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Journals from Vienna 2008

2008-09-30 Vienna - my heart, my home.

After having been in Vienna for just over a month, it has really began to feel like home. This past weekend I traveled to Germany to visit a few friends, and of course, the legendary Oktoberfest. While it was good to see friends, speak German with people whom I do not talk to every day, and experience Oktoberfest, I felt extremely homesick " for my home here in Austria, that is. Though Austria and Germany share a border, the two countries are about as different as America and the United Kingdom, or so it appears. Strangely enough, I found that the Germans speak such an odd-sounding German, because I am accustomed to the Austrian German. Munich was also beautiful, but I did not find it particularly breathtaking like I do Vienna; though it took me leaving to realize how beautiful it really is in this city. Vienna really is an amazing city; there is just something about it here that feels like home. Crossing the Austrian-German border into Salzburg on the way back felt like such a great relief, to be back home, and to see those beautiful red-white-red flags again. It was then that I really knew: this is where I want to be right now, in this country, with these people, and the spectacular Austrian (okay, Austrian German) language. In attempt to describe the way I see Vienna, it takes me three US cities to complete the task: New York, Washington D.C., and Portland. Vienna resembles New York in that two of Austria's nine million residents are living here in the city, therefore making it a melting pot with a mixture of many cultures and walks of life. There is also a fantastic subway system here " which is comparable to the mass public transit systems throughout Europe, but in the States I can only compare it to the system in New York. Vienna is a center of culture like New York, but it also compares to Washington D.C., as it is the capital city of this great land. This means that the Parliament, Federal Court, Residence of the President, and all that is politically important are located right here in Vienna. Despite being the capital and center of culture in Austria, Vienna is comparably small on a larger scale of cities in the world. As my wonderful host mother pointed out: Paris, London, and Berlin are massive cities with no end in sight, but here in Vienna if you hike up to Leopoldsberg, you can see the end of the city " and that is possibly what I like most about Vienna. In this manner, along with the coffee-house culture, Vienna resembles our very own Portland, because it somehow accomplishes the small-big city feeling. Vienna is, however, incomparable to any US city, in that it has been such a cultural hub in Europe for many centuries. No city in America, and very few in Europe, can compare to the Viennese culture of coffee houses, music, theater, opera, art, and of course the imperial tradition. Vienna is the most amazing city (note, I did say city, as I would rather be in Dorfgastein " or any other small alpine village) in the German-speaking world, a world that I have quickly come to take as my own little paradise. By simply taking a trip around the ring, where the former city wall stood in order to protect the Viennese against the siege of their fair city, or by visiting either Schnbrunn or Belvedere Palace, one can still feel the imperial Vienna lingering underneath it all. Last week our group visited the Schatzkammer (or the Treasury, where many treasures of the Habsburg regime are kept), and it was an absolutely amazing experience to have a look into the attire and customs of the almighty imperial family during the Holy Roman Empire and Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Habsburgs. First under the Babenbergs, and soon thereafter the Habsburgs, Vienna became a center of culture and power. Through these enlightened " and well-rounded in their interests " Emperors, Vienna and Austria became something more than just a place of commerce and war. The people could take time to sit at their favorite Stammtisch (and some still do), to talk, read, or simply drink a beer or cup of coffee; point being, life here is more than just war, power and money: the people generally care about taking time out of their day to sit and have a conversation with the people they feel close to. As a side note, I would like to add that I am extremely excited to have found a coffee shop with free wireless internet and amazing coffee. Though I had hoped to find a traditional Viennese coffee house, they seem to have become too mainstream, and therefore, extremely busy and expensive. BlueOrange, my coffee house, also doesnt allow smoking " a rare occurrence here in Vienna, as most restaurants, bars, or coffee houses would never outlaw smoking, because they would lose too much business. Personally, I enjoy drinking my coffee without a cloud of smoky haze lingering around the place. It is also nice to have found a place fairly close to home, only 7 stops with the streetcar, where the people will actually speak German with me. That has been a big challenge everywhere in Vienna: since most everyone knows at least some English, they want to impress you with how great their English is, therefore not helping my German at all. Basically, Vienna is a beautiful city with many opportunities that everyone should see at least once ! Until next time, Ashley

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