Vienna Easter Markets

I fell in love with Vienna for the first time a few years ago, after seeing pictures of the city’s famed Christmas markets on some of my favorite photographers’ travel blog. I was a little bit sad when my plans to arrive landed  me here just a few weeks after the Christmas markets were over. About a month ago I heard someone mention Easter markets, and I got weirdly excited about them — the next best thing!

Vienna gets really into Easter. Like, REALLY into it. They decorate trees with elaborately painted Easter eggs and everyone puts them in their windows. I had never heard of an Easter tree until I came here. They’re actually really beautiful! Walking around the Innere Stadt this time of year, you’ll find that most shops have an Easter tree displayed.

There are 3 Easter markets in Vienna, and I visited each of them in the last 2 weeks. The traditional Ostermarkt Freyung was very lively, with music playing, tons of food stalls, and Europe’s largest collection of Easter eggs (40,000!). There was a large beautifully painted egg that spun in circles, and all the children were having fun playing with it. Just a little down the street from Freyung was Ostermarkt Am Hof, that focused more on art and handmade crafts. The fact that the yellow Schönbrunn Palace kind of looks like an Easter egg made it an awesome backdrop for the last Easter market, which had a little bit of everything. Waffles, kaiserschmarrn with plum compote, candied pecans, pretzels, sausages, pastas — you could get pretty much anything you wanted at any of the markets (I got a Nutella waffle one day & kaiserschmarrn the next – mmm). All of the markets were such a blast.

Thank you, Vienna, for always having another surprise up your sleeve.

 

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Recently.

Vienna has been really beautiful the past few weeks. The cold weather is slowly departing, and with each new day I’m seeing more & more trees and flowers being reborn. The city, too, is coming to life, with an influx of outdoor coffee drinking and music in the streets. The population here seems to have quadrupled in size since the beginning of March. Everyone is coming out of hibernation & enjoying the days of sunshine, when we have them. People told me that Vienna has a totally different feel in June than it does in January, and I’m finding that to be quite true.

My original plans had me leaving this glorious city in two days. In hindsight, I am not sure how I ever thought that would be enough time. I’m finding that the longer I live in Europe, the more I want to stay forever. Though I’m still struggling with the language (seriously, Deutsch, help me with the 26 letter words), Vienna feels like home. I know how to get to most places now without using a map, am finding little dive restaurants where I’m quickly becoming a regular, and know how to greet people, sing a few church songs, & order coffee in German – so, the important stuff.

More than all of that, I feel about Vienna the way one feels about finding the right fit of anything after a long & hard search. Through a series of miracles (& an exciting passport-stamping trip to Zagreb, Croatia), I’ve extended my time here until the end of May.  I don’t feel like I’ll be here forever, though the longer I stay the harder it is for me to imagine tearing my heart away from this city & its people. No, it feels more like being in your favorite season, where all of your days are full of joy & fulfillment, where you know you’re in the right spot at the right time and that when the next season comes, you’ll be a better person for it. Living abroad has been the best experience of my life. No matter the struggles of last season or the next, I know that here, something wonderful is happening. And for that I am eternally grateful.

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The photos below are from the past month or so in Vienna. The gravestones posted were taken at the Vienna Central Cemetery, where some of the greatest composers of all time were buried. The cemetery also has a section dedicated to victims of the Nazi regime. The amusement park is the Prater, the oldest amusement park in the world, where we rode the Praterturm, swings that flew 380 feet above the city! Also shown are photos of St. Stephen’s & the Sissi Statue with the Rathaus in the background, our group of teachers at the German Speaking Nations Bible School in front of Schönbrunn Palace, and our walk around the Donau (Danube) where we put our feet in the freezing cold water. It’s been a good month.

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Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Mauthausen concentration camps is one of the few major concentration camps still intact and open for the public to walk through (Dachau in Germany & Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland are the others). It is situated on top of a hill in the picturesque town of Mauthausen in Upper Austria, just outside of Linz. The drive there brings with it scenes of beautiful mountain ranges and perfect little villages. It’s not until you walk through the big stone gates of the camp that you begin to see hints of the atrocities that took place there.

Mauthausen began at the time of the Anschluss, when Germany invaded Austria in 1938, and ran until it was liberated by the United States 11th Armored Division in May of 1945. It quickly became one of the first large complexes of its kind, and was the last camp to be liberated. The main camp of Mauthausen consisted of 32 barracks surrounded by electrified barbed wire, high stone walls, and watch towers. It was classified as a so called ‘category three camp,’ the fiercest category, meaning for the prisoners ”Rûckkehr unerwünscht” (return not desired) and “Vernichtung durch arbeit” (extermination by work). Most of those imprisoned there were Jews, Christian preachers, political prisoners and educated members of the upper class. The death toll is estimated to be somewhere around 320,000, most of which came from exhausting labor.

Visiting a concentration camp is something I have always wanted to do, though I knew it would be a difficult and sobering experience. We walked through rooms where people lived and those where they died, seeing the gas chamber and crematorium, bunks that hundreds were crammed into. Just outside of the walls, there are memorials from every country that lost lives at Mauthausen. Germany and Austria have since erected their own memorials to lives lost. From that hill, you can look out and see the beautiful village below – houses where people lived while horrors happened in their backyard.

Living in an area that was so affected by war only 70 years ago has been a unique experience. Today, remembrance of the Holocaust is taken very seriously here in Austria. A few years ago, the government began reparations for the Jews that were affected by the seizure of land and property. It is a requirement for all students in Austrian schools to visit a concentration camp before they graduate. Any Nazi propaganda or graffiti is highly illegal.

As I wander around this beautiful country, it’s difficult to imagine that such atrocities took place here — and in my grandparents’ lifetime. It’s hard to believe that the people of Mauthausen went about their lives as the lives of others were taken just uphill. It presents the age-old question: what would you do? When faced with the moral dilemma to step in and say something at the risk of your own life, or sit idly by, trying your best to preserve your own interests while ignoring what’s happening on the hill. The last photo on this post is a tombstone in the Vienna Central Cemetery, in a section dedicated to victims of the Nazi Regime. Buried here is a young member of the rebellion, opposing the takeover of Austria by Nazi Germany. The inscription reads: ‘I died, that Austria might live.’

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist. / Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist. / Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me. 

Martin Nimoeller 

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Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg may be the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen. Walking through the streets makes you feel like you’ve stepped into another time. It’s peaceful there, and quiet. Every corner you turn brings with it another picturesque view of stone buildings amidst green valleys, snow-capped mountains peeking behind it all. It’s Mozart’s birthplace, and the music culture still thrives today. And speaking of music, it’s the setting to one of the most famous movies of all time: The Sound of Music.

The other American girl with me in Austria, Lauren, took the short trip to Salzburg with me — about a 2 hour 45 minute train ride from Vienna. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. We wandered around Old Town after we arrived, gawking at all of the beautiful sights, and ate an amazing meal at a cafe overlooking the water.

The next day, we went on The Sound of Music tour, which took us through some of the places where the movie was shot and told us a little bit of history about the movie & about the city itself. We saw Mirabell Gardens, the beautifully landscaped palace grounds where part of the ‘Do-Re-Me’ song was filmed, and the gazebo where the ’16 going on 17′ song was filmed. We went to the house used as the Von Trapps’ home in the movie, which was seriously beautiful. We passed by Hellbrunn Palace and saw the Unteres mountains, where the opening scene of the movie was filmed along with the closing scene, where the family is escaping to Switzerland. Turns out in real life, the Unteres actually leads to Germany, not Switzerland. Looks like they were going the wrong way. Oops!

I hate to burst the bubble of any die-hard Sound of Music fans who may be reading this, but it turns out the movie took quite a bit of liberty with the Von Trapps’ story. So much so, that Maria Von Trapp threatened to sue the production company until they finally paid her off. Maria was in a convent, they had a family band, and their winning the Salzburg Music Festival did contribute to their ease of escaping Austria in the early stages of WWII, but that’s about as far as the truth goes. The family actually left Austria on a train, saying goodbye to family & friends, and eventually moved to America. But carrying their instruments over a mountain makes for a better movie, no?

My favorite part of the Salzburg trip and the reason I was so happy to have taken the tour was when we ventured outside of the city limits to the Salzburg Lake District. Our purpose was to see the church that Maria & Captain Von Trapp were married in, but we stopped in the region where some of the panoramic shots of Austria were done in the opening scenes of the movie. Wow. The water was so clear, almost turquoise in color with shades of deep blue and green. Jaw-dropping mountain ranges surrounded the lakes, with the greenest grass leading all the way up until the green turned to a snowy white. We found a pier and sat for awhile, taking it all in. I could have stayed there forever.

This trip made me realize, once again, just how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live in this beautiful country. Every day I am surrounded by history, by loveliness both in this land and in the people within it. This has been my life for nearly two months now, a life I never would have dreamed up. I pray I never stop noticing.

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