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Leaving Vienna today via overnight train to Frankfurt to enjoy good ol’ NZ vegetarian cusine with C. and N.! Weather has been wet and I have seen but the merest fraction of what Vienna has to offer. No grand winter balls unfortunately, maybe someone will ask me next time?

Vienna. Capital of Austria, recipient of superb public transport and holder of an embarrassment of cultural riches. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Strauss all lived here. Only 8 million lederhosen wearers live in Austria now, belying its history as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries. Bussed up a hill near Vienna surrounded by a bizarrely bucolic array of vineyards. Strange so close to the city, which is remarkably low rise. The Danube, that slut, also lazes through Vienna and alongside the (no doubt committee named) UNO City housing such UN organisations as the IAEA, the Office of Outer Space Affairs and of course the United Nations Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNRoD).

The plethora of museums I took a crack at included the Albertina (impressionism exhibit), Leopold (Edvard Munch exhibit aka the Scream!), Kunsthalle Vienna (Berlin Wall exhibit), Westlicht Center for Photography (World Press Photo Awards 2009), Museum of Modern Art (MUMAK), the former Imperial ‘hunting lodge’ of Schöbrunn (mini-Versailles) and of course the Hofburg, the former imperial palace in the center of Vienna. Despite all this highbrow stuff, the highlight for me was Kunst Haus Wien aka Museum Hundertwasser. This is the museum designed by Hundertwasser himself (looks wicked from the outside), one of my favourite artists and probably the most world-renowned artist who ever called New Zealand home. That was of course the fascinating thing, he spent so long living in Northland and even designed a new flag for New Zealand as well as constructing the Kawakawa public toilets. His eco-philosophy appeals as well as his fantastic art. They were also hosting an exhibition of Annie Leibovitz, the New York photographer famous for taking pics of famous people which was also very cool. Unfortunately for me the gift shop was outrageously overpriced so no posters to take home (starting at 50 euros…).

My host works for the Federal Chancellors’ office  and we talked politics, philosophy and complexity theory late into the night. As in many European countries, the rise of the far right is a concern. In Austria the influx of immigrants combined with the economic recession has led to alarmingly high levels of support for parties such as the Freedom Party whose policies are basically anti-immigration and anti-Islam. The basis for this probably has deep roots within the Anschluss, or the annexation by Germany of Austria in 1938. Though it’s a pretty complicated issue which I won’t canvass here, it appears that it is still a live wire in Austrian political discourse to discuss the slow and incomplete de-Nazification that took place after the war. In addition to this, Austria is a deeply conservative Catholic country with a large rural population.

I also experienced the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9 1989. One of the seminal events of the last 50 years and documentaries are playing 24/7 on all the channels. It’s hard for me to relate but I can assure you, the people I’ve met behind the Iron Curtain do. For some new school experience I visited Vienna University which is currently being occupied by the students demanding better learning conditions, an action I wholeheartedly support so I therefore bought a badge showing a university in flames. Awesome. The scene inside is fairly orderly, a peoples’ kitchen has been established to feed the masses (and the crafty homeless), plenary sessions denounce various issues: the far right, capitalism, incompetent university management etcetera but of most interest to me was my host assuring me, ‘they have parties every night’.

Experimental Music. I accompanied M. to the world premiere of two new pieces of music. I was here to be wowed by the famed Viennese passion for classical music, or so I thought. The two pieces included a combination of the oboe, tuba, cello, flute, bass flute, piccolo, bass clarinet and a clarinet. What resulted was a cacophony of discordant screetches, bassy plugs (presumably caused by the tuba which had something resembling a bucket stuck in the top of it) and fluttery sighs. I never knew these instruments could make those sorts of sounds! There was whinnying, gurgling, squawks, quacks, atonal hisses somewhat reminiscent of a deflating LiLo, pops, plops, gasps, groans, tweets, a sound suspiciously like the death rattle of a dying man, huffing and mooing. Utterly unlike anything I have ever heard before.

The baffling pieces were summed up (for me) by one of the Warholian critics (complete with knitted cardigan and wig-like hair) who sat down and offered a distinctly Austrian post-assault analysis of the songs on our senses. At least that’s what I assume they were talking about. They could also have been discussing the virtues of black horn-rims versus rimless spectacles. M. translated that Warhol #1 noted that the first song reminded him of a grossly fat woman lying in bed who was refusing to get out – put him on the couch I say… The audience nods sagely and hmms in approval as the virtuosos returned to inflict the compositions on us once more. Next time I’ll go listen to some Mozart…