The District Without Qualities?

So I’m back in the UK. For good now. Most of this week has been taken up with house-hunting, arranging vans etc. More on that soon. I don’t like to count my chickens before they’re hatched.

However, I was tidying up the folders on my computer this week, and found these miscellaneous photos of Vienna from February. I have been visiting Austria often for work since 2010, and know Vienna pretty well by now. These are all little details from back streets of Landstrasse- District III, an area of Vienna next to the Danube. It’s not so far out from the centre, but it’s more of a normal residential area than a tourist one. I was teaching as a guest teacher in a school there, and on sunny days preferred to wander back rather than go directly to the U-Bahn station opposite the school.

These looming WWII-era flak towers in Arenbergpark are now used as storehouses for the art museums. When they were built, they essentially functioned as a modern version of a castle keep- housing a radar station and air raid shelters.

I wasn’t buying a great deal of ice cream in February.

This street in the Weißgerber neighbourhood of Landstraße had a blue plaque showing it was where the writer Robert Musil lived until he was forced into exile by the Nazis. (A few months later I also happened to go to his birthplace in Klagenfurt via work). The stress of having to flee caused him to have a stroke and die at the age of 61. I don’t think he’s as well known in English-speaking countries as some of his compatriots despite being nominated for a Nobel Prize, but I can well recommend The Man Without Qualities, a long novel exploring life at all levels of society in Vienna on the eve of the First World War. A good companion to his contemporary Stefan Zweig‘s The World of Yesterday.

This Means Nothing To Me

 

(A photo I took in Salzburg a couple of years ago)

(Not just a cheerful travelogue- politics and history and the life and death of Stefan Zweig)

I have been in Austria for a week and a half now for teaching work. I meant to update last week, but some brutal 7.30 am start times, heavy snow, a lot of planning to do outside the classroom, and a diet of pure stodge in a small town with few dining options (and even fewer options for vegetarians) tired me out. It feels strange to be in small-town Austria, where not much tends to happen, while political turmoil with dire consequences for many vulnerable people goes on around the world.

The UK does not feel like a good place to be right now, but I can’t stay away forever. I will not be back for more than a few days until April at the earliest anyway. I’m now in Steiermark, the start of the Alps, and the snow is all gone, and there is rain much the same as an English winter. For my job I get sent to run workshops in schools in towns few tourists visit. Apart from next week in Vienna, I’m criss-crossing Austria on the train to various small towns dotted around. I enjoy lengthy solo train trips in the mountains with suitable music and snacks, but I don’t enjoy lugging a suitcase filled with 5 weeks worth of supplies, even if it does have wheels.

When people picture Austria, they have an image of Vienna, elegant, full of opera houses, art museums and slightly kitschy Mozart souvenirs, and the Alps, full of charming wooden chalets, drifts of powdery snow, and hearty people in lederhosen (and probably adding an imaginary background of mountains to Vienna).

The east of Austria (where Vienna is) is actually mostly flat. I’ve been in Vienna overnight two Saturdays in a row now, but was either at a work training event, or leaving early the next morning for further travel. I’ll be there for a full week from Sunday anyway and will take full advantage of my afternoons off to see some exhibitions. I have been to Vienna many times before, and frequently at times of year with better weather.

There’s something a little bit low-key seedy about Vienna outside of the grand buildings on the tourist routes (although it is a very safe city). Run-down little shops that seem to have been there forever, rotting art nouveau stations with no staff on the green Ü4 line, decrepit looking branches of Norma and Pennymarkt supermarkets with peeling beige lino tiles and flickering neon lighting that make Lidl look luxurious and which close on the dot at 6pm. Indoor smoking is still legal (and very prevalent). The Danube is not as central as you might expect. German TV often picks a Vienna accent for small-time crook characters. There’s the Vienna schmäh, the mix of charming manners and snide humour. And the (increasingly familiar) accent, where people mumble yet draw out the vowels at the same time.

Last year I read The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zweig, the memoir by the Austrian writer who was an international star between the wars until his persecution by the Nazis (and topic of this weirdly personal bit of vitriol by Michael Hofmann here). He had been neglected until lately in the UK, until the release of the Grand Budapest Hotel (loosely based on several of his stories) caused his books to be reissued, and in particular The World of Yesterday to be translated by one of my favourite translators, the incomparable Anthea BellThe World of Yesterday covers his upbringing in 1890s Vienna, the shock of the First World War and the rise of Fascism, and ends with his escape to Brazil (and eventual suicide).

Stefan Zweig discusses how in fin-de-siècle Vienna, discussion or education about sex was forbidden, yet brothels and porn were everywhere you went. Boys at his school were barely allowed to speak to girls their own age, yet got themselves into terrible anxieties by leaving their wallets (with their ID card inside) in brothels and dreaded being blackmailed that the managers would tell their parents. No wonder this was also the era of Freud and Kafka, and psychoanalysis, As an adult in the 1930s, he’s absolutely relieved that aspect of the era is over. No-one cared about sports or football, teenagers were obsessed with actors and poets, and poets were like rock stars. As a respectable secular Jewish family in Vienna, the Zweigs felt comfortably accepted in society- these things can change or be changed any minute.

After the Anschluss, and the increasing restrictions on Zweig, the fact that he could practically see Hitler’s house in Berchtesgaden from his own house on a mountain outside Salzburg only rubbed it in further. His success and international respect as a writer could do nothing to change it, and he and his wife ended up having to leave Austria for Brazil (via the UK and USA). Being a German-speaking writer, whose work was eventually banned in every country that spoke his language, and an internationalist who now could barely visit or communicate with any of his writer friends dotted across Europe drove him to despair.

Something that also sticks out in the current political climate of increasing nationalism, calls for closed borders and countries turning away Syrian refugees, is Stefan Zweig’s (and others) utter outrage at the closing of national borders and introduction of passports in WWI. Until then all borders were open, and anyone could travel anywhere, and passports and border controls felt like a loss of freedom and a scary imposition of control (for the record, I am 100% pro open borders).

“‘People went where they wished and stayed as long as they pleased. There were no permits, no visas, and it always gives me pleasure to astonish the young by telling them that before 1914 I travelled from Europe to India and America without a passport and without ever having seen one’. The Great War and its aftermath increased what Zweig calls ‘a morbid dislike of the foreigner, or at least fear of the foreigner…. The humiliations which once had been devised with criminals in mind were now imposed upon the traveller, before and during every journey. Thereafter, everyone required official photographs, certificates of health and vaccination, letters of recommendation and invitations, and addresses of relatives and friends for ‘moral and financial guarantees’ … His Austrian passport became “void,” as he puts it after the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938. He was forced to ask British authorities for an emergency white paper, ‘a passport for the stateless’. He came to understand what an exiled Russian acquaintance had once told him: ‘Formerly man had only a body and a soul. Now he needs a passport as well for without it he will not be treated like a human being’..” (from this article)

Fanzine Ynftyn 14- jo, freilich, die gnädige Frau Magister Emma ist nach Österreich gekommen

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I used to go to Austria quite a lot to run workshops in schools, travelling from school to school each week. I started writing this zine after my first trip to Vienna in 2010, didn’t finish it, and then finished it off a couple of years later. I made a few copies at the time, but then mislaid the pages again when moving house, so barely anyone has read it. I recently found them again, and scanned them, so people can order it now!

I’m working on a second zine about rural Austria and travelling up and down the Alps by train.

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Expect:
* Schiele & Hundertwasser
* Schokobananas & Schnitzels
* All the dumplings you can eat
* €2 black and white photo booths

You can get it from the shop on my website. £1 + postage. You can order a few zines for the same postage. I also have some reduced prints for £3.50 + postage. Once those are gone, they’re gone.

Travels Without My Aunt

I’ve spent most of the past month travelling around Germany and Austria teaching. It’s for an extra-curricular school programme. You do activities to boost the children’s speaking confidence in English, work on creative projects, and put on a show for the parents with presentations of the projects, and drama written by the students. You don’t need to speak German to do the job, and you never speak German in the classroom, but of course it comes in useful to understand if the kids are being naughty, and in your time outside the classroom.

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Hundertwasser

Every so often I like to write on here about things I like, and why I like them. I’ve (finally) been finishing my zine about Vienna, and there’s a section about Hundertwasser in there, but I didn’t really have enough space to say everything that I wanted to say, and in a b&w zine obviously you totally miss out on the colours, which are a major part of his work, so here is a longer thing about him and his work. I’ve visited the Kunsthaus/Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna quite a few times, and I wrote about one of my visits here. I first came across his work in 2001, when I was 16/17, and bought a £3 book from a discount shop because it looked interesting from a quick flick through. I’m glad I did! All the pictures in this entry are either taken by me, or come from hundertwasser.at. I don’t feel like I’ve really caught  my exact favourites here, but collecting images from lots of different sources and making sure they were all credited properly would have taken a long, long time. Here’s an overview of some things.

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Oh Vienna

In September I returned to Vienna to teach another English in Action programme. I’ve got photos of galleries and exhibitions I need to sort out still. Here’s some odds and ends of photos of other stuff.

The company put me up in a hotel until the weekend, then I stayed with my friend Delal, an art student. Unfortunately I’d managed to catch the flu halfway through the week from the kids, so I pretty much spent a lot of time asleep on her sofa/going to stuff and then falling asleep too. It means I missed out on the funtimes. My return flight was from Bratislava, and I’d meant to do some sightseeing in the city (it’s about an hour from Vienna on the bus) but I felt so wretched I just went straight to the airport from Vienna. Flying with the flu is not fun, even if it’s only a two hour flight.

clouds from plane

On my way out to places I always like to take the clichéd clouds through aeroplane window photos.

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Nachtmarkt

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After going to the Hundertwasser places, I met up with the other teachers, and we went to the Nachtmarkt. Basically there were loads of food and drink stalls arranged on a square outside the town hall, and they were playing a classical concert on a giant screen outside the town hall. The food wasn’t cheap, but it was very good (I only really had snacks and some beer though, seeing as the liason teacher from the Vienna school had taken us out for a very good dinner at a Japanese restaurant at lunch). I particularly like the chandeliers the stall in the first photo has. Pity it was selling melon flavoured drinks, I’m not a big fan of melon.

More Vienna- Hundertwasser

Also on my to-do list was the Hundertwasser museum. If you’re not familiar with him he was an Austrian painter, architect, graphic designer, environmentalist and all round interesting eccentric.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedensreich_Hundertwasser

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Here’s the outside of the museum

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Fotoautomat

There was a b&w photobooth round the corner from my hotel in Vienna that was €2 a pop. I took a strip most days to document what I’d been doing . I also had some with Delal, and some of me holding up signs, but I’ve cut them up for zine use now, and I can’t find what I did with the photo of the whole strips.

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Exhibitions I planned to go to (I managed to go to all of them)

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