Austrian Farm Houses
I really love old farm houses, for reasons explained in a different article. I especially like old wooden farm houses, they just seem very cozy.
The farm houses in most regions of Austria are built of wood because there always were and still are large forests here. Only in proximity to the Danube stone houses are prevailing. Quite often stone and wood are also mixed, log houses are for instance put on a stone base or even on a whole floor made of stone.
Sometimes all functions of the farm would be covered by one building for cattle, storage and living. It is however more common to find two or more buildings taking over the different functions. In the alpine regions the buildings often formed just a loose cluster somewhere in the meadow. There would be separate buildings for living, different animals (cattle, pigs, goats...), storage of hay, grains and equipment, the well, a separate bread baking oven and a smoking hut for maing bacon and sausages.
On large and rich farms there often was also a separate small house for the elderly farmers who had already handed over the farm to their heirs. They would move out of the large farm house and hand over all responsibilities and rights, but in return got food, clothes, wood for heating and help when they were sick.
In eastern Austria the farm would often be enclosed by a wall or several buildings form a courtyard in their middle. The most extreme version of this is probably the typical 'Straßendorf' (street village), which has one street along which all farms and other buildings are situated. Behind the large wooden gate there is an inner courtyard with the house at one side and the other side being closed by the neighbouring house. Most of the time the houses are just a succession of rooms with one being accessed by the other. Sometimes the inner courtyards are surrounded by arcades. At the opposite side to the street there would be the barn and the fields belonging to each farm. Each plot is quite narrow but hundreds of meters long.
The so called 'Stube' was the most important room in the farm house. It was used as a living and dining room and was the most representative room in the house. In winter it was often the only room which could be heated and would therefore also be used for working and tending to the sick.
In one corner of the room stands the large wooden dining table where everyone would eat together. People sat on long wooden benches which were often built into the wall where possible. In some cases there are cages beneath the bench, here chickens could be kept during cold winter nights.
In the corner above the table there usually was the Herrgottswinkel, something like a small personal altar. It's most basic form is a simple wooden crucifix, but very often the decoration is more elaborate and consists of flowers, candles, embroidered cloths and one or more framed pictures of Jesus, Mary and/or saints.
Warmth was usually provided by a large tile stove. A well constructed stove can keep heat and ember throughout the night. Around the stove there was often a wooden frame used for hanging up things to dry.
During the summer the cattle in the mountainous regions of Austria (and neighbouring countires) is high up in the mountains on the Alps. Meanwhile the meadows in the valleys are used to make hay to provide enough food for the winter. This custom originates in the Bronce Age and lives until today. In the past sometimes all of the people on a farm would move to the Alp together, leaving behind only few to look after things back home. In other cases only a few moved to the Alp to milk the cows and make cheese and butter. There were also shared Alps for the cattle of a few different farms.
Cheese and butter are still made on the Alps and then brought to the valley. Some Alps even sell them to hungry wanderers (on bread, of course). But the cattle does not only provide milk and the acoustic atmosphere for every walk in the mountains (with their bells), they also keep the meadows free from trees. This way many herbs and flowers can grow where they would not have any space if the forest could grow wildly.
In September the cattle returns to the valley. For this occassions the animals are elaborately decorated with flowers and large bells on ornate collars. They are led by a cow wearing a crown of flowers and branches.