The Braies Lake

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The Braies Lake (Italian Lago di Braies) is a mountain lake in the Braies Valley in the South Tyrolean municipality of Prague. It is located a few kilometers south of the Alta Pusteria between Brunico and Dobbiaco in the Prags Dolomites in South Tyrol,  ( Italy ) . It is part of the Fanes-Sennes-Prags Nature Park and thus a protected natural monument.

History : At the end of April, at the beginning of May 1945, an important event of the Second World War took place around the Hotel zum Pragser Wildsee, which opened in 1899. Since the end of 1944, the “Reichsfuhrer SS” Heinrich Himmler, in coordination with the head of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the most prominent political prisoners of the Nazi state from the German concentration camps first in the concentration camp Dachau and in April 1945 finally to Niederdorf Bring South Tyrolean Val Pusteria. The SS guards had orders not to let the prisoners live on enemy hands. Due to the courageous actions of the officer of the Wehrmacht Wichard von Alvensleben, the prisoners finally accommodated in the Hotel Pragser Wildsee were freed there on 4 May 1945 by the US Army.

After the truce of September 8, 1943 between the Western Allies and Italy, the German Reich had annexed South Tyrol and parts of northern Italy and present-day Slovenia  as “operational zones” de facto. In addition to South Tyrol and Trentino, the province of Belluno was part of the “Operation Zone Alpine Foreland” and, like the Friuli, Venezia Giulia, Istria and Dalmatia (“Adriatic Coastal Operation Zone”), was deprived of the sovereignty of the fascist puppet state Repubblica Sociale Italiana. Part of the Nazi leadership hoped to defend the Alps, propagandistically for the so-called “Alpine Fortress”, from Bavaria to Trentino to defend against the advancing Allies. Himmler, who operated his own secret diplomacy, especially in the direction of the Americans, during the last weeks and months of the Nazi regime, and Kaltenbrunner believed that they could obtain a favorable negotiating position with the Allies by blackmail. The 139 so-called special prisoners from seventeen European nations as well as a group of clan prisoners were to be used as hostages.

The prominent prisoners included former Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg with wife and daughter, former French Prime Minister Leon Blum and wife, former Reich Minister of Economics Hjalmar Schacht, British secret agent Sigismund Payne Best, former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Kallay, Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Army, General Alexandros Papagos with his entire General Staff, the French Bishop of Clermont-Ferrand, Gabriel Piguet, the Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller, and family members of the Hitler assassin Colonel Claus Schenk Count von Stauffenberg.

The hostage plans failed. A German officer, Captain Wichard von Alvensleben, had learned about the transport of prisoners and on 30 April 1945 had the prisoners in Niederdorf in the Puster Valley freed from the SS by a Wehrmacht assault party. On the same day, the prisoners were taken to the nearby Hotel Pragser Wildsee, where they were taken care of by hotel owner Emma Heiss-Hellenstainer. On May 4, 1945, the US Army arrived at the hotel and captured the German soldiers. The Americans led the liberated prisoners in two convoys on 8 and 10 May via Verona to Naples and the island of Capri. Only after further interrogation did some of the liberated finally get permission to return, while another part went to prisoner of war.

Today, at the hotel, where every year around July 20, members of Stauffenberg’s and other resistance fighters meet, the Pragser Wildsee Zeitgeschichtsarchiv will keep alive the memory of events in April and May 1945. Lake Braies in the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Dolomites. Please help to protect the natural beauty of it! Take your waste with you and treat nature with respect. The trail can also be gone by less experienced hikers.

HOW TO GET TO LAKE BRAIES : The best way to get to Braies is by car, you can get there from Niederdorf (Villabassa) town, passing through beautiful villages like Ferrara and San Vito. There’s quite a lot of place to park a car, it costs around 3 euros and  the car parks are just by the lake. You can also get to Braies by public transport from Niederdorf, by bus 442 . It’s best to get to Niederdorf (Villabassa) by train, check the timetables on TrenItalia website.

Location above sea level: 1,496 m , Size: Approx. 31 hectare .(one of the largest and deepest of the natural lakes in the Dolomites) Length: 1.2 km Width: 300 – 400 m Shoreline: 3.5 km Maximum depth: 36 m Median depth: 17 m Hygiene: good Maximum surface water temperature: 14°C . activities :  Hike ,  Photography

HIKING AROUND LAKE BRAIES : Though situated on 1500 metres, lake Braies is easily reached by car, it’s around 2 minutes walk from the nearest car park. There’s also a hiking trail around the lake which takes approx. 1 hour but it will definitely take you longer as you will stop all the time to marvel at the beauty of the landscape. The trail is very easy and good for kids though obviously you have to take care of them, especially when the surface of the trail of wet. Here’s a list of more difficult trails in the area if you feel like hiking. You can’t ride bicycles around the lake Braies. During summer it’s also possible to rent a boat and explore the lake this way! There is also a hotel Pragser Wildsee if you feel like staying there for the night and waking to a beautiful view.

Activities : sightseeing / photo opportunities / trekking

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