As we get ready to leave Vienna, where we know lots of people, and head to lands where we have never been and know no one, I wanted to remember the wonderful folks who have made our time in this city so enjoyable. Most of them are old friends revisited, but some are new friends who we hope will now be in our lives through the internet and when we come back–and we will come back!
First of all, the one that made this visit possible, Wolfgang Petritsch. I met Wolfgang in 1969, standing in line for ”Stehplatz” tickets to the Vienna Opera. My roommate Celine and he were together for many years after this chance meeting. Wolfi was then a promising 23-year-old student from the ”slowenisch” part of Kärnten (Carinthia). When he was still with Celine, he had a Fulbright to California, and I saw them then. And when I had my own Fulbright to Germany and then George came over to Europe in 1974, we saw them both again in Vienna–by which time he was working for the Chancellor of Austria, Bruno Kreisky. Then Celine & he broke up, and we had no more contact, until we returned to Vienna in 1980–and imagine our surprise to see Wolfi on television, right behind Bruno Kreisky! He was Kreisky’s personal assistant and advisor on Balkan issues. He then went on to a significant diplomatic career, working particularly on the Balkan situation. In the 1980s, he was in New York as the Austrian Cultural Minister, and we met once again when I participated in an exhibition of Austrian art at the IBM Galleries.
But his most important accomplishments were as part of the team with Madeleine Albright who had the famous summit in Rambouillet and then worked out the Dayton Accords about Bosnia. He was, in the 1990s at the worst time of the terrible Bosnian crisis, the EU’s High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was singlehandedly responsible for establishing the cemetery for the recovered Bosnian war dead, which is now in Srebrenica, forcing the Serbians to acknowledge these atrocities. His last diplomatic assignments were in Geneva and Paris with the OECD. Last year we learned that he was teaching at Harvard’s Kennedy Center and we went to see him there, after not having been in contact except for Christmas cards for many years. At Harvard, he told us that he was coming to California for talks at USC, and would have a dinner at the Austrian Consul General’s house in his honor, to which we were invited–and he wanted us to invite Celine, too! For various reasons, I had not been in touch with Celine ever since we returned from Australia, but I agreed to find her and invite her to the dinner. So, always the diplomat, Wolfi is responsible for me getting together with an old friend that I had mistakenly believed did not want to see me; it was wonderful to take up where we had left off 25 years before.
We had a grand time at the dinner, and through our meeting with the delightful Consul-General Ulrike Ritzinger, were able to secure a six-month visa that has allowed us to take this long trip to Europe. And it’s all due to our friendship with Wolfgang. I have no idea why he has stayed in touch with us through all these years–I like to think it’s because I knew him before he was famous!
And it’s Wolfgang and his wonderful wife Nora who have allowed us to stay in her old apartment here in Vienna, and we will stay at their gorgeous summer home in Dubrovnik. They have been overwhelmingly accommodating, and have made us feel part of the family (which now includes their 16-year-old son Nikola). Nora is a new friend!
The apartment where we are in the 7th district was her apartment before she married Wolfgang (I’m trying not to call him Wolfi anymore, since that is so undistinguished!). The artist I have been writing about, Hanns Diehl, is Nora’s grandfather. She grew up in Gars, in Lower Austria’s Kamptal region, and we have visited her lovely house there in the countryside. When she first had bought this apartment–built in the 1870s–she did a magnificent job of renovation, preserving its character while substantially modernizing the spaces. Nora is a wonderful photographer, with a great eye for abstraction and textures. She was part of the exhibition that took us to Raiding out in Burgenland. Check out her work on her website: http://www.noradiehl.com/ She made a fantastic Christmas dinner, with goose and all the trimmings!
Through Nora we made a new friend in her half-sister, Heidi Meyer-Welfing. It was in Heidi’s lovely apartment in a traditional Biedermeier building, also in Spittelberg, three streets from Nora’s apartment, that we first saw so many of her grandfather’s paintings and drawings. We brought all of his documents from the house in the country to Heidi’s, where I plowed through everything to produce the blog and the Wikipedia entry. Heidi is cat crazy–after working for years as a representative of Christian Dior in Asia, she even opened a shop in Vienna for cat-related art and objects, which she ran for 12 years! Her current cat and love of her life is Schatzi, who we see above being adorable. I once called him ”chubby”, which she has now taken up as an appropriate name for him. She has been a delightful person to get to know, and has driven us all over the place, in the country, and even to the doctor’s office.
Hans and Edith Walder are other old friends. We met them in 1980, when we were here while I did my dissertation research. Edith came to visit us in Pasadena last February, and we had stayed at their Vienna apartment when we were here in 2009. Edith was a high school teacher before retiring, and Hans was a mathematician (I would say IS a mathematician, but he says he’s forgotten everything now!) They now live out in Hart, a tiny village near Hollabrunn in the Waldviertel–the forest region–of Niederösterreich, about an hour’s drive from the city. Their house there is wonderful, with a magnificent old barn, beautifully renovated house with two wings, and a garden that goes way back and up a hill–a classic old country Hof. They even have one of those cellars built into the hill, where you can store potatoes and tubers through the winter! They have welcomed us so generously to their home, and Edith has cooked like a chef for us. She is very involved in working for a charity that takes her to a Senegalese leper colony every year. She likes to travel, and Hans doesn’t, so we have to come here if we want to see him!
And what fun to be with other old friends, Christian Witt-Dörring and Michael Huey! We met Christian in 1980, through our American friends George and Patty Patterson, who worked with Christian’s then-partner Camillo at UNIDO. Christian has been a curator at the Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK) for some 30 years–he just retired last week! When I first knew him, he was just beginning his tenure there. He is THE authority on Wiener Werkstätte, and the history of furniture is his special love. He has been a consulting curator for the Neue Galerie in New York for many years, and also comes to LA to give talks at the Schindler House, which is run by MAK, too. The picture above shows him with G. in his newly installed exhibition at MAK, of which he gave us a tour.
He and Michael have been together for nearly 30 years now, and were married in Michigan as soon as it was possible. Michael is an artist who does very thought-provoking exhibitions dealing with memory, the archive, family and photography. He grew up in Michigan, where he & Christian return every year. He and I share a gene pool, I’m sure, and we love the details as all good librarians do. In Vienna, they live in the fabulous old building where Christian has lived all of his life, on the Wienzeile. Christian’s very alert 95-year-old mother lives in the building, too. Conversations with them are always such a treat for us, and we were happy to get to know Michael better on this trip. We had them as our only guests for a Thanksgiving dinner, for which Michael made not only the cranberry sauce, but also a maple custard pie to die for. Thanks for the visits!
Anita and Georg were the couple with whom I lived with my roommate Celine when we came to Vienna in 1969-70. Anita is Spanish, but has been married to Georg and living in Vienna for 50 years now. They still live in the same apartment in Sievering where we lived–it was brand new at the time, and out among the vineyards of the outer suburbs then. Now it’s surrounded by other apartment buildings, and the little pathway that we used to have to take through a vineyard to the streetcar stop is now part of a private property (but the vineyard is still there). They haven’t changed one iota: same telephone, no cell phone, no computer. They are one of the only people left to whom I have to send a ”real” Christmas card every year! They have always been incredibly kind to us, and we treasure those evenings when Anita cooks paella for us.
Finally, of those people for whom I have recent photos, we were able this time to visit with Gertraud Schuller. She was our landlady when we lived here in 1980-81. When we were figuring out where we could stay, I contacted the Bryn Mawr alumni office to see if they had any graduates in Vienna. Frau Schuller was an exchange student at Bryn Mawr in 1951-52! We stayed in the tiny apartment that was next to her apartment on Sternwartestrasse that had originally been intended for her father. A lovely old gent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who still referred to all the towns of the old monarchy by their German names, he never lived in the apartment but preferred to stay in his house. We loved taking rides with him in the countryside, because he had that long memory that is so characteristic of old Central Europeans. In Burgenland, for example, he talked about it as being Bavarian–because the Bavarians had moved there in the 14th century! Frau Schuller was a great cook–we learned how to make our favorite kind of fried potatoes from her–and she still prepared a wonderful meal for us. She has now knocked out the wall dividing her apartment from the tiny one where we lived that year, and the picture above shows her sitting in that space now. She is still very active over 80, doing long hikes with a hiking group every week. She invited us to stay in her apartment in Zell am See over Christmas, but we couldn’t manage this time.
Finally, there are the friends who we didn’t get photos of: Annette Dietrich, another old friend we met through the Pattersons who still lives out in Mauer; her husband Hubert was the chief conservator at the Kunsthistorisches who died a few years ago. Annette speaks the most beautiful German, and makes lovely illustrated books of her favorite fairy tales. We were so happy to speak with Gabi Hammel, an enthusiastic art historian I have known since the 80s. Gabi now has severely debilitating MS, but is still active through the miracle of social media and telephones. We were hoping to go see her, but she became ill, so we had to limit our conversations to the phone. My friend Eva’s old friend Christl Hunger, an inveterate traveller, was away while we were here, and so we were never able to get together. And then, there are the REALLY new friends:
At the Advent Market in Spittelberggasse, George found the one booth that interested him: it had handmade notebooks! The designer and proprietor of the booth was Paula Rodrigues–from Lisbon! Freezing in the Vienna winter, she was still bubbly and friendly and warm. We will definitely visit her studio when we get to Portugal! Check out her wares at http://www.etsy.com/shop/frownandfolks.
So we leave for further adventures with thanks and great memories to all of those who have made our time here so pleasant. We will meet again!