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.

Read the rest of this entry »





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.





“Cool Guy” Nick Hornby in Vienna

26 11 2007

Slideshow: Some impressions from the Gala for Nick Hornby at the Rathaus in Vienna, November 2007. Copyright: Matthias Wurz

“We are proud to devote the City Hall to literature,” declared Councilor for Cultural Affairs, Andreas Mailath-Pokorny to packed audience at the Buchwoche (Book Week) on Nov. 18, 2007. Nick Hornby, the author of Fever Pitch (1992) – his first novel landed him a huge success – was celebrated like a pop star in Vienna.

The selection of this year’s title for Eine Stadt. Ein Buch, therefore, was a calculated marketing event by Mayor Michael Häupl and the publisher Echo, as it tells the author’s life story from the perspective of – in Hornby’s words –“significant football events.”

In 2008, Vienna co-hosts the European Football Championship EURO 2008, and therefore it was no surprise to find Hornby’s book distributed this year. 100,000 copies were given away for free to Viennese readers. Previous writers included Toni Morrison, Frederic Morton and Imre Kertesz.

N.B.: For recent scenes of Vienna during the EURO 2008, see my other entries here in this blog!

Read the rest of this entry »