Saturday, June 13, 2015

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot - Final Draft

Unfortunately, the cool, overcast, and drizzly days of Berlin are now behind us and the hot days of summer are here (at least for the next few days).  It's actually not so bad; the highs are between 31 and 33.  Two years ago, we had highs from 34 to 36 and a heat advisory had been issued.  According to the weather forecasts, a cold front is moving in from the west; unfortunately, we are heading east with the heat and so it won't reach us until some time on Tuesday.

The hotel is very comfortable.  The rooms are nice, though unairconditioned.  Still, it does cool down somewhat I night and there is a fan.  I managed to sleep 7 hours last night.

The hotel is located in an 18th century building, and apparently one of the sociology majors decided to tell some of the students the hotel was haunted just to see how they would react.  One student is now sleeping on the couch/bed in a room with her friends as she's nervous about being with just one other student in a room.

I stayed here before in 2010, and the breakfast buffet is as nice as I remembered.  The students are quite happy with it.

 [There's juice, rolls, fruit, and cereal in the other room]

Yesterday was our visit to Mauthausen Concentration Camp.  Two years ago, we took the train from Vienna to the town of Mauthausen and then walked five kilometers through the town, a small mosquito-filled forest, and then up a steep hill.  The students were exhausted when we arrived (though, as I pointed out, the camp inmates had to do this same walk twice a day and with almost no food).

This time, I rented a charter bus.  Unfortunately, the bus went to the wrong stop to pick us up.  Or what appears to have happened is that after I asked to be picked up at the hotel, the bus company changed the pick up point to a short tram ride away.  I never received notice, most likely because (I believe) the bus company notified the person paying the bill (the university), who did not forward it to me.  Several phone calls and 45 minutes later, we were picked up.

The bus was very comfortable and the students were delighted there was Wifi on the bus.

After driving for nearly two hours, we stopped at a truck and bus stop, just off the highway.  This is what an Austrian rest stop looks like (obviously, I ignored the no photos rule):

Don't you wish all American truck stops looked like this?

As we climbed the hill to Mauthausen and then parked, some of the students were incredulous that I had made the students walk to and from the train station.  "They didn't string you up?" they asked.  "It's only uphill in one direction," I answered.

I thought that since we arrived so late, the driver would adjust our departure time, but no, that wasn't the case.  As a result, we had to rush more than I wished through the main exhibits.  We had a little more than two hours, but I had hoped for three.

We began with the main exhibit, which gives the history of the camp and the horrifying conditions experienced by the prisoners.  The camp was established here because of the quarry, and one of the worst jobs done by the prisoners was to carry these granite stones up and out of the quarry on their backs.

I spent a lot of time looking at some of the art created by former prisoners shortly after liberation, which depicted conditions in the camp, but was surprised and amazed to see a drawing by Leo Haas created during his imprisonment.

Haas had been in Theresienstadt Ghetto, and in his day job, he did graphic design for the ghetto administration.  In secret, he drew the real conditions in the ghetto.  After drawings of his were smuggled to the International Red Cross, he and other artists were arrested and tortured for producing "propaganda of horror."  They were all sent to Auschwitz.  From there, Haas was death marched to Mauthausen in March 1945.  In the camp, he used his skills to make greeting cards for officers, but in secret, he continued to draw what he could see about him.  He was one of the few artists to survive.  Making the drawing I posted above took real courage since if had been caught with it he would have been killed.

I was also very pleased to see Austrian school groups are visiting the camp.  In the past when I had been there it was mostly deserted, but today a large group of high school students from Graz were touring the memorial.

One difficulty of touring the camp with a larger group is people get very spread out (I let people move at their own pace).  Towards the end, I had to run through the camp.  Trying to find missing students to make sure we made it back to the bus in time.

The ride back was uneventful, and we were at our hotel before 5 pm.  I went up to the train station to print out our train tickets to Budapest and I asked about buying our sleeper train tickets from Budapest to Warsaw.  They could sell them to me, I was told, but it would be best to buy them in Budapest as here they will be much more expensive.  On the other hand, I thought, at least here they speak a language I understand.  I will hope for the best and try to buy them tomorrow night.

I went to a little cafe down the block from the hotel for dinner.  I started off with Spargelkremsuppe, which in Austria, comes with some Schlagobers on top.

The light white wine was a very delicious glass of Grüner Veltliner, which is dry, fruity, and has not a trace of oak in it.  Just the way I like it.

For the main course I went light:  potato and sheep's milk cheese dumplings, with homemade tomato sauce, basil, and a light salad.

Those tomatoes were really, really good.

I told the students that I would take any who wished for (non-alcoholic) drinks and dessert at Cafe Landtmann's on the Ringstraße (and Freud's favorite cafe).  With 9 students and 2 guests (more on that in a moment), there weren't enough chairs and tables outside, so we had to sit in the hot, unairconditioned building.

Many of the students got ice cream.  I ordered the baked cheese cake with raspberries on top, and a "Kaiserspritze" - a mix of elderberry juice and soda water (and ice):

As it happens, our trip to Vienna coincided with a trip being led by my colleague Dr. Don Schwartz through the Balkans.  He arrived in Vienna last night with an important supporter of my program, Mrs. Beverly August, so they met us at Cafe Landtmann.

Today was our mental health day (as was last night).  Several of the students left early to go on a day trip to Salzburg.  Despite the rain here, I see from their Facebook postings that they made it to the top of the Untersberg before it got socked in.  On my day off, I prefer to see as much art as I can, so I headed with two other students to the Upper Belvedere Palace.

They've got so much great art here, but there's a limit to what I can post (it takes about 2 minutes to upload one photo).  One fun thing we did was pose for photos with the Messerschmidt study heads (he was an 18th century artist who used these heads as character studies):

They had some very nice works by Egon Schiele (though we saw even more later at the Leopold Museum).  This family portrait was one of the last works he created.  He painted it while his wife Edith was pregnant and it depicts the boy they were expecting.  Unfortunately, she died in the flu pandemic of 1918 and he died three days later.

They don't let you take photos in the Belvedere, but I did manage to sneak a few.  I really was impressed this time by this huge painting by Max Oppenheimer, a Viennese-born Jewish artist who fled to Switzerland and then America to escape the Nazis.

This painting was hanging in a section devoted to exiled artists.  There was a small corridor leading down the last set of paintings on the ground level.  Usually, there aren't any guards there, so I took my time taking one photo of an interesting painting, only to be scolded by a guard who happened to poke his head in.

I think it's called "Death and the Woman" or "Death and the Wife," and I couldn't help but feel he was more afraid of the latter than the former.

When I posted this last night I didn't have time to write about the Klimt room.  If you've seen The Woman in Gold (not a perfect film, but Helen Mirren is fantastic), then you know the Belvedere Museum is the villain of the movie.  When I first visited it in 2006, they had a sign up explaining their side of the story.  Now, they've reorganized and put the portrait paintings they still have in a darkened room.  There's a guard at one end, permanently stationed in front of their most valuable remaining Klimt, "The Kiss," who is there to prevent anyone from taking a photo of it.  Personally, I and the other two students preferred other paintings in the room to it.

The psychology professor on the trip, liked "The Bride" more  [no photo].  While the photography student and I liked the "Portrait of Amalia Zuckerkandl" more [photo from the internet]

In the next room over, they had some more Klimts, but these were landscape paintings.  Fewer guards, but more glare from the glass, so I had to photograph them (secretly) from the side to avoid reflections and glare.

We headed out into the heat to walk through the lower gardens to the Naschmarkt.  The gardens are decorated with the somewhat odd looking sphinxes.

But the view from the bottom of the garden looking back up at the Upper Belvedere is pretty spectacular.

Just beyond the Lower Belvedere is the Soviet War Memorial, put up in August 1945.  Like Berlin, Vienna and Austria were divided up among the four occupying powers, and I guess this area was in the Soviet Zone (watch The Third Man for great images of immediate post-war Vienna).

It was a really hot day.  We were all drinking lots of water, but by this point, my bottle was dry.  We walked a few blocks and reached the Naschmarkt, Vienna's large open-air fruit and vegetable market, which also has many small cafes.  I was hoping to eat inside or at least in the shade, but the only free table at Nemi's, a small Israeli-owned cafe I'd eaten at before was partially in the sun.  We kept moving the table so I could stay more in the shade, but when a larger table behind us opened up, we leapt for it.

On Friday night, many of the students went out for Mexican food at a place a few blocks from the hotel.  Many of them complained afterwards that the food lacked spice and they wanted to know if the Austrians just didn't like spices.  They should have come with us to the Naschmarkt.  I ordered (in addition to two large bottles of water and a glass of soda water with elderberry juice), the Jerusalem plate:

The base is their creamy homemade hummus.  Then there are the roasted red bell peppers, along with some slices of jalapeno peppers (hot!) and then topped with curried chicken and onions, and finally drizzled with tehina.  It somes with two slices of pita.  All very tasty and with plenty of spice (though not, of course, a traditional Viennese dish).

In addition, the market nearby had lots of stands selling spices:

Of course, there were the more typical local fruits and vegetables, laid out, as one almost always sees in Europe, as works of art in and of themselves:

After buying a 1.5 litter bottle of water, we stopped by to see the Secession Building and then headed off to the U-Bahn station. The psychology professor wanted to visit Freud's apartment and office, while the photography student and I headed up MuseumQuartier to visit the Leopold Museum. By the time we got there, the sky had begun to cloud over and we both thought it might rain in the afternoon, but rain was only forecast for Monday.

Before we got to the Leopold Museum, we ran into two smaller galleries in the same space.  One had a special exhibit called "Notes on the Beginning of the Short 20th Century" and focused on contemporary artists meditations on the First World War.  One had created a performance art piece where the visitor became the performer.   It was based on a fund raising device used during the war.  Here's the explanation:

Both the student I took turns pounding in a nail.  The nails were very rusty and it was difficult to get them out of the can.  I videoed the student and will post it if I can.

The next gallery was the Galerie der Komischen Künste (the Gallery of Comic Art), and they had a special exhibit on cartoons about dogs.  They were very funny.  Here are a few:

A few don't need any translation.

This one says: "In life, as in death, they were the best of friends":

They had a few non-dog cartoons too:

It began to drizzle when we entered the Leopold Museum, but after a short while, we could see through the windows that it was raining.

The Leopold Museum has a nice collection of Klimts, but their main focus is Egon Schiele.  They had a special exhibition on his model and girlfriend Wally Neuzil.  They lived together for a few years and she stood by him when he was charged with indecency, but he left her to marry a middle class daughter.

There were no restriction on photography, so I could take many shots, like this amazing painting called "Death and Life,"

And this self-portrait from when he was only 20:

 The next two paintings, portraits of Egon Schiele and Wally Neuzil, were paired together:

On a small plaque on the side wall, there's an explanation about the provenance of the portrait of Wally:

Similar to Klimt's Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the Nazis stole this portrait of Wally from its Jewish owner.  It was only restored to the family, after a law suit, a few years ago.  The museum then bought it back from the family.

I was struck by the relative size of this explanation compared to the other texts on display in the room:

When we came out of the museum, the rain had stopped.  It was a little cooler, but much more humid.  After running some errands, I went to Stephansplatz and had some Wiener Schnitzel.  I was sitting outside in the cooler air, when it started to rain, so I moved inside the hot, humid restaurant.  Afterwards I went to Aida for one last Kaffee und Kuchen in Vienna.  A slice of Malakofftorte and a cup of Melange:

Their Malakofftorte is a little different from how I make mine.  The rum flavor is less pronounced and the syrup has espresso in it, so it tastes more like a very light tiramisu.  I prefer it to the recipe I've been using.  On the other hand, mine is iced with more whipped cream.

 The interior of Aida.

The rain had stopped when I left and it had finally cooled off more.

I went to sleep last night at 11:30, but was still up at 6 am with the sun.  It's hard to sleep late when it's warm and humid.

Time to go downstairs and have our last breakfast in Vienna.

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