Monday, 26 October 2009

Happy 54th Birthday Austria

The picture shows Poet-in-Residence together with representatives of the allied powers (Russia, USA, Britain, France) returning control to Austria in 1955.

Today Austria is 54 years of age. The date 26th October is, as it has been every year since 1955, a national holiday.
In 1933 the fledgling 1st Austrian Republic disintegrated into a Fascist-Catholic State. The country ruled with an iron hand for hundreds of years by the Hapsburg's was unable to handle freedom and democracy. It fell apart. Fours years later Adolf Hitler, who had cleverly bankrupted Austria with severe economic sanctions, pounced. The Nazis marched in and the crowds cheered in the streets. There would be bread on the tables. Austria ceased to exist on the world maps. She was now part of the 3rd Reich. And she would be known simply as Ostmark.
The cheering stopped when the Austrians discovered their role in Hitler's master plan. The citizens of the beautiful land of Tirol would be shipped to the Ukraine where they would be given houses and land to farm. But first the Ukrainians would need to become slaves to the Germans, to the Herrenvolk (the supreme race). Austrians of all ages from 15 to 50 suddenly found themselves dressed in battlefield grey. The vast majority of them ended up on trains to starvation and death, or at best disablement, illness, disease and imprisonment with hard labour in Siberia, via the Battle of Stalingrad.
After the war Ostmark fell under the jurisdiction of the Allied Powers of Britain, USA, France and Russia. The ex-country and its ex-capital Vienna, were divided into 4 sectors. The system continued until 1955 when the allies withdrew and Austria became a fully fledged Republic once more.

Today I took myself along to the celebrations which took place in the centre of Vienna outside the Presidential Palace, the Hofburg. The first thing I saw was that the crowd was not of the usual sophisticated Vienna city-goer type. It was the man and woman from the Prater. The grass roots working class, you might say, of today's modern and outward looking Vienna. Working class it is and politically red to the bone. The socialist mayor Michael Haüpl need fear nothing from his extreme right wing rival Mr H C Strache in next year's mayoral elections, no matter how well Strache is doing in other provinces, if this lot are anything to go by. It's winning Vienna that counts. And count it will. For Haüpl a convincing win will help stem the tide of right wing fanaticism and xenophobia currently sweeping through many parts of Europe, starting here in the city where Adolf Hitler learnt his business at the heel of Dr Karl Lueger, a legendary anti-semitic mayor currently reposing in a tomb of Napoleonic proportions. Haüpl is another cut from schnitzel of pork altogether.

At the show field there was a plastic Eurofighter and a couple of Black Hawk helicopters which drew a modicum of public attention. The main business was eating. The Viennese are good at eating. The langos stands did a roaring trade. A langos is a kind of giant Hungarian crisp fried in batter. It is totally unhealthy eating and so it is extremely popular with the local citizenry.

Entertainment in the beer tent was provided by Team X-Dream, a folksy rock group dressed like Italian gangsters. It comprised of Don Patrone, Don Huan, Don Tango and Don Carlos. After letting us have "Born to be Wild!" at full volume - the wildest thing to be seen was a child with a helium filled teddy bear - Don Patrone yelled "Wien is Anders!" Yes, Vienna is different. It is different from what it was, and it is different from other cities. Vienna is unique. It is not a city living in a baroque past as the architecture would have you believe, nor is it a city living in a Mozart-like or Wagnerian fantasy world as the musical diet might lead you to believe. Vienna is like ... well, Vienna. Don Patrone wrapped up his singing spot with a rendition of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and perhaps that's what Vienna is these days, a city almost in heaven, a city that consistently gains a top 3 spot when it comes to lists of major cities having the best quality of life for their citizens. Zurich and Vancouver being the other two constant companions.

Drifting away, at 6pm when it was all just about over, I negotiated a solitary peaceful drunk with a two-thirds empty wine bottle and made my way to the Donner Kebab stand. A young man, a Turkish student served me. He was reading Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment between serving customers. He was studying chemistry at the Vienna University. "Austria is wonderful," he said. And he's right. It is. The blustering bombast of the likes of far right-wing mayoral candidate H C Strache will be extinguished next year if the City of Vienna has anything to do with it. Meantime the Viennese will grin and bear it.

Happy birthday Austria!


Susan at Stony River said...

Wonderful 'photo' of you on the balcony celebrating such a historic moment! I lived in Switzerland years ago and discovered then, that there was much more to that era in history than I'd had any idea. Fascinating and horrifying by turns---
Happy Birthday Austria!
I'd love to see her again.

Poet in Residence said...

many thanks for the visit. Libya's Gaadafi nearly declared war on the Bergland Republic of Heidi and the happy Glocken-glock-Milchkühchies the other week. And now this Roman Polanski business. I mean, where's he been hiding for the last 38 years? What the devil is going on up there in the Alpine pastures?