Saturday, 9 December 2017

Linz - Awakening Memories

Prepare for boarding!
By stealth, humour, and simply changing the subject, I had managed to avoid discussing Donald
Trump, but as we sailed down the Danube one sunny afternoon on our way to Linz, Austria, my luck ran out. We were sat with a couple from Minnesota when the guy opened with: “I hadn’t realized that Hitler was initially elected to power with less than a majority.” It was a prescient comment; Hitler had grown up in Linz. The comparisons continued: exploiting nationalism with ‘we’ll be great again’; demonizing minorities, even inciting attacks on them; dismissing science; and discrediting the free press as fake, in order to legitimize his own desired view of reality. We agreed that the legitimate press needed our support and vowed to subscribe to the New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.
Plague Column & Dom
Not everyone felt this way. One morning, a gentleman from Florida strode towards me as I stood on the top deck with my camera. “I hear those Muslims want their own cemetery now (referring to a Quebec article); I’ve never asked for my own cemetery!”
“Well, maybe you should?” I said. I’d failed his test – the conversation ended there.

Many years after Hitler, Adolf Eichmann, the Architect of the Holocaust, also spent his youth in Linz. I came of age over the course of the Eichmann Trial in 1961 as images and accounts of ghettos, train journeys, and death camps were seared into my brain by the British newspapers for the months that it took – images that are still there. To its credit, Linz became one of the most active cities in eradicating the signs of Nazism from its streets and commemorating those that had opposed it.

2 Men & an Elephant
Late in the afternoon we docked; this was to be our only stop without an organized tour – we were on our own.  We stepped off the boat and walked up to the main square dominated by the Pestsäule (Plague Column) built in 1723 to celebrate being passed over by the disease. Just off a corner of the square is the Alter Dom (Old Cathedral). This Dom was a must-see for me on this voyage: a place where Beethoven composed and Anton Bruckner, perhaps my favourite composer, played the organ for 12 years. Inside, I breathed in the 19th Century, …and the cool air - it was a break from the >30°C heat outside.

The square features a stucco moulding of two naked men and an elephant, surrounding a window. Apparently, Maximilian II, before he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, visited Linz in 1552, bringing with him exotic beasts including an Indian elephant. No word on where the two guys came from…

Martinskirche 'Altar'
We decided we just had time to climb to Martinskirche (St Martin’s Church), recognized as the oldest church in Austria. The church sits high above the town and it was hot, with the late afternoon heat that encloses you like a heavy cloak. We trudge onward and upward and, gradually it dawns on me that we’re old and in pain, and that we should be sitting on the boat, sipping a glass of cold beer. But we press on. Originally built by Charlemagne in the 8th Century this modest house of worship incorporates Roman walls, still visible inside and out. It has been remodelled since and houses 14th Century frescoes, as well as a lovely stained glass backdrop to the altar. Although it was locked, I was able to point and shoot through a gap in the main door.

As we walked along the path from Martinskirche we discovered the statue of Johannes Kepler, a founder of modern science and a resident of Linz when he published his famous work on planetary motion.  But, it was the 17th Century, his science was dismissed, the Lutherans excommunicated him, and his mother was tried as a witch, likely as a result of his views. And now, in the 21st Century, we can only wait for the witch trials to begin again.

The Climb to Martinskirche


  1. A thought provoking blog. Thank you.

    1. You are most welcome Jim. I struggled with this one, particularly the darker parts...

  2. Thank you for this insightful comparison piece about then and now - the timeless profile of the sociopath/exploiter and the equally lasting and enduring faces of beauty, contribution and creativity. Now this is what I call a travel journal!

    1. Thanks for your kind words Eleanor. Trying times but there’s always a silver lining... far, anyway.

  3. Sad to say that the comparisons we can make because of our understanding of history may well be lost as the waters of teaching history become more and more muddied.

    1. Thanks Vicki. Fraught times, but I believe that’s why we need to support organizations we can trust.

  4. Too bad the boorish elephant-in-the-room manages to taint even the most pleasant excursions. The pendulum will swing back - hopefully sooner than later. In the last U.S. Presidential election, Americans were demanding a change and only one party (with a chance of winning) offered qa break from the status quo. It may not have been the candidate for which most voters hoped but the two-party system is slow and inefficient. I expect this period of nationalism - in the U.S. and abroad - will be short-lived and will become just a brief embarrassment that we'll hardly ever speak of again.
    Thanks for another tour-by-proxy and for going to the extra bother of getting that great shot of the altar through the door-crack.

    1. I know you guys wanted change, but I fear it’s ‘be careful what you wish for’. Lots more Austria to come!!


Danube - the Cruise Finalé

It was after dark and the Captain called us up on deck. We were moored in Budapest on our last night on board and we’d been expecting this....