Category Archives: Austria

Google What?

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A long, long time ago, long before the idea of a world wide web and the Google search engine was conceived, a sleepy hamlet along the Iron Curtain, as the Austrian and Czechoslovakian border was called back then, bore the cute, funny name Guglwald, Googlewood. img_9622

I was quite lucky to get to know Guglwald in the days when a yellow Postbus, the identical one Julie Andrews rode in The Sound of Music to the Van Trapp Mansion, was our only way to reach this promised patch of earth. When the bus stopped in Guglwald, the little knoll by the woods, nestled at the end of a dusty road 50 kilometers north of Linz, http://www.linz.at we had indeed reached the end of the “Free World.”

Since my Dad worked in a somewhat high government position, we had the privilege to spend summers in one of the reserved flats in the Zollhaus.

The Zollhaus stood three-stories tall, and its gabled roofs evoked quite the storybook setting. Just steps from the border, it was primarily constructed for housing border patrol employees and their families. Imagine, living in a community of merely fifty souls. Most people had radios and TV back then but except for the one time daily arrival of the Postbus, this farming community was little known to the outside world. Life was very, very lonely along the border. Indeed. And quiet too. A rough existence for the family running the Inn cum Pub cum convenience store hugging the Gugl, the famed hill, along the vast Boehmerwald region, http://www.boehmerwald.at, in Northern Upper Austria. http://www.oberoesterreich.atguglwald_bikeride

Besides farming and living off the land, families invented ways of making do. A sweet faced lady, Frau Schauflinger, with a big Saint Bernard living on the other side of the glen was famous for her butter and buttermilk. Whenever my Dad and I stopped by to stock up our supplies, I would sit at her table, the big orangey-white monster of a dog snuggled against my calf. Perking my ears to her tales, shots being fired at night, fleeing people seeking shelter, a feeling of fear and curiosity seized me.

A short hike down the road, a small weaving shop cranked out dishtowels and throw rugs, and over another grassy knoll, a family tended to bees, producing some of the sweetest honey I’ve ever tasted since those innocent Muehlviertel, Mill County, days. www.muehlviertel.at/en

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Even though life took me away from those Guglwald summers, I held on to my memories; skipping across the pristine landscape, listening to the singing brook as it bubbled over rocks and meadows, scouting the mossy grounds for edible mushrooms, falling asleep under the shimmering Milky Way.

But then in the fall of 1989 history was made. The Berlin Wall came down and so did the rusty barbed wire fences and watch towers that had become the symbol of Communist Rule since the end of World War II. guglwald-mahnmal

Borders opened, and from then on, life in Guglwald was never the same. But that’s another story.guglwald_border

 

Octogenarian Passion

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Meet a very unusual woman. Miss Erna Haselgruber, octogenarian and artist who stumbled on her ultimate passion late in life.

It all began one dreary Austrian fall day when, out of the blue, inspiration struck. 69-years young back then, something compelled Erna to buy a paintbrush, art supplies, and enroll in an art class. What simply began as a past time evolved into a lifelong calling.

Over the course of 20 years, this vivacious Austrian has brought to life a myriad of flowers in watercolor, dreamy pastoral scenes, and bold cityscapes in acrylic and oil.

During the Holiday Season, Erna switches the big canvas for greeting cards, creating unique designs with her favorite winter scenes.

When Erna and I met twenty years ago, we felt an instant bond. Over the course of our wonderful friendship, I‘ve been witnessing her phenomenal creative growth. Admiring her new work during a recent Austrian visit, I almost fell off the chair when she told me she’d be celebrating her 90th Birthday later this year. Not showing any sign of old age, this powerhouse of a woman is definitely my inspiration.

Her inspiration is running rampant. She has to paint, paint, paint. To date, her passion and staunch drive has produced a staggering output of over 200 paintings to her credit.

Over tea and cookies, Erna confessed with a hearty laugh, “I just can’t help it. It’s like the air I breathe.” And adds with a twinkle. “It’s keeps me young. It’s my life.”

In Linz Beginn’s-It Starts in Linz

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In Linz, that’s where it begins. IT. A product launch. A new invention. A travel adventure. Whatever. The possibilities are endless. This slogan of my hometown was the going phrase the day I kissed my parents good buy on a snow drenched December day in 1981. And today, after thirty years, the saying has morphed into “Linz changes.” And boy, there have been many dynamic changes in this European Capital of Culture in 2009 hugging the green banks of the blue Danube. The Lentos Museum of Modern Art, the Opera House, a brand new Castle Museum, the Tower of Knowledge, Underground system, to name just a few. One of pioneer spirit, I always felt that these words came right out of me. Returning to my roots over the years, each time I walked down the bustling Landstrasse (Main Street) with its gleaming store fronts or ambled over cobble stones, through arcades and climbed ancient stairs in the Old Quarters, I more and more discovered the rich heritage entrenched in the heart and soul of the city founded by the Romans a century before Christ’s birth. And so, on a recent beautiful cold day as I climbed the steep treasure trail back in time, I reflected on our ancient heritage as I stood before Austria’s oldest church, the Martinskirche, church of St. Martin. And as I ambled through the Friedrichstor built by the Habsburg Emperor Friedrich around 1490, and on top of the Castle ridge to the viewpoint overlooking the Danube valley, I reflected on all Linz has to offer. A metropolis of culture, green oasis and economic strength, the vibe is dynamic and people here enjoy a high quality of life. Always standing in the shadow of Vienna and much smaller but more famous Salzburg, Linz has finally emerged as an equal player. A vibrant cultural scene showcases theatre and music productions of world class quality. The annual Bruckner Festival in September draws notable performers and audiences from all over the world to the state of the art performance hall. Rolling exhibitions of contemporary art, history and science can be seen in many museums, the elegant Lentos Museum of Art and the Ars Electronica Center dominating the Danube being the most famous showpiece among them. Another creation not only pleasing the eye but the palate as well is the Linzer Cake. The oldest-known recipe in the world and a favorite souvenir, this Linz original was first baked in the Konditorei Jindrak beneath historic stucco facades in the early 1700’s. Still savoring the last bite, I consider all the remarkable achievements and groundbreaking innovations propelling Linz in to the 21st century and wonder what will be the next IT that will rise over the peaceful hills, sweeping the world like the ‘Sound of Music.’

Beim Heurigen

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Day three greeted us with another stunning blue sky over Vienna. Not at all a certainty in Austria to have so many sunny days in a row. Glad not to worry about umbrellas, sweaters and jackets, we hopped on the Tram, the Underground and then on the bus and headed up into the surrounding hills to Leopoldsberg. With the weather fairy shining on the city of music and it being Sunday, a lot of folks had the same idea as we, for the bus trip up the winding road was packed. And I mean PACKED. With no personal space between fellow travelers, we stood squeezed between strangers like sardines in a can almost the entire ride (45 minutes) to the top. But the spectacular view from the historic castle crowning the top of Leopoldsberg was worth all the pushing and shoving. It was from that very stronghold that Vienna’s destiny was determined in the 17th century when the Viennese army launched an attack on their Turkish invaders and chased them away once and for all.
Thinking of how the face of Austria could have changed back then, we rode down the hill in a bus half empty and got off in Grinzing, a famous community of charming wineries, called “Heuriger.” Heurigen are places where people gather with their own food if they choose and savor the wine of the current season. Of course we didn’t bring our own delicacies but bought some scrumptious spreads, salads, cold platters and breads at the Heurigen we ended up in after ambling past Heurigen after Heurigen. Only upon leaving did we notice that this grapevine-draped courtyard of the Bach-Hengl Heuriger had hosted celebrities and statesmen, among them three former US Presidents (Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush), the King and Queen of Sweden, Russian President Putin, and many international dignitaries and celebrities.

Four Hoofed Perfection in White

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When visiting Vienna one can expect to experience and discover things not found in other places. Such precious gems are the white Lippizzaner Stallions of the world renowned Imperial Horse Riding School which we went to see on our second day in Vienna. This exceptional breed of muscular horses dates back to the 16th century when it was developed with the support of the Habsburg nobility and has become a government supported institution ever since. Amidst an animated cacophony of foreign words and phases, Bob and I took our gallery seats under the brilliance of lit up crystal chandeliers. Dressed up with red velvet, gold trimmed saddle blankets and jeweled reigns, bridles and harnesses flashing under the sparkling light, this fine Austrian horse breed made their grand entrance into the festive performance hall. Since video taping and photography was strictly forbidden I was only able to take a few shots before the Stallions entered the hall to a lorious fanfare of trumpets, flutes, violins and drums. Their steps in perfect synch with the music, these perfectly groomed teams of horses and riders demonstrated the highest degree of horsemanship and classical dressage of the haute ecole (high school) in the most graceful and effortless way imaginable. While lining up in round and oval circles, riding across the hall in formation of straight and diagonal lines and intricate crossing patterns, my jaw dropped several times at the precision and grace with which these regal creatures demonstrated their movements. As I watched mesmerized this beautiful dance of steps, pirouettes and stylized trademark jumps known as “airs above the ground” unfold before me, I was once again reminded of the utmost beauty, grandeur and treasures my homeland had inherited through the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Emperors.

Circling the Ring

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A visit to the Austrian capital is a must for every tourist who steps onto Austrian soil. As during our last visit to my homeland, Bob and I, along with my niece Alia, hopped on the train (not any train but the Jet Rail) and zoomed at a speed of 200 km per hour (125 mph) past meadows, hills and fields towards the grand city along the blue Danube. Growing up just 180 km west of this former center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I have been to Vienna so many times I have stopped counting. But every time I come back and stroll along the pompous residences and Palais dominating the famous Graben and the Ringstrasse marking Vienna’s first district, I am overcome with a feeling of awe, harmony and perfection.
And our visit this time was no different. Under a glorious blue sky, with the tall spire of St. Stephen Cathedral rising into the sun, we met up with my nephew Karli (he lives in Vienna) at St. Stephen Square, the pulsating heart of the city right inside the famous Ring Boulevard.This particular section of the city, the fashionable First District, is a haven for pedestrians. Strolling down the Kaertner Strasse from the Opera House, one can admire fancy store fronts, watch street performers or just the throngs of people shuffling past never having to watch out for traffic.
So, that Friday afternoon, amidst thousands of strangers (Viennese locals and international tourists), we ambled along the Graben admiring and clicking at ornate buildings, each façade a work of art. Through the huge archway of the Hofburg (Office of the President) to the echoes of clicking horse hooves pulling Fiakers (Vienna’s famous horse drawn carriages), we headed across the Heldenplatz and Burg garden to the Café Landmann, one of the many elegant Viennese Coffee houses. Under umbrellas in the cinnamon flavored air, we chilled out to coffee and cake, taking in an impressive view of the Burgtheater, the University and the Wiener Rathaus (Viennese City Hall). These prestigious landmarks along with the Opera house, the Hofburg, the Natural Science and Art museums and the Parliament, line the majestic Ring Boulevard like precious jewels in a necklace and are a vivid reminder of Vienna’s rich cultural and historical heritage.

Auf zur Jaus’n

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Auf zur Jaus’n (Let’s go for a snack). With that thought in mind, we decided to hike up the hill to the Mirellen Stueberl, a popular Jausenstation (across between café and snack bar) where hikers, bikers and city folks gather to enjoy the fresh air, great view and good food. From Gallneukirchen, we ventured on a sandy trail along a bubbling creek. Further up the hill, our brisk stride took us along the path of the historic Pferde Eisenbahn, a horse railway (horse drawn carriages on rails), connecting the cities of Budweis, Linz and Gmunden. Opened in the early part of the 19th century, the rail tram was the second public rail line in continental Europe and was used mainly for transporting salt from the Upper Austrian city Gmunden in the Salzkammergut (Salt Region) to Bohemia, now Czech Republic.
By the mid 19th century a steam train replaced the section between Linz and Gmunden and by 1872 the horse tram was shut down leaving only a few traces of nostalgia behind. Thinking of the good old days, we puffed up the last incline to our destination before we caught our breath at the Mirellen Stueberl’s fruit orchard on top of the glen. To a view worth all the effort of the past 40 minutes, we forgot our achy feet as we indulged in their famous potato cheese bread and baked liver loaf bread, just two of the many home made specialties including roasted and smoked meats, cakes, pastries and donuts.

Castle in the Air

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As we left Goldegg and followed the Salzach River downhill into the valley, a majestic sight unfolded beyond the car’s windshield like a fairytale setting. Green meadows spreading across the valley floor, mountains reaching into the blue, and a castle in the air shining like a gem under the sun. The Hohen Werfen Fortress. One can reach this high-altitude stronghold by foot climbing up the steep hill it sits on or by getting into the panoramic cable car. We opted for the former. As I paused before the fortification’s main gate after a 20 minute arduous ascent, I wondered how in the world anybody could drag stones, timbers and canons up this rock. After laboring up a few more inclines and several flights of stairs, we caught our breaths in the courtyard over coffee and sparkling Almdudler. Touring the medieval castle, which was built by the Salzburg ruler Archbishop Gebhard in the 11th century and completed after 400 years, we got a snapshot into the privileged lives of knights and noblemen. As we ducked our heads, walking and climbing behind our swift tour guide up narrow staircases and down into the castle’s dungeon and torture chamber, I saw people shake their heads to the horror tales coming to life in these dark corners. According to our guide, the reformation brought about a peasant revolt when looting and rioting farmers stood up to the Catholic bishops and their followers who ruled the land. Captured Protestants who refused to accept Catholicism were tortured and suffered unimaginable cruelty within these mighty walls. Back in the courtyard, looking up at one of the watchtowers, I reflected on the times we live in and the freedom we take for granted. We can think, say and belief what we want. But why is it that so many people have to suffer and perish along the way for things to change? I guess we will never know but I am grateful that mankind has come into the light since the castle’s first watchtower was built 900 years ago.

Bad Gastein

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Bad Gastein, a historic spa resort built into the steep slopes of the Hohe Tauern mountain range, was our destination on day two of our mini vacation. After a hearty breakfast and a two hour hike through the Goldegg woods, we hopped into the car, headed east and then south into the Gasteinertal. Cruising between snow dusted peeks, a breathtaking view of the valley and surrounding mountain vistas unfolded. As the road became narrower, the curves more dangerous, and the green roof of the iconic Grand Hotel gleamed in the sunlight, Alfred filled us in on the old history of this spa and ski resort crowning the head of the valley.
For decades Bad Gastein enjoyed a worldwide reputation due to the thermal spring waters known since the 13th century. Over the years Paracelsus, the father of medicine, discovered the water’s secrets and Marie Curie was instrumental in discovering the water’s radon content which resulted in the radon therapy. In the 19th century the healing waters beneath the rocky townscape transformed this former gold mining town and trade post into a fashionable resort, housing head of states, royalty from near and far, composers, artists, writers and international celebrities. With that in mind, we strolled around Bad (meaning “spa”) Gastein and admired this grandiose enclave of 5,800 inhabitants before our freezing feet (it had snowed a few days prior to our visit and heaps of snow were still on the ground) carried us into the next café.