July 13th, 2009

literature, alte bucher

it means nothing to me....

I am back from Vienna, where it was sunny, and am in Dublin, where it is not. Bah. But I had an absolutely fabulous week. It was my very first time in Austria, and to my delight I was greeted with "Grüß Gott!" wherever I went. When I started German in secondary school, I was very disappointed to discover that the famed "pretty Tirolean greeting" beloved of the Chalet School was not actually standard German usage. But it definitely is used in Austria. Sadly, the trip did not involve falling into ravines or speaking a different language every day, as was the norm for the Chaletians. It did, however, involve....

1. Lots of walking about. I love just wandering around new cities, and Vienna is a particularly nice city to wander around in. We rented an apartment in Neubau, just around the corner from the amazing new Museums Quartier complex, which was so central we didn't have to use public transport all week - we just walked everywhere. Which is probably a good thing, as I did eat a lot of Viennes cuisine, which was surprisingly delicious (see below). The city is particularly nice mixture of pompous baroque madness, gorgeous Jugendstil elegance, post-war gloss (the most amazing '50s shopfronts abound, some beautifully preserved in stores that are still obviously extremely fancy, some kind of run-down) and slightly shabby Mitteleuropean charm. And it feels, unlike Florence, like a very-lived in city - loads of ordinary shopping streets as well as the more showy tourist-friendly stuff. I loved it.

2. Speaking auf Deutsch. As you may know, although I did German at university I never spent enough time in the country to actually speak the language with confidence. I spent 2 months in Berlin in 1995, which was great but I didn't speak much Deutsch because (a) I didn't get a job and (b) every time I spoke to someone and they realised I was an English speaker, they would just reply in English. I really should have spent a whole year in Deutschland before my fourth and final year of college, but I refused because I didn't want to go away on my own. Yes, I was a stupid baby. So I am in the strange situation of being able to understand German speakers and read German books and magazines with ease but being convinced I sound practically half-witted whenever I open my mouth. However, I always discover that my spoken German is not half as bad as I fear it is whenever I get the opportunity to speak it with someone who doesn't insist on answering in English. Luckily, the Viennese seem to realise that if you can clearly understand what they initially say to you and can reply in basically correct German, they don't have to switch to English.

3. Seeing amazing art. I loved Klimt as a teenager and unlike some of my other teen 19th Century Art faves (the Impressionists, the Pre-Raphaelites), I still love him now. I love the flat decorative, graphic use of colour, but more than all the gorgeous gaudiness, there's something so incredibly beautiful and satisfying and pure about the lines of his figures. Seeing The Kiss is a bit strange, though, as it's so ridiculously familiar it kind of still feels like a poster. The others, in both the Schloss Belvedere, the Leopold Museum (filled with Klimt and the awesome Schiele - my fave of all the museums we visited) and the Secession building, were fantastic and reminded me how wonderful it is to experience art you really love rather than just feel apathetic about, like the 10 zillion boring wannabe-Rubens paintings in the Nationalgalerie.

4. Buying books. I really like reading in German and have subscriptions to a few Deutschy magazines, which is why I knew in advance about a few books I wanted to buy over there; yes, there's Amazon.de, but this way I could flick through the books to see if they were as interesting as the magazine reviews and features suggested, which turned out to be a good idea. A few months ago I had read a lot about TV presenter Sarah Kuttner and her blackly comic debut novel Mängelexemplar, about a young woman's experiences with depression. Kuttner seemed likeable and the book seemed quite intriguing.

Then, however, I saw the print ads, which read "Eine Depression ist eine Fucking Event!" This is annoying both for the celebrated Germanic Pointless Use of English Words and for the generally obnoxious, childishly provocative tone. And it put me off a bit. But when I saw it in a bookshop I picked it up anyway, and realised that the "fucking event" line, the opening words of the novel, is spoken by the heroine's new psychiatrist and the heroine herself reacts with horrified mockery. So I bought the book, and I really, really like it - it's very convincing and she writes about depression with self-awareness and humour. If you can read Deutsch, I recommend it, and if not, I hope it gets translated (and translated well). I just hope they market it better here than they've done over there (although it's a bestseller, so apparently the "fucking event" thing can't have put too many people off).

5. Eating. Oh my God, Viennese food is delicious. I'm not usually into either Germanic or Eastern European food but somehow the fusion of Viennese cuisine works incredibly well. Who knew Schnitzel was so incredibly delicious? It looks disgusting! Also, I had the best potato salad I have ever tasted - I don't know exactly what was in it apart from 'tato and red onions but it was incredibly delish. As was the amazing spicy lamb goulash I gorged in one of the many restaurants at the awesome MuseumsQuartier, the former Habsburg-Stables-turned-museum-complex which was just a few minutes walk from our apartment. And then there were daily fresh Brotchen from the local baker. In fact, I ate so much vaguely unhealthy food that if I hadn't spent most of the days walking around I would probably now be twice my usual size.

6. Watching German telly. I just did this in the mornings, really, but I did manage to see an astounding amount of rubbish - including my beloved soaps Sturm der Liebe and Marienhof, which I usually just watch online. I did grow quite fond of German MTV - unlike MTV UK and Ireland, it still shows videos rather than stupid reality shows, so it felt kind of like watching MTV Europe in the old days when they had presenters and indeed music from all over Europe.

So yes, it was a great week. And I wish we'd booked for longer, especially as the weather, which was actually quite nice here before we went away, seems to reverted to a state of icy monsoon. Bah. I'll just have to figure out how to make schnitzel to cheer myself up...