Shadowed Austrian Town Eyes Mirrors for Light
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Residents of the Austrian town of Rattenberg don't see much of the sun in the winter months. This is an alpine village nestled against a huge mountain, which blocks the light. City leaders worried that the dark winters are making people leave town. So who knew? They've come up with a plan to bring their town out of the shadows. NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
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RACHEL MARTIN reporting:
It's noon in the town of Rattenberg. People dash into cafes for lunch and schoolchildren meander through the snow-covered town square.
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MARTIN: It's the time of day when the sun should be its brightest. Instead, this medieval village is enveloped in a shadow that blends earth and sky into a flat, gray light. For generations, residents of Rattenberg have lived in the shadow of Schlossberg mountain, while their neighbors across the river in Kramsach get a steady dose of sunshine during the cold winter months. Josef Wertzer(ph) is an architect and city planner in Rattenberg. Standing on the top of Schlossberg mountain above the town, he says the city is trying to change that with a plan to reflect some of their neighbors' sunlight with dozens of mirrors or heliostats.
Mr. JOSEF WERTZER (Architect): The heliostat is programmed to the sun. In the morning, the heliostat is directed to the sun when she rise in east side, and the heliostat goes with the sun till she leaves, she sets.
MARTIN: The plan is to place 30 or so of these mirrors along the Enns River to reflect sunlight and warmth into designated sunny spots in Rattenberg. Markus Peskoller is the managing director of the lighting design company behind the plan.
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MARTIN: In the basement of the company's headquarters in neighboring Innsbruck, Peskoller flips a red switch and bright lights shine on a wooden model of Rattenberg. Peskoller says it's the first time anyone has tried to illuminate an entire town this way, something he says is crucial to the well-being of any community, especially Rattenberg, where people can see the sunshine across the river but can't feel it.
Mr. MARKUS PESKOLLER: (Through Translator) It's psychologically very cruel. I have the cake right in front of me, but I cannot eat from it. And for one's mental and physical health, it's very important to set up places in Rattenberg where people can recharge their batteries.
MARTIN: With only 450 residents, Rattenberg is Austria's smallest town, and its population has been declining for the past 10 years. Jacob Gerhardt(ph) is a local postman. He says the mirrors will brighten things up.
Mr. JACOB GERHARDT (Postman): Some people are afraid moving to Rattenberg because, half the year, there is no sun, and so if there is--it's better for the mood and everything, because, in the winter, you need more sun, and so people--maybe they expected to get it and so they move here.
MARTIN: The plan to light up Rattenberg is expected to cost more than $2 million. While the European Union is expected to pay half, some people don't think the mirrors are worth the money.
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MARTIN: Longtime resident Allowi Schvatz(ph) runs the town's oldest glass-carving shop.
Mr. ALLOWI SCHVATZ (Resident): (Through Translator) I don't miss the sun. Besides, I can just go over to Kramsach for some sunshine, and at least here in Rattenberg, I don't have to buy blinds for my windows.
MARTIN: Lighting engineers say they'll finish research and development of the project early next year and hope to install the first mirrors in Rattenberg sometime next fall. Rachel Martin, NPR News, Rattenberg, Austria.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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