Monday, 1 September 2008

20 Years On - Part 11 of Account of Travelling by Train Around West Germany and Austria

The thing that stunned me re-reading this entry is my admission of guilt as I have never fare-dodged at any other occasion in my life and knowing me in the late 1980s and how longer the guilt for wrongdoing lasted, I must have blanked this out. I could only imagine that it stemmed from not wanting to spend on a travel pass to go a couple of stops. There were no barriers to getting on the underground system though I heard subsequently that they introduced the so-called 'Black sheriffs' to catch fare dodgers so I was lucky to get away with it.

My memories of Vienna are of an even greater amount of simply walking around the streets and because of the cost of the place eating from sausage vans frequented by Hungarians. If I had realised it (and given that I had been studying East European history, I should have done) I was witnessing a symptom of the break down of the Eastern Bloc. Of the Eastern Bloc states, Hungary opened its borders earliest and allowed its citizens, who were comparatively wealthy compared to their neighbours in the bloc to travel into Austria to buy consumer goods, particularly electrical goods. I witnessed scores of Hungarians hurrying to their coaches with box after box of electrical items.
Austria was not in the European Community (as the EU was called at the time) hence the customs check when I left West Germany. I remember the train coming to a halt and having to get off and show my passport and then get on another train the other side of the barrier, far more stringent checks than I had faced crossing the Belgian-West German border.

The youth hostel I went to was not listed in the official guide but I had read about it in a guide book I had borrowed from a Canadian woman on the train. Two young women had sat down opposite me, the first, a German asked me in German to help put her rucksack up on the luggage rack. Then the Canadian came along and asked me the same in English and then we engaged in conversation, which visibly startled the German woman who seemed to have mistaken me for a German or an Austrian. At that time it seemed unusual, but since I have often been mistaken for something other than British, despite my poor ability with languages. Of course I always hoping for a kind of romantic encounter of the kind later shown in 'Before Sunrise' (1995) but of course was so inept at relations with the opposite sex that I would have not known how to handle it even if Julie Delpy in person had thrown herself at me. At the youth hostel I managed to get through a conversation in German with the woman at the reception and it was only when I spoke to myself in English when I forgot a word that she realised I was not German, probably because she was herself American. We switched to English which we both knew much better.

Running into eight people from my university course just about to leave where they had been sitting outside the gallery was typical of the unlikely things that used to go on in my life at the time. In Munich they had been compelled to sleep in a huge public tent on the edge of the city, constantly noisy with people coming and going. After Vienna and with no concern about damaging any potential career in the civil service they went on to Hungary and then Romania whilst I turned back to West Germany.

I must say that the crown jewels on show in Vienna far exceed the British ones and are a real 'must see' if you are in the city. I was annoyed that in trying to see the River Danube I missed the chance to see 'The Third Man' (1948) actually in Vienna where it is set as I only came across it as I was walking back having wandered far across the city. The ferris wheel is the one which features in that movie.

„“ is how the Germans put words in inverted commas and as you can see from these accounts, I was keen to affect as many German characteristics as possible in a way that now seems incredibly pathetic.

The building with the three round windows and a style which reminded me of Venice was the basis of the Merchants' Guild building in my novel 'The Karskoe Assassin' which I was just completing at this time. If you can tell the name of the building pictured or of the Italianate church close to it, I would be grateful .

Thursday 1st September 1988
Today I woke early and fare-dodged on the underground to the station. I then caught an almost empty (East German) train to Salzburg where I went straight through customs and then caught a train to Wien where I arrived at 14.00 and quickly got to the youth hostel by following two Finns. It is a small one, only 77 beds. Aachen had 170 beds, München, 510, and it is very friendly; cleaner and nicer than München, no curfew, 10.00 check out. There are four other hostels in town. Oh yes, I got my Austrian Schillings but I am having trouble calculating what they are worth. Nice views from the train.

I walked back into town and to the historical art museum outside which I met Richard from my History of Eastern Europe group and others from my university. The museum had excellent Egyptian and Classical items and I saw Rembrandts and Breugels. Then I walked onto the Imperial Palace - the Burghof and looked at the crown jewels and costumes. I then walked to the Prater Park, looked at the Ferris Wheel and walked along the very long Hauptallee. Then I walked back to the hostel and watched some chess. Everything here is so expensive - £0.75 for a can of Coca Cola, the museums are £2 per time. Whistle-stop tour tomorrow. There was "The Third Man" („Der Dritte Mann”) on at a cinema but I was too late and today is the last day.

Weather: Sunny and hot.

View of Austrian Countryside from Train Travelling Salzburg-Vienna, September 1988

Roof of St. Stefan's Cathedral in Vienna, September 1988

Entrance of Art Gallery in Vienna, September 1988

Entrance to the Residenz in Vienna, September 1988

Italianate Church Close to Karlsplatz in Vienna, September 1988

Entrance to Karlsplatz Underground Station in Vienna, September 1988

Building Close to Karlsplatz in Vienna, September 1988

Prater Ferris Wheel in Vienna, September 1988

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