As the saying goes “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, so Hallstatt – a small UNESCO World Heritage city in central Austria – can feel really proud. Among numerous fake Italian villas and French palaces, it is the only village in the world entirely copied and rebuilt in China. State-owned developer Minmetals constructed it in the suburbs of Huizhou, in the southern part of the country.
It was meant as a luxury residential area, as the region is known for its clean air (relatively to the average amount of pollution in China) and a popular resort away from bustling metropolis nearby. The cost of a new-old villa in 2012 – after the grand opening – was between £200.000 and £500.000, higher than the original 300-year-old ones in Austria. Chinese people are neither permitted to invest abroad, nor to send money outside of the country, so the real estate market is for them one of the few possibilities on which to invest. Even if the houses were actually sold, as the property developers claimed, the place remained a ghost town for a couple of years. Recently, it became a popular touristic venue, mainly among newlyweds.
Even though the Austrian village was measured, photographed and redesigned carefully, the copy is not entirely true. The lake, made as a part of the village construction, is 50 times smaller than the original one. Snowy Alps landscape, which makes a wonderful background for the real Hallstatt, was impossible to recreate and dried hills not higher than few hundred feet above the see level have to do. The Chinese designers couldn’t resist to commemorate the most famous Austrian, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, so they built a replica of the Getreidegasse – a street of Salzburg where the composer was born, 70 km distance from Hallstatt.
Trying to find a reason for such copy-paste urban design, one may say that it is really hard for Chinese people to travel to see the original Hallstatt. The question is, what are they really looking at?