Thursday, April 25, 2013

Austria 2: Everything I knew about Austria, I learned from "The Sound of Music"!

OK, I'm exaggerating a little.  I also learned some stuff about Austria from the film Amadeus.  (It's kind of interesting that they were ruled by an emperor, isn't it?)  Plus, in addition to Mozart, there are a few other famous people from Austria you can't help but have heard of:
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Hitler
  • Sigmund Freud
Interestingly, the guidebook on Austria that I bought there had a list of famous Austrians, yet it somehow neglected to mention those first two.  While I was there (in Graz), I saw plenty of advertisements for the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, though.  (I was not tempted.)

Continuing my theme of learning stuff that was obvious, I'll admit that (as far as I recall), I don't think I'd ever heard of the city of Graz until my husband organized some kind of math thing with a colleague there.  So, when people would ask which part of Austria I was planning to visit, I'd tell them "Graz" -- and then wait for the reaction.  Everyone I talked to clearly already knew about Graz, which led me to conclude that (a) it's probably a relatively important city, and (b) I'm pronouncing it correctly (or at least close enough).  In fact, it's the second-largest city in Austria!

I was also pretty surprised by how dang far away it is.  I mean, Switzerland and Austria are both small countries that share a border.  So it should be no biggie to hop from Zurich to the major cities of Austria, right?  Nope.  Zurich-Graz by train takes about nine hours (and the night train takes 11 hours because they have several stops where they stop for a long time).  By contrast, Paris by train is a little more than four hours from here.  Going to Graz by train is almost comparable to taking the train all the way to London -- except that you get a breathtaking mountain view during a big part of the trip.

Austria borders Italy, Switzerland, and Germany -- but those borders are all along the narrow strip of Austrian Alps.  The more populous part of Austria is farther to the East.  (This is a part where "The Sound of Music" really stretches its believability thin -- they seriously walked all those kids from Salzburg over the mountains to Switzerland?!  Good luck!)

Given my Cold-War-influenced perspective, I was kind of surprised so see that the Austrian's population's real neighbors are Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Czech Republic.  I mean, I somehow always thought of Austria as being squarely a part of "Western Europe", but the closest major city to Vienna is Bratislava (trains depart every hour for the one-hour trip between them).  The surprise bonus:  there was plenty of opportunity to sample delicious Hungarian goulash!


kuri said...

I guess our ideas of "Western Europe" and "Eastern Europe" and what countries belong to each are pretty much an artifact of the Cold War. Even Germany, which we once thought of as in the heart of Western Europe, is of course traditionally part of Central Europe (along with Austria, Switzerland, Austria's neighbors that you mentioned, Poland, and the Baltics) instead.

I've found it difficult to change the way I think of Europe to reflect traditional rather than Cold War groupings.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Kuri!!!

Same here! It's especially funny that I can't get rid of these Cold-War mental groupings, considering that many former-communist-block countries are now part of the EU.

Janet M Kincaid said...

Austria is considered part of Western Europe. In fact, it's often referred to as the crossroads of Europe -- west meets east.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey Janet!!!

Right, that's my point -- Austria is a part of Western Europe culturally and historically. But I was surprised to see how much the cultural reality didn't quite match up with the geographic reality.

As I've become a part of French and then Germanic culture, I've been increasingly struck by how important the language-region boundaries are in terms of cultural grouping. So it's normal for people in Wien to feel more cultural connection and cohesion with people in Hamburg than with people in Bratislava, even though any time they choose they could just go hop on a train and be in Bratislava in an hour, whereas the journey to Hamburg would require either a plane or more than a day's travel.

One of the German colleagues we visited in Graz had a similar observation. She had agreed to attend a meeting somewhere in Germany without thinking about how far it really is, and ended up in transit for a few days to attend a four-hour meeting. She then realized that she needed to adjust her mental picture. She remarked that she had more of a northern mindset, but she was coming to realize how Mediterranean her new surroundings are -- only two hours by train to Croatia.

(That was when I was like: "What? Croatia is Mediterranean? Isn't it the Adriatic over there?"

So silly! Of course the Adriatic is a subset of the Mediterranean, and yet it hit me that I never really thought of those coastal countries east of Italy and north of Greece as "Mediterranean.")

JoeB said...

About ten years ago I got off the Appalachian Trail in Rutland, VT. I visited the town library, and saw there was to be an author's book talk in an hour or so, by Agathe von Trapp, the oldest of the musical children. I went. She was amazing, in her 90s, stood up the whole time, speaking for half an hour and taking questions in English and German for twenty minutes. The memoir was to set the record straight, with respect to the movie, especially about her father. He was not the martinet shown in the film; they were a performing family, including the Baron, before Maria entered the picture. Of course Hollywood called her Liesl. Her boyfriend in the Hitler Youth was another Hollywood fabrication; teenage girls in that time and culture didn't have boyfriends! (I may be blaming Hollywood for sins of Rogers and Hammerstein.) Of course the music they sang was folk songs and religious. And everyone knows that Edelweiss is the Austrian national anthem! Well, not really...Rogers and Hammerstein again. Their refusing a command performance before Hitler seems to be a true story. The escape across the mountains, not so much. The Baron was a submarine commander, they were in Trieste. To escape, the walked a couple hundred meters to the rail platform, and took the train into Italy (the Baron had dual citizenship). Maria and the children were hard pressed to support themselves in the US; Maria sold the movie rights in Europe for just a few thousand dollars. Hollywood bought the rights, giving the von Trapps nothing and no creative control either. Julie Andrews intervened and the got them something like 10 or 20 thousand dollars eventually, I think.
When they stopped performing, they bought a ski-lodge in Stowe, VT, and became inn-keepers.
Agathe died in 2010 at 97. Four of the children were still alive at that time.

C. L. Hanson said...

Hey JoeB!!!

Thanks for the clarifications! I knew a lot of that movie/musical was fabrication, but I recall the details. (I once read Maria von Trapp's memoirs (what I assume is the story she sold the movie rights on), but I've forgotten a lot about it, and even that story, I hear, is somewhere between the Hollywood version and the reality.)

The idea that they could walk that whole family all the way from the Salzburg music festival to Switzerland is pretty far-fetched!

C. L. Hanson said...

p.s. I don't mean to criticize the film too harshly on this point -- I think there is a real justification for the artistic license they took. The family really did have struggles related to leaving Austria, and the writers condensed these struggles into having the family carry out the advice from the song "Climb Every Mountain." I just thought it was funny after all these year of seeing the film when I looked at a map and realized the magnitude of what the film family was supposed to have done.;)

JoeB said...

Hollywood never shrinks from moving or compressing mountain ranges, continents, etc. In the original True Grit, Rooster Cogburn rides out of Fort Smith, ARKANSAS, into a vista of magnificent snow-capped mountains! At lease that is what I remember---it's been a long time. Didn't see the newer version.

C. L. Hanson said...