Posted tagged ‘Austria’

Viennoiseries

October 29, 2015

As some readers may recall from an earlier post, this summer I was on a week’s holiday in Vienna. For those who do not know it, I can highly recommend the city. It is the capital of a a small and, in geopolitical terms, relatively insignificant country. But a century ago it was one of the great powers, ruling a good bit of central and Eastern Europe. The First World War brought all that to an end, but in Vienna its glamorous past can be seen everywhere, in the grandeur of the buildings and the visible traces of the once powerful Habsburgs.

Vienna is also a city of vibrant art and culture – and as far as I know is the only city with urban vineyards and wineries (Grinzing). I thoroughly recommend it.

The building above is the Hofburg, once the main palace of the emperors in the city centre. In 1938 Hitler addressed the people of Vienna from the balcony, having just annexed Austria.

schoenbrunn

The Habsburgs eventually spent much of their time in the Schönbrunn Palace, above. It is a grand complex of buildings, designed to rival Versailles. I was able to attend a concert in the Orangerie.

Of course, no serious-minded visitor to Vienna can spend a day or more there without visiting the Hotel Sacher.

sacher

This is the home of the famous Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake that everybody needs to try at least once.

Apart from Vienna, I also visited some rather beautiful nearby towns, including Baden bei Wien. In Baden, the town in which the last but one Habsburg Kaiser, Franz Josef, spent much of his time, there is a particularly striking war memorial, with the inscription ‘Vater, ich rufe Dich‘ (‘Father, I implore you’).

vaterichrufedich3

And I also crossed the border into Hungary, visiting another town favoured by the Habsburgs, Ödenburg (now called Sopron). It is also rather beautiful, but nevertheless still carries the signs of decades of neglect during communism.

oedenburg2

Throughout my week there I felt a strong sense of history, as one cannot really help feeling in much of central Europe. It is an area well worth a visit.

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Letter (or more of a note, really) from Vienna

July 20, 2015

While I always emphasise that academics do not, overwhelmingly, take anything more than very short summer holidays, it is still a good idea to get some rest, refreshment and perhaps a change of scene. In my own case, I am spending a week just outside Vienna (with regular day trips into the city). I have been here before, and once again I am struck by the almost overwhelming grandeur of this old city of the Habsburgs; I may follow this up with some photographs in due course.

But as you might imagine, I have taken just a little time to look at what is happening in Austria’s university system, and was struck by one development in particular. Since 1999, under an Act entitled Universitäts-Akkreditierungsgesetz (University Accreditation Act), a government-appointed Akkreditierungsrat (Accreditation Council) can receive and consider applications from proposed private universities and can recommend to the government that they be established (or not). As a result of this process a total of 12 private universities are currently in business in Austria, including a private medical school. These operate alongside 23 public universities.

Typically these universities – like the Anton Bruckner Privatuniversität – offer a very specialised portfolio of programmes, and little (or perhaps no) research. Austria is of course not alone in pursuing this particular model, and I have not had the time to look, for example, at the legal and operational model for each of these institutions (including the question whether they operate for profit). The growth of private universities, and their role within the overall system, is a topic that will need to be explored.

Christmas mood

December 5, 2008

Just over a week ago I was able to spend a little time browsing through an Austrian Christmas fair. Doing so always takes me back to my childhood in Germany. Maybe it’s because our childhood memories manage to retain something of the excitement and mystery of the child’s-eye view, and maybe it’s because my German childhood ended when we moved to Ireland (I was seven years old at the time), but I could not help feeling that Germans (and Austrians) ‘do’ Christmas better than we do. The smell of ginger Christmas pastries, and the Glühwein (mulled wine), the quaint stalls and the music all combine to create what at least to me is a unique atmosphere.

I brought back too much, however. It’s wonderful where it is, but I am not sure how well it travels. But try as I might, I cannot get quite the same feeling of Christmas when I walk down Grafton Street in Dublin, even with the lights and decorations and cheesy music coming from the Brown Thomas store. I don’t often miss Germany, but this time of year I do, just a little bit.