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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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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Healthy Euro-skepticism?

25 05 2009

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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 »





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 »





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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EURO2008 City Scenes: Angles Like You and Me

24 06 2008

Photo: The Angles descent in the Stephansdom.

Early June, I passed Stephansdom at about 9.30 pm, and I noticed that the cathedal gates were wide open. I stopped and had a look inside, ad as soon as I passed the threshold, the view was out of this world. Heaven, it seemed, has descended to earth.

In fact, the seating area was, except for services held, fully accessible that night, and people wondered about, stood in amazement or just contemplated in the dimmed light. I entered the main nave and was immediately caught by the calm atmosphere, created by the partial illumination of statues and baroque side altars, underlined with medieval chant – as it turned out, not live sung, but played unobtrusively from loudspeakers.

Only when I approached the front towards the magnificent high altar, built in exquisite marble in the 17th century, was completely covered by white panels. As I looked closer, I realized that those large panels had the shape of a dove or an angel. Preceding the sanctuary, there were more triangular panels hanging up a few meters above the ground between the massive, Gothic columns, and images close-up faces were projected onto them, fading in and after a few seconds fading out.

While I am standing in amazement and watching the light-sculpture evolve, I received a tab on my shoulder and one of the church wardens handed me a leaflet, which, he indicated with a gentle gesture, referred to this event.

‘Es müssen nicht Männer mit Flügeln sein, die Engeln’ (It does not to be men with wings, the angels) is the title of this project, realised by German artist Stefan W. Knor, and on display from May 30 to June 29, 2008 after the late evening mass from 8.00 – 10.00 pm every day. Admissions is free, and the project is formally, of course, an independently sponsored event. The timing, however, considering with the European Football Championships taking place right now, is not entirely accidental.

The warden explains that this temporary installation, is an addition to the ongoing football events and hopes to invite spiritual contemplation for some of the 100,000s visitors. And, of course, they cathedral hopes to raise more small donations for its refurbishment.

However, I wonder what the face projection means and what the relation is to the angel symbolism. As I glance through the leaflet, I find the explanation for the concept in a foreword by clergyman Toni Faber, when he says:”that even we as ourselves can be angels for other human beings.” He invites all everyone “to discover and experience the cathedral in a new, different way: Heaven and Earth touch each other there.” So, I sit down on on one of the wooden benches and imerge in the spiritual atmosphere.

This is an excerpt, the full article will be published in July 2008 in The Vienna Review.