Austria, a notebook #1

Austria, a notebook #1

Dr. John Flynn

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.

– Christoph Waltz

In Michael Frayn’s Travels with a Typewriter, a collection of articles from the 1960s and 1970s, the penultimate piece finds him in Vienna in 1975. His acquaintance there with a mathematics student from Berlin “outraged by all this charm” makes him consider “these two German worlds” but the effort to reconcile them in his head proves disconcerting. Frayn is, after all, English, and the irony of Austria can be rather more spiritually familiar to an Irish person. That’s if it even bears thinking about.

On the subject of the unwillingness of the Irish to step beyond the English-speaking world, economically or culturally, it is true that most of them…

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Robert Musil’s Diaries

Robert Musil’s Diaries

Robert Musil (1880-1942) is best known for Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (‘The Man Without Qualities’), an unending, unfinished novel, of which the first volume appeared in 1930. I tried to read it once but found it too essayistic (Musil’s diaries agree) and boring and thus gave up. The first funny thing I came across in the diaries was the farcical account of the seduction of a seventeen-year-old pal of his. Let us call the story The Cougar of Brno, as narrated by the pal.

I had an intuition that something was closing in around me… I was vaguely aware that something was going on and in my youthful anxiety I asked my friend to accompany me. I stationed him in some bushes… we found a quiet bench and read the letter. My friend… explained to me I had to visit her… She received me in her nightgown and was charming… Then she was going with her husband to visit her son at the school for cavalry cadets… ‘You’re coming with us, or rather not with us but after us.’ … When I got to W., the train in which her husband was travelling was just departing… she locked the door behind me and went straight back to bed… There was a frightful sensuality in her eyes. We had lain in bed for three hours when there was a knock at the door. It was her son… She quickly locked me up in the adjoining room… I heard her telling her son to be quiet as his father was asleep next door… I had the impression that the son had some inkling of what was going on. During our meal we drank champagne… This was how our affair started. We rented a room in Brünn… Finally, for the sake of my health, I had to restrict our relations to once a week. This was evidently too little for her for soon afterwards she was unfaithful to me with another one of her son’s friends.

Musil’s early years were strange, to put it mildly. The sleeping rule (hands outside the covers), the presence of ‘Uncle’ Heinrich in the house and Musil’s deal with Herma Dietz are just three of the oddities.


Musil was small but combative and from early on he exhibited the small-man syndrome. Herma was a servant girl who looked after Musil’s grandmother but was let go after the old woman died. Musil, then a student in Berlin, offered her a place to live on condition she became his ‘mistress’. His flat description of her reaction (“She doesn’t say yes nor no nor thank you”) seems repulsive to modern eyes. He later gave her syphilis, she had a miscarriage and she died in 1907. Soon afterwards he married a Jewish widow (Martha) seven years his senior and they stayed together until his death from a stroke in Switzerland in 1942.

Reading Musil’s account of his ill friend Alice’s crazy adventure (1910) that ended with her being locked up in Venice, I made a note at the end. This is mental, in more ways than one. It appears in a context where he expresses an interest in sodomy and incest. Raised an only child, he was long obsessed with a sister who had died before he was born. Musil was a bit of a perv (i.e. prurient) and only occasional passages are worth reading until the seventh notebook (1913). The translator says Musil was “at the height of his receptive powers” then but he probably means most observant, with less navel-gazing.

Musil is quite morbid too. A brief passage about dying consumptives in Rome exemplifies how morbid, while his description of a tour of a mental asylum there reads like a thriller. In that light, Musil’s wartime notebooks are also well worth reading. He was an officer on the Italian front before his transfer to a desk job in propaganda. There are touches of everything from The Good Soldier Švejk to Apocalypse Now in his war experiences.

In the Thirties he’s again very interesting, this time on the Nazi takeover, which happened while he lived in Berlin. It is seen as a spell of bad weather… a police car with swastika flags and singing officers, speeding down the Kurfürstendamm. It is alarming that Germans today possess so little sense of reality… the streets are full of people – “Life goes on” – even though, each day, hundreds are killed, imprisoned, beaten up

Usually, otherwise, these are not really diaries at all, more often just notebook ráiméis, to use the Irish language word for rambling nonsense. There’s not a huge amount of comedy and not much observation outside of key historical and personal moments.

Der Herr Karl, a begrudger’s guide

Der Herr Karl, a begrudger’s guide

On 15 November 1961 Austrian television broadcast an hour-long dramatic monologue set in the basement store room of a Viennese delicatessen. Therein a middle-aged character called Karl talked to an unseen younger colleague while intermittently replying to the voice of his female boss upstairs and helping himself to samples of the stock. The public response to the play was uproar but the hour had made the performer – Helmut Qualtinger – immortal.

Der Herr Karl was no invention from scratch. Another actor, Nikolaus Haenel, had worked in such a deli and with such a character just after the war. The establishment stood on the corner of Führichgasse and Tegetthofstrasse and the chap was called Max, though Haenel forgot his surname. Nevertheless he later drew a picture of a bespectacled and rather thin-faced figure, aged about fifty, with a moustache a little wider than Hitler’s. While going through the motions at work, stocking shelves and mopping the floor, this Man of the Crowd had told Haenel his life story.

Years later, Haenel became aware that Qualtinger was in search of a character with a Nazi past so he approached him with the idea of Max. Though Qualtinger was still in his early thirties and much heavier than the original, he was intrigued and the pair met in a restaurant over three or four days, wherein Haenel told him all he remembered and Qualtinger took copious notes, which he later turned into a script with his writing partner, Carl Merz.

Karl’s voice seems to have been based on that of Hannes Hoffmann, from 1947 to 1969 the owner of Qualtinger’s favourite bar, the Gutruf. Hoffmann was an interesting figure in his own right and the transcript of a lengthy interview with him from not long before his death in 1988 is included in Georg Biron’s book Quasi Herr Karl (2011).

Married three times, Der Herr Karl seems amiable at first but bit by bit, in a mixture of Viennese dialect (what he really thinks) and imperfect standard German (for what he thinks his audience wants to hear), he reveals himself to be a Mitläufer (a camp follower) and opportunist who rode each wave as it came.

Until 1934 he was a socialist but it didn’t pay. He demonstrated for rent-a-crowd right-wing groups because there was a bit of money going (fünf Schilling). Karl then vividly describes the arrival of Hitler in Vienna, the rapture of the multitude on the Ring and Heldenplatz and the police all wearing swastika armbands. To Karl the intoxicating atmosphere felt like the buzz of a wine tavern. Qualtinger’s impression of the blue-eyed Führer passing close to where Karl stood and simply grunting Jaja! at him is blackly comic. Da hab i alles g’wusst, wir haben uns verstanden (‘Then I knew everything, we understood each other’).

A Jewish neighbour in his apartment block – sonst a netter Mensch (‘otherwise a nice guy’) is forced to wash the pavements. Karl describes the block’s Hausmeister laughing at this, though, as a Nazi party member, it is Karl himself who supervises the cleaning. When the neighbour (somehow) returns after the war, Karl raises his hat and greets him in a simpering fashion but the neighbour won’t even look at him. This hurts Karl’s feelings. He argues that someone had to clean the pavement. I war ein Opfer. Andere san reich worden, i war a Idealist (‘I was a victim. Others got rich, I was an idealist’).

When the Russians came, people rushed to throw their Hitler portraits on the nearest dung heap but Karl kept his on the wall and deliberately encouraged some Russian soldiers into his apartment. He tore down the picture and trampled on it and then, satisfied with this gesture, they left him alone. Karl subsequently got the chance to suck up to the Americans, whom, he notes, had good food. Wangling a job as a civilian guard, he had ample opportunity to chase away hungry compatriots now that he was a self-styled defender of the West.

An excellent introduction to Qualtinger and Der Herr Karl is available in Georg Markus’ Wenn man trotzdem lacht – Geschichten und Geschichte des österreichischen Humors (2012), which has Quasi, as he was known, as the main figure on the cover.


Both a history and compendium of Austrian humour, this book begins with a chapter on Wiener Schmäh, which Markus links to Vienna’s ethnic mix and then defines as including melancholy, sarcasm and a little malice. Nevertheless, in the very first paragraph the author makes a rather dubious claim. Das Lachen ist hierzulande von geradezu existenzieller Bedeutung und die Heiterkeit mit der anderer Völker nicht vergleichbar (‘Laughter is, in this sense, of an almost existential importance and the amusement is not comparable with that of other peoples’).

The Begrudger’s Guide to Irish Politics (1986) is a book by Breandán Ó hEithir (1930-90) that traces the political evolution – even thirty years on from publication, development may still be too strong a word – of the Irish state and its adjoining northern statelet over sixty years, from the early 1920s to the mid-1980s. The writer defines the begrudger of the title as the most common type of Irish character. Such a person is usually cynical, snide and hungry for the next unflattering story about an official role model or public event that won’t bore anyone else in the retelling.

Image Ref. No. 0161/085

Ó hEithir describes most Irish people as time-serving sycophants but, to be fair, the begrudger is often justifiably cynical, as the author also points out. One may easily be short of a job, a house, regular sex, drink (rarely) or food in Ireland: one is rarely short of a bitter belly laugh.

The book begins with an anecdote from the morning after the signing of the Treaty (1921) that partitioned the island and created the Irish Free State. A passing priest asks a blacksmith why he looks so glum.

It was the gentry that kept me going and what’s left of them will leave the country now. I’m ruined.

The priest assures him that freedom will mean the Irish will have their own gentry but this only causes the blacksmith to mutter darkly in his wake.

Our own gentry!? We will in our arse have our own gentry.

The blacksmith was right. Instead, we got opportunists, the post-colonial class whose innermost vocation Frantz Fanon saw as remaining part of the racket. The success of the Irish in America magnifies the awareness – learnt from the Brits – that electoral politics is the safest form of organised crime, where privileged access to the trough of opportunity is tolerated thanks to successful patronage. Incidentally, charity-sector fiddling has emerged in recent years as a type of scam at which the Irish in-crowd have proved themselves world-class.

In a nation of embezzlers, though, this phenomenon of camp-following and opportunism isn’t just restricted to politics and those with political connections. To give a simple example, there was a party for the elderly in one rural parish at Christmas in 1999, the year the Irish prime minister had issued a national apology in the wake of the States of Fear TV series, which had documented our children’s gulag. Just imagine, the number of children in institutional ‘care’ in the Irish state between the 1930s and 1970s had been, in absolute terms, greater than that in Britain, while our population had been little more than 5% of that across the water.

Of course it became fashionable and convenient to blame the Church alone for such horrors but what of the society that gave the Church such power? In 2017 the latest such scandal is that of the mother-and-baby homes, those institutions where unwed mothers were put and where their babies – if they didn’t die and get thrown into unmarked graves – were often secretly sold for adoption. These places were never secret, the people knew the score, that’s how things were done. 2017 is also the year that Brunhilde Pomsel died. She was Goebbels’ secretary and lived to be 106.

‘The people who today say they would have done more for those poor, persecuted Jews… I really believe that they sincerely mean it,’ she said in interviews for A German Life. ‘But they wouldn’t have done it either.’

On a lighter note, the Christmas party committee had asked a relative of mine to help out at the event. The members had already gathered a lot of good food and drink in the form of donations. At the party in the parish hall, a retired nurse advised that some hot whiskey punch would be the best drink for the old people in the winter but that suggestion was shot down. Instead, the committee gave them sherry. They had plenty of sherry. Soon there was a crash. An old lady had keeled over. After that the guests only got tea and sandwiches. The wine, the chocolates, the brandy and whiskey bottles and the beautiful cakes remained untouched. Soon the old people were packed off on a bus.

What happened to the goodies? The cars reversed in, loaded up and drove away. “Never again,” said my relative. What happened to Max? According to Markus, all is known is that he got fired from the delicatessen after he was caught trying to take home some bottles of vermouth in a small case.

Quasi Falco


Vienna, March 2017

Vienna, March 2017

4th March, Saturday

It was a rainy night on the way to Dublin in JP’s van. We met PT at the airport. In Vienna the sun was shining, though the wind and dust picked up as the day went on. After the Museumsquartier courtyard offered nothing of interest, we couldn’t get seats inside or outside the packed Palmenhaus so we dined instead at the Führich behind the Albertina. The Zwiebelrostbraten I had was a good lunch choice, in keeping with the waiter’s initial comment. Gute Wahl. Then the walking tour began.


We had to queue with the nations of the earth to get into the Café Central but the pit stop was met with approval before we found we couldn’t get up the steps below Ruprechtskirche. It’s a Baustelle, as the side of a building is being torn down. An empty, silent digger showed that work had been abandoned for the day. I just snapped PT zipping up after leaking in a nook therein. He got the idea from an Arab who seemed to appear out of nowhere or out of a brick wall. Thereafter we got to Ruprechtskirche via Rabensteig before heading down Fleischmarkt and cutting back to the cathedral via the large Jesuit church on Seipel Platz. Back at the Hotel Admiral, JP and I needed some sleep so it was two hours later before all three of us went to Charlie P’s on Währingerstrasse.


PT left by half past eleven but JP and I didn’t get back to the hotel until three in the morning, after a stop at a Würstelstand. The only nuisance had been a drunk young local lad tapping me with his elbow for an extended period in the pub. He was reeling at the counter so I only complained once. Bitte, bitte, Ellenbogen. Bitte!

5th March, Sunday

JP and I didn’t leave the hotel until two this afternoon. I’d made it down to breakfast after nine – in boots with no socks – just so I’d sleep on better with something in my stomach. I even brought a Semmel with ham and cheese back to the room and ate that at noon to enhance the effect.

PT was gone early and I put my phone on silent to minimise the impact of any texts. I’d already denied his request to come a-knocking, all for the cause of sleep. He probably got the same answer from JP. We caught up with him in Café Griensteidl where we had lunch (Fiakergulasch – I’ve eaten well). Then I brought them past the 1516 bar on the way out to the Oberes Belvedere.



The gallery has a “selfie copy” of Klimt’s The Kiss. It stands in a room overlooking the bare garden that slopes away, all the way back down to the lower palace. The original hangs in comparative darkness in the next room.


PT and I went in. JP went back down the hill to 1516, where we rejoined him after five. My favourite painting had been the sunny Der Naschmarkt in Wien (1894) by Carl Moll.

naschmarkt moll

JP was “happy out” in the pub. I left them there around six. I had to get some money and freshen up at the hotel. A young Arab woman in a headscarf got some from an ATM on Kärtner Strasse and then just stood there yakking on her phone while the screen showed ads in anticipation of the next customer. Rolling my eyes at the gentleman behind me, I had to issue another Bitte or two, over her shoulder, before she moved away without even turning her head.

Back in 1516 by nine. PT didn’t stay out too long tonight either. Not for the first time JP mentioned that the early morning flight is just a bit too much. Oh we’ve managed well but it is a physical test, basically losing a night’s sleep to get here from Dublin. There were at least two Hungarian girls among the waitresses. JP was absent for the moment the dark little one smiled and did a vertical high kick at the nearby service end of the counter (“So fast nobody saw it,” she giggled). When I asked her in Hungarian if she was bored, she got back to work. The tall, curvy one had simply said Igen when confirming where she was from. Hungarians don’t expect foreigners to have a clue about their language. The barman was Irish, from Galway. There six years, he’s about to get married.

We ended up in Flanagan’s (a stone’s throw away) because JP was looking for a charger for his phone. He liked that place too. It was quiet, unsurprisingly, on a Sunday night. A lad with his back to me had a black and white baseball cap and for a minute or two I thought he was a Jew. The top of the cap was white and the black blended in with his dark hair. The optical illusion of a skull cap struck JP too, when I told him to take a look. We talked a bit to a barman from Coolock, in Dublin. He’s been in Vienna twelve years. Married a Croat.

My two companions seem to have been very impressed here – “a real melting pot” (JP) – but, as I said to them, I’m not doing the 07.10 again. Certainly not just after driving 200 km from the south coast. JP likened the effect to jet lag. From past experience I know I won’t know the impact of this trip until the aftermath but I did all I could in a couple of days. I’ll know how good it was when I recover from it.

Graz, June 2016

Graz, June 2016


17th June, Friday

On the Schlossberg in Graz: I’m having a beer before noon and catching up. When I pulled into Malahide on Wednesday evening the sun was shining and Fiction Factory came on the radio (Feels Like Heaven). In south Kilkenny I’d pulled over on the motorway and put on the hazard lights due to a bout of very heavy rain. Though the sun is shining here too, the wind is loud in the beer garden trees. I reckoned I’d spend half the day up here, given that I did the steps. Even then, the Glockenturm (bell tower) is another decent climb from the Uhrturm (clock tower).



The airport in Bratislava was overcast after the cheap Ryanair flight from Dublin and I had to wait half an hour for a two-hour coach trip to Wien Hauptbahnhof. We passed through Hainburg and the sun was shining in Vienna. After a quick burger I was on a train to Graz for another two and a half hours. It emptied out at Wiener Neustadt. A nearby blonde who was standing until then took my fancy. Neck-length hair, rimless glasses, aged about thirty, she got up and passed to the toilet before journey’s end and it was then I saw she too was well built. This is Austria.

The Hotel Strasser is near the station, which will be handy for getting out of here, twice. Given that I’ve come so far, I will go to Klagenfurt too. At reception a young girl with glasses mentioned schlafen and Dusche after I described my long journey but I left sleeping for later. Even after a shower there was no spring in my step, though, heading into town. I had a drink and something to eat in Flann O’Brien’s; something of a barn of a place with multiple seating areas. Then I tried Molly Malone’s. It was long and dark but it didn’t do much for me either. Thankfully neither place was full of smoke.


I headed back to the hotel before midnight. The room is small and the bed is narrow – it’s a box room – but I’m on the side away from the Gürtel. In Klagenfurt I’m going to visit the Robert Musil museum. Then I’ll get something for lunch. Then I’ll watch the Ireland match. Later I’ll come back to Graz.

6pm Molly Malone’s: once I got down from the Schlossberg I thought I should go into one or two churches but the cathedral was closed. I could hear organ music. I’d mistakenly gone into the Mausoleum beside it, first. A bored blonde on the desk sighed impatiently at my harmless error. This bitch was singularly lacking in Austrian charm.


I did see the stained glass crucifixion containing Hitler and Mussolini in the Stadtpfarrkirche.  Then I ended up just walking around rather aimlessly e.g. failing to find a particular independent bookshop off Lendplatz but passing two Laufhäuser while doing so. For a sunny day my neck was cold. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the window open last night.


I’m back in Molly’s with at least an hour. A retired couple sat down here at this table for a drink. Ines said the barman had told them I was Irish and had come from Bratislava. Ernst said his daughter had fallen in love with Icelandic horses in Clonmel. I explained the town was only half an hour away from where I lived. I think I’ll go back to the Dom to see if I can get in this time. Ernst wasn’t impressed by my intention to visit Klagenfurt. Ich gebe keinen Furz für Klagenfurt. That’s what I think he said.

19th June, Sunday

Sunday morning, Graz. I’ll be getting out of here soon. Yesterday morning two women came to the door and when I managed to open it a few inches I took the towels (“Tücher”) and they let me be. It had been four in the morning when I got back and I’d even stopped to take a couple of photos of dawn breaking over the Mur.


There are no quays here, despite any such street names, as both banks of the river are thick with trees, in an unkempt way. There are no lamp posts either. The street lights hang from criss-crossing wires everywhere.



After watching a folk dancing display on Hauptplatz, backed by an oompah band, I was the first into O’Carolan’s at seven. The barman was from Donegal. I introduced myself after a while. Though we shook hands, he merely gave his forename in return. Anyone who does that feels he has something to hide.

We talked about the recent Austrian presidential election, in which the cities and the people with degrees hadn’t voted for the fascist but the hammer and the sickle had. He said too many young locals thought Holocaust figures were exaggerated. The Croatian beer he recommended didn’t come in big bottles but I cleaned out the fridge. Many times that night I looked up at the clock but any thoughts of heading back to the hotel were just too boring. Hence I overdid it, majorly.

Yesterday afternoon I heard the first thunderous downpour at three. Later I forced myself downtown, down the long, sloping, unappealing Anner Strasse, in order to get something to eat and catch the second half of the Irish game. A 0-3 drubbing at the hands of the Belgians meant little. I was going back to the hotel, to bed. In the night I watched Austria and Portugal (0-0) in my room, only leaving it to get some food in the Spar in the train station before it closed.

I had a bad night. Between an air-lock pain in my upper chest and two sore arms and shoulders, I was persistently uncomfortable. Right now I’m on platform four. I’ll get out of Graz in three quarters of an hour. I’ve done Graz. I didn’t warm to it as much as the other places I’ve been, in this country. The plan to see Klagenfurt was abandoned after a couple of hours in the pub on Friday evening. Down there I would have gone to the Robert Musil museum. He was born there. His father was from Graz. If I can sleep on the train I may bounce back a little. My legs are sore too. That’s from all the climbing and walking on Friday. When I get home I’ll be in good nick again.

The Schlossberg is a genuine attraction in Graz and I’m glad I checked the city out but there is something in the tone of the passage in the Rough Guide, just before the reference to the UNESCO status of the centre, which itself is almost dutiful, that suggests the writer wasn’t impressed either.

20th June, Monday

I got home after seven, by which time my shoulders were rigid. Some deep heat and a pill did the trick. I started sweating. I got caught in a window draught the first night in Graz. Before bed I bought Musil’s diaries (in English, the only feasible option – the German version consists of 1,500 pages, with a separate large volume of footnotes). Thirteen euro did the trick on German Amazon.

21st June, Tuesday

That was the worst hangover I’ve had in years but the window draught that first night didn’t help either, not least when blowing onto a hard, narrow bed with a single pillow.

Vienna, New Year’s Eve, 2015

Vienna, New Year’s Eve, 2015

The Westbahn train from Linz was crowded but I easily found the hotel after getting the U-Bahn to Alser Strasse. Three young Italians were taking a long time to check in but, when these other guests around reception cleared off, I ended up talking to the man behind the counter, comparing the death tolls of the Irish and Ukrainian famines. He didn’t want to pin the latter on Stalin, just “die Moskau Regierung” (the Moscow government), and I wasn’t going to argue with him about the 1930s. Not on New Year’s Eve. He must have asked me something about Ireland for us to jump on to that topic but in fairness he was curious about Irish dancing as well. He imitated the arms held down by the dancers’ sides, a style I explained was ordained by our puritanical priesthood. Das war ein Befehl von den Priestern. Sonst, zu sexy.

Anyway, I dropped the bag in the room and set off to find Berggasse and Freud’s apartment, even though I presumed it would be closed. It wasn’t. It was packed. A mixed French group pushed the street door ahead of me. Upstairs a stubbly Frenchman with a woolly cap didn’t bother going in. His wife turned to him. Tu restes au café en face? He chuckled and nodded. Il y a un sex shop en face.

A little video of a couple of Freud’s hats in a glass case and the preserved waiting room beside them was a good memento to come away with but, before leaving Berggasse, I also took a photo from the street of the lit windows on the first floor. The people jumping the ‘queue’ to swarm around the entrance desk had been more of an illustration of Alinsky’s key psychological principle – that people only push to get on a bus which they think has limited seating – than anything Freudian. Schlange means both queue and snake in German but there, one couldn’t dream of either.

The temperature had dropped below zero and my legs froze as I kept walking, having passed a locked-up Irish pub I’d looked up, on Landesgerichtstrasse. Ending up in the Museumsquartier, I said I’d keep going and get something to eat in Flanagan’s. A hot whiskey prepared by the manager thawed me out and I didn’t ask him about food, having already stopped for a final Bosner. Though the single sausage had looked more like a Käsekrainer, it was just as well I’d had it, as there was no sign of anyone eating in the pub. After a beer to follow the whiskey, I slipped away. A place like that is too much like home and only alright for one or two at most, if you want to keep it country. Another country.

The hotel room window, even if it had been double glazed, which it wasn’t, couldn’t compete with the fireworks and bangers. I got back around ten, having wandered through the crowds in the lit-up Innere Stadt. They were enjoying the amenities (food, drink, music). Before turning into the hotel I strolled to the far end of Theresiengasse just for a look and to kill more time. Ganz Wien was blaring from some open third-floor windows on Kreuzgasse, as I passed that junction. A Falco moment. Once more my legs were feeling the cold so I called it a night.

Talking again to the man at the desk, I found out he was from Kiev. My impression that he missed the USSR was reinforced. He was proud of Nikita Khruschev and Ukrainian generals and a nearby monument to the soldiers of the First Ukrainian Front. I’d have guessed he didn’t care much for Jews either, though all he did was express sympathy for the Palestinians. Woher kamen diese Juden? (‘Where did those Jews come from?’) He told me his two sons were soccer players but I didn’t want to peer too hard at his name tag to get the surname. Something ending in -ov, I thought. It was raining firework debris on the roofs and the racket was quite intense. There were sirens too, now and then. The curtains were closed. He didn’t look at all Slavonic. He was swarthy and reminded me of some actor, such as Lee J. Cobb (smile, voice, moustache) or Pernell Roberts or a combination of both. A group he said were from Odessa then emerged from the lift and when one of them came over to talk to him I said goodnight.

Though he’d claimed Rokossovsky was Ukrainian, that invited a later check. The Marshal was of Polish origin and spent almost three years as a prisoner of the state from 1937 until his release without explanation in 1940, during which time he somehow never signed any false statement. He later told his daughter that he always carried a revolver so they would not take him alive if they ever came for him again.

Up at half past eight on New Year’s Day, I opened the curtains. That revealed some snow on the windowsill. It was still snowing at the airport. The plane needed de-icing. Before leaving the hotel I’d asked a different chap at reception if the Christian name of the man from Kiev was what I’d thought it was. He found it amusing when I added that we’d had a long conversation, like it was nothing new.

Innsbruck, August 2016

Innsbruck, August 2016

10th August, Wednesday

On the three-and-a-half-hour train journey to Innsbruck from Verona, a north German family of three shared our compartment most of the way. They had just spent ten days hiking south over the Alps. The wife was a pigtail blonde, a bit literal but kind and young in spirit. Early forties, I imagined. The son was about ten.


The husband mentioned seeing the Cliffs of Moher on the Irish west coast last year and then the only other occupant – an Italian woman – suddenly produced a picture of the cliffs on her phone. I hadn’t the heart to mention that they had become a notorious suicide spot.

The card worked without the pin here. The lady at the Schwarzer Bär took the matter in hand and processed the payment. [The pin of my credit card had somehow been locked during a transaction at a hotel in Verona and I couldn’t change the code until I got back to Ireland.] Nonetheless I need to compile a few choice phrases for my review inspired by the Verona incident and the charmless reaction at the desk this morning.

My mother and I had an OK meal in the Altstadt this evening but by the time we emerged the odd drop from the grey sky and foggy Nordkette had turned to rain. In short sleeves, I hadn’t even brought the blue mac.

Tonight I was sent back out for some liquid supplies. This time the rain had stopped and the mac was a bit warm. Passing two dark, empty Spars and no Billa, I thought the station might have something open the latest. The supermarket lights were on there and I could see a girl tidying up inside but it too was out of bounds. The Würstelstand back on Maria Theresien Strasse gave me water and a couple of cans of beer.


11th August, Thursday

In the morning at a post office over the bridge I got the €500 sent by my brother via Western Union. It rained again in the late morning after we went over to the Altstadt.


Nevertheless it surprisingly then cleared up to make a sunny day. Seeing the last of the cloud lift off the Nordkette meant we went up to Hungerburg on the funicular in the afternoon. I made a panoramic short video of the view but stuck my own head into it and later discovered something black had stuck between two of my front teeth during lunch so it only looked like a visit to the dentist was on the cards.



My mother later did some shopping and I bought Joseph Roth’s Radetzkymarsch in the Tyrolia bookshop. I do like Innsbruck.


I didn’t care for Graz, a couple of months ago. I can’t speak about Klagenfurt but from what I’ve seen, Graz is the charmless sister of Austrian cities. My mother is really impressed by the river here.


A lot of Italian can be heard and a surprisingly large number of Spaniards are in town too. A few too many dogs. Canines. I don’t think they’re all local. Why do people travel with dogs? We had a nice lunch on Maria Theresien Strasse and indeed we had a nice dinner in the Goldenes Adler across the bridge quite late this evening but my arms got cold.

12th August, Friday

Raining again this morning. We won’t be visiting anything else before we leave Innsbruck. Killing an hour now before checking out. The flight from Munich is not until 20.20 tonight.

We had trouble finding seats on the train but eventually got into a compartment with two young blondes unknown to each other. When a middle-aged English couple with too much luggage later boarded our carriage and couldn’t find seats, it led to talk in our compartment. These two Brits caused the good-looking girl at the window to roll her eyes at me as she retook her seat after a quick smoke on the platform.

Ja, ich habe gehört,” I said, in reference to hearing the woman loudly laughing and then swearing, down the carriage (“Farking hell… This is farking ridiculous” etc).

Die sind Englander. Wir kommen aus Irland.”

The girl was interested and happy to hear that, as was the gorgeous student with the pigtail and the anatomy book near the door on my mother’s side. She beamed as she closed the book, took off her black-framed reading glasses and asked in German if I’d liked Innsbruck. Having explained that I’d been there before on my own too, I went on to outline the Verona hassle to both of them. They were very sweet and also curious. The one beside me had lovely varnish on her toenails – somewhere between pink and orange – and expensive sandals. The girls were open-mouthed again when I explained that we lived on the south coast and so I’d have to drive 200 km after Dublin Airport.

The girl with the anatomy book got off at Kufstein and sweetly said Auf Wiedersehen not just to us but also to the one beside me, who softly replied with Tschüss. There was a fella in boots on my left who never said anything except a whispered “Fuck” at his phone but he didn’t look like another Englander. He even smiled once or twice, for example when I had to stick my head through the compartment doorway to call back my mother who had walked past after a toilet break.

We got off at Munich Ost and the girl at the window bade me farewell twice as I stood in the corridor with our bags. All the hours in Munich’s maze of an airport weren’t as bad as the endless corridors in Dublin before the passport check. The drive was OK but by the very end of it I was tired and starting to see things. Home at one in the morning.