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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knoweldge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

Nebenleistung - Association for Mutual Assistance in Fire Emergencies
Social practices in Lower Austria, inscribed 2010

Nebenleistung – Association for Mutual Assistance in Fire Emergencies (Verein für gegenseitige Hilfeleistung bei Brandfällen “Nebenleistung”) is a self-help organisation in St. Oswald im Yspertal, Lower Austria that provides help after fires in the region in terms of work performed as well as in-kind and monetary assistance. Its short-form name is simply “Nebenleistung” [lit.: Ancillary Benefits].

This association was founded back in the mid-19th century in reaction to a rising frequency of large fires in order to provide quick and unbureaucratic assistance in their immediate aftermath—which means that following a fire, eleven members of the association (referred to as Vertrauenspersonen [trusted individuals]) meet in order to assess the damage. Before assistance is provided, it must be ascertained that the affected party is not at fault. Once this has been done, the assistance is defined and organised—with the expert knowledge necessary for doing so along with the practice of conducting these meetings having been laid down in the association’s statues and handed down orally from generation to generation ever since. In terms of the assistance it provides, the association has changed with the times. While it used to be that compensation for losses was provided either in kind (hay, straw) or as work performed, it can now also be financial in nature. Every ten years, a full meeting is held at which the association’s head and trusted individuals are elected, any necessary amendments to the statues are passed, and the memberships of the real estate owners eligible for assistance are documented for the next ten years. The association exemplifies how economic necessity in a small, defined region can lead to the establishment and preservation of sustainable neighbourly assistance structures—with the community, in turn, making use of the provided practical services and supporting this time-honoured form of social responsibility for one’s neighbours.


Johann Wimmer
3684 St. Oswald



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