Landing in Vienna, two days after Christmas Day in 2015, I wasn’t half-finished. I had to get the airport train to Landstrasse, then the underground to the Westbahnhof and then another train to Linz. The sun was shining. Having not looked up where Hotel Kolping was for quite some time, I had to ask three pretty young ladies for help on Bürgerstrasse in Linz. Two were surely sisters and maybe even twins – the same black-rimmed glasses and stylish highlights. Late teens. I was on the wrong side of Landstrasse but at least on the right north-south echelon of it. The Hotel Kolping lies behind the casino. After checking in, paying the bill and having a shower, I stopped for a hot dog at the twin of the famous Bosner Eck stand before heading to the river.

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Past Hauptplatz the Danube bridge crosses to the Urfahr end of the city. The car lights shone through the murk as an icy mist blew up from the water.

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Back on Hauptplatz I found the Old Dubliner pub down a long tunnel. The pretty young blonde behind the counter didn’t know what a hot whiskey was so I had a bottle of Weizenbier instead. I had five of them, though my eyes at times were stinging with the smoke, long banned in Ireland, as the place filled up. It was small and dark but there was a lot of people then and it was quite amazing how the girl handled it all alone. She was an engineering student. Some people were coming to the counter, some were ordering from tables, some were paying up front, some were running a tab.

The guy next to me at the counter had come in with someone with short hair and glasses. I thought it was a young lad at first but it turned out to be his wife. The chap himself wouldn’t have looked out of place among the crew of U-96 (Das Boot), down with all the scraggy beards and hunted eyes. He said the informal people of Upper Austria hadn’t much use for Sie, except with Polizei und Richter (police and judges). He ordered something that looked like a grilled slice of a large brown loaf, with some pizza toppings. He told me what it was called (I forget) and then I had it too. According to him, it had been a traditional meal for poor people working im Wald (in the woods).

I’d also got to know the barmaid’s name – Laura – and kissed her extended hand. That kind of thing didn’t please a lad – her boyfriend, I presumed – at a crowded table where she took a break in a lull around ten. I spotted her looking around at me as he started complaining about something but, whatever she said in response, she cooled his boots. I was old enough to be her father. Anyway, I was about to leave. I didn’t want to be tired in the morning. I wanted to get to Mauthausen.

Sitting on the toilet lid before a shower at nine brought a life first. It shattered and my arse plunged south. I’d often seen people sit on toilet lids for one reason or another in films but I’d never seen that happen there either. On the way to the breakfast room I confessed at reception. The lady said there was no need to pay for it. In other words I hadn’t blown up the mini-bar or anything like that. It was only a piece of plastic. Before the pub that night, back in Linz, I got a very tasty Bosner groß dog from the Bosner Eck. Then I walked up to the Schloss and took more photos on the way.

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There was a different girl working in the Old Dubliner, a slim girl with some Italian features (e.g. black hair, a higher nose bridge) but with rather Germanic pale eyes. Though the place was busy again, she wasn’t under as much pressure, as the orders weren’t flying in like the night before. Letting her keep the change out of a €20 note surprised her (“Eh, danke schön”), unsurprisingly, over there, where they don’t expect much of a tip, but letting Laura keep change had been a pleasure. I’d had four drinks, during which time I got talking to a bespectacled young darts fan called Jakob, with a shaved head and a goatee, who was only into the darts on TV because some Austrian had qualified for the last whatever of the world championship. He wasn’t the only person during this trip to ask, Warum Österreich? In response, I paraphrased a quote from the actor Christoph Waltz (“Austrians tend to make their lives easier, so first of all they are very polite and second they don’t mean it… The difference between Austrians and Germans is very much like Irish and English”). Jakob interpreted the parallel as wie ein kleiner Bruder (‘like a little brother’). On the way back I had another Bosner, this time from the other of the twin stands. This one was OK but it wasn’t as good as the first. I hadn’t wanted the Bosner Eck woman on duty to think she couldn’t keep those dogs fired out to me.

Over there, despite the lights, I could forget it was Christmas. I was missing the sixth Irish storm of the season (“Frank”) too, though it hadn’t stopped raining back home in the meantime. In the morning I went to the Lentos Kunstmuseum where I bought a lot of postcards, including three of Kokoschka’s Die Freunde, which up close looks like it was painted with his fingers. After a short stop at the Neuer Dom (‘new cathedral’) it was time to head to Steyr.

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