forth at Christmas. In 1910, an entire floor was reserved for the archducal vacation party. Rooms with a view of the lake for family and acquaintances, rooms facing the courtyard for the staff. Franz Ferdinand receives visitors and dignitaries in a loden jacket and leather trousers. Excursions are made and impressions are made in the evenings on the hotel terrace. Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie donated a magnificent chasuble for the chapel on the lake. The couple told to the mayor that they would certainly come back.
It did not come to that but it had a long-lasting and phenomenal effect. In the years leading up to the First World War, the who's who of the monarchy and German lands travel to the head of the valley in Alta Pusteria. Gustav Mahler is photographed on the terrace where alpinists set off from the hotel on their mountain tours.
In 1910, the circular path around the lake is built. Hotelier Hermann Hellenstainer, the brother of Eduard, who died at an early age, founded a private beautification association with hotel guests. The money is raised through games, house balls and lotteries. Now the vacation at the Pragser Wildsee is perfect from A to Z. That is, if two wars did not intervene.

1945

Emma Heiss Hellenstainer Takes In Freed SS hostages

history-year
pragsar-footer-logo

1945

Emma Heiss Hellenstainer Takes In Freed SS hostages

The European history of war, expulsion and flight also creeps into the Prags Valley and right up to the Hotel on the Lake. In 1919, the south of the Tyrol became Italian and vacations were only possible in-between the wars. At the end of April 1945, however, an event turns the spotlight on the Hotel Pragser Wildsee. Emma Heiss Hellenstainer, the hotel heiress, arrives in a flash. The house is closed, the summer season is far away, instead of vacationers there are general staffs in the country. 137 people from 17 countries have to be accommodated. The German SS has taken prominent special and clan prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp to Villabassa in Alta Pusteria in order to exchange them in negotiations with the Allies. Among the hostages are members of the Stauffenberg, Goerdeler, Hofacker, Hassell families, who were arrested after the Hitler assassination on July 20th, 1944. The German Wehrmacht frees the hostages on April 30th and brings them to safety at the Pragser Wildsee.
The lake is in the depths of winter. The rooms are freezing cold, food is laboriously procured. Hostess Emma Heiss Hellenstainer scores with the warmth of her heart. "They couldn’t be more thankful to be able to have taken the first steps to freedom on this beautiful patch of earth. How happy I was with them," she writes in her memoirs. For ten days, a peaceful Europe is exemplified in miniature in the hotel. Then the war ends.
60 years later, Emma's granddaughter Caroline Heiss is having the events completely reappraised. The Pragser Wildsee Zeitgeschichtsarchiv (contemporary history archive) is set up in the hotel, and the contemporary witnesses return to the lake for the first time. For the second time as guests of the hotel.

history-year
pragsar-footer-logo
pragsar logo

1856

Joseph Hellenstainer Buys The Pragser Wildsee

100 Austrian florins devoted to the happiness of his wife Emma. Joseph Hellenstainer, innkeeper of the "Schwarzer Adler" in Villabassa, buys the Pragser Wildsee at an auction price and pays cash. The seller is the Bishop of Bressanone, and the deal is thus approved by the highest authorities.
The Hellenstainers are considered pioneers of tourism in Tyrol atCuis that time. Joseph died in 1858, only two years after the purchase. His widow, however, becomes a legend. "Frau Emma, Tirol" is a household name in traveling circles throughout Europe. Emma rocks the family inn on the new railroad line through the Puster Valley, raises six children and sets new standards in the hotel industry during the time of establishment. Early on, she advertises the lake as the most beautiful in the Dolomites. She organizes excursions for her guests to enjoy the beauty around the lake. Later on her son, Eduard extends the mule track to the lake and offers boat trips. The excursionists have to take provisions with them; there is no inn at the lake, not even a snack bar. For a good 30 years, the Hellenstainers guard the lake like an insider tip until it is time for Emma to step aside. Eduard buys a plot of land on the lake.

pragsar logo

1899

Otto Schmid Builds the Grandhotel Pragser Wildsee

Mother Emma and son Eduard want the original. So they commission the Viennese architect Otto Schmid to build their Grandhotel. Together with Theodor Christomannos, Schmid founded the Association for Alpine Hotels in Tyrol. He built the Grandhotels in Sulden and in Trafoi, and follows up with it in 1897 at the Pragser Wildsee using his etablished method: modern comfort, without luxury. It will be a monumental building in front of the massive mountain backdrop, built from the simple material that is "lying around" on site. Stone and wood, unplastered. Even the furniture is designed by the architect himself. Two years after the start of construction, the hotel is opened. It is immediately fully booked. In 1902, the first extension is built on, following by the second in 1929.
The hotel is one of the summer fairy tales of the Belle Époque: electricity and light from the hotel's own power station, a bakery in the building, a post office and telegraph station, lounges and extra rooms, regular bus service to the railroad lines. And, as the crowning glory of its progress the hotel was equipped with an elevator operator and a darkroom for amateur photographers. All surrounded with a view of the lake and mountains. Word gets around, and soon vacation plans are being made in the imperial house in Vienna...

pragsar logo

1910

Archduke Franz Ferdinand Vacations on The Lake

The best advertising: the family of the heir to the Austrian throne stays longer than planned. Three weeks turn into five, and at the farewell they are so touched that gifts are sent back and forth at Christmas. In 1910, an entire floor was reserved for the archducal vacation party. Rooms with a view of the lake for family and acquaintances, rooms facing the courtyard for the staff. Franz Ferdinand receives visitors and dignitaries in a loden jacket and leather trousers. Excursions are made and impressions are made in the evenings on the hotel terrace. Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie donated a magnificent chasuble for the chapel on the lake. The couple told to the mayor that they would certainly come back.
It did not come to that but it had a long-lasting and phenomenal effect. In the years leading up to the First World War, the who's who of the monarchy and German lands travel to the head of the valley in Alta Pusteria. Gustav Mahler is photographed on the terrace where alpinists set off from the hotel on their mountain tours.
In 1910, the circular path around the lake is built. Hotelier Hermann Hellenstainer, the brother of Eduard, who died at an early age, founded a private beautification association with hotel guests. The money is raised through games, house balls and lotteries. Now the vacation at the Pragser Wildsee is perfect from A to Z. That is, if two wars did not intervene.

pragsar logo

1945

Emma Heiss Hellenstainer Takes In Freed SS hostages

The European history of war, expulsion and flight also creeps into the Prags Valley and right up to the Hotel on the Lake. In 1919, the south of the Tyrol became Italian and vacations were only possible in-between the wars. At the end of April 1945, however, an event turns the spotlight on the Hotel Pragser Wildsee. Emma Heiss Hellenstainer, the hotel heiress, arrives in a flash. The house is closed, the summer season is far away, instead of vacationers there are general staffs in the country. 137 people from 17 countries have to be accommodated. The German SS has taken prominent special and clan prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp to Villabassa in Alta Pusteria in order to exchange them in negotiations with the Allies. Among the hostages are members of the Stauffenberg, Goerdeler, Hofacker, Hassell families, who were arrested after the Hitler assassination on July 20th, 1944. The German Wehrmacht frees the hostages on April 30th and brings them to safety at the Pragser Wildsee.
The lake is in the depths of winter. The rooms are freezing cold, food is laboriously procured. Hostess Emma Heiss Hellenstainer scores with the warmth of her heart. "They couldn’t be more thankful to be able to have taken the first steps to freedom on this beautiful patch of earth. How happy I was with them," she writes in her memoirs. For ten days, a peaceful Europe is exemplified in miniature in the hotel. Then the war ends.
60 years later, Emma's granddaughter Caroline Heiss is having the events completely reappraised. The Pragser Wildsee Zeitgeschichtsarchiv (contemporary history archive) is set up in the hotel, and the contemporary witnesses return to the lake for the first time. For the second time as guests of the hotel.

pragsar logo