Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Rendezvous with Vienna

Vienna was all spotless streets and stately buildings and sedate boulevards.

I was staying in a quiet, clean hotel in a quiet, clean suburb with a quiet, efficient suburban rail connection handy.

The "happening thing" was the Tutankhamun And The World Of Pharaohs exhibition that was in town as part of a world tour, so I went. It was a little weird walking through a re-created pharaonic burial chamber somewhere in the middle of Europe but the exhibits were timeless, fascinating. The exhibition was nicely curated with a melodramatic audio guide that captured, in a rather kitschy way, the sense of adventure that must have accompanied the so called "discovery" by Howard Carter in 1922.

One piece that simply paralyzed me was the bust of a princess with an elongated head, very similar to this one.

I'm not sure if this is a picture of the exact same bust that I saw because the website (from where i copied this image) says that this is a picture of a statuette in a Berlin museum. I couldn't take my eyes off her and I couldn't help thinking that this woman, this being, this sexy creature, MUST have been an extra-terrestrial.

At the end of the exhibition, as always, there was a merchandise mela at the exit. I'm almost a 100% sure that every single thingy in the store there had been "Made In China". So much for King Tut's Treasures and their impact on the future.

I stepped out of the museum into bright sunshine and started wandering around the city center. Everything was so orderly, so clean, so elegant. Everyone was, oh so well behaved.

Where did they hide all the drunks and the rowdies and the weirdos, I wondered.

Over a soothing beer in a busy cafe, I thought about all the famous Austrians I had heard of, or read about...

The list was quite impressive:

Adolf Hitler (yes, he was born an Austrian and took up German citizenship just a year or so before assuming the dictatorship of Germany);

Niki Lauda, the F1 champ;

Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the iconic automobile marque;

Johann Puch, founder of a motorcycle manufacturing company;


the Rothschilds;


Another notorious one (after Hitler) - Kurt Waldheim;

And then, finally, to balance the list off - Simon Weisenthal, the Nazi Hunter....

Oooh!!! Not bad a list for a little speck of a country, eh?

Then, just like that, I remembered the Big Austrian Flavour of the Season (not Red Bull), but: Josef Fritzl.

Some guy in this oh so well ordered country does something like that in his house and nobody..NOBODY...not even his wife...knew absolutely anything about it for something like 20 years???!


These guys are so smart and so "watchful" of their surroundings but they didn't notice something so serious; such bad ass action going on in their own backyard for all those years?

Was there an explanation?

Chillingly, Waldheim, an Intelligence Officer in the Nazi Army (the Wehrmacht), eventualy, actually, got to be their President as recently as in 1986?!!!! I quote from Wikipedia:

By 1943 he was serving in the capacity of an ordnance officer in Army Group E which was headed by General Alexander Löhr[6]. In 1986, Waldheim said that he had served only as an interpreter and a clerk and had no knowledge either of reprisals against civilians locally or of massacres in neighboring provinces of Yugoslavia. He said that he had known about some of the things that had happened, and had been horrified, but could not see what else he could have done.[4]
Much historical interest has centered around Waldheim's role in Operation Kozara[7]. According to one post-war investigator, prisoners were routinely shot within only a few hundred yards of Waldheim's office[8], and at the Jasenovac concentration camp. Waldheim later stated "that he did not know about the murder of civilians there."[8]
Waldheim's name appears on the Wehrmacht's "honor list" of those responsible for the militarily successful operation.

Fritzl was also an ostensibly successful man and an alleged authoritarian. Do these people perhaps just crave for authority to be imposed on them, I wondered. Is feudality genetic? Maybe there really is an Austrian Syndrome?

These were my thoughts.

I understand that stereotyping and bigotry are easy vices to acquire. Beery judgementalism is effortless and free, especially on a holiday. I know very little about Austria, Austrians or their everyday realities. Still, these were my thoughts and I share them here without apology.

I quickly finished what was now an uneasy and stale beer and found my way back to my hotel. King Tut and his Treasures seemed a distant, aberrant memory. Overall, it was not a very satisfying day off.

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