>Overheard At A Bus Stop

>American tourist, to bus driver: “Can you tell us how to get to the Imperial Gardens?”
Austrian bus driver: “Wos?”
American tourist: “The Imperial Gardens?”
Austrian bus driver: pauses a second, shrugs, “Nah.”
American tourist: “OK thank you.”

Dear  U.S. guide book writers: please don’t  translate the names of sights in ways that nobody will understand, not even the American resident who happens to be on the bus. The door had shut and we’d pulled away before it finally dawned on me, what he was looking for.
Well, I hope he and his party at least discovered some things on the way, maybe a nice pub to talk about back home,  if they never did find the Hofgarten.

>Something Interesting About The Judenstein

>Two years ago I wrote a post about the local tale of Judenstein, or the “Jews’ Stone”, a tale which had been picked up by the Brothers Grimm and made known the world over. Last month I read a very interesting book about pre-Christian finds in Austria (cult stones, altars, that kind of thing) and came across this, which I also have posted as an update to my original post (translated here by me):

The “Judenstein” was without a doubt once an altar, where people had been once ritually sacrificed… According to the legend, after the murder, the Jews hung the boy from a birch tree. “That is a purely heathen story, nothing Christian nor Jewish in it”, writes Norbert Mantl in his 1967 book about pre-Christian cult relics in the Upper Inn Valley.  “The saga deals with the memory of a ages-old fertility sacrifice, whose ritual is still recognizable. Blood was spilled over the stone and the birch, representing the all plant life necessary to humans, received the corpse as an offering. It had to do with fertility and a good harvest, but also for the welfare and prosperity of humans and their animals.”

If true, it fits in well with the general idea that the church sometimes twisted older stories to their advantage (just think of all those saints and martyrs!) and may even have felt in necessary as a war tactic at the time, refitting the story around the more current “enemy”, having dealt sufficiently with the heathens centuries earlier.

>Weekend Mountain Blogging: Hexenbödele


10 minutes’ drive west of town is a wooded hill called the Hohe Birga, at which excavations have uncovered a Raetian settlement and objects dating from the Iron Age. Like the stone terraces at Himmelreich and the sacrifical altar site at Goldbichl, this settlement ended shortly after the Romans pushed through and burned it all down.  

The paths were narrow and windy, and sometimes rather steep. I began to feel like a hobbit on the road to Mirkwood.

 The excavation of a Raetian house, part stone and part log (reconstructed here.) There are plans to display the objects found here in a new Rätisches Museum in nearby Birgitz, although I don’t know when it will open. (It wasn’t today.)

My hiking map was not completely clear on this, but I took this very flat area on the hill to be the Hexenbödele, the place where the witches dance. It is said that many flat-topped hills in Europe are known as “witches’ meeting places” or Hexentanzplätze  — often these places have turned out to have significance to pre-Christian societies. (There is a large, high plateau in northern Italy with this legend, and sacrificial objects from pre-Roman and Roman times have been found at the site.)



A recent blogpost elswhere about “Krautrock” (classic rock music from Germany) got me thinking about a post I had wanted a certain music critic friend to write. He never got around to it so I guess I’ll have to write it myself.
Because: there was a genre of rock music coming out of German-speaking lands which was far superior to the Schlager tripe being fed to television audiences in the BRD (West Germany), and had more heart and soul than the Elektropop that groups like Kraftwerk were playing.  And that was Ostrock, the stuff being generated behind the Berlin Wall. Of special interest is the story of the band Renft, which enjoyed a few short years of real success within the country, before inevitably getting in trouble with the government. The following is from “Stasiland: Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall” by Anna Funder.

Renft may have started off with borrowed western rock songs, but there were so many lies that singing the truth guaranteed them both hero and criminal status. By the end of the mid-seventies the band embodied a lethal combination of rock, anti-establishment message and mass adoration. They were shaggy men with bellbottoms and attitude, they were hot, they were rich by GDR standards, and they were way too explosive for the regime.

Performers needed a license to work. In September 1975 Renft were called to play for the Ministry of Culture in Leipzig to have theirs renewed.

‘I had some western money,’ [ Renft said] ‘so before the licensing hearing I bought a small cassette recorder from an Intershop.’ … While they were setting up to play he turned the cassette recorder on and hid it (behind) his guitar…

But they didn’t get to play. [Ruth Oelschlägel, committee chairperson] asked them to approach the desk. She said the committee would not be listening to ‘musical version of what you have seen fit to put to us in writing because ‘the lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with our socialist reality…the working class is insulted and the state and defense organizations are defamed.”

…”And then she said to us, ‘We are here to inform you today, that you don’t exist anymore.'”
There was silence. One of the band members signaled to a roadie to stop setting up. [Lead singer Christian Kunert] asked, “Does that mean we’re banned?”
“We didn’t say you were banned”, Comrade Oelschlägel said. “We said you don’t exist.”
…[Klaus Renft:] Then I said, ‘But…we’re…still…here.” She looked at me straight in the face. “As a combo,” she said, “You no longer exist.”

Renft records disappeared from the shops overnight. The band ceased to be written about or played on the radio. The recording company AMIGA reprinted its entire catalogue so it could leave them out. “In the end it was as they had said: we simply did not exist anymore” [Renft] said, “just like in Orwell.”

Rumors were put out by the state that the band had split up, that it was in diffulties. It was: it couldn’t play. Some members wanted to stay in the GDR, others knew they had to leave. [Lyricist Gerulf] Pannach and Kunert were arrested and imprisoned until August 1977 where they were bought free by the west.

The band members managed to reconvene and enjoy a few more years of retro-success after the wall fell, although without their poet Pannach, who died in 1999. One by one the original members, their lives shortened by a lifetime of political suppression, alcohol and cigarettes (and possibly the effects of radiation used by the Stasi on political inmates at the Hohenschönhausen prison), died off until there is now only one or two left. Klaus Renft himself passed away in 2006, but the band, now with almost all new members, still plays now and then in venues throughout the “former east”.
Here is one of the last songs they wrote (lyrics by Pannach) before the hammer came down back then.