You might have noticed it has been a bit quite around here and my social media for the past week – but there is a very good reason for that! I am actually in Austria right now, spending 10 days away from it all – away from the big city, away from my laptop and most of all away from an Internet connection. I am in the middle of the National Park Neusiedler See – Seewinkel in the far east of the country supported by a literature stipend by the Nationalparks Austria.
For ten days I get to explore the national park, speak to the people who live and work in and around it, and re-connect to a place that has always been so close to my home that there have certainly been times where I’ve taken it for granted. And that is exactly the topic of my assignment – going from taking things for granted to recognising how extraordinary they are in fact.
My project evolves around local stories as I have come to love telling the stories of the people I meet when I travel. I can’t wait to tell you more about the stories of the National Park Neusiedler See – Seewinkel!
Below you can read the short story I wrote for my application – a story of my childhood, my ancestors and the past. I hope you enjoy it!
If only it wasn’t taken for granted…
I there is one thing I learnt from living and travelling abroad, then that everything that I used to take for granted was is fact quite extraordinary…
Austria was always a given for me. I grew up in Vienna, the youngest child in a catholic family. Mum, dad, kids – my two older brothers and me. My parents are originally from a rural area called ‘Waldviertel’ – translate it to Forest District if you wish – but they have lived in Vienna since 1976. I took it for granted that I could walk to school every morning, and that I could hop on a tram and reach both the city centre or the forest at the city edge in about 20 minutes. We really only used the car to go on holidays, or to do a big shop. But today, I study abroad and only visit Vienna in the Christmas time or for weddings. And every time I come ‘home’ I notice something new and exciting which I used to take for granted. The openness and curiosity with different cultures that I gained in the multicultural neighbourhood of my childhood; the close relationship I have to nature and the essential role the forest played in my every day life even though I grew up in such a big city. These things can in fact not be taken for granted at all.
As a child I spent many summers in an area called ‘Waldviertel’ (literally translated: forest quarter), in a tiny village on the border of Lower and Upper Austria called Dorfstetten. My grandmother was born in the same year in which the Titanic sank – as I child I always thought that was super interesting, almost cool; somehow that was a tangible moment in history. One of my favourite things to do was spending hours in my grandmother’s attic, digging for treasures from the past. They used to have cows and oxen on the farm, but today all that is left are the leather harnesses used for the work in the field. How incredible would it have been had I only found the old radios and the telephone that must have been hidden somewhere up there. You need to know, that mine was one of the first families in the village to have a telephone and my grandfather was one of the few people who had a charger for the shoebox-sized batteries used in the radios back then. During the war neighbours would come here to charge their batteries so they could follow the news on the radio – and listen to the illegal radio stations of the Allies. Those are the things I should have found. Then I might have been less bothered by the annoying buzz of the generator tower across the road.
Once I had enough of the leather harnesses on the attic I would usually go and play in the forest. I climbed on trees and built treehouse with some of the other kids in the village. But my favourite thing to do was to hide away beneath the massive granite rocks which were lying around in the forest as if giants had dropped them there thousands of years ago. I was always fascinated by them, but I don’t remember telling any of my friends in Vienna about these giant rocks. They were, just like the generator across the road, just there – taken for granted. If only I would have known that my other grandfather was hiding in these forest as well, 60 years ago when he deserted the Nazi army. And later when the ‘Waldviertel’ was declared a Russian zone after the war, even more people were hiding here – just like me as a kid; but at what risk.
When I think about my home country Austria today, I try not to take any thing for granted any longer. I think about my grandfather and the silent rebels who were hiding away in the forest; I think about my grandparents who enabled other people to stay in touch with the outside during the war; I think about the sounds of nature that formed the soundtrack of my childhood. No, the place where I’m from is not just there – it is in fact quite extraordinary!
All photos via National Park Neusiedler See – Seewinkel.