In her day, Maria Faßnauer was labelled as "Tyrol's largest female character" or the "largest woman that ever lived".
She was born in 1879 in Ridanna and was the eldest child of a farming family in the mountains. At the age of three she began to grow at an over-average rate and stood at 2.17 metres tall by time she was 15. This naturally led to a lot of gossip and it was not long before she aroused the attention of sideshow operators. They offered her family money to allow them exhibit the young lady as an "attraction" at annual fairs. They initially refused, although they could really have used the money in view of the difficult economic times.
In 1906 however, together with her sister, Maria finally went on a trip through Europe that was to last seven years. On their journey, they stopped over in Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg, Brussels, London, Manchester and many other cities. Dressed in the traditional costume of South Tyrol and wearing a tall hat that made her look even bigger, she was on show in various locations, from the coal market in Vienna to the Oktoberfest in Munich, and even the world exhibition in Brussels.
This life offered Maria herself very few pleasant sides, however. She had no chance to get to know the travel destinations, for example. She led a very isolated life and was not allowed to be seen in public, because the sideshow operators didn't want to lose out on any income at all. As a "giant", she was only allowed to show herself to other people in one of her "appearances". Maria put aside the money she earned for her family. The letters she sent home spoke of homesickness and loneliness. She did not only suffer psychologically, however, but also physically, as the long hours of standing demanded of her caused her pain and leg sores.
In 1913 she finally returned to Ridanna, where she spent the rest of her life. In 1917 she died at the age of 38 after a long period of suffering due to heart failure.
Luckily, the "showcasing" of people with an unusual appearance for money has long been a thing of the past. In the folk culture of Ridanna, Maria Faßnauer has not fallen into oblivion. A life-sized model of her can be admired in the Bergbaumuseum, and she enjoys an established place in the great procession at the Ridanna Kirchtag festival.