Bürgerturm tower with the Heroes’ Organ
Protective and proud
The museum in the Bürgerturm tower houses an extensive collection of exhibits of Tyrol’s Kaiserjäger regiment and Tyrol’s ‘Schützen’. The only free-standing organ in the world is also housed here. The content of the Heroes’ Organ and the Kaiserjäger museum is based on an idea of Max Depolo from Innsbruck - himself a ‘Kaiserjäger’, composer of the famous ‘Kaiserjäger’ song and idea generator - to setting up a free-standing organ in the Bürgerturm tower of Kufstein Fortress.
The Heroes’ Organ
Every day at midday you get to experience the unique Heroes’ Organ being played. With its 4.948 pipes it is the largest free-standing organ in the world and the sound can be heard right across the town of Kufstein. In the months of July and August the Heroes’ Organ is also played to 6 p.m. The Kaiser Maximilian panorama cable car does not operate during the recital. The Heroes’ Organ recital is included in the entry fee to Kufstein Fortress.
The idea of building an open-air organ on Kufstein Fortress to commemorate the fallen of World War One came from folk poet and "Kaiserjäger" (Tyrolean Rifle Regiment) officer Max Depolo. He presented his idea to the public in 1924. Increasing Kufstein's attractiveness as a tourist destination was another goal of the organ. Support from the German-speaking areas allowed the ambitious construction project to be realised in a somewhat reduced form (two keyboards with 26 registers and 1,813 pipes). The company Walcker in Ludwigsburg (Germany) received the order. Its inauguration in May 1931 became a celebration of unity and brotherhood in arms between Austria and Germany.
From the very start, the Heroes' organ has been played daily in the afternoon; in summer also at 6:00 pm. It can not only be heard throughout the city, but also in neighbouring Bavaria. The wish of the initiators, who were steeped in nationalist and Germanic thought, was that the instrument should be a "heroic monument to the Germanic peoples" that plays for the fallen from German-speaking areas and can be heard across the nearby border. After the annexation of Austria in 1938, the Heroes' organ was ideologically appropriated by the Nationalist Socialist rulers. "Commemoration of heroes" was a central element of Nazi celebrations. Plans for enlargement of the organ existed before 1945 but it wasn't until 1971 that the substantially enlarged instrument, expanded by the constructing company to contain 46 registers and 4,307 organ pipes, could be inaugurated. In 1981 the stated purpose of the instrument was modified and it now played for all victims of violence.
In 2009 a general refurbishment took place. The organ was once again expanded by the company Eisenbarth to contain 65 registers and 4,948 pipes. For several decades, the Heroes' organ in Kufstein has been competing with the Spreckels Organ in San Diego, USA, for the title of world's largest open-air organ. The American instrument is currently only just ahead with 80 registers and 5,017 pipes. During renovations of the Heroes' organ in 2009, measures were taken to remedy technical difficulties. From the very beginning, the large distance between the playing table in the new fortress courtyard and the pipes in the Bürgerturm of Kufstein Fortress was an issue. Sound is produced with electric action but with a time delay. The playing table and pipes are now connected by a fibre optic cable that is around 100 m long. In addition to this, pipes are exposed to weather, enormous fluctuations in temperature and humidity. This leads to a need for high tuning frequency.
After public and political debates, the Kufstein Municipal Council decided to rededicate the instrument in 2022. Since 2023 it has no longer played the military song "Lied vom guten Kameraden" (Song of the good comrade) at the conclusion of the daily performance, but instead a different song, which changes every year.
You can find the text of the new dedication and an audio recording here.