Thursday, April 28, 2011

Kalmykov's Ninth

I'm am looking forward to watching the Royal Wedding tomorrow when Donald Trump will unite two great fans of American Idol in holy matrimony.

Putin Girl by Danielka
Now that I have your attention:  please note today is the 9th birthday of the renaissance boy, Danielka Kalmykov.  Danielka is the painter of the Eclectic Pirate that adorns this blog (see to the far right).  Also, he has painted such great works as Putin Girl (to the right) and Ships Upon the Ocean (see below).

Ship Upon the Ocean by Danielka

Flyer for Danielka Magic Show
Not only is Danielka an artist and great fan of Spiderman, he is an accomplished magician, who, under the stage name of "Ka Boy the Magician," wowed audiences in Birch Bay in Summer 2010.

In his leisure, Danielka is a nimble dancer, a competitive gymnast for the Podolsk team, and an enthusiastic skier.

Danielka Skiing in 2011

As might be expected, Danielka is a bit of a bon vivant, a boy about town, with an eye for pretty second graders.  Some suspect he may be secretly engaged.

Danielka is fluent not only in Russian and English, but also understands all of the secrets of Spiderman and Harry Potter, plus appreciates the post-modernist humor of Sponge Bob Square Pants.  An avid reader, he won several awards last year from the Blaine, Washington public library for his voracious and eclectic (at best) reading.

Danielka at rest
As Danielka enters his ninth year, we can only sit back and wonder what he will accomplish in coming months. We are sure we will be dazzled.  As his Godfather Dan Durning and Godmother Natalia Gajdamaschko say about Danielka, "What a great kid."

More pictures at:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Five Best Things about Vienna in April 2011

As my month in Vienna ends, I am recalling what I enjoyed most during the stay.  While the warm and mostly dry weather has to be considered one of the candidates for the top five "most enjoyed" list, it is crowded out by several engaging activities.  The five best things about April 2011 in Vienna were:

1.  Hearing Mahler's First Symphony at the Musikverein

Mahler's First Symphony is, simply, pure genius.  It is engaging, clever, and enjoyable for even causal fans of classical music. I think it is Mahler's best, though "Das Lied von der Erde" is a close second. The orchestra playing this symphony was made up of some of the best young musicians in Europe.  The Gustav Mahler Judendorchester (youth orchestra) is selected every year based on intense competition among younger musicians from more than a dozen countries. The result is impressive. I don't think another orchestra could have played the First Symphony any better.  Of course, the concert was enhanced by its setting:  the Musikverein is Vienna's premier venue for music featuring gilded baroque and great acoustics.    

2.  Drinking heuriger (new wine) in the restaurant gardens of Nussdorf and Grinzing

Heuriger in Nussdorf
This activity is an old favorite that was destined to be on any list of great things to do in Vienna, especially in the spring. With the warm weather, the opportunities to sit outside and sip new wine were more frequent than had been expected.  This activity is even more fun and relaxing after a walk among the vineyards that produced the grapes from which the wine was made. Thank goodness for Strassenbahn (street cars) D and 38 that quickly carry fans of the grape from Vienna's Ring to the heart of Vienna's wine villages.

For more photos see

3.  The art at the Kunsthistorische Museum and the Albertina Museum

One day was spent at the Vienna Art History museum, located on the Ring, viewing old masters.  My favorites there are the early Flemish painters, including Breughel.

The next day was devoted to a grand tour of modern art at the Albertina Museum, highlighted by a special exhibit called The Blue Rider. The exhibit starts with impressionist masters, including several by Chagal and Monet, then moves quickly to expressionist schools and the various other forms of modern art from Klee to Picasso to Pollack to Bacon.  The highlight (?) of the most modern modern painting was entitled "Black on Black," which is truly black.

Breughel, The Wedding Banquet, 1568
The Blue Rider exhibit shows the art of a group of innovative artists, mostly Russians and Germans, who evolved into early expressionists from 1911 to 1914.  The most famous artist of this school was Wassily Kandinsky, whose early impressionist paintings were striking.  As he and his fellow Blue Rider members evolved a new philosophy of art, his art quickly moved from a type of impressionism to expressionism to abstract expressionism.  Viewing his art chronologically is like watching a descent into insanity.  Other  memorable Blue Rider graphics and paintings came from artists such as Franz Marc, August Macke and Albert Bloc.

4.  Buying "treasures" at the Saturday flea market at Naschmarkt

This hot, crowded agglomeration of temporary booths is a challenge to negotiate, but if a buyer is patient enough, he or she can find some rare items and bargains.

Flea market photo
My "treasures" were a newspaper published in Vienna a couple of days after the Anschluss, bound issues of an Austria picture magazine published from 1933 to 1935, a hand written diary with entries starting in 1896, a variety of old photographs (including several of Roma in Romania in the early 20th century), and a larger photo of a mountain village band playing at a local church (see the picture on the left).

I will definitely miss going to this flea market.

5.  Three way tie:  Great pastry, a tasty meal on Kahlenburg, and buying postcards at the Dorotheum

The fifth most enjoyable activity during my stay is Vienna is a a three-way tie. (I know, I'm cheating.)

I really enjoyed eating the fresh semmeln (small bread rolls baked daily) and pastry (mainly schnecke) for breakfast every morning.  I would not do it in the U.S. because of the calorie count, but eating these is a treat while in Vienna.  My apartment was within a few blocks of four or five bakeries selling fresh bread and pastry, so these treats were always fresh.

Tapfelspitz with horseradish
Also, I greatly enjoyed a tasty tapfelspitz, preceded by a red cabbage soup, at an outdoor restaurant ("Huette am Weg") located on the walk between Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg.  It was a bit chilly the day we ate this meal, so the waiters gave us blankets to help to keep us warm.  The food was tasty and the surroundings were memorable.

Chancellor Dollfuss
The final enjoyable activity was several visits to the Dorotheum, a great old Vienna institution. The Dorotheum is a world renown auction house. In addition to its very high-brow art, antique, and jewelry auctions, it has a room that sells collections of post cards, stamps, autographs, coins, and books.  I have a weakness for old post cards (and also sell them periodically on eBay), so I often buy cards and photos from the Dorotheum when they interest me or I think I can resell them for a profit.  This year, I bought two lots and wish I could have purchased more.  However, the prices for many of the lots were too much for my pocketbook.

One of the lots I bought consisted of political cards and photos from the 1930s in Austria (a period of research interest to me).  Right now, thanks to the Dorotheum and my credit card, I have a large number of cards and other other memorabilia about the assassinated Chancellor, Englebert Dollfuss. Go ahead and envy me for my treasure!

April in Vienna was a great month.  I look forward to returning the city next year.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Search for Great-Grandpa Sobotka

Last week, Jim Lynch of Little Rock went searching East Bohemia for Josef Sobotka, his great grandfather. Sobotka, a butcher, left the village of Stremosice, then a Bohemian village in Hapsburg Austria, in 1867 to emigrate to the United States.  He ended up settling in Missouri, and the Sobotka’s multiplied.  His many descendants are now spread across the United States.

Jim’s mother was one of Josef’s descendants, and Jim has numerous aunts, uncles, first cousins, second cousins, and others who are related to him through Josef.  None of them has visited the remote village in which Josef grew up.  Jim decided to be the first.     

Spending the month of April in Vienna, Austria, Jim saw on Google maps that Stremosice, a village of about 180 people, lies roughly 200 miles to the north of Vienna in the Czech Republic.  He enlisted me to help with the trip.  Jim was my roommate at the University of Arkansas about forty years ago, and I promised DeDe, his wife, that I would look out for him during his time in Austria.  So, I signed on for the adventure.

We first thought about renting a car in Vienna and driving up to the village. I was not too excited about the prospect of driving that far on unknown roads.  A visit to Vienna’s West Train Station yielded some good news:  an express train connecting Vienna with Prague stops in Pardubice, the capital of the region in which Stremosice is located.  The train ride to Pardubice takes only about three hours -- faster than driving.  Even better, the distance from Pardubice to the village of Stremosice is only about 20 miles.

So, we bought tickets for the train from Vienna to Pardubice, and we booked a hotel and car rental in that city.  When we took off on Wednesday (April 20), it was a perfect day with high blue skies and spring temperatures in the low 70s.  Modern European trains are a comfortable form of transportation, and this express train was no exception.  We headed north through some flat agricultural land and observed the scattered hills as the train pulled into Pardubice, a city of about 90,000 people.

After getting some Koruna out of an ATM, we got a taxicab to Hotel Euro, a modern hotel located on the edge of the city’s old town.  A few minutes later, we were in a rented car heading south.  We first had to figure out how to get to highway 37.  Fortunately, the directional signs were clear, and we were soon on a well paved two-lane road heading to the destination.  After a few miles on that road, we turned onto some narrower two-lane roads, going through village after village, each with its weathered old church and yapping dogs.  No road signs pointed us to our destination.

The drive took us through rolling hills, with green vegetation framed by the dark blue, cloudless sky.  Large swaths of the land were covered with brilliant yellow rape plants (aka canola) grown in this part of the world.  Dogwoods and cherry trees provided scattered pink and white decoration.

After a couple of wrong turns (as navigator, I attribute the misdirection to errors in the map), we were near Stremosice, but still had seen no signs pointing the way.  The roads were unnumbered and barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass each other.  Finally, we spotted a sign:  Stremosice 1 km.  Cheers arose.  After about five minutes, we realized that we had a made a wrong turn on the cusp of the village and had gone up a hill to a neighboring city.  We backtracked and finally arrived.  

We found a village of neat, well-ordered houses lying on a moderately steep slope.  After a glance around Stremosice, we drove up the hill to check out a highly visible yellow monument at the top and view the village from the higher ground. The monument, apparently religious, has no writing indicating when it was erected or what it commemorates.  The land at the top of the hill is tilled and flat.  About a half-mile from the yellow monument is the small city of Repniky.  
First view of Stremosice
Looking at Stremosice from the high vantage point, we were hoping to spot a cemetery in the village.  We saw a sweeping valley with some scattered settlements and a meandering creek, but no cemeteries.

Jim spotted two teenagers with some distinctive urban attire sitting nearby.  He approached them to ask if either of them spoke English.  They said they spoke a little English, so Jim asked them if Stremosice has a cemetery.  They did not understand.  He asked again, with some gestures, and they still did not understand.  So, I intervened and said:  “Dead people” and pointed to the ground.  After some giggling, one of them told us there there was a cemetery one kilometer away in Repniky.   

View of Stremosice from the Hill above it
A visit to that cemetery, which surrounded an old church, yielded six “Rodina Sobotkova” (Family of Sobotka)  tombstones, which were likely erected within the past fifty years.  They had no names indicating who is buried in the plots nor dates of birth and death.  Likely, the tombstones show the burial locations of six different Sobotka families, with more than one person buried in each of the plots.  

The cemetery had many old unmarked graves.  Other members of the Sobotka family may be buried in this cemetery, but their burial sites can no longer be identified.

Going back to the village of Stremosice, Jim saw a older guy doing some yard work.  The man did not speak English, but said he spoke German.  He called over a neighbor kid, about twelve, who is studying English.  Jim asked me to assist with translation from German (it turns out that the guy spoke very little German).  With some labored translation, Jim found out that this gentleman is 60 years old and has lived in Stremosice his whole life.  He told Jim that there were no longer any Sobotkas living in the village, but that two houses, known as the Sobotka houses, had been located across the street from where we were standing.  They had been torn down about 25 years ago.

Family Sobotka Tombstone
Exploring the village a bit, we found an old statute and an old water pump, both of which could have been in existence when Jim’s great-great grandfather had lived in the village.  Also, we admired the the tiny, but colorful village church, which may have been at that location for 150 years.  At the church is a monument celebrating something that Emperor Franz Joseph did in the early 20th century.  The inscription is in Czech, so I am not sure what is being commemorated.    

Jim found another friendly local resident to talk to, again with the help of the boy studying English.  This man, six-five years old and a native of the city, confirmed the information provided by the first man.  

Local resident and translator

We walked around the village -- which has no stores or businesses -- taking more pictures and getting a feel for the place. We spotted an old house next to the lot where the Sobotka houses had been located and surmised that it was the same style as the houses that had been built next to it.  
Jim in front of house located by the Sobotka Houses
After an hour or so, we drove through the nearby picturesque village of Bily Tun, built along a creek a short walk from Stremosice.  Then, we went to another nearby city, Luze, a little over a mile from Stremosice, which has a large cemetery and a huge old church.  Jim found one Sobotka family monument at the cemetery.

With that, the sun was getting ready to set, so we began the journey back to Pardubice.  The trip back was fast and comparatively easy.

When setting out on this trip-- or one like it, you can have hope that you will encounter a long lost relative who can tell you what happened during the past 140 years to the Sobotkas who had remained in Stremosice.  Perhaps they can explain what happened to Josef’s parents, who both had died on the same day in 1848.  

Absent a long lost relative, the next best thing would be to find a tree in which Josef had carved his name, or a building in which he had lived or worked.  Even better would be some local lore about how Josef had been a revolutionary who had left Stemosice to escape the Hapsburg’s secret police, or had been the town drunk who had been ordered to leave because of his bad behavior. Maybe he had been known as the intellectual butcher, who read the densest books between his stints at the abattoir.   

Probably the most likely outcome of visits such as this is less dramatic than finding a relative or hearing 140-year-old stories about your relatives. Time eliminates those who remember our ancestors and the details of their lives, then it destroys the possessions they left behind and renders their relics incomprehensible.  Even written accounts and some inherited artifacts from our ancestors, most of us can only hope to catch glimpses of the lives they led.   

Jim professed to be happy with the results of his search .  As the first of Josef Sobotka’s descendants to return to the old village from which he came, Jim can report to the others about the village where his great grandfather had grown up and had decided to leave.  He can tell his  impressions of both its beauty and isolation.  He can better understand Josef, whose eyes looked out over a fertile, gentle land as he decided a better future awaited him elsewhere.    

More pictures of the trip are available at this site:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Recommended Antiquariat in Vienna

When I visit Vienna, I enjoy visiting Meidl & Sulzmann Antiquariat located at Kochgasse 31 in the 8th district. It is half a block from Alserstrasse.

Unlike some other Vienna bookstores selling old books and prints, Meidl & Sulzmann have their books on shelves that can be browsed. Also, they have many racks full of old maps, graphics, and theater announcements that can be perused.

Of course the stock in the store changes as it sells and buy books, but it always has some attractive books at prices that range from reasonable to beyond the means of most folks.  Last year, the store had some first and early editions of poems by Anna Akmatova published in Russia. They were a bit beyond my price range, but it was a pleasure to see them.

In the past, I have purchased some older graphics (19th century) that have made great gifts and others that I have put on my walls in Birch Bay. Most of them come mounted and need only a frame.

This year I made two minor purchases. The first is the book whose cover is shown above. It contains  photographs taken in the 1920s and 1930s in Austria, mostly in Vienna. I wanted the book because I am doing some research on M.W. Fodor, who was the Manchester Guardian's correspondent in Vienna from 1919 until well into the 1930s, and have been collecting materials on life and events in Vienna during that period. This book's 425 black and white photos from that period provide some views of both the fun and difficult elements of the times.

I paid 15 euro for the book, which was published in 1979 and is not particularly rare. It is difficult to find in the U.S.

Two pages of pictures from the book are shown below. The first shows a old guy trying out the new wine (heuriger) in a Grinzing establishment.  The number of places selling heuriger in the wine villages on the edge of Vienna have dwindled and greatly changed since I was first here in 1967-68, but some are still around and have a bit of the feel of the place shown in the picture.  Unfortunately, the old places up toward Kahlenberg, surrounded by vineyards, without electricity, no longer exist (or, at least, I can't find them).  

The other page has two images, both related to the heuriger tradition.  The first shows three people sitting in a table drinking the new wine.  The second is the typical outdoor setting for drinking the wine and listening to music in Grinzing.

In addition to the book, I bought a small graphic to give as a gift.  It is a wood carving (Holzschnitt) that was printed in the book "Die Oesterreichisch-Ungarische Monarchie in Word and Bild" (The Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy in Wood and Picture) published in 1888.  It shows a brewery in Schwechat, located a few miles from the center of Vienna (near where the airport is now located).  It is small (about 6 inches by 6 inches), but has very nice details of an interesting piece of Viennese history.

In all, my visit this year to Meindl & Sulzmann was enjoyable and I am pleased with my "finds" there.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Favorite Signs in Vienna

The first sign appears in most of the green areas around central Vienna. It shows a dog with a piece of paper in its mouth. The paper informs everyone that the fine for not cleaning up after your dog is 36 Euro. Included is a picture of some dog residue, surrounded by a question: "Are you sausage (wurst)?"

The use of the word "wurst" is a joke on a couple of levels. First, it is clear that the black blobs are not wurst and should be cleaned up. Second, there is a phrase in German, "Es ist mir wurst," ("it is sausage to me") which means that it does not make a difference to me. So, the question is also, does it not make a difference to you? (At least that is how I understand it, but my German is not too great.)

The second sign, below, I first thought was a recruitment poster to attract young hip folks to an exciting career in street cleaning. It turns out that the sign is trying to attract young hip folks to take part in a short campaign in early May to clean the city. I liked my first interpretation better.

Last is a picture of a car parked across the street from my apartment. After seeing it, I chose to believe that the city of Vienna had required truck owners to label the different parts of their trucks so that pedestrians would not be confused about which part of it is the front and which part is the back. Of course, the real explanation is much simplier and less fun. It is inexplicable why did I found this truck so funny.

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The End of Social Democracy in Austria

One of my recent purchases at the flea market in Vienna's Naschmarkt was a bound volume of Oesterreichische Woche, a weekly magazine full of pictures. The bound volume includes vol. 1, no. 1 (Sept. 1933) through vol 2, no. 53 (December 26, 1935).

This volume covers a difficult period in Austria's history. One of the most chilling issues of the magazine is the one whose cover is shown in the picture on the left. It is titled, "The End of Social Democracy in Austria." The subtitle is "Chancellor Dr. Dollfuss inspects the defense action against the Social Democratic rebels." The issue contains the government's narrative of the brief civil war that took place in February 1934 in which Socialist Party resistance was routed and a one-party state was initiated.

Englebert Dollfuss, the smallest guy in the picture, did not last long after the civil war.  He was murdered in a coup attempt by Austrian Nazi on July 25, 1934.  A monument commemorating his death is shown in the picture below.  It was put up after his death, but removed by the Nazi regime.  The monument was found in a storage room in the 1990s and is now in the Museum of Military History in Vienna.

It is ironic that in destroying the Socialist Party, which consistently received a majority of votes in Vienna, Dollfuss lost an ally that could have assisted in resisting the efforts of the National Socialists to seize power.  His nationalist fascist state was not nearly as severe as the the German Nazi state, but its creation weakened Austria, making it more vulnerable to a Nazi takeover.

The words below Dollfuss' name in the monument say, "He created with the corporatist constitution, in the spirit of justice, the New Austria."  While his supporters likely believed those words, a more accurate assessment of his legacy is this:  he destroyed the Austrian Socialist Party and Austria's democracy, created a new authoritarian state, and paved the way for the creation of the Ostmark within Germany.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Austrian Anschluss: March 1938

I recently bought this newspaper, published in Vienna on March 16, 1938, at the weekly flea market held at the Naschmarkt. It was printed during a historic time for Vienna. On March 12, 1938, German troops had marched into Austria, an invasion that met no resistance. A day later, Hitler had declared the union of Germany and Austria, in effect annexing the country into Germany. On March 14th, he had been excitedly and warmly welcomed to Vienna.

The front page on this March 16th newspaper has an article by Joseph Goebbels reporting that Hitler was returning to Berlin and urging its citizens to turn out to greet him in his triumph. Also on the front page, as shown in the picture, is an edict from Nazi "justice" officials stating that Jews would no longer be able to work as lawyers or have a role in the judicial system of the country. This action was the first of many to come that persecuted Vienna's Jewish citizens. By the end of World War II, almost all of the 170,000 Jews who lived in Vienna in 1938 had either been murdered by the Nazis or had emigrated.

On the second page is a headline stating that Major Emil Fey and his family had killed themselves. Fey had been a close associate of Prime Minister Dollfuss, and in 1934 had been commander of the right-wing's (Austro-fascist) para-military organization, the Heimwehr. He had been a military leader in the 1934 civil war in which the government and Heimwehr forces had destroyed the Austrial socialist party, and had either killed or scattered its leadership. As a nationalist, Fey had also led actions to repress the Austrian Nazi Party. Many historians believe that Fey and his family did not commit suicide, but were killed by the Nazis in retaliation for his earlier treatment of members of the party.

On one level, this paper can be viewed as an interesting historical item that tells of a difficult time. On a deeper level, it is a disturbing and troubling artifact because we know that it is the beginning of a new period in Austrian history that would result in the death of hundreds of thousands of its citizens; the murder of tens of thousands of people, including many its citizens; and a stain on its history that will never be forgotten.
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A Vienna Breakfast

O.K., this is the first blog and I want to make it about something that really interests me and that anyone reading this would likely find attractive. So, here is a picture of a perfect Vienna breakfast, featuring two schnecken and some other sweet goodies. Disregarding calorie count, it is something that I could eat every day. Of course, I would want alternate it with a semmel covered with butter and Emmentaler cheese.

Like this breakfast, this blog is about things that taste great for me -- or at least interest me. The tasty topics include things Vienna, Arkansas, and Birch Bay (Washington). Also, history of the 1930s; interesting people lost to history who may be either uplifting or appalling; public policy analysis; M.W. Fodor, a journalist in Vienna from 1919 to 1938; J.W. Fulbright; unusual books; and other things that flit across the screen of a causal observer who thumbs through lots of old books.

The title for the blog is taken from my friend Natalia Gajdamashko, whose efforts to teach me Vygotskian psychology have been in vain. One day more than a decade ago she saw the decor of my house in Athens, Georgia, and, searching for something non-negative to say, she observed that it was "eclectic at best." That phrase pretty much summed up how my house looked at the time, and now it reflects the diversity of my interests as will appear in this blog.
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