Vienna’s sausages

BY THE WAY - Max V. Soliven () - November 21, 2002 - 12:00am
VIENNA, Austria – Adolf Hitler and Arnold Scharzenegger came from Austria.

Adolf was born in Braunau, not anywhere in Germany – and, indeed, was not even a German citizen when he ran for kanzler, the top leadership post. When his Nazi supporters discovered to their horror, just two weeks from election day, that Hitler had forgotten to take out German citizenship, shucking his Austrian identity, his friends in high places "fixed it". So, you see, electoral fraud is not a Philippine monopoly.

What if Hitler’s "citizenship" had not been approved by their Comelec? Would the course of history been changed, millions of lives saved (not merely Jewish), and World War II in Europe been averted?

As for Arnold, from Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator to matinee idol status, the muscleman with the infectious grin has come a long way. Why, he may even get to be senator, which will spell the end of the English accent in the halls of Congress.

"The Austrians," my former German friends (with emphasis on "former") used to gripe, "are the greatest public relations con-men in the world. They managed to convince everybody that Hitler was a German, and that Ludwig van Beethoven was an Austrian."

To which an Austrian friend and ex-diplomat, Franz Berner, quipped: "Ja, Hitler may have come from Austria, but he had to cross over to Germany to find people gullible enough to listen to him – and believe him!"

Adolf’s hometown (no relation to brand new Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuña?), i.e. Braunau, on the river Inn, is, indeed, well inside Austria but not far from Bavaria. Beethoven, for his part, was born in 1770 in Bonn, formerly the capital of West Germany in the postwar years. He left for Vienna in 1793, as soon as he could travel, never to return to Bonn.

It must be said of the great composer, who heard wonderful music inside his head and his soul even though he was stone deaf, that Vienna didn’t treat him very much better. Beethoven was so poor and unappreciated when he lived here, that you will find dozens of places claiming to be the spot where he lived. That’s because he would be thrown out of every rented garret or boarding house as soon as his innkeeper or "patron" found out that the impecunious genius couldn’t pay the rent.

That’s the fate of musical geniuses, like Mozart. He was so impoverished and scorned in his declining years that when he died, penniless and alone, on December 5, 1791 – only in his early 30s – his body wasn’t even allowed inside St. Stephen’s cathedral since he had no family to "pay", and he was hurriedly buried in a pauper’s grave. Not even his young wife bothered to follow him to his final resting place. When his posthumous fame began escalating (16 years later), everyone started looking for Mozart’s "grave", but they couldn’t find him! Austria is the only country I know which lost a world icon!

Everytime they play his enchanting music, or his fantastic operas like The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi Fan Tutte, or his marvelous symphonies, harmonies, Masses, minuets, and the Requiem he didn’t get to finish, even for himself, I ponder on this thought. He was so prolific that only a few years ago, 24 of his "lost" piano sonatas were discovered stashed away in the attic of a house here in Vienna.

Truly, Mozart needs no marker on his grave, wherever it is. He lives forever!
* * *
Our flight to Vienna from London yesterday on British Airways, an Airbus A-319, was smooth – with the help of a tail wind it took just over two hours. London was bathed in unaccustomed sunlight, the sky so blue, the clouds like wooly sheep flouncing through the azure pastures of heaven.

When we got to Vienna it was 5:15 p.m. – and the dark of night had fallen. In Europe, the winter sun rises late and goes to bed early.

I see from the banner headlines back home in The STAR that the opposition, too, is early. The front-page news says that the opposition plans to field a single bet against President GMA in 2004. What a story: Here it’s only the year 2002, and already everyone seems obsessed with the 2004 elections. That’s what holds us back in the carabao and karetela age. Too much politics. It’s not only our way of life – to most people, it’s their way of making a living.

There, too, is the statement of Finance Secretary Jose Isidro "Lito" Camacho that there will be "no government takeover" of Meralco. This was backed up by Presidential war-room adviser, Rigoberto "Bobbi" Tiglao. Sus, Lito. Weren’t you the one who handed the Lopezes, the bosses of the Manila Electric Corporation (Meralco), that draft document spelling out that the government required six seats in the electric company’s board, and controlling chairmanship? It must have been written in what old-fashioned guys like me used to call "vanishing ink".

Camacho, by the way, ought to stop making any remarks or "decisions" about PIATCO and airport Terminal 3. Pardon me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t he one of the investment bankers during his private-sector days who brought the PIATCO deal for consideration to European banks, particularly the Deutsche Bank AG? A little delicadeza, please.

Like Mozart’s corpse, I suppose, that’s a lost word in our vocabulary.
* * *
Despite the terrorist scare which grips Europe (they’re now beginning to deny Filipinos the Schengen visa), they were remarkably relaxed in Vienna’s Schwechat international airport which is 12 miles from town. The Passkontrolle languidly glanced at my Austrian visa, then waved me in. The Zoll fellas at the customs counter didn’t even give my bags a second look.

It helped, of course, that we were met by our very personable Ambassador, Vic Garcia. Vic wasn’t really there for me – he was meeting my partner, Babe Romualdez, (who’s vice chairman of our subsidiary media company, Stargate, which publishes People Asia.) Babe, who’s also a STAR columnist, was Vic’s classmate in De La Salle, although the two also went to the Ateneo – so, with their loyalties divided, they’re crazy mixed-up kids.

We were also met by PNB’s bank representative here, Jovito "Bing" Cruz, who helpfully brought his van. This "delegation" made us feel like VIPs. Bing’s wife, Linda, who runs a thriving restaurant and other businesses here, offered us pinakbet, but when we expressed a desire to taste some Viennese cooking (not Vienna sausages which were invented by – Hormel, Libby’s, or Purefoods, who knows?), the Ambassador took us to Grinzing, to one of their famous Heuringen where the house serves you homemade wine and there’s lots of music and Gemuchtlichkeit. (I always misspell German, so please forgive me.) The Austrians sing the glories of their wine – the Gumpoldskirchen, the Flohhaxn, the Durnstein, Retz, Povadorf etc. Vienna is over 2,000 years old, and the Celts started planting vineyards, the Romans refined the art when they founded the fortified settlement of Vindobona (where the famous Marcus Aurelius died in 180 A.D.), and the monks revived it.

The Heuringer we went to was called Weinbottich in Grinzing, and claims to be more than 270 years old. Indeed, the lime tree in the garden appears over 200 years old – and a visit to that charming Weinbottichhof was, truly, rewarding. You listen to Schrammelmusik as you tipple at your glass – and they bring out the schnapps as well. This is so-called because the musical technique of either, violin and concertina (hand-accordion), was developed in the last century by the musician brothers Schrammel. The musik-makers used to be a trio, but nowadays, with inflation, recession, and rising wages, wine-growers’ restaurants make good with two. Ambassador Garcia and his attractive wife, Connie, sang La bella cosa in operatic bravura with the concertina and violin players sawing away tunefully to accompany them. The tourists love Grinzing. They warble along with the Schrammelmusik boys the sentimental songs of old Vienna like "Wein, Stadt meine Traume" (Vienna, city of my dreams), Merry Widow,. Die Fledermaus (The Bat) whose best line says, "Happy is the man who forgets what he cannot change." (That’s why we columnists often forget.)

It’s all very romantisch. The tourists love it and lap it up. The real Austrians love watching the tourists lap it up. No one among them really wants to go back to the old Vienna – where 80 percent of the houses had no indoor toilets and one had to go to a common cold-water tap on the floor landing outside, known as the Bassena-Wohnungan to draw water for the apartment.

Younger Viennese don’t even know of those primitive times. They’re hip.

The place we enjoyed last night, though, was excellent. Most of the clientele were locals, and very smart and upmarket. One thing about "young wine", however. Like "young love", it goes to your head and gives you a hang-over the next morning.

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