Orchestral Play – the book is out!

7 01 2011

I have researched this book over a year. It describes the history of the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna (RSO Wien) in pictures and words with its present and future in mind. Orchestral musicians sat down for extensive interviews, discussing the ensemble’s repertoire and performing contemporary music. It is the story of an orchestra ‘on the road’. Interviews include the new Music Director, Cornelius Meister, as well as his predecessor, Bertrand de Billy. Some of the images I have taken as part of this 96-page book will be published in my photography blog. Please contact me for order information on the book!

Here is the German blurb of the ORF Shop:

Dieses Buch zeigt die Geschichte des RSO Wien im Hinblick auf Gegenwart und Zukunft des Orchesters auf, die aus einer „Innen-Perspektive” entsteht, aus den Erfahrungen einzelner Orchestermusiker/innen. On the Road. Aufbruch. All die Facetten des Musizierens in einem Orchester, dessen Repertoire von besonderem Anspruch geprägt ist, wollen auch geschildert sein als das Spielen in einem besonderen Klangkörper, als das Spielen in einem besonderen Orchester, als besonderes „Orchesterspielen”.

Ein Jahr lang begleitete Matthias Wurz (Journalist und Musikwissenschafter) RSO Musiker und Musikerinnen bei Konzerten und im Orchesterleben.

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Letting Go with Marbles Rolling – Late Night Special at the Theater Drachengasse

28 02 2010

Photos: Browynn Mertz-Penzinger rolling the marbles in ‘Glass Marbles’, rehearsal picture (top). Joanna Godwin-Seidl as Mary Titfer in ‘Audition’.

“After a while we’d all turn in, and just as I was about to drift off to sleep I’d hear this…,” the rolling sound of a marble was just audible, and the audience – immediately captivated by the intimate atmosphere – was following its course across the stage. “This happened every night.“

It was Friday, Feb. 19, at Theater Drachengasse and somewhat past 11.00 pm when Australian actress Browynn Mertz-Penzinger, delivered the moving monologue ‘Glass Marbles’ of Jane’ Martin’s play Vital Signs (1990). Dressed in all-black and leaning against the left side of the stage wall, she had in her hand a small cotton bag of marbles. The stage is gently illuminated with a spotlight onto the protagonist, the monologue itself tells of a dying mother, who practised to let go of her loved ones by rolling marbles across the bedroom floor every night.
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All’s Well That Ends Well or The Art of Talking Much and Saying Little

13 12 2009

A photo essay of a political show.  Photographs: Matthias Wurz

Austria’s Social democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann felt the need to celebrate on Dec 2, 2009 at the imperial Hofburg. Österreich.Gemeinsam (Austria Together) was the title of  Faymann’s speech, the occasion was the first anniversary of the current Austrian government, led by Faymann since December 2008 at the time of economic crisis. The message was simple: all is well at home. Faymann’s skill as public speaker was impressive, evidently inspired by U.S. President Barack Obama in its delivery. But Faymann’s speech – unlike those of the current U.S. President – had only one fault: Staging a political show that demonstrates the art of talking a lot but saying very little.

All’s Well That Ends Well is one of William Shakespeare characteristic plays, first published in 1623; its title refers to a proverb whatever the troubles, as long as the outcome is a good one. It seems that the Austrian Social democrats have adapted the theme of Shakespeare’s comedy, signalling that the international economic and financial crises are well in hand. Business as usual, made in Austria.
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Living All Over Again – A Moving Portrayal of Death in Black/White

7 11 2009

Ausstellung_Schels6_03112009

Credit: Matthias Wurz

“The idea came to me when my mother died – she was 89,” Walter Schels’ thoughts rested for a moment, his eyes glanced at the audience and then smiled gently. The 73-year-old award-winning German photographer, dressed in all-black and his camera hanging casually from his left shoulder as he speaks.

“Unlike my sister, I could not get myself to stay the night when, as it turned out, she passed away. But I had photographed her before I left that evening.” You could not help but to be moved; and yet Schels’ inability to confront his own fear about dying led to his most remarkable project: photographing faces of people nearing the end of their lives, and then shortly after they passed away. It were these photographs that deservedly earned him the second prize of the World Press Photo Award in 2004.

Walter Schels and Spiegel’ science editor Beate Lakotta – now Schels’ wife – published this remarkable collection of short biographies, their illnesses and consequently the circumstances of death, enriched by Schels’ breathtaking vivid black-and-white photographs. The book, entitled Noch mal Leben vor dem Tod. Wenn Menschen sterben, suggests entirely different view of dying, or rather living without illusions or pretense.

It is, apparently, not only a comfort to those whose live is about to end, but also to relatives and friends. But Schels’ photographs express the unspeakable for those who remain left behind – and many were drawn to the Stadmuseum Graz on Nov 3, 2009 to see Walter Schels’ work. The museum’s director, Otto Hochreiter, is responsible for securing this short but nevertheless powerful exhibition, extraordinary in its simplistic concept and design – an abridged version of the book, and in a way the attempt of breaking a taboo of not talking about death in Western society.
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The Rooster in Brussels or Austria’s Twitter ‘Evolution’

31 10 2009

Cremer_Hahn_28102009 Photo: Students protesting in the streets of Vienna, Oct. 29. Photo Credit: Cremer / Der Standard.

“I feel already well-equipped, and speaking English daily will hopefully not cause me to forget German,” Johannes Hahn – the last name Hahn translated into English means rooster or cock – replied confidently in his first public interview with the daily Der Standard of Oct. 28, when asked about his English language knowledge after his surprise nomination as Austria’s EU Commissioner. The current Federal Minister for Science and Research, in office since January 2007, will be Austria’s most influential European politician as part of Emanuel Barroso’s second European Commission.

With the unanimous decision by the Austrian government of Oct. 27 lunchtime, the show-down between the two coalition partners – Werner Faymann’s Social democrats and Josef Pröll’s Conservative ÖVP – eventually found an abupt end. The contest of nomination was mere on the surface, though, as Faymann declared already months ago that his party – though strongest in the Austrian Parliament – would not nominate a commissioner, but played a risky tactical game of which Conservative nominee they would support.
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Paying Peanuts for Monkeys

18 10 2009

Bergant_16102009

Photos: Boris Bergant chairing the discussion / Erhard Busek opening the session / Zoe Schneeweiss debating. Credit: Matthias Wurz

“It is most frightening to realize that history has not taught us a lesson ,” Boris Bergant uttered the words softly. The Slovenian radio and television journalist, current Vice President of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), addressed a distinguished audience of media professionals from Central and South-east Europe. His voice seems pressed and slightly nervous, but full of emotions. Before he could continue, however, his remarks were interrupted by enthusiastic applause.


It was Oct. 16, the evening event of the Standards of Evidence symposium, organized by the Commission on Radio and Television Policy for Central, East and South-east Europe alongside with the Forum Alpbach. The scheduled panel discussion on ‘The Media and the Financial Crisis’ with high-profile media professionals held at Vienna’s Haus der Musik, was preceded by a short but not less dignified award ceremony for Boris Bergant. The 61-year-old is recipient of the Dr. Erhard Busek SEEMO 2009 Award for Better Understanding. His short acceptance speech was a moving recollection of the Balkan’s troubled, repetitious and bloody 20th century history.

The SEEMO Award 2009 Ceremony

Austria’s former Vice Chancellor and President of the Forum Alpbach as well as Coordinator of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI), Erhard Busek, was not only but also the benefactor of one of Europe’s most prestigious media awards but also host of tonight’s award ceremony. Just a few introductory words were needed for one of the finest and eloquent journalists the Balkan region has. “You have to earn your award,” Busek amicably addressed the delightful award recipient when he referred to the following debate that Bergant would chair.

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Jazz Encore at the Café Central

6 10 2009

Susan Rigvava-Dumas and Project Two performing at the Café Central, Oct. 4, 2009. Clip kindly provided by Reinhard Bimashofer.

“Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,” the lower sensual range of Dutch-born actress and Mezzo-Soprano Susan Rigvava-Dumas’ powerful voice floated across the neo-Renaissance Café Central. And almost whispering with delicate accompaniment of the rhythm section of the Vienna-based mini-Big-Band Project Two – “wherever you’re going I’m going your way.”

It’s Sunday, Oct. 4, about 8.30 pm, and with John Mercer’s 1961 award-winning hit ‘Moon River’ the band’s eclectic performance that day – the last of the Jazz Live im Café Central concerts – reaches undeniably its climax. Famously set to music by Henri Mancini for Audrey Hepburn, band leader and trombonist Karl Heinz Czadek’s sensitive arrangement suited the ensemble well and brought out the best of the skillful and experienced jazz musicians, indeed some of Austria’s finest.
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EP Elections: ‘Where Do You Go?’

7 06 2009

I admit: I have cast my vote in the elections to the European Parliament at about 10.40 am this morning. So, I am one of about 35 to 40 percent of the Austrian electorate – my estimation – that by the end of the day will have cast their vote for the 17 Austrian seats in the European Parliament. In 2004, 42.5% went to the polls.

There were a few novelties for me: For the first time, I made my way to the polling station without any idea who I am going to vote. As resident of Vienna’s most-populated district Favoriten, it is a five-minute walk to the primary school at Keplerplatz, right at the administrative center of Vienna’s 10th district, just off the underground station of the same name and the pedestrian Favoritenstrasse.

While attentatively walking through the streets at a humid but cloudy Sunday morning, I recall No Mercy’s 1996-hit ‘Where Do You Go?’ Indeed, where is Europe heading, I wonder.
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Healthy Euro-skepticism?

25 05 2009

020_19_Merritt

Photo: Giles Merritt (center) speaking at the Public Opinion and Europe symposium. Photo Credit: Matthias Wurz

“Reporting on EU Affairs is boring, and it’s not the journalists’ fault,” exclaimed Giles Merritt, Editor of the Brussels-based bi-lingual journal Europe’s World and Secretary General of the think-tank Friends of Europe, and paused. And while the audience of academics, diplomats, politicians, the occasional journalist and those interested in European affairs caught their breath, he added, with a twinkle in his eyes, “I used to be a journalist reporting on European Affairs.”

Merritt’s provocative remarks were part of an international symposium on ‘Public Opinion and Europe’ held at the Diplomatic Academy on May 6 – 7. Co-organized by the Austrian-French Centre for Rapprochement in Europe and the French Institut Français des Relations Internationales, the conference was chaired by the Centre’s director and former Austrian Foreign Minister Peter Jankowitsch.

In six panel sessions, high-ranking diplomats, civil servants and academics from Austria and a number of EU member states, sought answers to questions on how the public views the European institutions and what could be done about Euro-skepticism. Speakers included French Senator Hubert Haenel, who chairs the senatorial committee on European Affairs; former Director General of Austrian National Bank Heinz Kienzl or Christian Leffler from Sweden, currently Head of Cabinet for EU Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communications Strategy, Margot Wallström.

The conference concluded at the palatial French Embassy, prominently located at the picturesque Schwarzenbergplatz, in eyesight of the Memorial of the Soviet Army across the large square with its spectacular fountain. As the some 100 participants enjoyed the delicious cuisine française – charmingly hosted by His Eminence Ambassador Phillippe Carré – Giles Merritt, former Brussels correspondent for the Financial Times and regular contributor to the International Herald Tribune, offered and in-depth view on Europe over a glass of exquisite French red wine. Read the rest of this entry »





Krugman Comment: Pröll versus Bankruptcy

3 05 2009

Pröll Budgetrede 21. April 2009Photos: Finance Minister Josef Pröll (standing) delivering the budgetary speech, Apr. 21, 2009. Photo Credit: Matthias Wurz

The plenary chamber of the Austrian parliament was packed by 9:00 on Apr. 21, just like the stands for the general public in anticipation of ÖVP Finance Minister Josef Pröll’s 63-minute presentation of the budget.

At 9:05, Pröll rose from his seat to deliver what was expected to be his most important speech of his career so far, presenting the budgets for 2009 and 2010, which was broadcast live by ORF Austrian Television.

Austria, along with much of the world, is in the worst economic crisis in recent memory and the financial outlook is gloomy. The country’s national debt will increase by 3.5% in 2009 and 4.7% in 2010, well above the permitted Maastricht level of 3%. Consequently, the total national debt will reach an alarming 78.5% of Austria’s GDP by 2013, up from 62.5% in 2008. The bank rescue package (Vienna Review reported, April 2009) weighs with EUR 9.3 billion heavily (2009).

Economic Minister Reinhold Mitterlehner added in Der Standard of Apr. 25 that in order to consolidate the budget in the years to come “we also need new sources of income.” In other words, raise more taxes as the estimated tax income for the state drops by EUR 4.5 billion in 2010. Read the rest of this entry »





NATO passé – Austria’s NATO Strategy

3 05 2009

FRANCE-GERMANY-NATO-SUMMIT-DEFENCEPhoto: from left to right, (Former) NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, U.S. President Barack Obama, French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel at the NATO Summit 2009. Photo Credit: Getty Images

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), found cause to celebrate this year: On Apr. 4, 1949, the collective defense alliance was founded in Brussels on the eve of the Cold War. Sixty years later and now with 28 member states – Croatia and Albania were formally accepted this year – the organization set out to redefine its role after the collapse of communism 20 years ago.

For the first time, the annual NATO Summit was jointly hosted by two member states, France and Germany, whose “close partnership during the course of NATO’s history symbolizes a vision of a Europe whole and free,” according to the NATO website. Following the Summit, member countries’ leaders called for a new doctrine, as the previous one of 1999 neither reflects the changes in Russia nor takes global terrorism – like the 9/11 – into account.

The 60th anniversary also marked the return of France to the allied command structure – a move hailed by members, though deeply controversial within France. French President Nicholas Sarkozy defended his decision by saying that now was time for change:
“Our strategy cannot remain stuck in the past,” he urged at a talk at France’s Strategic Research Foundation in mid-March, “when the conditions of our security have changed radically.” France, Sarkozy argued, will have more influence in NATO missions while the independence of the nuclear-equipped French military will remain untouched.

But all seems well without NATO for Austria, now surrounded by alliance members, except Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The dramatic NATO membership plea by news magazine profil journalists Gernot Bauer and Georg Hoffmann-Ostenhof in the article ‘Holt uns da rein!’ (‘Get us in there!’ Apr. 6 edition) did not, however, spark any further political debate. All political parties seem happy to remain neutral, including those who once argued for NATO membership. Read the rest of this entry »





Obama in Prague: The Speech at Hradcany Square – an Analysis

1 05 2009

About 30,000 people gathered at Hradčanské náměstí (Hradcany Square) on Prague Castle of Apr. 5 to hear U.S. President Barack Obama. The whole city seemed to have turned out to hear this most eloquent of politicians, waiting patiently in the chill morning.

Today, 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Obama praised the role the Czechs had played through peaceful protest:

“The Sametová Revoluce – the Velvet Revolution taught us many things,” he said, pausing, to allow the applause to die off. Not only was his pronunciation nearly flawless, said Czechs in the audience, but it touched those who had taken to the streets so long ago.

“It showed us that small countries can play a pivotal role in the world events, and that young people can lead the way in overcoming conflicts.” As in 1989, “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.”

Obama’s visit to Prague came at a difficult time for the young democracy, with a deepening political conflict between President Václav Klaus, first post-Communist Prime Minister and architect of the Czech Republic’s economic success of the 1990s, the conservative minority government of Mirek Topolánek and the Social democratic opposition, led by former Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek

On Mar. 24, just days before Obama’s arrival and in the midst of the EU presidency, Topolanek’s government lost a no confidence vote in the Czech Parliament over whether to allow some of the controversial U.S. missile defense shield to be installed on Czech territory. Topolanek will step down by May 8 to make way for a transition government of technocrat Jan Fischer, head of the Czech Statistical Office, before interim elections in October. Read the rest of this entry »





Obama in Prague: The Ceremonial Act

30 04 2009

Barack Obama in PraguePhotos: Matthias Wurz

It was Apr. 2, early in the evening when I received the confirmation via email: an accreditation by the Czech Presidents Office for the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama with Czech President Vaclav Klaus on Palm Sunday, Apr. 5.

There was only one catch: I could only go as a photographer for the Welcoming Ceremony at the castle, also a chance for getting closer to the man. For Obama’s long-expected speech on his vision of peace and non-proliferation at Hradcany Square, I had to take a pass.

My train journey from Vienna to Prague on Saturday evening was uneventful, and the city itself did not seem to be ‘under siege,’ as in June 2006 when former U.S. President George W. Bush came to Vienna.

But that changed the next morning, just hours ahead of the presidents’ meeting. Following advice from the hotel staff, I took public transport to the castle. When I boarded the No. 12 tram near my hotel at about 6:00, every American in the city seemed to be going the same way.

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Paul Krugman: “Stating the Obvious”

15 04 2009

“Absolutely absurd,“ stated Josef Pröll, Austria’s Finance Minister of the conservative ÖVP on Apr. 15 when confronted with the controversial remark by 2008 Nobel Prize Laureate and Princeton University economics professor Paul Krugman with regards to the possibility of Austria’s bankruptcy.

Krugman’s provocative statement with regards to the impact of the financial crisis on Central and Eastern European countries (CEE) at the Foreign Press Club in New York on Apr. 13 sparked high-profile responses and anger in Austria.

When responding to the question of high exposure of Eastern European debt by Austrian banks, and whether that might lead the country into bankruptcy, Krugman responded directly.

“Now it’s a tiny one, it’s Iceland, but that just shows that it can happen, even to advanced countries. Ireland looks pretty bad because of large financial exposure. And Austria would probably be my third candidate in those leads.”

And the New York Times columnist delights himself in his blog two days later of having created a stir by just stating the obvious.

Evidently, Krugman’s comment has revived a debate of the past month when media reports, such as by the Austrian daily Die Presse (‘When, exactly, will Austria go into bankruptcy?’), circulated, sparked by concerns of high account deficits in the CEE countries.

Austria’s banks (not including Bank Austria and Hypo Alpe Adria as foreign-owned), Pröll clarified, have lending exposures in the CEE area of about EUR 200bn – approx. 70% of Austria’s GDP – but they are apposed to savings deposited of 85% of that amount.

The Finance Minister also dismissed the scenario of a complete deficiency of lending, but rather estimates that 10% might have to be bailed-out. The latter seems inevitable, as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) estimated already in February 2009, that bad debts are likely to exceed 10% of lending in the CEE countries.

Indeed, the severe financial troubles of Austria’s neighbours highlights the huge investment Austria’s banks did since the 1990s in the CEE countries. They are the exposed of all financial institutions invested in the area, led by Raiffeisen with 54% of its risk-weighted assets, and Erste Bank Group (38%).

Evidently Josef Pröll set off for a ‘face-list’ trip to Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and the Ukraine in mid-February promoting the Austrian government’s proposal for a financial stability pact for the CEE countries.

However, Pröll’s good-will tour sparked fresh concerns for the Austrian financial sector. The Romanian online business magazine Wall-Street consequently titled on Feb. 17 ‘Romania can drive Austria to meltdown.‘ At the same time, Austria’s daily Der Standard estimated that 10% failure of CEE lending would lead to crash of the Austrian financial sector.

Not surprisingly, the rescue plan failed to convince the other EU members, as it seemed motivated by Austria’s self-interest only.

Krugman’s pointed comment therefore, might be exaggerated as Austria’s bankruptcy seems unlikely at this stage, but has a valuable point: The European governments should not dismiss nor underestimate the effect a widespread financial collapse of financial institutions inevitably has when the CEE countries are not stabilized.

If this part of the financial crisis is mishandled, Daily Telegraph columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard predicts a “debacle (that) is big enough to shatter the fragile banking systems of Western Europe and set off round two of our financial Götterdämmerung.”

Austria would then certainly play the leading role.





Business Analysis: Rewarding Dishonesty

31 03 2009

This article is co-written by Ing. Werner Krauss – see information below

Toxic Assets Cartoon

Cartoon: © Dave Granlund, www.davegranlund.com

The Problem of ‘Toxic Assets’

“Our job is to fix the problem in the financial sector at the least risk to the taxpayer,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner stated the objective on Mar. 23. Supported by President Barack Obama, Geithner unveiled yet another bailout plan for the struggling U.S. financial system.

Rumours had it, that the Obama Administration would revive a plan that the Bush Administration had drafted in September 2008 but put back into the draw: Spending billions of U.S. dollars taxpayers’ money to free the financial system of ‘legacy assets’ – real estate loans as well as securities backed by loan portfolios – colloquially known as ‘toxic assets.’

Those assets cause “uncertainty around the balance sheets of these financial institutions, compromising their ability to raise capital and their willingness to increase lending,” so the Fact Sheet of the Public-Private-Investment Program of the U.S. Treasury, which confirms what has been rumored in early March.

According to the new bailout strategy, the U.S. government will spend yet another staggering U.S. $ 75 – 100 billion in order to help raise $ 1 trillion as to stimulate the economy and ‘flush’ the U.S. financial system of the ‘toxic assets.’

Geithner admitted that this plan fuels public anger as Wall Street seems to benefit at times where average Americans suffer. The financial sector has indeed been a major recipient to previous support: As an example, the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) worth more than U.S. $ 700 billion, included $ 25 billion packages each for Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase and Well Fargo, the largest amounts ever given to any bank, among others.

“The (public) anger and outrage is perfectly understandable,” and he firmly added that “we have to make sure our assistance is not going to award failures.”

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The Oscars: The Big Day – The ‘Revanche’ Party

27 02 2009

Johannes Krisch

Photos (by Matthias Wurz) from the ‘Revanche’ Party at the residence of the Austrian Consulate General, Martin Weiss, in Los Angeles

Sunday Evening, February 22, Brentwood

The sky was covered with heavy clouds, a few dozen invited guests as well as representative of some Austrian media had followed the invitation of the Austrian Consul General in Los Angeles, Martin Weiss, at his residence in one of Los Angeles’ most enigmatic areas, Brentwood, where elegant houses and villas are nestling between mellow hilly vegetation.

Last year’s legendary party at the residence, when Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) received the 2008 Oscar was still being talked about a year later when I arrived at the scene just before 5 pm; the live broadcast of the ceremony was about to start.

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The Oscars: Austrian Charm, Almost Convincing – The Foreign Film Nominee Symposium

27 02 2009

MP1_8084.NEFPhoto: Götz Spielmann at the Academy Awards. Photo Credit: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S.

Saturday Morning, Feb. 21, Beverly Hills

It was a cloudy Saturday, Feb. 21, when cineastes got a glimpse of the five films that were nominated for the Best Foreign Film at the 81st Annual Academy Awards. The legendary Samuel Goldwyn Theater at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, used by the Academy for the Oscar nominations each year, was host to the traditional Foreign Language Film Nominees Symposium, held for the 31st time.

There were 65 submitted this time, and Austria’s submission, Götz Spielmann’s Revanche, was short listed, along with entries from Germany (Baader-Meinhof-Complex), France (The Class), Japan (Departure) and Israel (Waltz with Bashir).

From the outside, the theater looks like any other office building with its darkened glass façade, but the gowned and tuxedoed crowd passing through the security checks was clearly not on its way to work.

The red-carpet winds its way upstairs, past two Italian-made and beautifully crafted Bisazza mosaic Oscar statues, reflected in the mirrored wall, softening the otherwise sterile atmosphere. Upstairs, posters of movie legends are a reminder of the hay-days of Hollywood film-making. Finally, I enter the theater and take an unreserved seat in the middle.

Admission is free for any of the symposia, but registration is required on the Academy website, and events are quickly sold out.

The Foreign Film nominations are of particular interest, even in provincial Hollywood: these directors are exotic and bring a range of new experiences and projects. Along with it comes the huge international media interest.

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The Oscars: The Day Before the Ceremony

25 02 2009
Photos: Matthias Wurz

Kodak Theatre, Hollywood

For those that would want to absorb the atmosphere immediately before the spectacular Oscars Award Ceremony, a visit to the Kodak Theatre is a must. Together with the Chinese Theatre, it is located at the Hollywood & Highland Center at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.

Throughout the year, guided tours are offered through this spectacular venue, but, of course, not today, a day before all film stars, film directors and celebrities take the stage to collect the prestigious awards.

The first thing one notice when approaching the area is the traffic diversion, as the Hollywood Boulevard and the surrounding blocks are closed for the famous red carpet, protected by a long tent-like corridor. This is where the crowds outside try to catch a glimpse of the Angelina Jolie’s, Brad Pitt’s and many other celebrities, admiring their outfit when exiting the limousines. ABC Television also conducts some of its interviews here.

The foot passenger, however, are diverted through the theater and shopping complex corridors, which lead to the circular foyer of the entrance to the Kodak Theatre. If one follows the diversion around on the First Level, one passes the famous steps to the left, before disappearing in the grey narrow corridors, which exits close to the entrance of the Chinese Theatre.

One can get a glimpse at the entrance, decorated with a huge golden-colored Oscar figure, but as the footpath is narrow here, security staff ensures that those who take their pictures do not block the moving crowds.

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Competing with the Far-Right on Europe

28 01 2009

Saturday, Jan. 17, was a historic moment for Austria’s Green Party. On the party congress, held in Klagenfurt, Eva Glawischnig, the nominated new party leader succeeding Alexander van der Bellen, received 97.4% of delegates’ votes (228 of 234), a truly remarkable result and the highest approval rate for any Green Party leader in its history.

Party officials hail this convincing result as a sign of unity of the party, severely shaken after its disappointing election result of Sept. 2008, where the Green Party dropped to the fifth place in parliament with 10.4%, unable to defend the third place (11 %) of 2006.

Glawischnig, in an attempt to differentiate herself from her more conservative-leaning predecessor van der Bellen, evidently plays the populism card on questions of the European Union in order to regain national attention.

“The Treaty of Lisbon is dead”, she declared in rhetoric similar to the far-right parties in an interview with Der Standard on Dec. 11, 2008. And she continued on the perspective that the accession negotiations with Turkey were successfully completed:

“Since the (European) Union failed at the Treaty of Lisbon, it has to ensure that its institutions work effectively with the new number of members. This is still a huge construction site. Under the current conditions, the EU is not receptive (to new members).”

This dramatic shift in European politics, announced first in a newspaper interview, inevitably provoked an open conflict with Johnannes Voggenhuber, longstanding MEP and as a member of the European Convention intimately acquainted with the EU constitutional process. Not surprisingly, Voggenhuber has been an adversary of the Constitutional Treaty and the succeeding Treaty of Lisbon.

Indeed, Glawischnig’s tactical shift on Europe was aimed at the removal of Voggenhuber as leading candidate for the elections to the European Parliament, to be held in June 2009. Following election result for the party at the last general elections, among young voters – a majority of voters aged 30 and younger supported the FPÖ with 44% – at the national election of September 2008, Glawischnig seems determined to win back this traditionally Green-leaning electoral segment at all costs.

Despite Glawischnig’s clumsy attempt of publicly undermining Voggenhuber, she did indeed succeed at the party congress on Saturday, Jan. 17: Ulrike Lunacek received the support of the majority of party delegates (54.7%) and consequently sent Voggenhuber into early retirement.

Nevertheless, Voggenhuber hit back by declaring his intention of a solidarity candidacy on 16th place. If he is supported by seven or more percent of the Green party electorate, he will be guaranteed the parliamentary seat.

Eva Glawischnig, the newly elected party leader has impressively demonstrated her assertiveness in personnel matters, yet the party has paid a high political price: Like the two far-right parties, sacrificing long-term political aims for short-term electoral gains. Soon we will know whether this was a wise strategy.

This is an excerpt, the full article was published in February 2009 in The Vienna Review.





The Struggle of Freedom

22 01 2009

p1000445Photos: Film Director Arash T. Riahi, January 2009. Photo Credit: Reinhard Bimashofer

Already from a distance, people passing by at the Gartenbaukino on Dec. 10 could notice the commotions at one of Vienna’s traditional 1960s cinema. With 736 seats, the last surviving large one-screen cinema (Einsaalkino) in Vienna was host to a special film preview, and indeed the seats were filling fast, judging by the long cues at the ticket office.

SOS Mitmensch, the Austrian human rights and anti-racism pressure group, was the host of this special film preview of the Austrian-French production Ein Augenblick Freiheit by the Iranian-born Austrian Film Director Arash T. Riahi. In a loose series of film previews, including the one tonight, under the heading of ‘Drei Filme fürs Bleiben’, the organization aimed to promote the legal framework of a right of permanent residency for refugees. And Ein Augenblick Freiheit translates the political demand into powerful pictures.

Riahi’s film was first shown at the Worldfilm Festival in Montréal in August 2008, where it picked up the award for Best First Feature Film. With almost a dozen of international awards in his pocket, including best Austrian film at the Viennale in October 2008, Ein Augenblick Freiheit started in Austrian cinemas on Jan. 9, 2009 .

Evidently, the film preview in December had something special, I noticed. Not only was the date set deliberately – Dec. 10 was the 60th anniversary of the declaration of Human rights by the United Nations – but the whole event, the screening and the following panel discussion and live performance of the Austrian-born Kurdish musician Karuan in the foyer, who composed and performed the soundtrack, offered much more than just a good evening at the movies. Read the rest of this entry »





Austria At 90 – Though at times neither sovereign nor democratic…

29 11 2008

ov0102_w03_k_agPhoto: Historical Map of the Deutsch-Österreich territory of 1918. Photo Credit: Collection of Peter Wassertheurer

“Ninety years of the Republic of Austria..,” Johanna Rachinger, General Director of the Austrian National Library paused, and for a second the words hung in the air. “Now we all know that there are a number of inaccuracies that resonate with those words,” she admitted.

Yes. You could see a head nod here or there, particularly the grey ones. Because, for at least seven years, from 1938 to 1945, there had been neither a Republic nor a sovereign state of Austria. And with the elimination of the Parliament in March 1933 and the establishment of the Austro-Fascist state in May 1934, there was certainly no democracy.

These things are known, but not often spoken of in Austria even today. But sharing the podium at the Hofburg on Nov. 12 with President Heinz Fischer in front of Austria’s leading politicians, Rachinger didn’t want to cut any corners. Austria was celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Austrian Republic in 1918, and she wanted to get it right.

As Rachinger continued, Austria’s complex history in the early years of the 20th century became clearer – the intermittent abolition of an autonomous, democratic Austrian state and the entanglement in national-socialist injustice “mark a deep caesura between the First and Second Republic and define our national identity even today,” she said. Read the rest of this entry »





End of an Era – The passing of two politicians who shaped late 20th century Austria

15 11 2008
Helmut Zilk and Thomas Klestil

Helmut Zilk and Thomas Klestil

Photo: Helmut Zilk (left) and Austrian President Thomas Klestil. Photo Credit: Österr. Bundesheer

Far right leader Jörg Haider’s sudden and tragic death in the early hours of his mother’s 90th birthday celebration, mirrored his political life. The Carinthian regional governor was a whirlwind, a controversial and charismatic populist, who successfully dominated Austrian domestic and international politics for over two decades.

Less than two weeks later, Austria mourned yet another political firecracker: Helmut Zilk, former Social Democratic Mayor of Vienna (1984 – 1994) died peacefully in his sleep Oct. 24th. at the age of 82. Zilk, although nominally retired, was still was actively involved in Austrian politics until a few years ago, and certainly willingly offered criticism on almost anything to do with the SPÖ.

His reach beyond party politics brought him respect from political opponents. Among those was Erhard Busek, Zilk’s political adversary, who called him a “Streithansl (squabbler) but also a man with a sense for reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »





Nagasaki Remembered

13 10 2008

Photos: Kazuo Soda speaking at the Peace Pagoda in Vienna, August 9, 2008. Copyright: Matthias Wurz

Even after more than half a century, Kazuo Soda can still hear the screams, the agonized cries of people in the last throes of death.

“I still see a lot of black-scorched bodies lying on the roads and in the ruins,” Soda told the crowd at the Buddhist Peace Pagoda in Vienna on Aug. 9, the anniversary of the day the atomic bomb was dropped by the United States on Nagasaki at the close of World War II. “At 11.02 am,” he said at the moving candlelight ceremony along the Danube River near Freudenau Harbor, “the city was instantly changed into a pandemonium.”

Soda was fifteen years old when the bomb fell, and is one of the 243,692 officially registered Japanese Hibakusha, ‘explosion-affected people,’ the survivors of the two atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

The ceremony, which began at sunset, was opened by Rev. Gyosei Msunaga, the monk entrusted with care of the Pagoda and the adjunct Buddhist temple. The audience of about 100 had come to witness the outdoor event, held in front of the steps. Candles were set in wooden paper lanterns with beautiful handmade decorations and placed on the steps of the building. As the fragile, white haired 77-year-old entered the carpeted stage area, the sun had almost completely set, setting off his profile in the warm candle light behind him.

“I was exposed to A-bomb radiation at my home 2.5 kilometers away from the blast enter,” Soda said in a soft voice over a loudspeaker. “If I had been outdoors, I would have burnt to death by the heat wave.” Thousands of school children died on the playgrounds. Soda, like almost all boys and girls older than thirteen, had been forced to leave school to work in the munitions industry, and was off-duty at the time. His brother died five months afterwards from the effects of radiation, and his parents five years later.

A former Secondary School teacher and peace activist, Soda was awarded the prestigious Aachen Peace Prize in 2001. He has a longstanding connection to Vienna, having attended earlier commemorative ceremonies here as well.

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Discussing the “European Dilemma” – Interview with Erhard Busek

1 10 2008
Courtesy of Erhard Busek

Copyright: Courtesy of Erhard Busek

In April 1994, after the negotiations for Austria to join the EU were successfully completed, the campaign for the enabling referendum on June 12, began to heat up. At the height of the debate, Brigitte Ederer, the then Social Democrats State Secretary for EU Affairs and now CEO of Siemens Österreich, projected that joining the European Union, every Austrian family would save about 1,000 Schillings a month (about €75) in living expenses through more competitive pricing.

Despite the ongoing political campaign for the general election Sept. 28, 2008, and a busy schedule as a leader of political dialogue, Erhard Busek, former Conservative ÖVP party leader, took time for a discussion about fundamental European issues.

Ederer’s ‘Tausender’ is a promise that has been criticized by political allies and opponents alike, even earning it a Wikipedia entry. Among those critics – then as today – was Busek, at the time Austria’s Vice Chancellor.

“No one can sensually experience this ‘Tausender’,” Busek argued assertively. He is still in disbelief that anyone could seriously make such an argument.

“Everyone expected that they would be handed 1,000 Schillings when leaving a supermarket,” he said incredulously. Not without irony, he points to the current general election campaign, and the “nonsense” – this time, that the Social Democrats could propose to cut the 10% VAT rate on groceries by half – is being repeated almost exactly.

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Budgetary Giveaways in 19 Hours and 13 Minutes

28 09 2008

Photo: BZÖ Party Leader Jörg Haider campaigning, General Elections, September 2008

When entering the Columbus Shopping Center in Favoritenstrasse on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2008, the late weekend shopper in need of some groceries or a quick cup of coffee encountered a large crowd of a few dozens of people, gathered around a small podium next to the escalator with a two presenters on stage, right in front of a wooden cow.

Evidently it is the end of the harvest season, traditionally celebrated with the so-called Erntedankfest; and wrapped baskets of organic goodies from local supermarket down below seemed to underline the seasonal festivities, enriched by folk music played loudly over loudspeakers.

But that was not seemingly so, as the presenter announced at 4 pm that the Shopping Center is about to give away hundreds of prizes, which can be won instantly by answering simple questions. A show of hands, or later by phoning in – the right answer presumed – the lucky customer could immediately pick up his prize and continue shopping.

The questions were simple indeed, though subjective at times; and so were the answers, such as “Which is the most popular shopping center in Vienna?” When the response from the crowd was “Donauzentrum” the moderator was evidently disappointed. But luckily the person on the phone, an elderly lady “from the 10th district neighborhood”, took the right guess and became the lucky winner of a coffee machine.

So, as the packed crowd followed each question with full excitement, some of the bystanders shake their heads and murmured that these questions were ridiculous simple and their answers as well.

In the past three days, the Austrian electorate was also presented with a large number of ‘giveaways’. Not least, it is election time, and activists of all political parties were handing out all kinds of goodies, from cigarette lighters to pens and herb seeds, and, of course, balloons for the kids. Those were also noticeable in the Columbus Center that Saturday afternoon as parties still were campaigning on the streets. It was, after all, one day before the snap elections, almost three months after parliament decided to hold general elections on Sept. 28. Read the rest of this entry »