July 15, 2016

HOW A COUNTRY CAN RENEW ITSELF

††††††††† A few weeks before leaving for Europe we had dinner at a local Chinese restaurant and the fortune cookie, prepared by the Peking Noodle Co., promised: Amuch needed vacation will bring a great deal of enjoyment. The Chinese were right and the trip to Bavaria and Austria, which had a professional as a well as personal component, was indeed most pleasant.

††††††††† Delta does not have a direct flight from Salt Lake City to Munich, which was the first destination. To reach the continent one has to go either via Amsterdam or Paris. I chose Paris and happened to come face to face with the fact that goodness exists in people everywhere. The flight itself was uneventful, but in order to make the connection to Munich one has to go once more through security which necessitates the placing of oneís belongings, watch, wallet, glasses etc., in a basket. Since I am no longer capable of walking the distances of modern airports Iím condemned to a wheelchair which has, however, the advantage that I donít have to be scanned any more. A swipe of the hands with some specially prepared tissue is sufficient to convince the security personnel that I havenít been engaged in making bombs. While the wheelchair attendant and I were sitting in a staging area waiting for a bus to take us to the gate up comes running one of the security officers waving my wallet in his hand. It had been left in the basket when I was handed back my belongings and I hadnít missed it. It was a gift from heaven.

††††††††† The short hop to Munich was unremarkable and as promised my daughter, Krista, met me at arrival. She is a confirmed world traveler, had left the US about 10 days earlier, spending the time in Russia, Israel, Lebanon and Jordan. She had already arranged the rental of a brand new Ford at the airport which served us very well without a single mishap and since it ran on Diesel it got better mileage. We then set out in a steady drizzle on the Autobahn for Graefelfing. The latter is a little town west of Munich and not a tourist attraction but it served a professional need. The scientific program Iím using for analyzing the brainís electro-magnetic activity is produced there and I spent the next day with the programmers discussing potential improvements.

††††††††† The next overnight stop was Innsbruck where I had an appointment with colleagues at the University Hospital. The city can be reached within a couple of hours on the Autobahn but we were in no hurry and planned to spend the day touring the countryside on the way. Of course, it drizzled and it was somewhat cool but Krista, who is an avid mountain hiker, wanted to show me the Zugspitze near Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Obviously, since I can hardly walk any distance on the flat Iím not able to walk up a mountain, but itís not necessary in the Alps. Cable cars and Gondolas take even the most decrepit senior citizen all the way up to the top of the mountains where there is always a restaurant with good local food. But when we got there the lady at the ticket counter took one look at me and advised against the trip. I had only brought summer clothes (it was June after all) and she told us that up on top the temperature was at the freezing point and in view of the clouds no visibility. We abstained and went on south towards Austria.

Lunch was at a little restaurant in Mittenwald, which prides itself as housing Germanyís highest elevation brewery and invites one to spend some time there. We went on, however, and passed into Austria. All of us have heard about the phenomenal congestion at the border because of the refugee problem, but there were none in sight. We drove across as if we were going from Utah to Idaho and the only way of knowing that we were now in a different country was a sign on the road that had the EU symbol and the flags were no longer the German black-red-gold but the Austrian red-white-red. Borders, visas etc., are currently as obsolete as they were prior to WWI and one can only hope and pray, in view of the most recent political developments, that it will stay this way.

In Innsbruck we stayed at the Hotel Sailer on a quiet side street with good accommodations. This and all the other hotels we stayed in have gratis Internet connections so that one can remain in touch with the rest of the world. I shall give the names of the hotels we stayed in because they can be recommended for Americans who intend to include Austria in their vacation plans. The next morning was spent at the EEG laboratory of the University Hospital and in the afternoon we headed up the mountain in beautiful sunshine. The Nordkette is on Innsbruckís doorstep just like the Wasatch here at home. The elevations of the Alps are lower than the Rockies but they also start a sea level while our home in Sandy is already above 5,000 feet. As such the views of the mountains are comparable. A funicular railway takes one about a quarter of the way up then come gondolas and one ends up at the Seegrube where there is a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains and the city of Innsbruck below. Most impressive were the mountain bikers. One can rent a bike before ascending and it was amazing to see what narrow, steep, rock-strewn goat tracks they negotiate on their way down. Some intrepid souls even bike up, albeit on somewhat wider roads. In regard to goats. We didnít see many but there were contended cows grazing or just passing the time of day as well as sheep on the mountain meadows, and I couldnít help thinking that they must be providing better milk than their poor relatives who are penned up all day as is the case in our industrialized agricultural system.

††††††††† From Innsbruck we went to Zell am See of which I had fond memories from a 1965 visit when I spent an hour glider flying. The little town is overrun by tourists and more expensive so we stayed at ďZur BurgĒ a nice local hotel in nearby Kaprun. Next day via a series of gondolas we went up the Kitzsteinhorn where people were still skiing on its dwindling glacier.Thereafter we headed for Schladming. I had never been there previously but knew about it from the international ski races that are regularly held and I wanted to see the mountain. We stayed at ďDie Barbara,Ē in honor of the Saint, which is located right across the street from the gondolas the lead up the Patai. Itís not often that one talks about restrooms but the toilet at ground level of the lifts beats all expectations. One sits in the stall surrounded by wall paintings of a winter wonderland. Another feature of public toilets is that they are ecology conscious. There are two levers to push; the smaller one for liquid and the other for solid waste. By the way they are also installed in private homes when modernization is undertaken.

The next day was spent on country roads to Vorau, a small village in eastern Styria where a friend of mine (former Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Zurich) is spending his retirement in a house inherited from his parents. From there we went on to Mariazell, Austriaís biggest and best known pilgrimage center. We said our prayers for the family and the world at the basilica that dates to the middle of the 17th century.

In the afternoon it was off to the Salzkammergut via the Autobahn. This is the way to travel if one quickly wants to get from point A to point B, but itís no way to see the country. Sound barriers or planted trees protect the locals from noise but this obliterates the view. On the other hand the road is superbly paved in striking contrast to what one sees in parts of our country. We wanted to be in the neighborhood of Salzburg where we have friends and were offered free lodging. But I also insisted on a lake because Iím addicted to open water. Krista had searched the Internet and found the Hotel Seegasthof Stadler near Unterach directly on the Attersee. Thatís where we headed and found it an excellent choice. The facility has been in the Stadler family since the middle of the 19th century and is still run by them. The parents and adult children take care of the business as well as waiting on tables at mealtimes and in one of the hallways is an old photograph which depicts the original restaurant as built by their great-grandparents. It was refreshing to see that in some places the hectic pace of time has not produced profound changes, only improvements. The great-grandparents clothes were the same ďTrachtenĒ as today and only the quality of photographs has improved and complete modernization well as enlarging of the facility has taken place.

As mentioned, the hotel abuts the lake with a lawn one can spend time on. Mountain bikes are for rent, so are some small boats and there is also direct swimming access. But beware, the Salzkammergut lakes are leftovers from the last ice-age and bitter cold. This is not a problem for the locals but takes some getting used to by tourists. In order to keep the lake clean and avoid excessive noise only sailboats or electric power boats are allowed. I thoroughly enjoyed the warm sunshine on the lawn after days of drizzle but underestimated its power. Now a word of explanation. One canít sit in the sun in Utah during spring and summer because at our elevation it stings to an extent that one has to head for shade. Since this was not the case in Austria I stayed a couple of hours and paid for it later with massive sunburn that still peels after nearly a month. Nevertheless the hotel and area were so pleasant that we decided to return after paying visits to friends in Salzburg and subsequently Vienna.

During our stay in Salzburg we toured the surrounding lake country and some of its historic sites in the Salzkammergut, which might be translated into Salt Chamber region. This alpine lakes area is shared by the provinces of Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria and provides not only stunning views but also excellent recreational facilities. Its name is derived from the previously most important industry: the mining of salt. For our forefathers salt was white gold without which civilization was not possible because it was the only available food preservative. The salt-mines at Hallein and the nearby village of Hallstatt are reported to have been in operation since pre-Celtic times. A large burial ground from the early Neolithic was discovered near Hallstatt during the middle of the 19th century. From here salt was shipped far and wide, people became wealthy and the era from 800-500 BC has subsequently been named the Hallstatt Kultur for the distinctive artifacts they produced.

Since we had visited with the entire family the salt-mine at Hallein in 1965 we abstained this time, although I can strongly recommend a visit if one has never been there. It is an experience one doesnít forget. Instead we went this time to Hallstatt where Iíd never been. The weather was good and we took a boat trip on the lake amongst numerous Korean, Japanese and Chinese tourists who had arrived by busloads. Coming home I read on the Internet that Hallstatt now has a sister city in China. It is one of Austriaís most picturesque villages and a photo taken from the boat is pasted below.

 

 

After a three day stay in Salzburg we headed on the Autobahn to Vienna which is a trip of about three and a half hours. We stayed there free of charge due to the courtesy of the son of one of my schoolmates. The father, who actually was responsible for me having chosen the medical profession, had become an ophthalmologist and after his death the son converted the previous office into a guest apartment, which perfectly met our needs. While Krista visited museums I spent the time with family, friends and neurological colleagues. We intended to go up to one of our favorite restaurants the Haueserl am Roan in the Wienerwald but it rained cats and dogs so this was not feasible. Instead we headed for one of my other favorite must go-to restaurants in the inner city Zum Leupold.Our evening dinner with another old school chum and his daughter at the Bristol ended this leg of the trip.

I had frequently returned to Vienna over the years and was impressed how well the city functions but I had not been in its outskirts the former workersí districts of Simmering and Favoriten. Although there were no slums, just apartment buildings, nevertheless one just had no reason to go there. But on the taxi ride from the home of one of my colleagues at the outer edge of Simmering through Favoriten to Hietzing I marveled at the change that had taken place. The area he lives in has single family garden homes and then one drives along a thoroughfare that is dotted with brand new gleaming office buildings serving private as well as public functions including for the EU. American city planners might want to take a look how a city that started as a Roman military outpost has not only weathered all the disasters that befell it in the intervening years but has completely renewed itself. This was not done by tearing down the old structures but by cherishing tradition and renovating them to an extent that they look new and the truly new ones are made to blend in with their surroundings. In addition the interiors of old apartment houses were modernized to the extent that was feasible.††

With official functions and family business having been taken care of we returned to the Stadler Hotel which is now one of my favorite places. While there we further explored other lakes in the area and the town of Bad Ischl where Emperor Franz Joseph had his summer residence. The Kaiservilla is open to tourists and one can even see the desk where the old man signed the fateful declaration of war on Serbia which led not only to the carnage of WWI but all its ensuing disasters, which we still have not overcome. He had been duped and told that the Serbs had already opened fire at Austrian troops which was not the case. ďDann muss man halt zurueck schiessenĒ (Well, then weíve got to shoot back) was his answer. This scenario was actually repeated on August 7, 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which led the US into the unwinnable Vietnam War. It was based on the report that American ships had been fired upon in the Gulf of Tonkin which was not true. These tidbits of history should give us pause and reflect on the current activities of our media and politicians.

While lounging at the Atterse Krista also suggested that we should go up the Untersberg which is shared by Austria and Germany. We tried, but the cable car was under repair. We, therefore, went on to Bavaria and Berchtesgadenís Koenigssee. It is a short hop of a little over 20 miles and in Berchtesgaden one canít miss the sign to the Obersalzberg. Having grown up in the Nazi era the Obersalzberg, where Hitlerís mountain retreat was located, had almost mythical connotations for us at the time. During the mentioned 1965 visit we had also passed through Berchtesgaden and I found a trip up to the Obersalzberg in our rented VW bus irresistible. The area was strewn with rubble and the Berghof obliterated, but one could enter one of the bunkers that had been dug into the mountain in case of air raids. We heard about the Adlerhorst Ė Eagleís Nest, Hitlerís ďtea house,Ē on top of the Kehlstein Mountain but didnít have time to explore it.

This deficit was now made up and provided some surprises when compared with 1965. Tourism has become industrialized with German precision. One drives uphill to a staging area where buses await one for the rest of the trip. The reason is that this mountain road is so narrow that only one bus can go either up or down and congestion from private vehicles would be impossible to tolerate. There is a small parking space on the side of the road where a given bus can pull over when the driver is informed by radio that another bus is coming from the opposite direction. The buses have a convoy system of six at a time and these take one to another staging area up on the mountain where there is an entrance to a tunnel. One walks somewhat over 400 feet through the tunnel and then comes to an elaborate (and I mean elaborate) elevator that takes one about 430 feet through the mountain to the ďEagleís NestĒ or Kehlsteinhaus as it is currently called. Luckily the British bombs on their raid of April 25 1945, which severely damaged the buildings on the Obersalzberg, had missed the Kehlsteinhaus. It is in original pristine condition and currently serves as a restaurant and museum. The view from the top is magnificent with the Koenigssee nestled amid the mountains to the west and the Untersberg with Salzburg to the east.

Since world history was made at this mountain site I not only bought a brochure about the area but also a DVD at one of the staging areas. The DVD is excellent but the English language in the brochure definitely needs improvement. The Bavarian government would be well advised to commission another edition where the text is provided either by someone for whom English is the first language or an English literature graduate from one of the universities. When one glosses over the language and some misprints the content is quite informative. Since this information is not widely known Iím now going to present some highlights.

The idea to build a ďtea houseĒ on top of the mountain originated with Martin Bormann, who at that time was overseer of renovations at Obersalzberg, as a present to Hitler for his 50th birthday. Ing. Fritz Todt was charged with the project which had to be completed essentially within the span of one year. Houses on the top of mountains, especially as shelters for mountaineers, are commonplace in the Alps. At somewhat over 6,000 feet the Kehlsteinhaus would have been one among many. For instance the Ottohaus at 6,585 ft. on the Rax, one of Viennaís closest mountains, was built in 1893. But it could be reached by cable car which transported the building materials. At the Kehlstein there was, however, neither cable car nor road. Todt was confronted with a steep granite mountain that previously had only been climbed hand over hand by dedicated mountaineers. The mountain was, therefore, first surveyed for a potential route and then about 3000 stone masons went to work to laboriously chisel away the rock into manageable blocks and create the road.Apart from dynamite everything was done by hand and all the material had to be carried on oneís back up the mountain. The actual work started early in 1938 and had to be finished for Hitlerís birthday by April 20 1939. Time pressure was enormous especially when one considers alpine winters with snow, sleet and avalanches. Work went on in shifts around the clock and the brochure tells us that it was mainly Italian stonemasons who did the cutting job. They were well paid and promised life-time employment as well as social services. The mission was indeed accomplished in record time and as the DVD tells us even prior to April 20. The internet has a number of entries including pictures one may want to view.

A cynic now might well say: what a waste of time, money and energy on a stupid whim. Yes it was a whim, but the project needs to be seen in the light of the era. Massive construction was going on all over Germany at the time. To combat the depression, with its attendant joblessness, the German infrastructure was completely modernized. Roads were built, of which the Autobahn is simply the most famous, airports, vacation ships as well as decent housing for workers arose, in addition to public as well as private buildings. Germany was booming and it was a ďNew DealĒ Roosevelt could only have dreamt about. Of course, there was also re-armament but it is wrong to assume that arms were the only or main commodity the Nazis produced. Obviously, all of this cost a phenomenal amount of money. In order to come up with it Hitler took the country off the gold standard (a practice followed by Nixon in 1971) and the printing presses at the Reichsbankwent into overdrive. Hjalmar Schacht, the finance minister, has been reported as having told Hitler in 1939 that this canít go on forever but was told: There will be a war. If we win weíll have plenty of money and if we lose we are all dead anyway. Judging from all I have read about Hitler this seems to be true to his character.

On the return trip to the Munich airport we went via the Chiemsee where we had lunch at a rest stop on the Autobahn while admiring the numerous sailing vessels engaged in regattas. The night was spent at the Seehotel Leoni onthe Starnbergersee. Although in the upper price range it was the only one Krista could find that was directly on the lake. As it turned out this would not have been necessary because it rained all afternoon and most of the next day. So we just took a three and a half hour boat tour in the morning which covered the major sights of the lake. Schloss Possenhofen is of special interest to Austrians because this is where Elisabeth the Empress of Austria, fondly called Sissi, spent part of her youth. On the East side of the lake there is a cross in the water to memorialize the spot where the bodies of King Ludwig II and his psychiatrist were found. The mystery surrounding their deaths has never been solved. With a 10 a.m. departure for the States on the following day the last night was spent in the neighborhood of the airport at the little town of Schwaig in a thoroughly Americanized hotel which had nothing to recommend itself except proximity and a relatively decent price.

All in all it was a memorable trip, and I marveled how Austria has changed since I left the country in 1950. At that time it was at its nadir. Partitioned between four occupying powers, three of whom warily watching the fourth, its cities largely in ruins and its people just making do with minimal prospects for the future, a pawn in the hands of the US and Soviet Union. But in the Christmas address of 1945 Chancellor Figl implored the people ďÖ believe in this Austria!Ē What he meant was that the strife between the Socialists and Conservatives that had ruined the country and paved the way for Hitlerís take-over was now over, there was a coalition government which, conscious of past achievements as well as errors, will overcome all the enormous hurdles and re-emerge in freedom and prosperity. The people did and with American help (UNRRA and thereafter the Marshall plan), which will always be gratefully acknowledged, the country became once again free and independent. The State Treaty of 1955 demanded absolute neutrality on the Swiss model and with this anchor Austria can play a mediating role between East and West, especially since it is not a member of NATO.

This is Austriaís message to the US in its current turmoil: Stop demonizing each other, join hands across party divides and most of all stop warmongering. It could be done and the problem that prevents us from doing so is conceptual. I often think of Goetheís greatest drama Faust where in the depth of depression he curses the world and all that is in it. Iíve taken the liberty to change one paragraph slightly because that makes it more relevant: Cursed be the deception of opinion with which the mind ensnares itself. This is the crux of the problem. It is our thoughts, and nothing else, that can lead us to prosperity or doom. This is the idea that should be realized and pondered upon if we truly want to create a better world.

I have stayed away from the political problems facing Austria and the EU after Brexit. They will be dealt with, including the outcome of the political Conventions, in the August 1 issue. For now I would just like to close with a most hearty THANK YOU to my daughter Krista who has helped her old father literally at every step of the way to make this trip not only possible but also most enjoyable.

 
 
 
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