Hahndorf: German Pioneer Village in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia
Since way back in 1839, there has been a Hahndorf Inn to welcome travellers coming into its long main street. This most visited town in South Australia plies coffees, ice creams, meals and souvenirs all along its pretty tree lined thoroughfare. Slow down amid this other world beauty and the old homes and shops might hint at the high drama that begins with oppressed Lutheran, German speaking farmers and villagers seeking a new world indeed. They came far from a Prussian King, who forbade their old ways of worship. It is a tale that the town's Burgermeisteren loves to tell. I met her next a statue in their Pioneer Park.
"Captain Hahn was very important to us, especially to Hahndorf," she said pointing at his bust.
The Danish sea captain picked up his human cargo of 198 souls in Hamburg harbour in 1838 and headed for a place they knew offered religious freedom, but he had never heard of. It was the new British settlement of Adelaide. The commander of the Zebra did not just drop them off, however. Ariana tells tourist groups that he stayed quite a long time, seeking good land for them. He found it up here near Mount Barker, where perhaps he foresaw the retail produce so proudly offered today, because Dirk Hahn wrote, "Nature has lavished her gifts on Australia," and duly organised a land contract for the devout immigrants.
"To show their gratitude," Ariana beamed, "the new settlers called it Hahndorf. In German that means, Hahn's Village."
The quiet strength and beauty of the timber and pug walls, distinctive gables and attic windows - village architecture from their native Silesia - echo the fortitude of the god fearing inhabitants who first survived on grass, lizards and possums. Ariana Kiermeier came from Munich originally, and in her adopted home she often takes visitors to a church yard of graves so far from the settlers' roots. There is poignancy about the deathly precision of the inscriptions on the memorial stones. Some of the descendants of the original flock still worship at nearby St. Michaels', the oldest continuing Lutheran congregation in Australia. They built this attractive stone church up, over and around the little mud and thatch original and only demolished it and carted it out by wheel barrow when this was complete.
The Old Mill looks after travellers from near and far with food, fun and lodgings in a grand old building with its own story to tell. It was built by Mr. Wittwer as a steam driven flour mill, but when that ceased, it was used to extract tannin from wattle bark and even crushed gold ore from a mine near Hahndorf.
"Just have a look at the lovely two storey house over the road," beckoned Arianna as she shepherded a group down the leafy main street, "Mr. Wittwer built this as his family home and called it "Detmold" after a town in Germany".
The Burgermeisteren or appointed Mayor leads groups for several hours each week. She particularly enjoys showing Year 12 German Students from interstate the town's own special place of learning, the grand old Hahndorf Academy. It started as a school in the 1860's and more than 600 hundred boys came from as far away as Queensland and Tasmania to be educated here. The great walls have also housed a hospital, betting shop, council office and even a dentist.
"Ooh! Do you know that funny story? They found out later that he used to throw all the teeth down a hole in the floor!" Arianna chuckled.
It is hard to believe the Academy was only just saved from the bulldozers four decades back. It remains an important building in the town and has become a regional Museum and Art Gallery. A tribute to the great German born artist, Sir Hans Heysen, reminds us that Hahndorf was where he chose to live and paint. His beautiful home, garden and original studio at the "The Cedars" are also open to visit, just out of town. Backpackers and local tourists also enjoy an extensive Museum that brings them much more of the sense of nineteenth century pioneer life in the Hills. It adds even more flavour to the story of this cradle of history. As Ariana thanked us for sharing her passion for her village, she noted that many European visitors make a special trip in to the Adelaide Hills to see it. It's a much shorter journey for the people of Adelaide, well under half an hour up the South Eastern Freeway to very historic and very German Hahndorf.
Adelaide Hills Visitor Information Centre
41 Main Street
South Australia 5245
Phone: 1800 353 323