Monday, September 15, 2008

Salzburg is a Beautiful Myth

On Thursday we went to the Salzburg Museum, and something about it has impressed me in the days since. On the first floor, just off the foyer, is their most recent exhibition dedicated to citizens of Salzburg that were victims of concentration camps. They have lists of the victims' names. They have the names of Austrians that were not victims but perpetrators involved in the concentration camps. They even have on display some of the torture devices used in the camps- electric shock machines. They even have pictures of the experiments. And I must explain that I was frustrated when I first entered the exhibit because everything was in German without any English translation at all. Why was it all in German? Couldn't I read it, too? Couldn't I know?
I guessed the answer was no.
I walked through the rest of the museum, which currently exhibits paintings and memorabilia from different archbishops and royalty and high profile politicians from Salzburg, dating back several centuries. These floor exhibitions were entitled, "The Myth of Salzburg" and "Salzburg Personalities." Now Austria, up into the early twentieth century had been governed by foreign archbishops that heavily influenced the architecture and layout of the beautiful city of Salzburg. The art that reflected its development gives an ethereal feel to its history and growth. This, hand in hand with the famous composers that occupied the city, including Mozart, Bach, Haydn, etc, created a reputation of luxury and sophistication.
Upon leaving the museum, Professor Hicks was raving about the layout of the museum. "It's the most strategic museum I've ever been in," he said. "Think about it. The 'Myth of Salzburg'? Why did they call it that? And the first exhibit you see are grotesque remnants of Austria's worst moments in history, and then you see all of this ethereal art about Salzburg and it's beauty. Why did they make it that way? And why was the first exhibit only in German?"

The truth is, that the exhibit was for Salzburgers and Europeans alone. The truth is, that Salzburg, for all of it's beauty and how safe it is now, was a myth and still remains so in many ways because it was not unique to or exempt from the pain and destruction of the World Wars. The harsh contrast between that first exhibit about the concentration camp victims and the other exhibits was MEANT as a shock to the system, and truthfully, we English speaking Americans that were baby-booming on our half of the world while Europe was ravaged by the aftermath of WWII are not ever going to truly grasp what it means for this continent to continually pick up and move on. In so many ways, Europe has thrived in the half-century since the wars ended, but they still feel the sting. We will never truly know it. It's a bit like reading a foreign language; we can make out a few of the ideas, but we don't comprehend the depth of its meaning.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

To Vienna and Back Again

So it's been a few days since my last post, and we have been to a million different places and seen a million different things, and I'm not quite sure how I feel about it all right now. It's rainy outside and it's been a long day and I'm exhausted. I am continually impressed by just how much of a learning experience this is. We are trying to learn the right words to communicate with the culture around us, and everything we see prompts questions and thoughts that we have never faced before. We are also still trying to adjust to each other as a group. Most of us didn't know each other until a week ago, and trying to build relationships in this situation creates two possible scenarios: we either really really like each other, or we really really don't find any compatibility with one another. Our first week in Salzburg was spent together; we have twelve people in our group staying at Haus Wartenberg: 1 Professor John Hicks, and six girls and five boys. This was a good opportunity for us to bond and create friendships and sort of figure one another out. This weekend was our first weekend to travel outside of Salzburg, and we chose to go to Vienna. This we chose to do as a group because we only had Saturday and Sunday to travel, and we weren't quite ready to split apart yet. It turned out to be a very significant learning experience. The Vienna cards that we purchased did NOT give us the bang for our Euro buck that the Salzburg card did- we estimated that 18 Euro per 10 people totaled at about 135 Euro, and most of us wound up using it solely for Metra passes and not for the crappy discounts to the ridiculously overpriced museums that we couldn't seem to locate. That being said, we still had a wonderful time. Vienna is a very different city from Salzburg, with breathtaking architectural features. One fountain that I fell in love with stood outside of the Austrian Parliament building:
(Isn't that SO BEAUTIFUL???)

Later Saturday night we went to a film festival in downtown Vienna, which turned out to be an amazing choice for dinner and fun. They had a large screen attached to the front of an old government building, with seating and different food vendors there so that people could hang out and enjoy. We stayed at Hostel Husseldorf last night, which was quite the experience. The facility itself was nice- the rowdy guys down the hall were not. Traveling back to Salzburg today also turned out to be quite the ordeal. I realized right as we were leaving this morning that I had left my camera in a cafe last night, so Danielle, Brenda, and I hopped the UBahn back into the city and sprinted across downtown Vienna, found my camera (thank GOD!) and made it to our station in time to see our train leave without us. Thankfully, Chris and Case stayed behind to keep us company. Unfortunately, because we missed the train and had to wait another hour for the next one, we were too far behind the rest of our group to make it to Mathausen, which is a concentration camp memorial site that we had planned on visiting today.
I hadn't planned on explaining all of the ups and downs of our first weekend trip, but the thing is that I learned so much about how this experience is really going to be. Europe isn't as glamorous as people make it out to be. It's at once beautifully intricate and complicated and raises so many questions about where we come from (after all, it is the birthplace of the Western Culture). We're visiting our Motherland. We're exploring ideas and concepts that have so many dimensions that we cannot quite grasp. For instance, when we visited Schloss Schonbrunn, the summer residence palace for the Habsburgs, it was beautiful and vast, but even as we stood there admiring it we wondered how many citizens starved to death while it was being built.I'm glad that we're being given the opportunity to explore these things, and I am excited for classes to start tomorrow so that we can actually begin to understand how the things we're seeing have affected Europe and in turn the world. I'll let you know what the new day brings. :)