Thursday, 27 November 2008

Pictures from an exhibition (2) Land of Songs

One of the songs that the child is instructed to copy into its school exercise book runs like this:
Führer and flag
Volk and Reich
in holiest goodness
we all the same
ready to fight
we are prepared
to live and die
for you...[etc.]
And another so:
30th January
Hear the banner flutter in the wind
Hear the storm rush through the land
Of Germany we are...[etc.]
There are official songs too. Austria has had many National Anthems since 1918. Like the street signs they are changed at intervals:
..... 1918 "Gott Erhalte..." the so-called Kaiserhymn (Seidl/Haydn) better known today as "Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles")
1920 - 1929 "Deutsch-Österreich du herrliches Land" (Renner/Kienzl)
1929 - 1938 "Sei gesegnet ohne Ende" (Kernstock/Haydn)
1947 - "Land der Berge..." (von Preradovic/Holtzer)
Of course there must have been at least two other National Anthems; 1918-1920, 1938-1947. But, strange to say, there's nothing here about them. There are always gaps in the offical accounts. By now I have come to expect them.
A single poem catches my eye. It's by Theodor Kramer and it is dated 13/7/1938. It's on the side of a display cabinet. There's a pillar in the way. I almost missed it. Could easily have done so. Others do. I scribble a copy of it (and I will attempt to translate it for a future post). I was unable to find any information on the poet's post-1939 life in exile.
Adolf Hitler is here. Never easy to miss the Führer. One photograph shows a pair of devoted officers giving an enthusiastic 'Sieg Heil' salute in his direction. He sits with his entourage in a box at the Vienna State Opera. The date is 27th October 1938 and the opera is Eugen d'Albert's Tiefland. It's one of Hitler's favourites. In 1940 film producer Leni Riefenstahl made the film Tiefland for Hitler. The film's extras, Romer gypsies who played the parts of the Spanish peasantry, were duly sent to Auschwitz to be murdered. So much for their contribution to the silver screen. Tiefland's action takes place in the Spanish Pyrenees; not far from Guernica, the town made famous by the Luftwaffe's crimes and the paintings of Picasso. It is ironic, and not mentioned, that Glasgow born composer Eugen d'Albert was a man with French, Italian, Scottish and German blood in his veins; was a man who saw himself as a Weltbürger, a free spirit, a cosmopolitan citizen of the world.
There's a photograph of the new synagogue in the Austrian city of Graz. It was opened in the year 2000 and stands on the site of the 1892 constructed synagogue which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.
But we cannot dwell too long in this period of the past. It doesn't do. Austria is now a member of the European Union. A corner of the exhibition testifies to this. But it doesn't impact on my mind.
What I take away in the end are the images of students fleeing for their lives down ladders, scrambling out of Vienna University's windows almost as if the building is on fire. But the building is not on fire. The Nazi terror is in there looking for its next victims. I take away a photo of the courageous playwright Thomas Bernhard, the writer of Heldenplatz, a man still ostracized by many, a man whose grave is vandalised at regular intervals. And I take away also a distinct feeling that something is missing, the feeling that the full story is not before me, the feeling that they have allowed me in to show me that it wasn't so bad and that it was all inevitable. I walk out of the fog of woe and into the sunshine and see once again the exhibition's banners proudly fluttering in the sunshine blazing down on the inner-city's main artery. So, at the end of the two hours spent in the Austrian Parliament looking at what they wanted me to see, what's the word I'm looking for to sum it all up? Something to do with a dearth of qualities; civil courage, integrity. Things like that. And soon I have it. A lack of Weitsichtigkeit. The ability to see past the end of one's nose. Perhaps that's it. The sign hanging over the door of the Vestibule, a small theatre adjoining the Austrian National Theatre the Burgtheater, it's perhaps 400 metres from the '1918 Austria Republic 2008' Exhibition ; it's a title of a performance. And it reads 'Everywhere the Neurosis is Blooming'. Maybe, the situation is not totally without hope. Somebody, somewhere may be addressing the issues.

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