© Gisela - Red Bull Media House Tom Son / Servus Salzkammergut - Die Geschichte ist in Servus Salzkammergut erschienen
Das Ausflugsschiff Gisela fährt auf dem Traunsee.
Das Ausflugsschiff Gisela fährt auf dem Traunsee.

Rendezvous with Gisela

Her fate seemed already sealed, the date for scrapping was imminent. But then the tide turned, and so Austria's oldest paddle steamer is still setting sail after 150 years.

When Sophie, Gisela's eldest sister, set off on her maiden voyage on 15 May 1839, it was the beginning of a history that is still being written today: the history of Traunsee steam navigation. And it is being written entirely thanks to Gisela.
Sophie was soon no longer seaworthy, so a Sophie II was built with the propulsion system of her predecessor, and finally a Sophie III with the same propulsion system. Sophie III was sold in 1920, however, after she had been drunk and literally drowned in the harbour in Gmunden. Thus Sophie was history on the Traunsee. And Elisabeth, in service from 1858 and the middle one from the three-metre house, was scrapped in 1970. The two propeller steamers that once completed the fleet had also retired from service.
Gisela, on the other hand, still regularly lets off steam and shows Austria's fourth largest lake to guests from all over the world in the summer months of July and August. And she has been doing so since 1872, which makes her one of the oldest paddle steamers in the world.

"All three ships were named after members of the imperial family," says Karlheinz Eder, now owner of Traunsee-Schifffahrt. "And Gisela was the eldest daughter of Franz Josef I."

But in the meantime, Gisela's situation was not too rosy either, in fact she was already doomed: "Steam navigation had become increasingly unprofitable and Gisela in general was already in a rather pitiful condition," says Karlheinz Eder. And so, in 1980, Gisela was to meet the same fate as Elisabeth. "The "Association of Friends of the City of Gmunden" was the first to stand up for Gisela, wanted to prevent her from being scrapped and turned to my father Karl. The members thought that one million shillings, today a good 70,000 euros, would be enough to restore the old ship." It was clear to Eder Senior that this sum would never be enough, but he joined the effort to save Gisela.

© Gisela Joerg Grieshofer - Red Bull Media House Tom Son / Servus Salzkammergut - Die Geschichte ist in Servus Salzkammergut erschienen
Kapitän Jörg Grieshofer steht in Kapitänsjacke am Steuerrad des Ausflugsschiffes Gisela.
The captain
Jörg Grieshofer stands at the wheel and leaves Gisela's home port in Gmunden. The beautiful tour leads to Ebensee and back again.

It steams under monument protection

"My father finally had the brilliant idea to have the Gisela listed as a historical monument," says the junior. Although this project proved to be extremely difficult and required far more than just an appointment at the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments in Vienna, the difficult exercise was ultimately to succeed. "The bottom line was that the costs amounted to not one, but 17 million schillings. In 1986, about six years after the planned scrapping, Gisela set off on her first great journey again.

Putting the 'Gisela' under a preservation order was the brilliant idea.

"She is certainly the showpiece of our current fleet," says Karlheinz Eder and explains how the Gisela has changed and transformed over the years. "The steering wheel, for example, was once located at the stern, later in the middle and there in the open until the 1950s, when it was roofed over. For a long time, there were no superstructures either; today, for example, there is an enclosed upper deck with 42 seats at the table. The most important change, apart from the increased comfort on board, is of course the propulsion system. For example, there is no longer any need for a stoker, because for environmental reasons the engine has been fired with extra-light fuel oil since 1993 and no longer with lignite or coal.

What catches the eye when the Gisela is lying there in the harbour of Gmunden in front of the town hall square and the old Hotel Schwan with its terrace café is the mast in the front third of the 52-metre-long ship, which is almost ten metres wide including the wheel housings and weighs 190 tonnes. "It was justified," says Karlheinz Eder, "because there was always the danger of a boiler explosion or a piston rupture. In such a case, it would have been possible to set sail and reach a harbour. It would not have been inappropriate at all, because if you look at the Gisela, its shape reminds you a little of a sailing ship anyway. The broad, sweeping stern at the back, the curved bow at the front, known in the trade as a clipper bow."

It is certainly the showpiece of our fleet today.

However, as far as Eders knows, there was never a need to set sail, disasters were limited. Only one is documented, which happened a good 25 years ago. One winter, due to a defect caused by the cold - a flood valve had burst - so much water penetrated the Gisela, which was resting in front of the Gmunden town hall, that she sank. "Only the stern was still sticking out, and salvage proved to be incredibly difficult," reports Karlheinz Eder, who took over the Traunsee shipping company from his father in 1984 and was the youngest shipping entrepreneur in Austria at the time.

© Gisela Karlheinz Eder - Red Bull Media House Tom Son / Servus Salzkammergut - Die Geschichte ist in Servus Salzkammergut erschienen
Der Chef der Traunseeschifffahrt, Karlheinz Eder, steht auf einem Holzsteg neben dem Schaufelrad des Ausflugsdampfers Gisela am Traunsee. Kapitän Jörg Grieshofer steht an Deck des Schiffes.

The forerunners of the Eders

Today, the Eder fleet comprises five ships: in addition to the Gisela, once built for 500 guests plus captain and now licensed for 300, the MS Poseidon, the MS Karl Eder, the MS J Ruston and the MS Rudolf Ippisch, a nostalgic motor ship built in the Netherlands in 1928.

The latter two names are no coincidence. It was master shipbuilder Joseph J. Ruston, an Englishman, who first designed the Sophie, later the Elisabeth and finally the Gisela.
Quasi in between, in 1862, Ruston bought the Traunsee steamship company, which his nephew John took over in 1895. The young Ruston soon had competition, however, because Josef Ippisch, a trained shoemaker, founded the Traunsee Motorboat Company in 1909 after his years of professional travel, and finally acquired Ruston's fleet in 1918, making him the sole ruler of the lake. Rudolf Ippisch died in 1953 and his grandson took over.

At that time, however, there was already Karl Eder, who advertised so-called castle cruises with his first motorboat, the Erika, and acquired the company from Ippisch in 1977 - the anticipated rescue of the Gisela, so to speak.


TEXT: Achim Schneyder PHOTOS: Tom Son

Text & photos were published in Servus Salzkammergut Magazin 2022.