Category Archives: Around Austria

5 Reasons to Love Tatort, And My 3 Top Teams

My dad likes to Skype on Sunday. He’s in New York, six hours behind me, so this often puts our call into the early evening. This week I replied to his email of the subject line “Wanna Skype?” with a brief reply: “Anytime before 8:15pm my time.” So there we were, on Skype on Sunday evening when I said, “Ok, Dad. It’s 8:10. We are in the last five minutes of this conversation. ‘Cause Tatort starts in five. And now you’re going to ask me, ‘What is Tatort?'”

“What is Tatort?” my dad obligingly asked. So where shall I begin?

Tatort_Logo.svg

I told my dad that Tatort is like the German version of Law and Order, only better. But I said that because by now it was 8:11 and things were getting tense. The first rule of Tatort is that if you miss the beginning you will never, ever get caught up. But the fact is that Tatort is not like Law and Order, except in the sense that it is a Krimi, and that it often has rather famous actors. It is unlike Law and Order in all of the following ways, which essentially constitute its peculiar appeal:

1. Tatort is only on on Sunday night. Nothing else of any importance is on on Sunday night. It is on everywhere in Germany and Austria, on Sunday night, at 8:15pm, without fail. It is never pre-empted. It is never not there. It is an institution. It even still uses its opening music and graphic from the 1970s (and you can really tell).

2. Tatort does not have commercials and is an hour and a half long, making it more of a movie than a TV show. The crimes are complex, as are the characters, and the longer timeframe means that the narrative twists several times in the course of an episode. It is truly unpredictable, every week something entirely new.

3. Each week’s Tatort is set in a different city, with a different pair of Ermittler (investigators). There are around a dozen different teams, and they come from places ranging from Berlin to Dortmund to Frankfurt to (proud to say) Vienna. Each team has its own peculiar dynamic and range; some are male-female teams, some old-young teams, some male-male teams. The investigation unfolds according in part to the character of the team — but since you don’t see them every week, or even every month, you don’t get sick of them. And when your favorite team shows up in the previews for the next week, you jump up and down a little. If you’re that sort.

4. Importantly, because Tatort is not dubbed from English (unlike the ubiquitous episodes of CSI and Criminal Minds and Law and Order and The Mentalist and Life and….you get the idea), it is extraordinarily difficult for a person learning German to understand . The pace is different, the phrasing, the rhythm of the conversations — I can’t explain it, but Tatort is just much harder to follow than a dubbed American show. It is therefore my personal goal to get to the point where I can watch an entire Tatort through from beginning to end without needing help. Currently, watching it is more like wrestling a snake than watching TV. After every exchange I have to hurriedly demand that my spouse tell me what the hell they just said even as more talking is going on — because there are no commercials, and so no chance to catch up. It leaves me utterly exhausted. But it’s that good.

5. In Catholic Austria, where everything is closed on Sunday, Tatort is folded into the pace of life. There’s no shopping to be done, no hurrying around, nowhere to be. Sunday is a slow day. You go for a walk. You tidy up the house. You cook dinner early, and settle down to watch Tatort at 8:15. It’s like the America of my childhood. But in German. And with better dinner.

Next week’s Tatort will feature Til Schweiger, who is like the German version of Tom Cruise in that he’s very famous and very, very short, but not like Tom Cruise in that he’s a good actor and not insane. Christoph Waltz was even supposed to be a Tatort Kommissar at one time (he did one episode). (He also did an episode of Kommissar Rex, by the way.) But these all pale in comparison to what I consider to be, listed here in hierarchical order, the very best Tatort investigative teams:

#1 Team Vienna (Eisner and Fellner): This team combines a hilarious middle-aged female investigator with a grumpy old male one; they crack a lot of jokes and have a companionable relationship. He, Moritz Eisner, is totally deadpan. His partner, Bibi Fellner, has this long, incredibly expressive face. They’re adorable, and they go all over Austria, meaning they offer plenty of opportunity to hear dialects from Viennese to Tyrolean.

Adele Neuhauser, who plays Bibi Fellner zu Gast bei der Verleihung des Nestroy-Theaterpreises 2010 im Burgtheater in Wien on 8 November 2010, as photographed by Manfred Werner - Tsui under a Creative Commons License)
Adele Neuhauser, who plays Bibi Fellner (photo credit: Manfred Werner – Tsui, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)

#2 Team Ludwigshafen (Odenthal and Kopper): To be honest, were it not for patriotism, I would make this my #1 team, entirely because of Ulrike Folkerts who plays Lena Odenthal. She’s fabulous. She’s gorgeous, gay in real life, and a terrific actress, with a loose-limbed physicality that’s very appealing. I like her German, too. Her partner, Kopper, speaks Italian, which is a bonus, and is a sort of greasy, hardened cop. They also have a great relationship — like Team Vienna, they’re both single, and buddies who occasionally crash at each other’s places. They’re adorable. Though none of this helps me understand where the hell Ludwigshafen might be, nor why they have so much crime there.

Ulrike Folkerts at the SWR Sommerfestival 2013 in Mainz, photo by René Kirchhoff under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ulrike_Folkerts_beim_SWR_Sommerfestival_2013_in_Mainz_zur_Tatortpremiere.jpg
Ulrike Folkerts at the SWR Sommerfestival 2013 in Mainz, photo by René Kirchhoff under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

#3 Team Berlin (Ritter and Stark): Technically, it’s not a list until there are at least three things on it. So I’ll pick a third here — Ritter and Stark — entirely because it is so entertaining that they are men of similar age but around three feet apart in height. Stark is tiny, and Ritter is a lanky, slightly older guy who spends the entire episode looming above his partner. As far as I can tell this inherently comical element is never mentioned, which is refreshing. You would literally never see casting like this played this way on American television. Ever.

You there in America. Yes, you. You too can watch Tatort, on YouTube! But, um, it’s not dubbed into English. Best of luck with the German. It kicks my ass every week.

 

Posted in Around Austria, Culture, Regan Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Comforts of Home

Hello there. I’m back in Vienna. It was nice to be in California, but you know how the US is. A frantic dash from one thing you’re late for to the next, always hustling and hurrying and striving. It’s good to be back here.

I had lots of ideas for how I could describe some differences between Vienna and the US, specifically northern California. There are so many funny things that are peculiar to Vienna, that I had really missed while in the US. Concrete example: when you go into a shop here, you will always be greeted by everyone who works there, and it’s expected that you’ll greet them back. Fair enough. But then when you leave, there are typically TWO goodbyes. First they’ll say something like, “Danke! Wiedersehen!” and you’ll say, “Wiedersehen!” and then they’ll double down on that and say to your retreating back, “Wiederschauen!” which means exactly the same thing — and you’ll say over your shoulder, “Wiederschauen!” And this will seem normal to you after a time.

By the very same token, however, you can expect, should you go to a café, to have your coffee basically thrown at you by a waiter, often in evening dress, who shows up 10 seconds after you sit down to demand to know what you want and, should you not be ready to order, will under no circumstances return until you go looking for him. Granted, the coffee will always — and I mean always — appear on a little silver tray with a little glass of water accompanying it and often a cookie or a chocolate. But it will be delivered with a rudeness so complete that you will have to almost admire it.

To be clear, the inclusion of this cup of coffee is in no way intended as a comment on the waitstaff at this particular café, whom I've always found to be very nice.
To be clear, the inclusion of this cup of coffee is in no way intended as a comment on the waitstaff at this particular café, whom I’ve always found to be very nice.

Yesterday evening, I went jogging in the Prater, up the Hauptallee in the direction of the Praterstern (so, from middle of the park heading toward town). Usually I find this a simultaneously pastoral and social endeavor — horses, bikes, joggers, dogs, walkers, strollers, anybody and everybody uses the Hauptallee in the evening. Here’s what that looks like in summer:

All these elements - cyclists, horses, joggers - were there in the dark. But, you know, invisible.
Many elements – cyclists, horses, joggers – are staples of the Hauptallee.

In winter, it can be a more austere setting:

This is how the Prater looked when I went jogging on one of the coldest late afternoons of last winter. Lonely. Cold. But, you know, lit.
This is how the Prater looked when I went jogging on one of the coldest late afternoons of last winter. Lonely. Frigid. But, you know, lit.

But the other night — around 6:30pm — it looked like this:

Hey, guys? Um, guys? Can someone get the lights??
Hey, guys? Um, guys? Can someone get the lights??

Yeah. Like that. The lights were out down the entire final stretch of the Hauptallee. That little light in the center? That’s the Praterstern. I didn’t think it was so dark until I was in the middle of it….and then when I almost ran into a slower-moving person in front of me who I literally did not see until I was right on top of her, I realized I was one of a smattering of joggers, walkers, cyclists, blindly stumbling through the pitch dark. In a public park. In a major city. At night. I turned and looked back in the direction I’d come:

So hard to resist the urge to run like hell toward the light.
So hard to resist the urge to run like hell toward the light.

I thought, huh. And then I kept on going — straight ahead into the dark of that first photo. Because this is Vienna. And while I’m not going to say nothing could ever happen to you here, it’s a pretty damn safe place. Central Park. Golden Gate Park. Lincoln Park. Rock Creek Park. Where in the US would you have felt safe making the same choice?

Let’s end this new year inaugural post with a bit of a poem about words and coming home:

To know a road you own it, every bend and pebble and the weeds along it, dust that itches when the August hayrake rambles home. You own the home. You own the death of every bird you name. To live good, keep your life and the scene. Cow, brook, hay: these are names of coins. --- Richard Hugo, "Montgomery Hollow"
To know a road you own it, every bend
and pebble and the weeds along it,
dust that itches when the August hayrake
rambles home. You own the home.
You own the death of every bird you name.
To live good, keep your life and the scene.
Cow, brook, hay: these are names of coins.
— Richard Hugo, “Montgomery Hollow”
Posted in Around Austria, Regan Writing | 1 Comment

Shoe Blogging Resumes

So I’ve been sitting here quietly photographing my shoes, but I didn’t want to post about it because of the whole debt ceiling/gov’t shutdown debacle that was unfolding here. First of all, the whole business was too infuriating and embarrassing to describe. Second of all, had we breached the debt ceiling, I didn’t want to be posting frivolous shoe pics while my 401K burned (kidding, I don’t have a 401K). And also, I was really busy posting angry notes on John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan’s Facebook pages (not kidding).

In the interim, some shoes happened, though, and some of them even relate to travel. Shall we?

Got 'em in Berlin, wearin' 'em in Berkeley.
Got ‘em in Berlin, wearin’ ‘em in Berkeley.

These cuties were purchased in Berlin, as a last-minute buy on the way to the train. I seem to be a sucker for wood-heeled green shoes. Huh. I never really noticed that before. You know, they tell you a blog is a journey of self-discovery, but I’m just now realizing how true it really is.

For those who cannot pick a color.
For those who cannot pick a color.

These are red-grey-beige colorblock mules, purchased in Vienna at Salamander. Now, ordinarily I am very strongly opposed to shopping at Salamander. Very. Their prices are a Frechheit, an impertinence. You can often find literally the very same shoes down the street for like 20 euros less. But. These were on mega-sale, and I have an on-again-off-again romance with colorblocking. They look particularly charming against the institutional carpet of my classroom (no students were present when I took this picture).

Is that Houndstooth? What exactly is Houndstooth, anyway?
I don’t know the name for that pattern. Is that Houndstooth? What exactly is Houndstooth, anyway?

I’m not gonna lie, these shoes hurt. They hurt like you wouldn’t believe, especially after 3 hours of lecturing in them. They make the plantar fasciitis in my right foot burn with the fire of a thousand suns. But so what? They’re so cute. They’re actually fabric on the top, like a knit kind of stuff, giving them a friendly look. Which they need, because you could take out someone’s eye with that heel.

One more? These are a classic:

black

 

I got these in Trieste, Italy. They were over my budget. Well, one of my budgets. I have a mental price limit on Utterly Ridiculous Shoes — and it’s a lower amount than my limit for Elegant Classics I Could Walk A Block In. (No, I don’t want to specify the relevant amounts.) These were over my Utterly Ridiculous limit by like 15 euros. My traveling companions pitched in the extra for the pleasure of seeing me buy, and then wear, these shoes. I did and still do consider that to be a highly friendly gesture.

A word on Trieste, since I’m on the subject. The place is a revelation. It’s off the beaten path, so far around the Adriatic that it’s practically opposite Venice, which is itself already the established limit of the traditional tourist loop of Italy. But Trieste is, in my opinion, far more pleasant than Venice. Certainly it offers better vistas. The city center comes straight down to the Adriatic, embracing the water:

Trieste

Ignore the ugly scaffold. Trieste is characterized by its fantastic and fantastical Baroque architecture from the time when it was the primary sea port of the Austro-Hungarian empire. And at night, that architecture is spectacularly lit:

Trieste by Night

I recommend a trip to Trieste if you ever have the opportunity. And next time we speak, I rather think I’ll talk boots. I also plan to bitch at length about United Airlines. So much to look forward to!

 

Posted in Around Austria, Regan Writing, Shoes | 3 Comments

Schloss Ambras: Curiouser and Curiouser

On a couple of occasions in my long and diverse teaching career, I’ve been asked to teach a course on museum studies. A prominent feature of that course — and it’s a really fun course to teach, by the way — is a series of lectures on cabinets of curiosities. These are essentially the early modern precursor to the museum, ad hoc collections of all manner of materials strange, unusual, marvelous, and beautiful. The cabinet of curiosities is a concept with enormous range — with origins in Italian studioli (little studies) and royal treasuries, it takes a particularly elaborate form in the collections of the Austrian Habsburgs, who bought, stole, commissioned, or were given every imaginable kind of object.

I’ve written about some of the fruits of this collecting before—indeed, the newly reopened Kunstkammer in the KHM in Vienna has the very best objects from the Habsburg cabinet of curiosities (at its height called a Wunderkammer); these objects were, in the late 19th century, split off from the paintings and sculptures, and from the naturalia, that became the basis of the rest of the KHM and of the neighboring NHM (about which I’ve also written). But if you want to see the collections of rare and precious objects presented as they would have appeared in the 16th century—that is, at the height of European craftsmanship—you need to head to Innsbruck, and to Schloss Ambras. Here, the collections of Archduke Ferdinand II, ruler of Tyrol, can be seen still in their original setting, some of them in their original display chambers. It’s a rare and extraordinary window into Renaissance collecting—and also just some really cool shit.

The castle/palace complex is 16th century, with gardens set against a spectacular Alpine backdrop that you unfortunately can’t see while looking at the palace, rather from it (who gets the good view? The inhabitants, that’s who):

Schloss Ambras

 Schloss Ambras, Grounds

 Inside, the first room you come to is a large hall of armor—some of it rather interesting. The armor has an incredible intricacy; this was, after all, the 16th century, and Habsburg gear. It was more likely to be used for parades than for riding into actual battle. Also, these people were seriously tiny.

Armor Ambras

There were also some pretty weird choices—like these helmets given the shape of Moors’ faces, to be worn by archdukes and their like.

Schloss Ambras, Inexplicable Objects
Um….what?

“What were they thinking?” you ask. Good question. In further rooms you can see the cabinet of curiosities as it was originally displayed in the 16th century. This is a rare, indeed unique, opportunity, because most objects that were originally part of these collections are scattered, with their original settings destroyed, and only inventories give a sense of how they might have been assembled. At Schloss Ambras, you can see that the collection is organized according to a set of taxonomic principles that make little sense to modern minds. That is, by material, regardless of any other consideration (for example, art vs. nature).

Schloss Ambras, Curiosities

Among the highly curious objects in the collection, a sort of carved coral diorama of the Crucifixion:

IMG_6891

A carved wood dancing death:

Dancing Death

And, in a corner that it shares with a tree trunk that has grown around a set of deer’s antlers, you will find a taxidermied forerunner to the early work of Damien Hirst:

IMG_6909

Shark Ambras

Wait…let’s get a better look at those antlers, shall we?

Antlers Ambras

The collection does not distinguish, as I said, between works of art and nature, and so it includes a series of paintings of the extraordinary hirsute family of Pedro Gonzalez, a Spanish man who was part of the court of Margaret of Parma, the governor of the Netherlands:

The Family of Pedro Gonzalez

No doubt such hirsutism caused the family distress. But surely it was better than a sharp stick in your eye. Not sure? Consider the trials and tribulations of one Gregor Baci, unsuccessful jouster:

Ambras Injury

Gregor’s portrait is just one of the dozens upon dozens in Ambras’ extensive and quite quality portrait collection; you can also see many of the original rooms (including an incredible bathroom with a deep pool meant to be kept warm with heated stones). In contemplating what picture to give you in closing, I choose this incredible example, which I think captures the curiosity’s concept of limitlessness. Why live in a world with a concept of the impossible, when you could instead live with this guy:

My God, that is a hat and a half. The whole idea of riding a horse in that thing is incredible. Why is the horse not running from it in terror? Perhaps he is. Perhaps that is what this painting is really of.
My God, that is a hat and a half. The whole idea of riding a horse in that thing is incredible. Why is the horse not running from it in terror? Perhaps he is. Perhaps that is what this painting is really of.
Posted in Adventures, Around Austria, Art, Culture, Regan Writing | 1 Comment

Brno: The Poor Man’s Prague

Last weekend, tired of rainy, cold Vienna, we decided to head for the Czech Republic, where the sun actually briefly shone. The usual destination would be Prague, which is all the rage these days as a next stop for Vienna visitors, but if you only have a day or two for traveling, you might want to do what we did and head for Brno instead.

Prague is over 3 hours by train, and too rich a city for a weekend trip. Brno, on the other hand, is about an hour and a half by train—not far across the Czech border. But though it’s a short jump away, it feels very unlike Vienna. Some features are recognizable—the Habsburgs were obviously there, for instance. One can see it in the architecture:

So it looks. Our hotel — 4 stars, and with an interior worthy of Bela Lugosi — is on the right.
So it looks. Our hotel — 4 stars, and with an interior worthy of Bela Lugosi — is on the right.
Facade of house in Brno, Czech Republic
Bits of Brno recall the way Vienna must have looked before recent cleanings gave it its current sugar-sweet appearance. The architecture is familiar, yet alien and atmospheric. I loved it.

And in things like this over-the-top fountain (by the Viennese court architect Fischer von Erlach):

The Parnas Fountain, a late-17th-century extravaganza by the Viennese court architect, Fischer von Erlach.
I like the mold all over this. You’d never see that in Vienna, but it’s so atmospheric.

At the same time, there was a pleasantly Eastern European feeling of socialist-style architecture and run-down businesses. Vienna is too rich for this sort of thing these days:

You don't see stuff like this in Vienna anymore, more's the pity. I love me some Eastern Europe.
You don’t see stuff like this in Vienna anymore, more’s the pity. I love me some Eastern Europe.

In the city center, a vegetable market is held against the backdrop of a mishmash of these historical moments:

I love the mix of medieval, Baroque, and Soviet-era architecture on this main market square, where the sun was shining and the potatoes were plentiful.
I love the mix of medieval, Baroque, and modern-era architecture on this main market square, where the sun was shining and the potatoes were plentiful.

On the upscale side, take a bit of a walk uphill out of town (winding through the edges of the city, where we took the photo of the lonely Tabak) and you come to an extraordinary early functionalist villa by Mies van der Rohe. The Villa Tugendhat was built for a young Jewish industrialist couple; it was seized by the Gestapo after they fled to Switzerland, and eventually transferred to the city of Brno, which, at times in cooperation with the family, has restored it several times. The villa has reopened after its most recent restoration, in 2012; its ownership is contested by the family, who have asked for restitution (for a summary of those events, read this). Its history is bitter and conflicted, but the building is an unmixed statement of purely functionalist architectural principles:

The Villa Tugendhat, seen here from the garden side, is inaccessible, both geographically (it's well outside the city center) and logistically (to go inside, you need to book months in advance). But it is a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of early functionalist modernism, and well worth the hike up the hill.
The Villa Tugendhat, seen here from the garden side, is inaccessible, both geographically (it’s well outside the city center) and logistically (to go inside, you need to book months in advance). But it is a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of early functionalist modernism, and well worth the hike up the hill.

Back in town, you can visit a Capuchin crypt, where bodies, mummified in the open air, provide a bracing confrontation with one’s mortality:

I feel that I have erred thus far in my life by taking too little interest in Capuchin monks, who do these crazy open-air mummifications in sprawling crypts. The one in Rome is, I gather, the lodestone of Capuchin crypts, but this one was a good introduction. Here you see one room among the dozen or so filled with skeletons (most of the others are in coffins). Without exception, all of the other visitors when we went were families with children. Keepin' it real, Europe!
I feel that I have erred thus far in my life by taking too little interest in Capuchin friars, who do these crazy open-air mummifications in sprawling crypts. The one in Rome is, I gather, the lodestone of Capuchin crypts, but this one was a good introduction. Here you see one room among the dozen or so filled with skeletons (most of the others are in coffins). Without exception, all of the other visitors when we went were families with children. Keepin’ it real, Europe!

Oh, cheer up. The beer in the Czech Republic is some of the best in the world, and there were also fresh peas:

My motto is, "Everything's better with peas." SUPER PEAS!!
My motto is, “Everything’s better with peas.” SUPER PEAS!!

One last reason to visit Brno:  Because trying to pronounce Czech is fun!! Schladzscky! Moravuschky! Hurayescheschk! Or something.

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On the U-Bahn the Other Day

Not long ago, I had cause to mention the concept of Tracht, that is, traditional Austrian clothing. I was sorry, though, that my photographic example on that occasion was so static, because the real pleasure of Tracht is seeing it on the hoof, so to speak. That’s why I was thrilled the other day when I came out of the gym and went into the U1 station at Kagran, and found this guy waiting for the train:

This man and I exist in the same universe. In fact, we are going to ride the same train.
This man and I exist in the same universe. In fact, we are going to ride the same train.
It's not every man who can pull off this head-to-toe ensemble, but this guy's got it.
It’s not every man who can pull off this head-to-toe ensemble—Lederhosen, Tyrolean hat, two different plaids!—but this guy’s got it. And he’s going to take it all the way into the city center.

Yep. And that’s how it was that day.

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