I find myself quite indecisive on the question of Vienna’s identity. Is Austria’s capital part of East or West Europe? In fact, there is no reason to limit this question to the city: is Austria an Eastern European or Western European country? Strolling down what I can only describe as a “shopping thoroughfare,” I made a passing comment to a friend that this was Vienna’s case to be included in the West. High-end shops line the tidy street, interrupted frequently by cafes charging over 4 Euros per pastry. My lived experience through the eve of Day 6 tells me that Vienna, and therefore Austria, is Western. However, can a general feeling, this mere “gut-check” of mine, hold up in court? Refuting my notion is the Geographic Argument, which boasts the definitely eastern Czech Republic to the due north of Austria. If the Czechs belong in the east, maps and globes would contend that so too do the Austrians. Surely, however, the east/west divide is more a question of culture than location. What to believe…?
Lastly, today we visited two Jewish museums. We met in Judenplatz to begin our tour. Although I knew the translation, I didn’t really think about it until our tour guide spoke it aloud. “Jew Square.” I remarked to a classmate that it sounded so crass and offensive in English. How, I wonder, does it come across in German?
As a Canadian with only intermediate German speaking abilities, I couldn’t be sure. After reading about the atrocities of the Holocaust and Austria’s complicit involvement, I did not feel confident that it had a more positive connotation than its English translation. As it turned out, the museums, and especially Vienna’s public memorials (or near lack thereof) were disappointing. I’ve heard great tales of Berlin’s wondrously powerful collection of memorials and tributes to its past transgressions, and sadly Austria has a ways to go before it can reach this level of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (the German word for dealing with the past). This ties into the east/west debate. While on the outside Vienna is a beautiful, clean and wealthy city with a modern feel to it, something else lurks just beneath the surface. Is Austria hiding behind a westerly facade? My thoughts are scattered between these subjects, and more. I hope that four more days settle my mind and provide me some answers.