Thursday, November 11, 2010

Euro Part IV: Wien

At the crack of dawn, on the last day of August, I arrived at the International Bus Terminal in Vienna and immediately proceeded to help a Nigerian musician (off the bus) carry his hefty baggage across the street, up the staircase, and unto the U-Bahn. In exchange, though not keeping count, he orientated me on how to use the system and which line I needed. Less than an hour later I was walking up Rembrandtstrasse, on the northwest edge of town, ringing a young Austrian couple's doorbell I'd met briefly on their first visit to NY a couple years ago. I was amazed at how cold it already was. In NY it doesn't get that cool until the later parts of October.

Amadeo and Ruth had been referred to my front-seat, on-duty taxi tours by Melanie, an old friend of mine who they'd met in Berlin. They each enjoyed a cab ride and I promised to visit when I came to Europe. Life was now much different for them with the advent of a child, but they were still very much holding on to their sociopolitical ideals and to showing me around on bikes.

I only spent two days and two nights in the Austrian capital, and I didn't venture into the rest of the country, which is quite different, with its dramatic Alpine topography. I wasn't expecting too much from Vienna, and I didn't find much either. As everyone says, it's got a lot of historical architecture and an air of sophistication, but perhaps it was the incessant rain that put a dent on my outlook. The only thing I felt awed by were the miles and miles of high quality graffiti murals along the banks of the river.

One pit stop on our bicycle tour was an abandoned horse racing track, the seating all tossed around into heaps of decay. We also stopped at a monument erected by the Soviet Union, commemorating its liberation of the city in 1945.

On my final night in town my friends invited me to an interesting little activist center that doubles as a pay-what-you-wish gourmet restaurant named after the famed Soviet cosmonaut who in 1961 became the first earthling in space. There is a sign by the entrance offering shelter from racist assaults in German, English, Turkish, and French. Another sign in a bathroom stall reads something like "no shops with the Iranian regime. now under review."

After a delicious meal we walked back home, me in charge of pushing the baby stroller in as erratic, taxicab-like ways as possible, honking incessantly at his half-stiff parents and at all the imaginary vehicles in my path. I got a few good laughs out of the kid. At home we laid him to sleep and made ourselves cozy on the couch to watch 'Mary and Max,' off the living room wall, using Ruth's awesome projector. I highly recommend this film animation about two complete strangers on opposite sides of the world who become lifelong pen pals. It was way late after the screening, yet Amadeo convinced me to go explore the Augarten across the street, a 52 hectare Baroque garden from the 18th century, walled and gated at night (we had to jump.) It was real spooky to stroll through, especially in the nearly pitch darkness, with ominous war towers looming over us, whose Wikipedic description says it all:

Toward the end of WWII war strategists selected the strategically-placed Augarten as a site for the construction of several massive flak towers to protect the city center from Allied air raids. In the summer of 1944 the construction of one battle tower with a height of 55 meters (roughly 180 feet) and a leader tower with a height of 51 meters (roughly 167 feet) was begun, their bizarre appearance in the middle of the park having since become an integrate part of the Augarten. The construction associated with the building of the towers (16 lines of rail track, large barracks for construction workers, etc.) took a serious toll on the landscaping of the park. Also during the war hundreds of cubic meters of rubble were dumped on the site while armored vehicles criss-crossed the garden and supposed mass graves were dug in which hundreds of war victims were buried. However, except for the virtually indestructible flak towers and the bunker (in which a restaurant is housed) nothing from this period remains.


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