Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Things You Can See in Vienna

I was just in Vienna on family-related matters. But I tried to keep my eyes and ears open. Here a some fragments I collected.

Walking through the halls of the University of Vienna I noticed an English-language sign about an international conference titled something like "Exploring alternatives to warfare". Academia in the service of a Weltanschauung, if you ask me, but maybe I'm too sensitive. After all, what could be bad about averting wars?

The entire city was preparing excitedly for Life Ball 2010, an extravaganza for the benefit of AIDS research and the promotion of nice feelings. Come Saturday night part of the show was disrupted by a thunder storm (the police said they were afraid of lightning), but before the disruption the audience was introduced to some groups of children musicians brought from all over the world, to demonstrate that we're all the same and shouldn't squabble. There were girls from the Ukraine dressed as Ukrainian girls do, some South African kids with war paint as is customary in South Africa, and a few other stereotypes. The penny fell when one of the hosts identified a Sari-clad girl with "you must be from India!" Not, mind you, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka: the organizers had cleared safely away from bringing children from complicated places. It might have sullied their message.

These things aren't evil, of course - but they are silly.

When I first lived in Vienna, in 1981, I was struck by the omnipresence of Franz Josef, the Kaiser who had been dead 65 years at the time. Festooned with his outlandish sideburns, his picture was everywhere: on posters, postcards, and of course he was the driving force of the tourist shops (tourism is a very big thing in Vienna). This time it eventually occurred to me I wasn't seeing him much. I can only assume that capitalism is functioning well, and the purveyors of endless trinkets have noticed that Korean and Japanese tourists - or even American ones, for that matter- have never heard of the Kaiser and care even less. I even heard a young local tour guide spend 45 minutes talking about the Opera House; while she repeatedly mentioned the generic "emperor", the words Franz Josef never passed her lips.

Meanwhile, however, some things don't change. On the inner door of a synagogue there's a list of Does-and-Don't-Does: Don't loiter in front of the synagogue. Stay away from anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish demonstrations. If you're confronted or abused by anti-Israeli or Anti-Jewish demonstrators don't respond to them, move away as quickly as possible, and if you must, call attention to your predicament for example by screaming.

Finally, a story related to me by some friends. A business woman was on the phone with a potential supplier whom she had never met. They chatted for some 15-20 minutes, at which point my friend made a comment which indicated she might be Jewish. There was a silence on the line, then her interlocutor said : "Yes, I knew I recognized your upper-class (ober beurgerlich) Jewish High-German". The woman was convinced this was related to anti-semitism; her husband poo-poohed. Yet later in the discussion he was amazed, totally incredulous, by my assertion that American Jews can choose to be American, or Jewish, or both, or neither. "Being a Jew isn't something one can choose! If you are, it's impossible not to be, and even if you wished it the rest of society would never allow it!"


RK said...

Almost no one wears saris anymore in Pakistan, dude.

Sérgio said...

They should have brought those acid-disfigured women from India, Pakistan etc to that circus. In fact, though I've never visited Vienna, for all I hear it is still a pathetic circus.

No wonder Robert Musil dubbed the Austro-Hungary empire "Kakania" or KK (kaiser-königlich, ie, imperial-royal), ka-ka. Could be translated as "Shitia" or "Crapland" or "Poopdom" or...you get the idea.

NormanF said...

The Austrian Jews are nearly gone but some things don't change in Vienna. Keep that in mind when you look at the beautiful city on the Danube.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Vienna and felt alienated from the time I started to be aware of my jewish identity. But when I came to Israel about two years ago, I started to see new levels of Austrian antisemitism, of which I have not dreamed of back in Vienna. When I went to visit my family over Pessach (now wearing a Kipa and Zizit) I felt how almost everyone was avoiding any possible contact with me. Everyone was uncomfortable from the second they saw a Jew walking through Vienna. In shops or at the bank the people who had to talk to me ether tried to be extremely friendly or they were even colder than usually. Walking in public became stressful after a wile, I constantly had the feeling of "being on the watch".
Despite these personal reasons not to live in Vienna there are a couple of political ones of cores. I just came across an article about the Schiele painting "Bildnis Wally" that was confiscated in 1998 after an exhibition in New York, because Henry Bondi and Rita Reif claimed to be the airs of the original owners of the painting. After the confiscation of this painting a public discussion about arianized works of art started for the first time (!!!) after the Shoah. Just some days before the first court hearing the Austrian representatives agreed to paying 19 Million Dollars for the painting to avoid the hearing. But what is even more shocking than the story, is how the Austrian media writes about it, and then even more shocking the comments on those articles. "Die Presse" one of Austrians broadsheets, writes in this article http://diepresse.com/home/kultur/kunst/582576/index.do?_vl_backlink=/home/index.do
next to some slightly hidden sarcastic comments about the origin of the painting, that the former Austrian "owner" of the painting "fought like a lion to bring back the painting of Schiele."
The comments following this article are openly antisemitic, like this one,
"they clearly ripped us off, but thats how we know them."
or: "... it is always a pleasure to make business with those salesmen, we clearly could learn something from them. It would by the way be politically correct to change the museums into self-service stores for everyone who would like to have a painting, but maybe this is only possible for a certain clientele."
So enough for now.
thank God I am in Israel!

AKUS said...

Actually, what struck me in the center of Vienna during our visit two or three years ago was the incredible number of what our Viennese friend called "Turks" (I have no idea whether they all are "Turks"), the women dressed head to toe in burkas and in one or two cases (was it the same woman twice or two different women) actually wearing a sort of metal face mask to even further cover her face. Our friend's comments about the Turks reminded me uncomfortably of the sort of anti-Semitic comments one associates with Austria.

Instead of Franz Joseph, the city seems ot have gone Klimt mad - Klimt is everywhere, though with no connections to his Jewish connections (Adele Bloch-Bauer),