Saturday, April 3, 2010

Wonderful Week in Wein (Vienna!)

Monday February 22nd, 2010
Well it is amazing we have been in Austria for a whole month! None of us can believe it! It seems like yesterday that we just came. We all are looking at our list of places we want to go and the weekends are already filling up so quickly! Where did the semester go? We found out today that we will get buddies from the University of Salzburg in March when normal European universities begin. I am super excited because I feel like I have not really met any Austrians my age so far! Probably because they are all away at nice places over their break before school starts. :) 
Tuesday February 23rd, 2010
So the stereotypes in Salzburg are really interesting. It is funny because the longer you live here the more you see the different groups that parallel in America. The Russians are our Asians, they are the big tourist group. Although there are still a bunch of Asians that visit Salzburg the Austrians are most annoyed by the Russians. It is sad because the Russians make themselves such an obvious target by wearing their big fur coats. It always catches me off guard to see big fur coats and hats with leather gloves and heeled boots next to me at a cross walk. We don’t exactly have that in Kansas. lol.
The Turks are the Mexican population in America. They make everything run here by doing all of the jobs that the Austrians won’t do. The Turkish are the immigrant population. But overall I have come to discover that Salzburgers are snobbish anyway and I am pretty sure that they do not get along with any other country really well. Even with their “big brother” Germany they make lots of digs at Germans. Salzburgers say that the people from Austria’s capitol, Vienna are the most stuck up - so I wonder if it is really true or if it is the Salzburgers! Oh and it appears that Norwegians LOVE to wear anything that has their national flag on it, so it makes it so easy to find them. :) 
Wednesday February 24th, 2010
Things with our host mother have been getting continually more awkward and difficult. She does not really interact with us and I am pretty sure that we have only had two meals with her so far this semester, one being at her daughter’s birthday party. We have tried to talk to her in English (she knows it well) and even in German (fumbling our way through) but it has been unreceptive. But I have been so lucky to have two roommates that fill that family gap from Bea. It is frustrating tho because we were all expecting to live with a host family and with Bea we feel her attitude is to be our landlord and rake in 9,000 euros for hosting the three of us. But we are making the best of it and working on a sisterhood. :) It just makes you appreciate home even more! 
Thursday February 25th, 2010
I had no school today so I slept in and got a full 8 hours of sleep and headed off to lunch at school where Bergita had made an amazing mushroom, and turkey gravy that we put on top of rice! And then we had freshly cut fruit with her yummy vanilla ice cream on top of it! Yes, I love life! Then she gave me coffee and I had so much energy I had no idea what to do with myself so Emily and I went on a run on a path behind our house. It was fun exploring the trail that went past a beautiful big pink house, little cottages that look like camping cabins, a wooden church and the train tracks that I can hear and see out my window. We were running back along the path next to the train track, when all of a sudden we heard a train horn. We looked and discovered six boys sitting and talking in a maintenance train cart that had honked at us. Well I guess I can check that off my Europe to do list, be honked at by a train cart. lol.

Tonight Jane and I went to another of the Red Bull’s hockey playoff games. It was an impulse move this time because we only found out about the game that day because of all of the opposing team’s fans had flooded the Salzburg! When I had walked to school today I was crossing the bridge to school and a group of the opposing fans was behind me, with their flag as a cape and and many scarfs sporting their team all over their bodies and they were chanting. I broke down and was a bad wanna-be Austrian and smiled because I thought it was fun. They noticed and then started singing or yelling not quite sure which one, their team song. It was soo funny because this little old lady came up to them and was screaming at them and pointing her finger in their face yelling about Salzburg Redbulls. Lol. So great. 
We bought our tickets at the rink which cost us 15 euros because we bought them right before it started, but we decided to try standing this time. It was way better than the sitting seats because we were right against the glass and were among a lot of Austrians our age so that was fun. It was fun because the sitting seats had sparklers before the game this time inside the rink! The Redbulls played SO much better than the first game. They were tied with the opposing team (which we never discovered what it was) 2-2 until the end of the 3rd period! But with 6 minutes left the other team scored and the Redbulls completely gave up even though they could have one. It was SO frustrating, they were worse than a little kids team giving up! 
We are leaving for our five day school Vienna field trip tomorrow morning, so there is some packing that still needs to be done!
Friday February 26th, 2010
Our morning was an early on as we left the house at 6 am to walk to Mirabellplatz where we met our charter bus. It was a good brisk morning walk to the bus with our travel backpacks! We left on the bus to Mauthaus concentration and death camp that is a few hours away from Salzburg. We all slept the whole way there. We woke up when we started to drive up a windy, forested road in our big bus, ending on a plateau where we saw the concentration camp walls and the town below.
We received a walking tour by a guy who was doing his civil service time at the historic department of the camp doing tours. (In Austria after all boys leave what is about equivalent to high school they must serve one year in the military or in a community service type of position for the state.) He started the tour by showing us the memorials that each country had set up honoring those who had passed away. The weather was so bitter cold and snowing we all were freezing! But it added to the somber mood of the place and it was very fitting. We started to talk about how we could never image how cold the prisoners would have been in the winters wearing paper thin clothes, and working in the outdoors, when they were starving to death. 
Mauthaus was one of the first massive concentration complexes in Nazi Germany and one of the last to be liberated, by the Americans. It was considered a Grade III camp meaning that the conditions were the toughest, as they worked most people to death. It is located just outside of Linz in Upper Austria. The majority of prisoners were from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia minorities and also Spanish Democrats. I was surprised that there were a lot of Spaniards in the camp. 
We walked down the path until he stopped in front of the granite quarry. He told us about the over 300 steps that led down to the quarry and how each step ranged from one to three feet tall! Apparently, the workers would have to carry 100 + pounds of granite blocks on their backs up these steps! We learned that at times the prisoners would have to line up in front of the cliff, due to officer orders, once they made it up the steps and be responsible for pushing the prisoner in front of them off the cliff to their death! So horrible. Just looking out over the quarry we could see all of the quaint little farm houses sitting across the way. If we could see them then they had to be able to see what was going on in this quarry. I don’t know how people could say they did not know. The tour guide told us that the man who ran the camp gave his son 40 prisoners when he turned 16 that he could kill. What kind of birthday gift is that? What do you say “Thanks Dad for letting me take 40 innocent lives!?” Ugh. 
We then visited the shower room. After reading so many books growing up about concentration and death camps it was so chilling walking into the first room where they shaved the hair from their bodies. You just had this vivid image of fear and disgrace that overwhelmed you. Then we went into the shower room, which made me break down for the first of many times on this tour. We discovered that each person had to be under one of the shower spout so that they were completely covered with water. But what is so horrible about it is that the officers found their fun in turning the temperature to scalding hot then freezing cold and each person had to stand directly under that! Apparently, but not surprisingly people died in the showers from the stress and shock of the whole experience. 
Then we headed over to the barracks where we saw the type of bunks they had for the prisoners. In each “bed” of the bunk an average of four people would sleep in one, but the beds had lips on the sides and were the size of a coffin. I don’t know how four people could ever fit into something that small, but I guess when everyone is starving to death their bodies are much smaller. Those who did not get a bed slept on the floor where they created a pattern of head to toe, toe to head across the whole floor! He also showed us the high security barrack where they put all of the religious and social leaders so that they could not gain support for rebellious actions by the common people. 
Then we visited the gas chamber. *If you don’t want to hear details skip this paragraph. We went to the back side of one of the barracks and down these steps into the basement. The steps just gave you the chills because you knew that people walked down these to their death. Thousands of people died down there. We came into the first entry way where apparently “X”s were put on the chests of people who had golden teeth, then all of the prisoners were walked into a room that looked like a shower room with shower heads and everything. They were told they were being rewarded with a special shower time, yet no water came from the spouts, only a non-detectable gas came from a crack in the wall in the room. The showers do in fact work and were used only to clean up the blood left from the gassing. I totally lost it in this room and the next. How could people deceive others like this? I could just image people’s brothers, mothers, and grandparents being put in there. The next room was the room where Nazi’s did their “creative” deaths. Here they had a wall where a curtain hung behind a spot where the Nazi’s told the prisoner to stand “to get their picture taken”. But really while the prisoner stood there, there was a small gun above them that shot them. Another one had to deal with having the prisoners think that they were able to do a play but they ended up being killed, I can’t remember in which way - my brain wanted to shut off. It was really a game for the Nazi’s ... these were not humans, not even animals ... to them. We saw the place where they burned the bodies. This one is one of the few places where the flame actually touched the body - that is illegal now a days. They started burning them one at a time then in batches of up to six. The officers told the family members that were in the camps that they could BUY the mixed ashes of one of their family members that had died. First they have no money to buy anything, why tease something that horrible in front of them when there is no way they could get it, and second BUY the ashes of your loved one from their murderer!? I don’t know about people. Next to that room was saw the original granite Dr. table where they took out the golden teeth from the dead people’s mouths. So emotionally exhausting, yet I think so necessary for people to see. 
The largest escape of prisoners was 500 people. They escaped into the town where some people had realized that this was not a normal criminal camp for murders and rapists etc and took them in. But the Nazi’s went on a mission to kill every escape and anyone who helped them. Out of 500 only 5-12 of the prisoners lived to truly escape.
It is so odd to think that this happened only a bit over a fifty years ago. When you study it in school it is abstract, and in the history book only a few pages away from Lincoln, so you think it is so in the past. But really it just happened a bit ago and things like this still happen today in other places.  
After we all somberly got back onto the bus we drove along the Danube seeing the apricot and grape orchards in the winter until we reached Melk Monastery. The monastery is basically a palace! It was where the royalty would stay during their travels to their final destinations. It was built in the 900’s! We started out tour through an exhibit of the different time periods of history of the monastery. It was really cool because each room had a distinct theme one was lit with green lights and another had all four walls with mirrors! They told us about their prize jewel; called the Melk Cross that they say has a piece of wood from the cross Christ was crucified on. It is locked away in a safe and only taken out a few times a year. Then we visited the dancing room that had beautiful frescos (ceiling paintings) and marble (even though most of it is stucco because it cost less). We learned how to identify the real marble because it is darker and that the doorway was the only place where real marble was located. If you stand in the middle of the room the ceiling is paint so that the flat roof looks arched. It is neat because once you stand in the corner you can see the allusion of painting. My favorite thing was that there were two cut outs of the wall near the ceiling that showed into the joining room’s top room. This is where the orchestra would have played - the fresco even continued into this room! Then we walked on the balcony to the library and we say a breath taking view of Melk - it was such a classic view of an Austrian village. :) Walking into the library I felt that I had walked into Bell’s library from the “Beauty and the Beast”! The smell of the antique books, the marble spiral staircase, and the golden bound books to the ceiling was SO cool, not to mention there was also a fresco there. Then we visited the prize of Melk Monastery - their full sized chapel. It was filled with marble (really stucco probably), elaborate gold icons of Mary and many scenes from the Bible. There is even a dome within it that is over 200 feet tall! Very impressive, one of the most highly decorated chapels I have been to. The gardens are suppose to be some of the most beautiful in Austria in the summer, too bad they were frozen!
We hoped on the bus again this time to reach our final destination of Vienna (Wien in German). We crossed the Danube to Vienna and I thought we were coming into what I would imagine New York would look like, it is such a huge city! We found our hostel, ate dinner there (which was very icky, fried fish and cold yellow potatoes) and then we met Dr. Kecht a Viennese who is our Understanding Austria teacher for a walking tour to get ourselves acquainted with the town. Beginning at 6 pm! We were not very excited but once we reached the city center we were all so happy because Vienna is SO beautiful at night! I think it is actually my favorite time in that town. The town hall (that looks like a cathedral) and all of the government buildings are lit up, and the street artists are so fun on the main street. We saw everything from spray paint can artists to full out opera singers! We wandered around a bit and then went to the famous Aieda’s cafe by St. Stephen’s Cathedral where Emily and I split a desert that was like a big vanilla marshmallow with a pie crust outside. It was so yummy and 50% off because we got there at 7:30, a half hour before they closed! And of course a cappuccino. We sat at a little table and watched everyone outside. Aieda’s has so much character, it has a 70’s diner feel and the ladies wear pink dresses. A must to visit if you go there. :) 
Saturday February 27th, 2010
Today we had a walking tour around Vienna ... a 3 hour walking tour. I am definitely getting better at endurance walking, because a walking tour means a slight jog for all of us Americans. :) We saw the State Opera house, the controversial modern art entrance to the Modern Art Museum that does not go with the classic Vienna architecture, and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We saw the Mother Theresa statue which was impressively large. St. Stephen’s Cathedral was ranked the number one thing that Austrians identify Austria with. Personally I thought it was a little anti-climatic but it just did not seem to have any visual things that makes it special from other big cathedrals. Dr. Kecht would kill me if she heard me say that. It has emotional ties to Austrians because it was built after a defeat of the Turks and every provence of the country donated money to help rebuild it after WWII. My favorite thing hands down is the roof tho! It does not fit at all, it has a African or Native American geometric pattern on it that is green and yellow! Inside the neatest thing was that on the railing up to the stand where the pope gives his sermon there are reptiles signifying evil and at the top there is a dog sculpture barking at them - scaring away evil. Yeah lizards, turtles, and dogs in a church! haha. Yah I know it has a deeper meaning but I thought it was cool. Also it is one of the oldest churches where the architect gave himself credit, he sculpted himself into the stone below the priests stand. Yet he did not put his name on it just his face, and we know it was him because he is holding architect tools. Yup that is all you need to really know about it. lol. 
The next big place we went were to the Habsburg Catacombs. For all of you that slept through European History (don’t worry Mrs. Spitz I didn’t sleep through it - that is the only way I am passing Understanding Austria!) the Habsburgs had  empire all over Europe that was centralized in Austria - Hungary. They were highly Catholic and reigned for a really long time! So we went and visited their catacombs and saw the elaborate coffins of Maria Theresa (who was the first  female empress of the Austrian Habsburgs and the “Mother of Austria”) and we saw lots of Ferdinad’s catacombs, like over 20. I can’t remember which Ferdinad belongs to what historical story so I took a picture of all of them and once I figure out which ones are the ones I know about I will delete the other pictures! :) There were sculptures that had lace over faces on the catacombs - amazing! 
Then we continued to walk around the town. We saw the Jewish memorial where a synagog was built and later burnt during the time of WWII. The memorial is a basic looking concrete rectangle building that is very large with a door that does not open. One of the boys in our group was not paying attention to what our guide was saying and was like “Is this an air conditioning unit?” We all looked at him uh oh. Once he knew what it was he was like. “Well great I am going to Hell. It is final.” He felt so bad. lol. Oh Jon. One of the buildings within the square had a plaque where Jesus was begin baptized and had a saying “Like the water that washed away our sins, the flame relieved us of from or disease” referring to the fire of the synagog and the Jewish population. So horrible! And of course the Christians have now posted a sign on the other side of the square saying that they are sorry for the sign. Cause you know that a sign fixes everything. Oh people. 
For lunch we visited the famous Nactmarkt which is a long street of open markets. You can find so many different cultural foods and fresh fruits and veggies! We ate gyros and a coconut-pistachio sweet treat! I could eat an entire pan of those sweets! Great lunch, we ate it on the steps on the side of a street. We then went to the Succession where modern artists like Gustav Klimt had met and created their artist group. There inside there is Gustav Klimt’s “The Beethoven Frienze” which is in pretty much every art history book I have had. Gustav Klimt is one of the biggest prides of Austria, he is known for his images of women, sometimes in nudes and abstractly depicted, and the use of great colors! I love his artwork and was so excited to see this piece! 
We bought our ticket for 5 euros and headed down the steps on the side of the building like the lady told us but we thought we had walked into the wrong place because when we walked in there was low colored lighting in the hallway with racy pictures of women and a hot tub. Ok we will try the other side of the building. Opps. We go down those stairs on the other side and things look normal until we walk in and see into the first room ... a stripping pole, couches, and a bar. Hmm. ok. We keep walking because we are determined to find this painting because we paid 5 euros to find it! We find colorful rooms with mattresses in them and parts of the walls cut out. They even had Klimt prints in them and beaded doors lol. Thank heavens we found it during the day and not the night! We walked to the other side and found the hot tub again but stairs were next to it down. Do we dare go down another floor? An older man asks us if we want to go into the hot tub, choice made get away and see if this darn painting is in the basement! It was after all! We walked in and it was such a disappointment because it was on the top of the side walls and there was low mood lighting (for the mattress surrounded by fake trees in the middle) so we could not really see it. Just look at in the textbooks. It was funny though because there was a little kids play house right next to the mattress with the trees separating it. Odd. lol. Well we definitely had an adventure! 
Check out this website to see an article about the Succession and their swing club. haha. 
We headed back to our hostel because we were all exhausted! Emily and I slept for a few hours and woke up and ran to try and wait in line for standing tickets for the State Opera (only 2 euros!). We had overslept so we were not in time to wait in line meeting 1.5 hours before to getting standing tickets. But it was all good because Vienna is so wonderful at night so we found this really great male Opera singer on the street and listened to him for free. :) Then Emily and I searched for a place for dinner. Everything was basically closed because it was after 8 pm (the night life on a Saturday is definitely much less than a Friday) so we ended up finding a hotel restaurant on a side alley where we ate overpriced Italian dinner. We listened to a group playing jazz on our way to the hostel. It was so great it made me think of the “Frog Prince” that I had just watched with Emily. :) 
Sunday February 28th, 2010
This morning we woke up early to go to the Vienna Boy’s Choir! We all headed to the Hofburg where the boys performed and got there about a half hour to wait in line to get in. We found out that you can buy sitting tickets with a reservation for 5 euros, but we lucked out and were early enough to get in for free, because they let in enough people to fill the standing area in the back. Definitely get there more than a half hour before it begins and wait in line because you might not make it in otherwise, unless you do the ticket. We lucked out and not many people bought tickets so we were allowed to sit in seats, even though it was a pushing party to get a seat (odd we are in a church and fighting over seats...). The sermon was in German so it gave me plenty time to think and unfortunately come to these conclusions (while of course watching the interesting Catholic service): 
  1. Either it is a big honor to be a Priest in the same chapel as the Viennese Boy’s Choir or 
  2. It is a joke because nobody comes to see your sermons, they just come to see the Boy’s Choir. Nobody speaks German, we are all American, Asian and Spanish tourists so we don’t even know what the sermon is about. He could be talking about Little Red Riding Hood for all we know. 
  3. Does the Priest make it a big show just because we are tourists, and does he know that he sermon is pointless?
  4. It is funny because you can see that some of the attendants know the whole sermon is a joke by their facial expressions. 
The Boy’s Choir was really impressive - it sounded like an adult choir! They sang above where we sat so when they came down at the end of the service to sing (for all the tourists!) I could not believe how small they were. It is so awesome these little kids can sing like this. I just could not imagine being in a boy’s choir and then having your voice change and having to start over! 
After the Boy’s Choir this girl Tracy (Yes, everyone confuses us as the same person! We both have dark hair too, so it is hopeless) and Emily and I headed off to visit the Leopold Museum! We saw an exhibit by Schiele another well known Austrian artist, and a super fun exhibit put on by UNICEF of toys that children make from 3rd world countries out of things they find. These children were so detailed, and creative! It was so neat, they even made helicopters from wire! Then the highlight of the museum was seeing Gustav Klimt’s beautiful “Life and Death”! Yeah! It was so amazing to see this painting the colors and patterns just consume you! 
We then got lunch at a cute little cafe across from the Belevedre Museum. We walked onto the property of Eugene of Savoy (he was French but for some reason decided to be the head of the Habsburg’s military for 3 rulers). I absolutely love his palace inside and out, probably one of my favorite places in Austria for sure! :) We got inside and the first thing we saw was the painting of Napoleon on the white horse! We couldn’t believe that we were actually seeing the painting that is printed in pretty much every history textbook ever made! One of the girls we were with was just so in awe she kept going back to it! It was beautiful, but my favorite hands down was “The Kiss” by Klimt! It was simply the most extraordinary thing ever. The colors were beautiful and it was a lot bigger than I had thought it would be, so we could see his patterns really well! Ahhh. Definitely a highlight of Europe so far. The museum was the best art museum I have ever been to. There were so many styles of art that it was always refreshing and there was seriously a wall that had Monet, next to Renoir, next to Klimt! How can it get better? We then headed off through the gardens that look like they came out of “Alice in Wonderland” to the second part of his palace where an exhibit about his life was on display. This was so so, but the day was a wild success! 
I rushed back to do a interview for the Blue Key honorary on campus back at home over skype. Of course at the hostel the internet was only in the common room where the t.v. was on with the gold medal olympic game of U.S.A vs. Canada hockey game was on. There was a serious debate over what to focus on. The interview ended just in time for me to watch the overtime of the amazingly matched teams, and sadly we lost. But I was SO happy to see hockey on t.v. again! 

No comments:

Post a Comment