The last couple of weeks in Vienna have truly been extraordinary (Of course, if you just block out midterms!) On Friday October 19th we went with our cultural history teacher, Professor Hanreich to Klosterneuburg and Kreuzenstein.
On the way out of Vienna's first district, Professor Hanreich told us about important buildings on the Ringstrasse and she seemed to know the history of every corner of the famous Ring.
It was incredibly cool to see some places we'd talked about in our classes. We had learned a lot about Leopold III, a Babenberg, but he actually founded Klosterneuburg with his wife and is a Saint for the Augustinian Church here. Also having learned about different architectural styles, I find myself becoming more adept at being able to point them out, and here we saw the Romanesque foundation of the church as well as the Gothic towers. The inside of the church is Baroque, which we have learned is the counter-reformation style.
In the monastery we saw a short film about a famous Gothic altar here that was absolutely stunning. It has three rows across the entire thing; the middle is of scenes from the New Testament, and the panels on top and bottom of this row are scenes from the Old Testament and somehow they all fit together. It's glassed off from the public, but you can look in at it, and strangely, Angus (Leopold III's wife), is buried underneath it with seven of her children that died very young. On top is a box with her husband's bones...
In another room we saw the back of the famous altar, which has many paintings including the Crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection.
There is also a random statue they found that has Mary holding Jesus and from one perspective she's mourning her son, and from the other she is smiling slightly.
We also went into the Baroque Palace where Maria Teresa's father lived, and it was planning to expand. The Baroque style really is beautiful, and as I see the inside of other Baroque palaces, I'm starting to understand what Maria Teresa loved so much. She re-did a bunch of famous buildings in Baroque style, and she loved Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna. However, she didn't like Klosterneuburg very much, so she stopped the expansion her father had set in place.
After Klosterneuburg we drove to Kreuzenstein Castle. As soon as we saw the castle we went nuts. It was a legit castle, exactly like we imagine castles in America with a drawbridge, a moat, windows for archers...It was absolutely beautiful and we went crazy taking pictures. However, this Castle was once completely destroyed and was in ruins for a long time. The Wilczek (approximate spelling) family has owned this land for awhile and finally, one man decided to rebuild the castle. He got authentic pieces of Gothic, Romanesque, stone from all around Europe. He also would sometimes find a Romanesque wall he liked from Italy and bought it...as well as a church door that was cool so he had a copy made. So sometimes the courtyard may look like a hodgepodge of styles, but from the outside it looks pretty uniform (to our highly-trained American eyes.)
Our tour guide was really nice. He and his wife are the groundskeepers. He didn't give most of the tour because our professor pretended we spoke only English so she could take over and give us all the information she deemed important.
We couldn't take pictures inside, but it was like a classic medieval castle. There was a bedroom with a straw bed that was short because people would sit up to go to sleep because of superstitions that you would die in your sleep from lying straight down because something would lie down on your chest. I learned about this in Professor Richardson's Topics in German Civilization class, when we talked about Nightmares taking different forms and suffocating you in your sleep.
There was also a really awesome kitchen with authentic cookingware and a humongous oak table that had to be put in before the ceiling because it was so heavy!
We also went into a room that had real knight lances, swords, shields, armor and crossbows. A few of us tried on some of the chainmail. It was so heavy! And this was only part of the Knight's armor--he still had the helmet and full-body armor to put on.
The family has their own chapel in the castle too where they go for special occasions like baptism and marriage. Normal people can also have weddings here and other events if they want to. It's not TOO expensive, only like 800 Euros. I'm totally getting married here..or at least at a castle. I've decided.
I find it interesting this family has a castle just for the sake of having a castle. They don't actually live here...if -I- owned a castle, I'd totally live there!
Last week was taken over by midterms in all our AAIE classes. However, on Monday we had the most amazing opportunity to go on Austrian television for a second time! We were in a different studio this time (PULS 4's main studio) and it was the same show Pro/Contra and this time the topic was about the United States Presidential Election. One of the guests was a former US Ambassador who had also worked under Ronald Reagan. We were all so excited because we understood so much more than we had the first time we were on the show, when they were discussing the Mohammed Video.
Friday the 26th of October is Austria's National Holiday. On Heldenplatz (where Hitler made his famous speech before the Anschluss-when Germany took over Austria during WWII-) there were tons of activities with Austria's one tank and two helicopters (one black-hawk helicopter bought from the US), other fun army things for the kids, tons of food, and Gluehwein (a traditional hot wine with some spice). It's really interesting actually, because Austria is a neutral country and they have Wehrpflicht, mandatory military service, where all boys after they graduate high school have to enter the army for 6 months. So all the young boys were wearing their uniforms and helping out with the festivities.
The coolest thing however about Friday was being able to go inside the Hofburg Palace where the President Heinz Fischer works and shaking his hand, and then going across the way and going inside the building where the Chancellor Feymann works and meeting him! The Hofburg Palace is Baroque style and was the winter residence of the Habsburgs (Schoennbrunn is the summer residence). The rooms are stunning and one room was the rose-room, and another a mirror-room. Palaces are so beautiful! We actually are living in a city with three phenomenal palaces—it's unbelievable how lucky we are to have an experience such as this.
We've been counting the days and we're so sad realizing we only have six weeks left here. The time has gone by so fast, but we have so many more things to do. We're going to the Opera next week, to visit Manuela, our Language Assistant from Linfield, the weekend after that, and hopefully to Budapest sometime soon. I still remember when it was the beginning of October and November looked so far away..but here it is, right around the corner. But I will not dread on this fact, I will strive my best to make the most out of every last day I have here in Austria and come back home with an amazing semester behind me.
Again, feel free to check out my personal blog: http://rainbowtravels.wordpress.com
There you'll find more pictures of our adventures in Austria as well as more personal stories and details. Until next time!