The city of Horn. First city of letters in Austria: Why Horn? Why a city of letters?

The first European city of letters was established in 1962. The original concept was to attract Booksellers and purveyors of rare and valuable books to establish outlets, thereby enticing book-lovers and collectors to visit and combine their passion with a holiday stay. Over time, this concept has sometimes proven to have its limitations.


The concept proposed for Horn and its focus on books has therefore been modified to rest on various pillars, all of which are deeply rooted in the historical context of the city.


Horn and its vicinity have traditionally been a special region for books, printing and paper production. A place where all aspects of great books from content to finished product have always been approached with diligence and creativity.


As early as 1570 books of protestant confession were produced in large editions in the nearby Rosenburg castle. Between 1520 and 1880 the mill, which later became known as Sparholzmühle was used exclusively as a paper mill. In the 16th century there was a print shop in the castle of Wildberg in Messern. Parts and machinery from there were later moved to Horn, establishing a well-documented printing tradition. Between 1792 and 1820 Josef Hengstberger ran a print shop in the city. In 1868 Ferdinand Berger started a printing business which has been handed down through five generations and presently employs more than 300 skilled workers.


Following the relocation of the company to a modern printing plant, the traditional production site was converted into a privately run print museum in which a chronological documentation of the art of relief-printing can be viewed and experienced first hand on fully functioning historical machines. Recently a restored etching and lithography workshop was added to the museum and made available to print artists, who use the space, keeping the century-old crafts alive.


It is a well documented fact that Austria has always been a country with a high regard for books. The “Handbuch historischer Buchbestände” (Handbook of historical book-archives) devotes two of its volumes to the archives and book collections of Austria. The state of Lower Austria and especially the area around Horn, Altenburg, Greillenstein and Rosenburg is listed as the region with an especially high number of book collections, many in urgent need of inventory and conservation. Monasteries, churches, cities and cultural institutes have been investing considerable time and expenses in their efforts to save their invaluable heritage. Important documents and books are being restored, stretching the limitations of money and means, often leaving those in charge wishing for a general plan, a network and a centre for information and know-how.


The Horn City of Letters project is designed as the solution to these issues, offering Austria the unique opportunity to catch up with many European nations who have been concentrating on book conservation for many years. We envision a scientific research facility as the core of our project,  meeting the specific and rewarding challenges of restoring and conserving paper and books. We also see great possibilities in cooperating with local business and private interests as well as networking with governmental agencies, public and private schools and centres of adult learning. 


In 1983 the Galerie Thurnhof started the “Edition Thurnhof”, creating and publishing bibliophile books in collaboration with authors and graphic artists.


The Kunstverein (art club) in Horn declared books one of its main focuses in 1989. Since 1992 it has been hosting the BuchKunstBiennale (biannual book art festival) in Horn for which internationally renowned artists are invited to create original works on paper, exchange ideas and exhibit their art. Over the years, the festival has sparked off many new projects and an international network of experts and artists has developed around the festival.


The lavishly restored Kunsthaus Horn, situated beautifully in the middle of town, would be an ideal venue for a bibliophilic centre for science, learning and the historical documentation of paper and books.


 The Horn City of Letters project has been in planning for a number of years. Great ideas, creative impulses and many hours of work have been invested by a group of idealistic and tenacious individuals who share above all one passion: