The Grand Hotel Toblach
On November 20, 1871, the railroad through the Pustertal Valley from Lienz to Franzensfeste went into service under the management of the Südbahngesellschaft (Southern Railway Company). In the first years after the opening of the railroad, the business expectations of the Hapsburg imperial Südbahngesellschaft were not fulfilled, and because of that the future market was based upon tourism. Consequently, the building of a hotel was taken into consideration as an innovative point of attraction on the basis of a location favorable to tourism and of the grandiose scenery in Toblach. Construction began on the so-called “Südbahnhotel” (“Southern Railway Hotel”, later the Grand Hotel) on August 25, 1877. The construction plans came from Wilhelm Ritter from Flattich, director of the railway’s own Department of Structural Engineering. Construction costs had to be strictly limited during a phase of economic recession; thus the architect had to fall back on his models for railway stations.
The hotel went into service with the summer season of 1878. With a capacity of 80 beds, it was in no way a Grand Hotel but rather a functional structure with few prestigious elements. The new leaseholders, Ignaz and Elise Überbacher, represented a special stroke of luck for the Südbahngesellschaft, since especially Elise knew how to deal with guests and staff well. On December 22, 1887, ten years after opening, the Überbachers purchase a share in the hotel, and on January 5, 1888 completed their acquisition.
Prominent figures of the time also visited Toblach in those years, and this was naturally of great importance as it conveyed to the establishment that special aura of nobility. In autumn, 1887, the heir to the German throne, Prince Friedrich, came to Toblach. Further nobility followed later, such as King Albert of Saxony, the Austrian Crown Princess Archduchess Stephanie, and King Milan of Serbia, and consequently it soon became clear that the Hotel Toblach, as it was known, had transformed itself into the Grand Hotel.
After the death of her husband, Ignaz, in the summer of 1888, Elise became the sole business manager. The Südbahnhotel became the departure point for tourist mountain excursions. As a result of substantial investments, Elise saw to the constant expansion of the establishment such that the total number of beds reached 350.
During the First World War, the Grand Hotel was only slightly damaged and consequently was transformed into a military hospital. However, by the end of the war in November, 1918, the Grand Hotel was in sorry condition, the infrastructure was in need of renovation, and the furnishings were worn out. And of course the guests were missing, only to trickle back beginning in 1924.
Elise died in 1926 at the age of 68. Her son, Max, took her place but had to file for bankruptcy in 1932. The Grand Hotel was put up for auction in 1934. The property investment bank of Venezia Tridentia took over the hotel for the time being. The hotel operations, though, nevertheless continued under the direction of Elise’s daughter and son-in-law. Fortunately, a phase of economic growth followed, and the Italians discovered Toblach as an Alpine Mecca of summer tourism.
In the following years, the Grand Hotel frequently underwent changes of ownership: first the umbrella organization of fascist party organizations, then the cartographic and geographic service of the Italian army. Later the establishment became property of the state, which ceded its use to the papal relief organization. This group used the building as a summer headquarters for needy children.
In 1991, after numerous recommendations, a development program was finally accepted by the South Tyrolean provincial government whose results may be observed today.
The composer Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911) visited Toblach in 1908 as a summer guest. He was undergoing an extremely difficult period of his life and suffered from a heart condition. At the Trenkerhof, Mahler found peace and quiet for three summers, and it was there that he composed Das Lied von der Erde and the 9th Symphony. His unfinished 10th symphony was also begun there. Mahler died in June, 1911. The large music auditorium with excellent acoustics in the Grand Hotel Toblach’s new Cultural Center is dedicated to him.