Austrian Food Memories

Food always shows up in my memories I have realized. I am currently taking a cooking class at a local community college, and we were asked to write about our food memories. I noticed how many of my food memories are connected with growing up in Austria and the desire to find the same flavors and dishes again even when living abroad. Our instructor asked us to write about foods we hated but now love, special foods, and foods associated with the seasons.

Foods that I Hated but Now Love

I have noticed that most of my loves and hates in connection with food have stayed the same over the years; the only exception is foods that I first ate prepared differently from what they were meant to be.

For example, I have never really understood the excitement about fried chicken (and now I cannot believe I ever thought that). I did not really hate it, but if I had a choice, I would have eaten nearly anything else rather than fried chicken. I found the breading rather tasteless, rubbery, and greasy covering dry meat. That was when I ate the European version of fried chicken, which usually means a thick layer of breadcrumbs and panfrying/roasting in about half an inch of oil. Then, I had fried chicken in a U.S. military messhall and prepared by a chef who grew up in the South. It was a revelation – the chicken was moist and not greasy at all and the breading actually added to the taste. Now I love fried chicken – if it is prepared well (which for me so far means made by a chef who uses Southern recipes).

Another example is fries; the only American-style fries I knew from Europe were McDonald’s fries since McDonald’s was the only U.S. fast-food restaurant I have known. I actually liked those fries, but when I moved to California, everyone always mentioned how I had to try the fries at In-N-Out since they were so great. The first time I tried the fries, I thought they were too dry and too thick; I was not a fan, but people continued to tell me how good they were and always wanted to eat at In-N-Out instead of any other burger place. After a few more visits, my taste changed, and I actually started to like the fries. I have not eaten at a U.S. McDonald’s in years, and I am one of these annoying people now who always try to convince others that In-N-Out has the best fries.

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Fries and burgers at In-N-Out; photo by pointnshoot from Oakland, California, USA (via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Foods that Remind Me of Special Occasions

One dish that always reminds me of family dinners for Christmas or Easter is my grandmother’s stuffed veal breast. It is a traditional Austrian dish and pretty common, but it is a large piece of meat that is rather expensive, so we usually ate it only for special occasions. The boneless veal breast is cut open to create a pocket that is filled with a mixture of parsley and  old bread soaked in milk and white wine. The stuffed breast is sown shut and sitting in a liquid of wine and butter is then roasted in the oven for two hours and regularly moistened with the liquid. It is served with steamed cabbage, bread dumplings, and boiled potatoes that soak up the juice from the meat. Since the death of my grandmother, I have never eaten this dish again because I am nervous that it would not be as good as her version (she never shared her recipe) and that I would “ruin” my memory of the amazing taste.

 

Foods Associated with the Seasons

Since I grew up in Austria, many of associations are still made based on the weather and local ingredients there, which is very different from California with its much warmer weather. This has sometimes become frustrating to me since I cannot find the same foods and puzzling to friends, who become excited about pumpkin in fall for example, which as a vegetable has really no special memory or season associated with it for me.

Spring:

It can snow in mid-May in Austria, so I do not necessarily associate fresh vegetables and lettuce with spring. In fact, many of the greens that can be grown in California in February would not show up in Austria until April and even then most likely from a greenhouse. I am still amazed by what can be planted when here in Northern California. So when I think of spring, I think of special dishes associated with carnival, Lent, and Easter, large celebrations in spring. The dish associated with carnival is called Faschingskrapfen, a type of donut filled with apricot jam and powdered sugar.

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Faschingskrapfen – Photo by Wikimedia Commons/KarlGruber

Lent is connected with creamed spinach and a fried egg, the typical dinner for Maudy Thursday, which is focused on green foods.

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Creamed Spinach and Fried Eggs (photo by belu1004 on Pixabay)

Easter is associated with Osterzopf, which at first glance looks a lot like Challah bread but is much sweeter and a dessert by itself or a breakfast bread.

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Osterzopf – Photo by Capri23auto on Pixabay

Summer:

I associate summer with red currants, berries that grow like weeds but do not do well in the heat of the Sacramento Valley (I have tried growing them here). I remember there were weeks and weeks of summer where I would pick and de-stalk currants nearly every day. Most of the red currants were made into jam or thick juice to be mixed with sparkling water all through winter till the next summer. My favorite way to eat red currants is as a yellow sponge cake with a layer of the sweet-sour red berries topped with thick waves of meringue. The recipe does work with frozen berries, so I can recreate it with frozen red currants usually found at Russian supermarkets in Sacramento, but it does not taste quite as good as it would with fresh berries just picked from the backyard.

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Red Currants – Photo by danigeza on Pixabay

 

Fall:

Fall is connected with roasted chestnuts and new red wine – a combination that is particularly popular in Northern Italy and in the Austrian state of Tyrol (see a previous blog posting). In the US, most people think of pumpkin when they think fall – as seen with the excited social media postings about pumpkin flavors being offered again at Starbucks and other places, but I am not used to the pumpkin obsession. For me, pumpkins are associated with a dark pumpkin seed oil available and used all year long and roasted pumpkin seeds on breads and as snacks, also eaten throughout the year.

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Starbucks Pumpkin Meme Found on the Site Your Tango

 

As a child, I associated fall with hiking through forests to collect mushrooms, especially mushrooms of the Boletus family such as Bay Bolete and Penny Bun. I learned early on as a five-year old how to identify the edible mushrooms from the poisonous ones, how to cut them correctly, so they would grow back next year, and how to clean them. Fresh mushrooms would be made into a thick sauce that was a meal by itself with bread or bread dumplings. We also dried pounds and pounds of them to be used in soups and sauces throughout the year.

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Mushroom from the Boletus Family – Photo by czu_czu_PL on Pixabay

 

Winter:

Winter is closely connected with gingerbread and a variety of cookies that are made only around Christmas time, but usually so many pounds are made and received as gifts that we ate Christmas cookies till long into January. Many of the cookie dough recipes include nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts. One famous Austrian cookie is the Vanillekipferl, shaped like a crescent moon (see a great recipe here). Another popular recipe is cinnamon stars (see a recipe here). All the cookies seem much less sweet than American desserts and a lot drier; an American chewy chocolate-chip cookie seems undercooked to me for example, but my American husband compares Austrian cookies to wood chips or bread, and the possibility for Austrian cookies to stay fresh in an air-tight container in a cool place for weeks is not a good sign for him.

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Vanillekipferl – Photo by Blueeyes on Pixabay

 

Reflecting on foods has shown me how closely all of my especially favorite memories are connected with foods. One of the main reasons why I have become interested in cooking and taking cooking courses is because I want to recreate flavors that are connected with special memories, places, and people . Since I have moved around quite a lot in my life, I have learned that it is often futile to try to find a restaurant or bakery that offers these flavors from my past, so it just seems easier to learn how to create them myself instead of looking for someone else who might be able to do this.

PS: When I am around food, I seem to be more focused on eating than taking photos, so many of the photos in this posting are from Pixabay, a site with free, high-quality images. Thank you to all the artists who make their work available for free (and also take much better pictures than I can).

Lake Attersee: Where Klimt Spent His Summers and So Should You

The water of Lake Attersee in Upper Austria is crystal clear but changes its color by the minute from a near Caribbean-like sapphire to bright azure and dark navy; I watch the clouds race and the swans jockey for bread from the tourists walking past. It is easy to understand why Austrian painter Gustav Klimt spent sixteen summers at the shore of this lake and created 45 of his 50 landscape paintings based on the views around the lake.

The Gustav Klimt Center in the small town of Kammer am Attersee celebrates and explains Klimt’s fascination and works connected with the lake as it brings together facsimiles of some of his landscapes and provides a handy map of the lake indicating the locations of the views from all his Attersee paintings.  A short documentary explains more about Klimt’s life at the lake and his friendship with Emilie Floege, the sister of his sister-in-law and a fashion designer; many of her pieces remind me of the loose and colorful robes in Klimt’s paintings.

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Outfit Designed and Worn by Emilie Floege, the Sister of Klimt’s Sister-in-Law (on display at the Klimt Center)

The Center provides a nice summary and starting point, but do not expect too much; it is a very small exhibit and none of the paintings are the originals. Of course that is understandable considering that Klimt’s paintings are worth millions. For example, the painting “Kammer Castle at Attersee” sold in 1997 for 19.1 million Euros according to a sign in the Center. However, the Center’s exhibit would greatly benefit from at least one original painting that maybe could be a loan. So I recommend not expecting more from the Center than a starting point and inspiration to go out and explore the lake and its shore, especially via the Klimt Artist Trail starting right outside the Center.

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Map of the Lake and its Surroundings Indicating the View of Each Painting

The trail is an easy walk of about 1.5km or a little less than a mile along the lake shore from the Center to Villa Paulick, where Klimt spent some time.  Other parts of the trail are on the southern shore of the lake. Along the trail are panels/kiosks with details about Klimt’s life as well as photos of paintings based on the particular view and often a square cutout/view finder to imitate Klimt’s process, who used a simple cutout/frame to look for motifs.

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Close-up of sign along the Klimt path with square view finder looking at Castle Kammer similar to Klimt’s painting.

From 1899 onward, all of Klimt’s landscapes were exclusively created in a square format, so Klimt favored a format that now has become standard and expected with the popularity of Instagram and its square photos. Inspired by the cutouts in the kiosks, I took several photos of the same view in landscape format and then also in the square format, and I did prefer the square ones (but maybe that is because I have been influenced by the daily use of Instagram):

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Landscape View of Lake

 

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Square View of the Lake a la Klimt

 

Even though the trail leads one to the spots that inspired Klimt’s paintings, often too much has changed to create the same impression on photos such as the avenue leading up to Kammer Castle:

 

A drive around the lake (the road is often right next to the water) offers plenty of gorgeous views reminiscent of Klimt’s landscapes even if you do not spend the time to find the exact spots:

 

At some point, I was too taken by the views to pay attention to the map and possible markers to keep track of the trail on the southern lake shore:

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Southern Lake Shore

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The color of the lake water changes from bright green to teal to azure.

Even if you are not a Klimt fan, the lake is worth a visit for strolling, hiking, boating, and swimming; it is also a very popular lake for scuba diving because of its clear waters and depth.

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Public Pool Overlooking the Lake in Seewalchen (Along the Artist Trail)

Or maybe the views inspire you to paint or sketch (here is how Klimt depicted the water):

 

Lake Attersee is about 2.5 hours by car from Vienna, and a little bit over half an hour by car from Salzburg but pretty difficult to reach by public transportation (no major train stations are right on the lake).

The Klimt Center is near the harbor in Kammer and its opening hours change throughout the year, so check the website for more details: https://www.klimt-am-attersee.at/en/ . The Artist Trail is free and open 24/7; find a great map of all the stops here.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants with great views along the northern shore of the lake, so the lake is definitely worth a visit.

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View of the Harbor in Kammer from the Cafe at the Klimt Center

 

New Blog Name: The Wandering Austrian

I have decided to try out a new site name for my blog; you may have noticed it: The Wandering Austrian. The URL stays the same, and I might change the title again, but I felt a change was in order. “Austrian in California” was a great fit when I started the blog as I focused on the experience of living in the US and visiting Austria from time to time, but since then I have started to explore other topics especially as I lived for a few months in Italy. Since my blog postings were often no longer about Austria or California or the clash of these two specific cultures, the original name of the blog seemed to limit me. I had ideas for new postings, but they often did not seem to fit the original title and concept of the blog.

The new title hopefully illustrates that postings will be more diverse and focus on more than just two cultures. Thank you to my friend Heather for coming up with the new title and letting me use it.

In keeping with the new name, you may have already noticed a couple of postings about Italy recently, where I will be for the next month.

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Shutters in Bologna, Italy

Not Your Typical Lecture Hall or Library in Bologna, Italy

I have spent plenty of my time in lecture halls/rooms on a college campus since I teach, but I teach at an institution that is barely older than I am (and no, I am not that old). So the buildings are nothing exciting – they are clean, they are practical, and they do their job, but they are definitely not memorable or give the impression that one is at a special place of learning. It is of course unfair to compare a college barely out of its infancy to the oldest university in the Western world, Bologna, but it is hard not to.

The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 and was home to some very famous students such as Erasmus and Copernicus. The schools and venues of the university were scattered across town, but in the mid-16th century, the Palazzo dell’ Archiginnasio became the first permanent seat of the university until 1803 (when it moved to Via Zamboni, where it is still today).

Today, the Teatro Anatomico is a big tourist attraction, but oh, how exciting it would be to teach in this classroom (even though I do not teach biology, medicine, or dissection). The building was damaged during WWII but was rebuilt with mostly original materials it seems.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall for human dissections in oldest university in Europe.

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Teatro Anatomico is the lecture hall where the first human dissections in Europe took place.

Another lecture hall in the same building is Sala dello Stabat Mater; it is still used for talks and lectures today, and old decorations clash with modern chairs, screen, and projector.

The palazzo is also home to the city library, Biblioteca Comunale, which is really a working library and does not allow entry to  tourists but only to serious library users.

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Page of the medical book by Lucantonio Giunta from the mid-sixteenth century on how to take care of fractures.

Just across the square Piazza Maggiore is another gorgeous library that is just a “normal” city library used by residents. Biblioteca Salaborsa is a gorgeous, multi-story building in Art Nouveau style; it was once a botanical garden, military training ground, basketball court, and the Stock Exchange.

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Biblioteca Salaborsa inside the former Stock Exchange in Art Nouveau style

It was built on Roman and medieval structures, which can be viewed through the glass floor of the library or walked through on the lower level.

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The glass floor of the Biblioteca Salaborsa shows excavations of medieval and Roman settlements.

I love libraries anyway, but these environments are even more exciting. I wonder if students or library users are/were  inspired by the environment or whether it was just another building to be in to reach one’s goal.

Street Art in Bologna, Italy

Bologna, also known as the Red City, is famous for its many rust-colored buildings, small alleyways, and of course porticoes, and even though the town has plenty of old-time charm, it also offers plenty of modern street art in some parts of town. Many of the pieces are large and intricate and much more than a quick tag and dash (although there are plenty of tags around the city as well).

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A small street with the typical architecture and already some graffiti.

Many of the pieces I found in the university quarter of town are large and intricate:

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Many of the pieces are entertaining and do not offer political comments (at least not as far as I could gather):

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The piece is close to four meters tall.

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A large doorway enhanced by art.

However, some pieces do seem to include more obvious messages, which were still lost on me (but I did appreciate the details in the pieces):

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Several pieces spell their message out rather clearly:

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Technology is phallocentric

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While many of the pieces are painted or sprayed onto the walls and doors,  a few of the pieces are also pasted and hung like wallpaper:

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And then there are murals that cover half a building/block:

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If you are in Bologna, look for more than old churches and palazzi. As I explore more parts of the city over the next few days and weeks, I am curious to find out if more large-scale art pieces exist outside of the university quarter.

Most Fragrant Season in California

A short period of about three to four weeks in early spring (the length is dependent on the weather) is my favorite season in Northern California; it is also the most fragrant season. It is orange-blossom season! Well, it is actually citrus-blossom season but that just does not have the same ring.

In late winter and early spring, all the effort and time to wrap my citrus trees on cold nights to withstand the few hours a night of temperatures close to freezing are finally paying off as the the first trees start to bloom and envelope the backyard in their potent, sweet smell.

Covered Orange Tree

The daily ritual before cooler winter nights – swaddling the citrus trees in tarps and blankets. Once they are taller than 7 feet, the endeavor becomes quite challenging.

The fragrance is hard to describe, and none of the scents captured in bottles ever come close to the real thing; the smell is sweet and potent, even stronger at night, and very different from the smell of an orange fruit or peel. In my backyard, the limes and mandarins bloom first, then come the grapefruit trees, and last but not least the orange trees that seem to do double duty by still carrying some fruit while already blooming and working on this year’s crop.

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Close-up of Blossoms

The white, star-shaped flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to the backyard, and at times “air traffic” becomes too busy for me to sit nearby.

Sure, the golden-orange California poppies cover the hillsides in spring and acres and acres of almond trees blossom in the Central Valley, but nothing is quite as impressive as the aroma of orange blossoms. Walk through the suburbs or through downtown, and you are sure to catch a whiff of the sweet smell every couple of hundred feet or so. This is the most fragrant time of the year in California and nothing quite compares for me.

PS: Last spring came close to this experience as  I spent a weekend in Sorrento, Italy and on Capri, where I was  embraced by the fragrance of lemon blossoms every corner I turned (and that might be the reason why I enjoyed that trip so much).

New Year’s Resolution

With the beginning of 2017, of course I also thought about New Year’s resolutions as so many others do, and getting fit is always pretty high on any list of resolutions. But I know myself well enough to know that these resolutions have a a tendency to fizzle out before too long, so I see no sense in getting stuck with a long-term, pricey membership contract with a gym. Indeed, plenty of memes and articles have made the rounds on social media based on the same idea in the last few days; one that in particular spoke to me was a fake offer for one to two training sessions and four photos of the new member working out on social media. Here is another meme that entertained me:

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Meme found on Tumbler

I have avoided the temptation to sign up for a gym so far, but I could not resist an original vinyl record of Jane Fonda’s 1981 workout record in a local thrift-store ( and with a two-dollar price tag also much cheaper than a gym membership). I mean – it is Jane Fonda, THE original workout maven! The VHS tape that followed and was based on her book and this record is the top selling VHS tape of all time according to several online sites. The record has a cheesy 8os sound track so that alone makes it entertaining; and the cover design is hilarious. I do not think even the thrift-store sold a pair of those 80s legwarmers and the high-cut leotard with matching belt.

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Album Cover of Jane Fonda’s 1981 Workout Record

Even if I stop the workout regime based on the record in a few weeks (which is very likely based on previous new year’s resolutions), I still have the entertainment factor, so I call this a good buy. If you are interested in the original video workout, browse YouTube (see example here).

The record is also an important piece of Americana, artifacts related to the cultural heritage of the U.S. It might not seem worthy of this label to some, but when I think 80s and U.S., Jane Fonda and aerobics always come to mind.

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Christmas Decorations and Workout Record

So here is to a great year ahead; may you stick to you resolutions or at least be entertained by your pursuit of your goals.

Thanksgiving Alfresco and “Stray” Aliens in California

Another November in Northern California, and another reminder how amazing the weather is here. While I see postings about European Christmas markets opening up and about snow angels in the northern parts of the US, I am able to have Thanksgiving dinner outside. Sure, we are not quite as lucky as those in Southern California and still need a jacket once the shadows get longer and the sun sets, but it is still unfathomable to me that I can actually sit outside for hours and be comfortable at the end of November.

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Abundance: Under an Orange Tree

Tee by the Fire

Tea by the Fire Pit

 

Even though I do not have a close connection to Thanksgiving since I did not grow up with this tradition, I have become rather fond of this holiday by now; what is there not to like when it is mostly about giving thanks and of course food – and more food – and then even more food.

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Turkey on the BBQ

Pie Buffet

Pie Buffet: Banana, Pecan, Blueberry, Apple, and Pumpkin (under the Glass)

Even though some dishes are traditional and expected at Thanksgiving, most families also seem to include at least one dish connected to their ancestors; American Italians, for example, seem to serve ravioli, and our Thanksgiving dinner included sauerkraut and Polish sausages.

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Sauerkraut and Polish Sausages

As a foreigner/alien without a large family nearby, I have been invited for several years now by American friends that lay out one of the largest spread for the dinner (made from scratch). All I need to do is show up, bring appetite, and take leftovers home (and I don’t even need to bring any boxes for the leftovers). I jokingly observed that I have been taken in like a stray kitten, and like with any stray cat, once fed, I am hard to get rid off and come back again and again.

 

Over the years as I moved from country to country and continent to continent, I have often been invited to share holiday traditions and meals with locals. Thank you to all those who take in those “stray” aliens without family nearby during holidays.

 

How to Illustrate an Austrian in California

In a literature class we have been discussing images and symbols, and students created symbolic self-portraits and tried to show their interests, desires, fears, and traits with visuals only (no words allowed). This got me thinking about a visual representation of an Austrian in California when I came across this photo opportunity.

Austrian/Bavarian Tracht in In-N-Out

Austrian/Bavarian Tracht in In-N-Out

Not many pictures can so clearly express Austrian in California than an Austrian-Bavarian dancer in lederhosen eating a burger at In-N-Out. Well, I guess I could have asked him to stand up so the short lederhosen are completely visible or asked him to put on the traditional hat with the eagle feather; and I could have hoped for a surfer walking past in the background or at least a palm tree visible through the window. So there is room for improvement and a reason to keep looking for an even better illustration of the concept of an Austrian in California.

In case you are curious, In-N-Out Burger is a fast-food chain founded in California in 1948 and still limited to the West Coast of the States, so it is often associated with California. When I was in Italy this spring, an In-N-Out burger with extra sauce was really the only food I missed after a while and was looking forward to when coming back to California. Some argue that In-N-Out is all a hype and not that great, but it does seem to get associated with California usually (read about the hype in this article about Hillary Clinton stopping at an In-N-Out – although I am not sure why this is newsworthy). And in case you are wondering why one runs into a guy in Bavarian/Austrian outfit in Northern California, the answer is that Oktoberfests with traditional dancers are becoming more and more popular on the West Coast as well.

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Traditional Bavarian Dancers at an Oktoberfest at the Budweiser Brewery in Fairfield, CA

Impressions of Austria

It has been over a month since I last posted; time flies – especially when I am back in the classroom and papers waiting to be graded are  piling up. I also needed to take a break from posting since my blog postings could have easily turned into a rant about missing Italy  in particular and Europe in general. And since the semester has started again and I have met a new group of students, I am once again the oddity – the Austrian teaching in the US. Of course, this also means that I hear a version of the question “So what is it like – this Austria?” Well, how can one describe a whole country in a couple of minutes?

I try to avoid the well-known impressions of Vienna and Salzburg and of course Sound of Music (which very few Austrians know about; I learned about Sound of Music from a Scot on my semester abroad in Scotland, and this knowledge has come in handy when talking with Americans about Austria – but that is a story for another time). Well, so what is Austria?

Austria is centuries-old castles and grand palaces.

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Courtyard of the Castle in Parz

Lambach Abbey

Interior of Lambach Abbey

 

Austria means rugged mountains hugging crystal-clear lakes.

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Traunsee in Upper Austria

 

And since Austria is small, these sights are compressed to have castle, and mountains, and lake all in one view.

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Lake Traunsee and the Castle Ort on an Island in the Lake

 

Austria is orderly.

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Padlocks on a Specially Designed Strcuture on the Banks of Lake Traunsee

 

And most of all, Austria is colorful; it is rich greens.

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Schloegener Schlinge of the Danube – The Danube Loop by Schloegen

 

It is ultramarine and chartreuse in lively contrasts.

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Austrian Countryside

 

And when the skies are grey, the buildings stand out in vibrant orange, burnt sienna, and playful pinks.

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Orange-Yellow Facade of Melk Abbey

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Rust-Colored Townhouse in Obernberg am Inn

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Pink Staircase Inside of Melk Abbey

So most of all, Austria for me is color; that is the five-second answer to what Austria is like.

Interacting with Art

I love art museums, and over the last few months of visiting Italy, Austria, and Germany I have visited plenty of them. But even though I am a fan, I have to admit that visits can quickly become monotone and especially lesser-known or eye-catching pieces are easily skipped, overlooked, or at least not remembered. Another issue with museums is that I love to “look” with my hands, which usually is not an option; indeed, most places  do not even want one to stand too close to the art to see the brushstrokes for example, and of course that is understandable, but the problem still is that it is difficult to become fully engaged – even visually.

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Detail of “Sunflowers” 3rd Version by Vincent van Gogh in Neue Pinakothek Munich, Germany  – no flash or touching but the guard was not happy with me

Sure some visitors are more active in museums and sketch and/or write, but this active appreciation of art usually is not created by the museum and the art; the visitor decides to sketch or write or maybe as student is required to complete an assignment or in need of extra credit. So the motivation for interacting comes from the visitor and is not created by the museum displays.

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Visitor writing about/drawing the art in the Bargello in Florence, Italy

 

Sure, museums catering to children and focusing on science usually include interactive displays, but very few art museums do, so I am always excited when a display invites me to interact and I am no longer a passive observer. A recent example was a display of modern art at the K-hof museum in Gmunden, Austria. One of the sculptures, for example, came with sticky notes and visitors were encouraged to react to the piece and to other comments already left on the wall. These comments changed my perception of the piece as I started to react to the comments stuck beside it. The piece was not famous but it was memorable because of the interaction.

Christ Sculpture

Christ Sculpture by Ferdinand – One note mentions that the artist does not want a God who suffers with him but a God who laughs with him.

 

Notes

Notes responding to the piece of art: “Laughing about what? About me? [Without interest in my suffering?] No, thanks!” Another note responds: “Laughs WITH me (not about). Therefore I am also allowed to laugh about myself.”

Another example of interaction were the hobbyhorses depicting famous horses in art at the State Exhibit “Human & Horse” in Lambach, Austria. There was Marengo, the stallion from the painting “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Jacques-Loius David; the horse’s description includes the achievement of galloping 129km in five hours.

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Ride the Hobbyhorse Marengo at the State Exhibit “Human & Horse” in Lambach, Austria

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Painting by Jacques-Louis David [Public Domain} via Wikimedia Commons

And then there was also the much calmer looking hobbyhorse Pferdinand created by Franz Marc. The description of the horse lists a talent for expressive art.

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Ride the Hobbyhorse Pferdinand at the State Exhibit “Human & Horse” in Lambach, Austria

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“Blue Horse I” by Franz Marc [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

These were just two of nearly a dozen famous hobby horses that were ridden by children in the courtyard of the exhibit, and even though no adults were playing when I visited, I could not see a sign that limited the activity only to kids.

More and more places also include replicas of the art that not only can be touched but is meant to be touched. These are geared especially towards visitors with vision impairments, but since my natural instinct is to touch, these replicas keep me entertained as well. I also realized that they help me notice details that I did not see before but now felt, and I could go back and look for them in the piece itself. Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan includes one such replica, which is usually overlooked by visitors as it rests on a side wall. Read more about the artist who created this replica and many others in Italy in this article.

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Touchable Replica of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”

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Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” in Milan, Italy

Art museums could still do much more to encourage more active enjoyment of the pieces, but these examples show that change is coming.

The Beauty of a Toilet: Toilet Museum in Gmunden, Austria

“For many people, having a toilet is an afterthought, one of the easy-to-take-for-granted amenities of living in the modern world. But for 40% of the world’s population that lives without sanitation, having a toilet is a luxury, and one that can often make the difference between life and death” explains a posting by the American Red Cross. I would argue that for many Americans easy and free access to a bathroom is nearly seen as a fundamental human right, which explains the surprise of many American tourists in Europe when they figure out that public toilets often require a fee and receipts are checked consistently to ensure that really only customers use an establishment’s bathroom. And do not even think about hoping to find a bathroom in a supermarket. Bathrooms – and especially clean bathrooms – are not a certainty. This became clear for example on Mount Vesuvius, where no free bathrooms existed. The toilet I ended up paying for (I think it was one Euro) had no water to flush but was not designed to be a waterless porta potty and it had been used a LOT throughout the day. Let’s just put it that way: what cannot go down must pile up. At that point, I really wished for a lot more bushes on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius…

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View over the Bay from Mount Vesuvius in Italy

Considering the impact of toilets and our dependence on them, it is rather surprising that they are not more celebrated or talked about. So it was a nice surprise to find a museum dedicated to toilets in Gmunden, Austria. Sure, the museum is definitely not the main attraction of the town. Rather, the main draw are the panorama of the magnificent lake Traunsee with the tall mountains in the background, castle Orth on an island in the lake, and maybe the ceramic manufacturer established in 1492.

Lake and Boats

Lake Traunsee and Sailboats in Gmunden

 

Schloss Orth

Schloss Orth in Gmunden on a small island in the lake (Photo by Ibokel from Pixabay)

 

Saint Orth

Saint Nepomuk Statue on the Bridge to the Castle Orth near Gmunden

On my last visit to Gmunden, I finally visited the toilet museum in the center of town near the lake. The toilet museum (its official name is the sanitation museum) is one of five rather small museums housed in the so-called K-Hof. The other four museums focus on geology, salt and tourism, nativity sets and sacred art, and current art (it seems this exhibit changes throughout the year). It is a very eclectic/odd mix as one floor houses the nativity sets and the next one the toilets. The museum even includes a chapel. The toilet/sanitation museum focuses on sanitation objects from the 19th and 20th century even though the first water closet was already invented in the 16th century.

 

The museum has some interesting pieces with the majority of the exhbits from Central Europe, but it does lack an international or intercultural aspect. Would not this be the place to show and discuss the differences in toilets and the impact of the toilet on everyday life around the world? I expected the exhibit to be more informative and in-depth. But it does have some extremely beautiful toilet bowls that put the common current and very boring toilet bowls to shame. You won’t be able to find anything close to these in your local store I think. Here are some of my favorite toilet bowls (hmm  – what an odd and unexpected sentence to use):

The exhibit also includes other items associated with the bathroom such as toilet pulls and sinks and even an outhouse.

 

Outhouse

Old-fashioned Outhouse

The museum is entertaining enough but not worth a special trip; however, it is an interesting addition to a visit already planned to enjoy the panorama and the castle, which are worth a trip.

Gmunden is in Upper Austria, about an hour’s drive from Salzburg and nearly three hours from Vienna. The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM and during the summer (June-August) Tuesdays through Sundays from 10AM till 5PM. Check the museum’s website for changes in the opening hours and other details.

Celebrating Beer in Bavaria

When states or counties put on exhibitions or fairs showcasing themselves, they usually focus on important historical events, natural sights, or maybe important figures. But Bavaria’s current state exhibition is about beer – of course. After all, beer was named Bavaria’s fifth element already in 1752 by Bavarian Chancellor Kreittmayr. Since beer brewing is historically closely connected with monasteries in Central Europe, it also makes sense that this exhibition is hosted in the Abbey in Aldersbach in southeast Bavaria.

The exhibition offers much – plenty of historical background on the production and cultural impact of beer, beer facts, interactive displays, curiosities connected to beer, a large beer tent with special exhibition beers and live bands, a tour through a modern brewery, and the art of the historical abbey buildings. We spent a whole afternoon at the exhibit and would have stayed longer had it not closed at six (the beer tent often stays open longer, but was closed early on the day we visited to prepare for a special event).

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Typical Interior of a Bavarian Pub (Photo from Pixbay – artist Stux)

Like many others, I have always connected Bavaria with beer, but many historical details highlighted by the exhibit were new to me while others were “oldies but goodies.” Of course, displays mention the Reinheitsgebot (“purity order”) from 1516 that limits ingredients used in beer brewing to water, barley, and hops, but I did not know that until the 16th century wine was more popular in Bavaria than beer. Beer started to become a more popular choice because less wine was produced following cold summers and the destruction of vineyards during wars. In 1784, Bavaria wall already called the “beer country” in travel notes.

Wall of Beer Steins

Wall of Beer Steins

 

Currently, about a half of all German breweries are located in Bavaria, where in 1900 the average annual consumption of beer per person was 250 liters or 66 US gallons. This number has decreased to about 145 liters (38 gallons) per person per year in Bavaria, which is still higher than anywhere else in Germany. In comparison, the average number for 2012 in the US was 27.6 gallon according to USA Today. Bavaria used to be the land of the breweries with 4,777 different breweries in 1905. This number sank to 1,566 breweries in 1960 and 616 breweries in 2014.

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Number of Breweries in Bavaria over the Years

 

The exhibition includes a display of typical pub games as well as other artifacts connected with the Wirtshaus (pub), such as a beer mat from 1900. According to the displays, beer mats used to be made out of hair felt and are thus still called beer felts, “Bierfilzl;” paper beer mats were introduced in 1890.

Beer Mat

Beer Mat/Coaster Made out of Hair Felt from 1900

 

Memorable curiosities connected with beer are a display of motorized beer crates that are raced on race ways, a game of wearing “beer goggles” that create the visual impact of being over the driving limit, and a competition of carrying 27 beer-filled liter steins, which add up to 63 kilos (nearly 139 pounds) and were once carried by one waiter at the Munich Oktoberfest. Even Bavaria, the female personification of the state of Bavaria, is depicted carrying only 12 beer steins on posters and beer mats throughout the exhibition, so I decided it was not worth my wait at the display to even try carrying that many beer steins.

Motorized Beer Crate

Motorized Beer Crate

 

Carry Beersteims

How many full beer steins can you carry?

 

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Beer in the Fest Tent – The glass depicts Bavaria, the female personification of the state of Bavaria

The large beer tent with live music, Bavarian culinary specialties, and specially brewed exhibition beers as well as two additional on-site pubs encouraged us to make a day out of the exhibition and we enjoyed lunch but the tent was closed later on to prepare for a special evening event.

 

A nice break from all the information about and tastings of beer is a stroll through the monastery grounds (founded in 1136) and a visit to its pink Baroque church Maria Himmelfahrt with its bejeweled skeletons of saints, which are pretty common in the Alpine region and completely fascinated me (more about the bejeweled saints in this posting). I was in awe by the amount of precious stones, pearls, and gold covering the bones and amused by some of the body positions that are much more creative than just lying on the back and looking up the ceiling.

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Room Inside the Monastery as Part of the Exhibit

 

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Reclining Bejeweled Saint in the Church Maria Himmelfahrt

 

If you are in the south-eastern part of Bavaria and are somewhat interested in beer, I highly recommend this exhibition that is open daily from 9AM till 6PM until 30 October 2016. Check the exhibition’s website for entrance fees, special events, and directions: http://www.landesausstellung-bier.de/

 

PS: All data is from the displays in the exhibition or from the official website.

Sacred Mountain in Italy

I have not posted for a while and the main reason is that I left Europe at the end of May and returned to the US. Even though it was great to see family, friends, and my dogs again upon my arrival in the US, I left (especially Italy) with a heavy heart; I was not excited about coming back. If my husband and dogs would have been able to come and stay with me in Italy, I doubt I would have left. Since my return to California, I have been a little in a funk, and although I have plenty of photos and blog ideas about Italy as well as Austria and Germany, I have put off looking through photos and starting to write. Maybe the “wound” of leaving was just too fresh to be touched in any way.

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View over Lake Como in Northern Italy from the Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio

Now three weeks later, it is a little easier to look back at photos from the last few months without criticizing California for not being Italy. Finding fault in California for being California is obviously not a very rational feeling but strong nevertheless. I miss that I could just walk anywhere without a plan or a guidebook, and more likely than not I would stumble upon something amazingly beautiful and of (high) importance in history and/or art. This is extremely unlikely to happen in California, especially in the suburbs, and I now need to make an effort to go/drive and find a sight (other than nature!).

An example to illustrate this is that several weeks I lived near and walked past what appeared to simply be a normal building in Florence, yet large groups of tourists were always blocking the alleyway by the house as I tried to pass through. I finally stopped to read the plaque one day and realized it was the site where Michelangelo lived (15 Via dei Bentaccordi in case you are wondering).

Another example is the trip to the small village of Ossuccio on the shores of Lake Como. We had arrived too early to meet with the landlady to move into our apartment for the week and had time to kill. We did not yet have a guidebook or any specific plans on what to see in the area, so we just started to walk up into the mountains surrounding the lakeshore to get a better view of the lake and ended up visiting one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Sacro Monte di Ossuccio (Sacred Mountain of Ossuccio). It is one of nine sacred mountains in Piedmont and Lombardy, and the UNESCO website highlights the impressive union of architecture, sacred art, and natural landscape of these complexes.

Sacro Monte

View of Sacro Monte di Ossuccio with the 14 Chapels Leading to the Sanctuary

Unaware that these sacred mountains even existed, we walked up the steep hillside to reach the small church we could see from the center of the village. But the path itself became part of the sight as it wound past 14 chapels constructed between 1635 and 1710 depicting scenes from the Bible with the help of 230 statues of stucco and terracotta and frescos in Baroque style.

Path Connecting the Chapels

Path Leading Up the Mountain and Past the Chapels

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Chapel 14: Assumption of Mary into Heaven

The nearly life-size statues by artist Agostino Silva were slightly creepy but also fascinating with their life-like body language and covered in what seemed a couple of centuries worth of dust.

Interior of a Chapel

Another Interior of a Chapel

The steep path of about a kilometer forced me to take plenty of breaks to appreciate the view of the lake and Comacina Island below until we reached the church/sanctuary Santuario Madonna del Soccorso from 1532.

View over Lake and Village

View over Lake Como and Ossuccio

Santuario Madonna del Soccorso

Sanctuary of the Holy Virgin of Help (Sanctuary Madonna del Soccorso)

And this is what I miss about Italy (or Europe in general) – what was really just meant to be a short stroll to stretch our legs after the car ride and kill some time until we could move into our apartment turned into the discovery of a pretty major sight. This would not happen that easily and that often in California I believe. But maybe I do not give California enough credit and maybe I need to be more adventurous and leave the paths I already know around here and see what I can discover.

View of Lake Como with Comacina Island on the Left

View over Lake Como with Comacina Island on the Left