at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Austria (Page 1 of 7)

Ganymed Nature: Vienna’s Art History Museum Coming to Life

What if you – or actually, modern artists- thought about nature as an actor? The nature found in classical works of art? To perform the thoughts, bring the art into a conversation?

You’d get Ganymed Nature, this year’s edition of the Ganymed art performances, bringing paintings to modern interpretive life.

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Alps Adventuring: The Traunstein Over Night

Little adventures can sometimes be the hardest to come by:

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Alpine Traditions: The Liebstatt Sunday in Gmunden

Feeding people during the Lent fasting season may be strange, showing love as well… but traditions are kept alive even as they change and adapt their original intentions.

One such tradition is the Liebstatt Sunday in Gmunden, a pretty little tradition now all around loving – and often, somewhat cheeky – gingerbread hearts.

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Out Winter Running: 24H Burgenland Extreme-ly Different

The 24 Hours Burgenland Extreme has, from its inception, been a fun extreme.
Walking, running, crawling – whatever you have to do – around the Neusiedler See lake in the middle of winter is definitely quite crazy.

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Time for Bad Aussee's Narcissus Festival

On a Blue Train, to the Narcissus Festival in Bad Aussee

No need to go to Peru or across Siberia to discover a landscape from the salon coaches of a Blue Train; no need to travel all the globe all the time to discover “exotic” events.

Austria, and especially the same area of the Salzkammergut where I have been spending quite some time and showing more and more trails, still holds quite a bit of fascination.

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#GetAtHome Work: Unwillingly Discovering the Fascination of Biology in Marchegg

Marchegg.

The area around it, the Marchfeld, may be important for Austria’s vegetable growing.
We may have been enjoying the asparagus from there, but I didn’t want to have to go there.

I’m still, aside from current freelance work, pursuing a teaching qualification, though.
This semester, want it or not, this study program finally had me taking the outdoors / field didactics course.

I was just in the middle of a nicely creative – and nicely paying – freelance project (analyzing whether a new technical bureau in a larger city could help a company entice more technical staff to join them, and if so, where the best location for that would be).
So, it was with hesitation that I went out there.

Almost Home, Way Out There

Out, that is, to a former train support staff’s house on the border between Austria and Slovakia.

Again, out with a train to Bratislava… this time, the other line from Vienna, not the one I (finally) took to get to the Bratislava Marathon. But still, a train line to a place within visible distance from the mountain that hides Bratislava from where I live, just to the north of it.

Where I (usually) live, Parndorf (Southwest of Bratislava) and where Marchegg is (Northwest of Bratislava). [Map: Google, via screenshot because I don’t want to save this as a “My Map”]

Not exactly much of a journey, and not a place likely to be of interest to too many travelers.

Especially when it comes to the biological station that this house was turned into.

Marchegg Biological Station

Marchegg Biological Station (Smartphone photo + Google Photos’ interpretation makes for quite the fittingly old-timey look ;) )

It used to be a place where steam trains changed their water, because only here in all of the east of Austria could they get calcium-poor water that wouldn’t settle in their tanks as badly.

Which is to say that the house is a little bit old.

With only wood stoves.
No electricity.
No running water.

Very basic.

Not exactly good while feeling that a well-paying freelance project, which requires online research, needed continuing…

Then again, in the middle of way too much time in front of a computer, increasingly suffering neck pain from it, maybe just the time-out needed?

Well, it was.

Thinking Makes It So…

The universe won’t care about anything at all that you wish, but there is one way it bends to your will:

When you decide to see something as a worthy adventure rather than a drag, there is a chance you can make it so.

I decided to see this course as a bit of an adventure, and so it became.

We all worked together pretty well, all the students who went there.
We got a bit more experience teaching; carried, cut and chopped wood; cooked for the group over small gas flames; spent time around an open fire; got to know more about this landscape.

It amazes me.

I don’t know why anyone would still be reading this, but imagine:

You have an area here that mainly looks just like fields.

It is mainly just fields; this area of the Marchfeld is a major vegetable, and especially asparagus, growing one.

… and Knowing Helps a Lot

The Marchfeld is also, at least in part (with dams regulating the river and such), a place where the March river flows and regularly floods quite an area.

Therefore, one finds an alluvial forest here, which are places that are quite interesting to biologists in their species richness and as ecosystems that are quite wild.

March Alluvial Forest in Early Sunlight

… and yes, very basic conditions still didn’t mean we could do without smartphones ;)

Here, something is added:
This is an area where Triops and other crustaceans which have existed since paleontological times still occur.

And to imagine that these fields, those little depressions, contain eggs of ancient species, just waiting for a flooding to let them hatch and reproduce yet again…

That is something.

If you take the time to think about it, at least.

If you don’t have to have the greatest and most extreme of excitement alone to stir your emotions.

Stirring Primal Emotions

If that kind of biological (species) survival isn’t your thing… We also got our thrills learning to handle the snakes that live there.

They aren’t poisonous and hardly bite, but snakes certainly do stir something primal in us human monkeys.

We quickly visited the area around Marchegg Castle, which is interesting to see, too.

Marchegg Castle

There, white storks still breed the way they originally did, with immense woodstick nests built into great dead trees.

Marchegg: White Stork Nesting in Trees

Marchegg: White Stork Nesting in Trees

(Mainly, the area where I live is known for the storks which build their nests on village chimneys, which is how most of them now breed.)

To keep the meadows there intact as the meadows that the storks need, and that used to be quite common, horses related to the wild Przewalski horses are kept there.

With them, a certain call of the wild is added. Especially as there were some battles over the proper hierarchy between the herd and an upstart stallion… and we had to pass right through that group of horses.

Wild Horses in Marchegg

Wild Horses in Marchegg

With them, also, the meadows have a certain look which is unlike that of meadows cultivated by machine…

Horse-Grazed Meadow in Marchegg

Horse-Grazed Meadow in Marchegg

And then, some of us students also spent way too much time socializing into the night, around the fire.

Which is primal, too, if ever there was something primal to us humans… as is the sight of the stars above:

Stars above the Campfire #adventuring

#adventuring, After All

In the end, though I could have done without it, it was a nice little adventuring, a good time-out from just working in front of a computer, indoors.

You don’t have to go all primitive for days, but…

  • How often do you still satisfy such primal emotions as sitting around a fire?
  • Do you know such an “eternal skill” as how to make a fire?
  • Are you aware of the hidden species around you and the life history they hold?
  • Do you get out at night, and to looking into the starry sky?
  • Is the night sky even visible where you are anymore?

Questions over questions, and themes on which much more could be written. Has been. And still needs to be.

Better yet, not to be written.

To be pursued.

Kaiser 'Reception' in Ebensee, Upper Austria (Kaiserzug 2016)

A Return to Austria. By the Kaiserzug

Traditions often seem quaint; the past, a bygone.

All that is all the worse when they are traditions where one grew up, but not traditions one grew up with. After all, often enough, we give up on traditions even – or all the more – when we grew up with them.

In a foreign country and culture, there is a chance that we will find them exotic enough to be interested in them, at least. (See “Chinese Family Affairs“)

When they are just a remnant of “our own” history, however, it takes something more to make us want to experience and feel that we can enjoy them.

Kaiserzug Steam Train, Salzkammergut

Last year, I’d already noticed that there would be a steam train into the Salzkammergut, playing on the motif of the Kaiser’s summer visits there, one day in summer.

Old-fashioned, but at least in an interestingly quaint way.

This year, it was running again.

It was also for a special occasion, as 2016 marks the centennial of Kaiser Franz Joseph’s death – and he was just that Kaiser who used to visit Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut for the summers, on just such a train.

Kaiser 'Reception' in Ebensee, Upper Austria (Kaiserzug 2016)

Kaiser ‘Reception’ in Ebensee, Upper Austria (Kaiserzug 2016)

It was also a bit of a gamble, as this year’s journey would take place just the day after our return flight from China, when chances were we might be afflicted by jet lag… but it also seemed just the right time for something like this, to mark our return to Austria with something playing on a return to Austria’s past.

Given we’d come back to Austria on an A380 (and in business class), it all even made for a great contrast of how things had changed in terms of technology, just (just, huh?) within the last 100 years…

Helicopter in front of Höllkogel

Taking Off to a Different View

An opportunity taken, the familiar landscape of the Höllengebirge seen from a different perspective…

 

Going to the Traunsee, up to the Feuerkogel – given how often I’ve been there, it seems like a walk around the neighborhood.

We don’t usually know our neighborhoods quite as well, aren’t as fully at home in them as we’d like to think, though – and when we get a chance to see them differently, their fascination immediately comes back to us, in ways we have forgotten about.

Most of the time, I’ll tell you to go for the psychology of different views:

Just go again, keep an open mind, learn more, and you’ll see and notice different things.

The weather changes, the seasons change, you change in your feelings and your knowledge, your views change.

This is how I do it myself. Most of the time.

Then, though, I got a note asking who’d like to help out handling the provisions for a mountain hut. A mountain hut I’ve gone past a few times on the way to the Höllkogel. A mountain hut that has to get those provisions by helicopter.

And the perspective on my common stomping ground changed, because I literally took off to a different view…

… and then, after a few hours of heavy lifting to get all the provisions in their proper places (and it was a lot of stuff, not the least of it the beer)…

… and finally, it turned out that the helicopter was stationed at Salzburg airport, meaning that there was a chance to fly along the Höllengebirge mountains and the area northwest of it…

… and over Salzburg itself.

Feste Hohensalzburg by Air

I had seen (and visited) Hohensalzburg castle a few times before, but never seen it like this, and I had stayed close by the airport before, but also never approached it and landed there.

After delays we’d had due to bad weather, this little adventuring came close on the heels of the Hochkönigman Marathon Trail race. That made it all the more tiring, but it was another one of those things where seeing a chance and taking it was well worth it.

Special thanks, therefore, to Daniel from the Rieder Hütte and to the crew of HTM Helicopter Travel Munich

htm helicopters

… and the question to you, my dear readers:

Do you let opportunities slip by, or will you take them as they come?

Stormy Sunset

Adventuring around Arche Noah, Schiltern

May 1 has been a while ago, but with an annual activity in a not-prominent but interesting place, I’m still thinking of the little at-home-making adventuring I did around that time.

Not likely a place/organization that many non-Austrians have heard of, Arche Noah (which translates as Noah’s Ark) in Schiltern, Lower Austria, is basically our version of a Native Seeds/Search.

In a former palatial garden, part of the Schloss Schiltern castle grounds, the organization originally founded in 1989 by Nancy Arrowsmith works to preserve and promote heirloom plant varieties; my contact with them goes back almost two decades thanks to my interest in ethnobotany, agri-cultural diversity, and especially chile peppers. (Visit www.chilicult.com to learn more about that.)

Apple Blossom with Bee at Arche Noah

It is not only this organization and their work – and the whole theme of (food) plant diversity that surrounds us, is typical for different places, yet has been so normal that its disappearance and increasing uniformity often goes unnoticed – that is interesting for our purposes here, for the work of making oneself at home.

Arche Noah provides many points of insight into food and nutrition and the realities of eating and flavor, but the area where they are located is also interesting.

In fact, I find it all the more interesting for its relative seclusion and for how far out of the way it is.

For me personally, actually like for many more-or-less locals, further interest is added through the regularity of my visits.

Every May 1, Arche Noah does a plant sale, and whenever I am in-country, I go there to help out with chile pepper sales and advice. So, there’s always this one event to mark early spring, to return to familiar sights and see them in a different light, just as conditions happen to be different.

Last year, for example, May 1 was already pretty warm, while this year had us suffer frost.

Arche Noah: Plants and Bivy

I was outside anyways, starting the bivy season sleeping beside the chile peppers ;)

On the way, there is a lot to see and think about, as long as you are a person with their mind open for questions and their eyes open for new impressions and insights:

On the way, the first stop is Langenlois, a small town known for the wine being produced there.

It’s an interesting place, pretty, with many old farmer and burgher (and mainly, it seems, vintner) houses, and a history reaching back to the Middle Ages – which is all the more reason to wonder about the economics of such places, then and now.

Schiltern: Business Closed

… especially when you see how many places of business (in Schiltern, in this case) are closed.

From there, whether you drive or (preferably, I find, but then I’m not going there to pick up plants) walk along the Loisbach creek and the hiking/mountain biking trails beside it.

Much deeper into the valley, almost at the turn over the hill to Schiltern (and onto Austrian long-distance hiking trail 06, the Mariazeller Weg), you move past the path up to the Kronsegg Castle Ruins.

This place.

Kronsegg Buildings Old and New

It’s quite well preserved, down to traces of paintings in its chapel; both of its towers can now be climbed and provide a great view of the castle and its surroundings and out further.

And, it’s the perfect place for yet deeper puzzlement over how we’re supposedly so much more capable and powerful now, thanks to high-tech… Just imagine trying to build a place like that today.

You’d need so much money, much of the material might well have to come by helicopter, even just the food for the workers would have to come from far-away.
Meanwhile, when the castle was built in the 12th/13th century, you can be sure the workers weren’t fed with pasta from Italy, let alone apples from Argentina.
Yet, it worked.

In Schiltern itself, there is another place (besides the castle/palace) that fascinates me in the way it points to such connections: Right next to Schiltern’s beautiful little chapel is a house which, obviously given the signs, used to be a little village spice grocer’s.

Schiltern: Spezerei Manufaktur

Nowadays, you go to the supermarket and you find lots of relatively cheap (and sometimes, all too cheap) spices from around the world.

So many, in fact, that we’ve lost all sense of their value.

It’s not that long ago, however, that most spices were still among the “colonial goods” that were utterly special, not an everyday addition to foods, shaken over them however an individual pleases.

More on that, though, over at www.chilicult.com

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