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You could get nostalgic looking at old postcards of Schenna. In the fifties, it was still a dreamy farmer village with a couple of guest houses for the first holidaymakers. In some cases, you could even rent a room in a farmer’s house. Tourism was at its beginnings. However, year after year new friends arrived and with time Schenna became the small little holiday village not far away from Merano.
One of the first people who understood the signs of a new era was mister Mair. He built the first bed and breakfast in "Schönna" – as it was spelled in those days. In these 50 years, lots of things changed. Only one thing remained the same: our passion for our profession.
What is it like to look back after 50 years, how does it feel?
Mr. Mair sen. smiles. Sometimes, when his wife and himself walk over the site, they sometimes can't believe how everything has developed. "We were really lucky, with regard to health and everything. But I have to say that you have to react quickly when the situation arises." In the beginning, we had a site of 8,600 ft². Today, the site comprises almost one hectare. But one wish remains: "I wish that my children get on well together and continue what we have built up."
The beginning was more than modest, but also very brave. And everything was really NATO's fault. In 1951 maneuvers by NATO took place. Franz Mair was then part of the army, and due to his knowledge of the area, he was employed as a chauffeur. He drove around the whole of South Tyrol. He lived in hotels at Stilfser Joch, in Sulden, in Cortina… he had to wait a lot and therefore had plenty of time to think.
"I often thought why can we not do something with tourism also in Schenna?" Once he returned home his mother supported him and his plans. Franz Mair inherited 8,600 ft² of building ground and the wood for the attic construction from his older brother, who stayed on the farm. He needed a loan and applied to the Raiffeisenkasse Schenna bank, but the bank did not provide him with the requested loan. "Later on, when I was elected to the Advisory Board of the bank, I asked them the reason for the refusal. They told me the following: "At that time we thought that Mair Franz was not married so why would he need a house? If he was to buy a field we would have given him the money!"
Their belief was: Goods (fields) have to be used, not houses – since houses do not contribute to income. (If you look at the later development in Schenna it is hard to believe that people thought this way.)
However, on 20th of August 1957, Hohenwart was the first B&B to be opened in Schenna. A medical congress took place in Merano. Thanks to the intervention of an acquaintance, one participant, and his wife were to get a room in Hohenwart. "I sat there and waited. It was Sunday and I was wearing my traditional costume. And while I was waiting, many thoughts came up in my head. What will it be like in the future? Up to know I had a beautiful life and was off every Sunday. And now I have this house – and at that point, I was still single. I had two helpers: my cousin and another woman, they were my team so to speak. I welcomed my first guests and the next morning I made them breakfast." His smile gains a sense of reflectiveness… Mr. Mair puts his hands on the table, and when looking at his hands you see that these hands are well able to work. The farmer's son and a degree holder of an agricultural school at the Benedictines in Bozen-Gries participated at the waiters' course afterward.
And there is plenty to be done… the attic is being extended during the following winter and 6 more beds are being added to the existing 18 beds. The house is not heated during winter time… as you can't "heat the whole house for just one person!" The number of requests increases and Hohenwart is gladly recommended by its guests. Mr. Mair is still single and "a jack of all trades".
Only three years after the opening he finally married Mrs. Anna Hölzl from Schennerhof. (During the wedding the guests presented a small play. One of them played Franz welcoming a guest at Hohenwart: Welcome, this is the house, down there you see Merano, over there Schenna Castle and there 200 girls with broken hearts!) "Once a women came into the house, business increased quickly. She cooked, I served, and later on, we opened the Cafe, something that I had already planned for a long time."
The most beautiful experience?
"I had many beautiful experiences, but the most beautiful of course was to finally have a wife. Once we had the children…Christine, Sepp, and Hanni, this was probably the most beautiful experience." After returning from a short trip, Mr. Mair saw a red stadia on the neighbor's ground. "I quickly went to the owner and asked him what was happening. I felt very disappointed since the owner had always promised to sell this land to me. Finally, I managed to acquire at least half of the land and 6 months later the construction works started. "The big change occurred in 1967, when we extended our B&B from 22 to 85 beds. It took almost two years until we were able to manage these new dimensions." Numerous administrative aspects had to be solved before we could start with the construction of the main building before the first guests visited us in August 1979.
Despite all the stress (and success) in the job, we had to make sure to also have time for the children: "Twice a day we ate together and had time to talk to each other. Since family is the most important thing in life." The children have their own living room where they can be by themselves and do not get disturbed; we always clearly separated job and private life for the sake of our children – this is not a matter of course during the set-up period. Mr. Mair laughs: "This definitely can't end well if the children get served by a waiter."
Since 1959 Mr. Mair has been part of the Tourism Association, which was then called "Beautification Association". Many innovations are down to his initiative. Some things have been accepted with great skepticism: for example, when Hohenwart was the first house to offer a breakfast buffet, the locals were thinking "Is this really necessary? The tourists will eat us poor or even eat us up!" Not much later this offer was standard practice. The secret to success? Luck of course. "And the many loyal regular guests, and always one thing after the other. You have to be careful with money." Even when we stay in a good hotel during our holidays, we take this opportunity to observe interesting things and to introduce them to Hohenwart afterward. Nowadays, Mr. Mair prefers to really enjoy his holidays and not to think only about work. A guest comes in. And you see old friends saying hello to each other.