Tirol is a ridiculous place. I’m talking fairytale ridiculous, with mountains, beautiful lakes, quaint villages and the relaxed pace of the countryside. I always feel like I’ve stepped into a Grimm Brothers tale when I visit.
The fairytale aspect is only enhanced whenever we spend time with the Misters family. His grandparents live in a traditional farmhouse. It was built by hand, there’s a burbling creek out the back with fish, a cow for your morning milk next door and a field backing onto the forest. I could not make it more stereotypically fairytale-esque if I tried.
But, like all great fairytales, there’s a flip-side. A terrifying, traditional, devilish flip-side.
They go by the name of ‘Krampus‘ or ‘Perchten’ (depending on your regionality.) They are truly horrible but put on the most spectacular show each year to serve a warning to naughty kids on the 5th of December.
While St Nikolaus is said to brings nuts, treats and chocolates to children who are well behaved on the 6th of December, Krampus is the scary devil who kidnaps naughty children from their families by throwing them into a coal sack and taking them to hell*. When they march into the village in their gigantic traditional masks, hand woven costumes and booming drums, while the fire pit burns in the village centre, you can almost believe you are back in fairytale-times and the devils will steal you away!
For the real impact though, you need to hear the drums, smell the smoke and have your heart skip a beat when a smaller teufel comes past and covers your face in black coal dust. The video below will give you a taste, but to really understand the fairytales of Tirol, you might just have to see for yourself….
*History nerd note – This is the colloquial version of events as told by locals in bars, on the village streets and when trying to terrify an Auslander like me!
In honour of the fact that this is my 28th post, on the week of my 28th birthday I feel its appropriate to celebrate that number with a short guide to the hilarious/awesome/crazy things i’ve noticed from my first year living in Austria. These are the little things you need to embrace to truly uncover your inner Austrian!
1.Be on time. They really, really like being on time. The Germans and the Swiss have the more famous reputation but God help you if you’re not on time to meet an Austrian. For an Austrian, to be 5 minutes early is to be on time. You have been warned!
2. Speak Austrian Deutsch. The language spoken here is technically German, but an Austrian variety. So a Potato is an Kartoffeln in Deutsch, but Erdäpfel in Austrian. German apricots are Aprikose, Austrian ones are Marillen, German tomatoes are Tomaten, and the Austrian (specifically Viennese) tomatoes are Paradeiser….you get the idea. These tricksy little differences seperate the Deutsch from the Österreicher!
3. Get used to Smoking. Austria is one of the few countries that has been sloooowww to take up any kind of smoking laws, because Austrians adore smoking. For a country that’s so modern in so many ways the smoking habits here make me feel like its still 1960. Bars, restaurants and streetside you can buy super cheap packs of smokes. Its legal at 16 meaning half the population is addicted by 17. Its gross.
Even their healthiest export is into it!
4. Get nude! This is so normal here as to barely* rate a mention. Topless sunbaking is the norm at all public swimming spots, be it beside the Danube, at a public pool or with your kids at the local swim spot. Nuding up is par for the course, particularly beside lakes, and while some areas are specifically reserved for this, people don’t tend to look twice at folk of all ages nuding up. Stay tuned for a later post about this and how it positively affects body confidence throughout the country – I reckon us English speaking folk have a lot to learn!
*sorry (not sorry) for this terrible pun!
5. Eat Dairy. There is dairy everywhere. Austrians love any kind of Dairy product – cheese, milk, butter, buttermilk, cream, creamy spreads, creamy sauces on meals, mayonaise in every salad…. it’s endless. I reckon its from their rural tradition of farming and loving their cows so much. So versatile is their love of Dairy that they literally invented a drink made from ‘cheese juice’ – as in leftover juice from the cheese making process. Its called Latella. S loves it. The thought of it makes me wanna vomit in my mouth
Milk & Fruit and CHEESE JUICE!! Belurgh!
6. Embrace Pork ‘n Potatoes. The diet of Austria is built on the back of a Pig – always served with generous helpings of Potatoes. More often than not, the potatoes are in salad, the famous Kartöffel Salad . Natürlich, the best Kartoffel salad is always made by Austrian Grannies. Pork cannot be avoided – they sneak it in Schnitzel, in Salad, in Cordon Bleu, even in breakfast as a spread ( the fat of the pig is made spreadable). Basically for Austrians, Pork = life.
7. Be Neat & Tidy. The enitre country is an OCD dream of cleanliness. Crossing the border into Austria I swear the fields get more organised, the streets are neater and everything is more orderly. There’s a woman on our street who has been spotted sweeping leaves from the footpath at midnight. No joke – cleanliness is imperative. If cleaning your house isn’t enough, they have city wide initiatives in Spring to help clean the city for incomiung tourists…very serious business!
8. Holiday Often. Most Austrian work contracts have 5 weeks annual leave built in. Add to that the many many public holidays throughout the year (at least 14) and the ‘swing days’ ( if a public holiday falls on a Thursday you get the Friday off too) and you have one very relaxed country. Being smack in the centre of Europe means you can holiday in Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic or just enjoy some of the stunning lakes of Austria. Tough life!
Viennese Day off – very tough!
9. Be Polite. Normally, in any English speaking country when I get in an elevator, I avoid eye contact, clutch my phone and pretend i’m not surrounded by 20 other people in an enclosed space. Entering and exiting buildings I look busy, stride quickly and leave everyone the hell alone to do the same. Standard human interaction, no? Not so here. Every office I walk into someone greets you with a cheery ‘Gruß Gott’, you step out of a lift and a hail of ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ sends you merrily on your way. I think this is part of Austrias very strong formal culture. In the villages of Tirol, if you walk past someone on the street its extremely rude to not say ‘Servus’ or ‘Gruß Gott’ in greeting. I personally love this – it gives your day to day interactions a little more cheer!
10. Get a Dirndl/Lederhosen, This is not mandatory, but super fun! I got my first Dirndl last weekend for a local ‘mini-Oktoberfest’ in Tirol and I loooovve it. Dirndl’s & Lederhosen are the traditional clothes of Austria, known as Trachten. They’ll lend you the air of authenticity while holding a beer and speaking broken Deutsch in a beer hall. Apparently Trachten are making a comeback in the fashion stakes so you can get yourself ahead of the game, like so….
Advising others on the benefits of a Dirndl…
11. ‘Where are you from?’ is a mandatory conversational topic. I don’t just mean asking which continent, or country. The first 15 minutes upon meeting anyone new is generally spent dissecting which particular reigon a person hails from. Points are gained if this can be picked from a speakers accent, double points if a specific village can be named. Maybe this is a European habit, but for Austrians its seems to be a particularly rewarding game – where if you guess correctly, friendly jibes and stereotypes are exchanged about each respective persons village.
12. Get Fit. Austrians love a good walk, or hike, or mountain bike, or rock climbing or going for a ‘Wandern’ – which is a hike that can go for hours. All this incredible countryside encourages outdoor fitness freaks. Then in winter there’s skiing, snow boarding, ice skating, or ‘touring’ which is hiking (again), but this time in snow, up a mountain. Yep. They’re bonkers about getting up those mountains.
No idea why they’d want to get all the way up here!
13. Love Winter Sports. They are waaayy more important here than any other sporting codes. It may seem obvious when you think of the climate, but still surprises me. I’m slowly getting used to the idea of watching ski races on a Saturday afternoon instead of the footy. Because Austria kind of sucks (on a national level) in popular European sports like soccer, they tend to embrace the stuff they’re good at, like skiing. Just don’t tell them they suck, you may be kicked out 🙂
Superflous shot of Austria’s best soccer player, Alaba, looking dreamy.
14. Daily Kaffe & Kuche. The greatest Austrian habit of all – mid afternoon coffee and cake. Any & every day around 3pm is Kaffe & Kuche time. You need no justification to stop your day, get yourself a coffee and slice of Cake – Sacher Torte, Apfel, Marillen, Shokolade, whichever – then sit and enjoy 20 minutes of pure bliss.
15. Coffee must always come with a glass of water on the side. This is genius to the perpetually thirsty, like myself. I adore it so much and notice the lack in other countries now. The Austrians literally invented the idea of modern coffee in the 1500’s – when the fleeing Turkish Army left behind bags of coffee beans, the Viennese added milk, sugar and deliciousness – and have been perfecting coffee ever since.
Note all the Dairy heaped on top!!
16. Dance Like no one is Watching. Dancing here is less of an art, and more of a group activity in clapping, hopping, jumping, flapping your hands and cheering along to lyrics. They may be famous for the Vienna Waltz season, but thorough research in many bars has revealed Austrians are much more partial to Macarena-like sing alongs to folksy music, with corresponding dance moves that an entire dancefloor will bust out. Its a thing of beauty to witness!
17. Grow a Moustache. The moustache ratio here is definitely above average, the most magnificent ones are tended to like 1940’s masterpieces. Its inspiring & hilarious to see them in the wild. My favourite moustache of note was spotted in the gym, on a be-muscled man who was sporting the very traditonal ‘handlebar with a twirl’ look. I wasn’t stalky enough to take a picture, but trust me when I say it was definitely a descendant of this guy:
Sadly, he was not wearing a leopard print onesie that Tuesday.
18. Hide your Office. Most offices are hidden in converted grand homes. Any Doctor, Dentist, or everyday appointment can occur in a gorgeous old apartment building, rather than purpose built, soulless concrete block. The buildings here are incredible, and finding the re-appropriated Optician’s office hidden in an apartment building from the 1890’s is an everyday architectural adventure!
19. Avoid the Viennese Attitude. Ah the Viennese reputation for gloom. Renowed for being grumpy, unhelpful and all round sad sacks, I can say this is only half-true. The true Viennese outlook on life tends to be more ‘its not so bad’ rather than ‘life is great!’ but you can find friendly people, and if you attempt a bit of Deutsch, they open up more.
20. Get used to Churches & Catholicism. Though changing with the new multicultural population, Austria is still very much a traditionally Catholic country. Most of the public holidays are on Catholic religious holidays, festivities are built around Catholic traditions and every second village in the countryside has a Catholic Kirche as its architectural focal point. Not such a bad thing when the Churches are as pretty as this:
21. Classify Water. Water is more than just wet stuff from a tap. Here, it has a number of classifications – prickelnd, mild & ohne. And there’s allegedly a difference in taste between tap water depending on what side of the Danube you live. This, more than anything tells you how much Austrians love a good classification process! Water is very sacred here as they treasure the good, clear product fresh from the mountains.
22. Love The Hoff. Yes, they are as mad for him as the Germans. No one is entirely sure why he’s so successful here. He came through Vienna in March and was still given VIP treatment at Volkgarten club and the Austrians (including S) went mad for seeing the original Knight Rider vehicle. They even nominated him to be a Governor for Styria! Check the article here http://www.artofeurope.com/news/hasselhoff.htm allegedly the photo to go along with his nomination was something like this…
There are no words for this….
23. Enjoy Explicit Radio. Like anywhere, commercial radio in Austria is pretty repeptitive. Unlike anywere else, there isn’t a lot of censorship going on. You will hear full, explicit versions of everything. In the middle of the workday there’s Old school, full length Eminiem alongside tracks like ‘What’s my Motherf**in Name’. I’m no prude so it doesn’t really bother me but for those sensitive to swearing, beware!
24. Sunday Funday!! There’s no shops open on a Sunday here. So adapt your grocery habits accordingly, or you end up starving on a Sunday evening. Sunday is traditionally a ‘family day’ used to socialise doing non-capitalist activities, like long lunches at Grannies and playing in a park. Its a delightful way to force you to find something outdoorsy to do on a weekend. Number one choice of activitiy is to…
25. Wash your Car on a Sunday. The neat and tidy thing extends to vehicle maintenance, specifically spending your Sunday’s vigorously cleaning your car. This is regardless of weather or if the car actually needs cleaning. The gigantic queues at Carwash outlets can attest to the popularity of this pastime. The secondary church on a Sunday is the carwash.
26. Sit Down Boys. I’m talking about boys bathroom etiquette. They pee sitting down. Legitimately, taught from a young age to pee sitting down. I only realised this when I never had to put the seat down in our apartment, and upon some delicate quizzing established that its a non-issue here. Boys pee sitting down. Hallelujah!
27. Fashion Rules. Fashion here is…..classic? I’m still a bit bemused by Vienna’s fashion choices. I say ‘classic’ when what I mostly mean is a teensy bit boring. Classic cuts, nothing too zany, nothing too colourful (unless its fluro which, ick) and not a lot of risky choices. Wearing my Black Milk tights feel positively rebellious! (see my heaven here http://blackmilkclothing.com/) However, Vienna fashion week is in September so I’ll withhold complete judgement until then. There’s also an adorable blog at http://www.sissisecrets.com/ that’s helping uncover the inner fashionista’s of Wien!
28. Learn to drink Beer. Austria is hovering up in the top 3 for biggest beer drinkers in the world. They knocked Germany off the perch recently and have some delicious varities of beer to back up the claim. My personal favourite is Weißbier, but the variety and cheap prices mean you can discover your personal favourite. Proßt!!
Some extremely Austrian things here – Weißbeer, cigarettes, mountains & a lake. Oh and the human too.
So how Austrian are you??? I think I’ve still got a long way to go, so any other Austrian traits you can think of, let me know!!
Confession time guys – I am a MASSIVE history nerd. You may have noticed from the posts on all things traditional, plus the fawning over Austrian architecture, but recently I got to indulge my über geek to a whole other level.
MEDIEVAL FESTIVAL IN A REAL LIVE CASTLE FROM THE 1300’S!!! YESSSS!!!!
Here’s the thing, Australia didn’t have Medieval times – white folks didn’t make it over to the island until the 1700’s by which time Knights, Chivalry and y’know, the Plague were long gone from Europe. So, when I get an opportunity to get amongst something so historically geeky but cool I got a leeetle bit excited.
Kufstein is the closest big town to my misters home village in Tirol, and we were lucky enough to be visiting relatives when they were hosting this wonderful festival. I hadn’t actually been inside Kufstein Castle either so it was a good geek-out opportunity all round.
What I hadn’t expected to find, was an entire community of ‘medieval’ performance folks who legitimately live their lives like its the 1600’s. These festival folk setup their tents on the grounds of the castle or location where they’re performing and all live on ground in ye olde fashioned way. Shared tents, benches to eat at, sleeping on truckle beds, it was cool to see but an interesting lifestyle choice to say the least!
Two kids swordfighting, living the Knight life!!
The festival itself was really well organised (naturlich in Österreich!) and had roving performers, a big mainstage, food stands with ye olde style sausage, mead and ale!! I got to drink mead surrounded by Knights!! Life success!! Entrance was free if you came in costume, so it felt pretty authentic all day. There was storytelling for kids and they even staged one of the famous battles that took place in Kufstein castle, setting off the old cannons on the drawbridge, plus some super realistic fighting…..
Pretty much exactly how the battle looked originally…..
It was really cute and loads of fun. Even though I couldn’t always understand what a lot of the performers were saying, medieval style comedy is mostly visual jokes and lots of prop gags with ‘dimwitted dudes’ being confounded by their sidekicks
Half naked men dressed as bunnies is funny in any era!!
The museum itself inside Kufstein castle had the worlds oldest organ inside (resisting all urges to make inappropriate pun there…) and loads if info on life in the castle. I’m calling it a castle, though technically (as I was told multiple times by the ever-precise Austrians!) its a fortress, and a pretty impentrable one. It was never infiltrated and was the focalpoint of all Tirolian defences throughout history. When you see the incredible views across the countryside from the windows, you can see why enemies never really had a chance to ‘surprise’ the locals.
Pretty sure I can see straight across to Germany through that Valley
Also in the museums, we got to see loads of fancypants outfits of soldiers, and big ‘ole impressive flags of their former armies:
In short, it was the perfect, most nerdilicious way to enjoy a castle I could’ve imagined!! This is what living in an incredibly old country is all about – and why my mother is sure I won’t be home anytime soon when I can enjoy this on a weekend. Sorry Mum!!
So what I’m wondering is, has anyone else come across these festival medieval types? I know they happen in England but the Bavarian ones I don’t know much about. I’m trying to find out more info, but I’m guessing all details are probably in German, and though my Deutsch course is good, I’m not quite up to that level of research!! Let me know if you’ve seen stuff like this, or feel free to just share your nerd-out indulgences, especially if they’re as geeky/awesome as mine!!
Huge massive exhausting beautiful long weekend in Tyrol. One of my favourite things about being here is the amount of cultural traditions and customs that you just don’t get in Australia. I’m pretty defensive when people say that there is no culture in Australia, and find it pretty reductive to dismiss our traditions (I could dedicate a whole other post to this argument) but these Austrians…man they do tradition right.
Austrian Dirndl’s and Lederhosen – not just for Oktoberfest apparently!!**
A lot of this has to do with their strong Catholic heritage. The mighty Hapsburg Empire that ruled for 700 – odd years were staunch Catholics, meaning most celebration days here are rooted in the Religious celebration days. We headed to Tyrol last Wednesday to Celebrate ‘Allerheiligen’ or All Saints Day. From my understanding and some light Wikipedia-ing its a commemoration to All Saints – both known and unknown – and thought to be the day when the “curtain between the living and the dead, those in purgatory, heaven and earth is thinner than usual.” Of course its all tied into the historical pagan feasts connected with Halloween as well. History lesson aside, this was, as far as I could tell, a day when the extended family got together to visit the grave of a beloved family member. I was at once culturally intrigued and personally terrified to be apart of something so significant to S and his family. This was a huge public statement to be invited to join in a very private ceremony of which I knew nothing.
Luckily for me it started with the familiar – delicious breakfast at the nearby cousins place. Unluckily, both S and his cousin R had made it their personal mission the night before to cure me of my Sober October behaviour. I was a touch fragile in the early morning sunlight and chattiness, but it probably helped take the nervous edge off the proceedings. Besides I needn’t have worried, by the end of a beautifully presented, home-made feast of fresh bread (fresh baked! at home! still warm! miraculous!), jams, spreads, muesli with fresh picked blueberries, cooked quail’s eggs and Tyrolian bacon I was equipped to deal with whatever was coming. The first drinks of the day were poured after breakfast – Prosecco all round. Not exactly a strict, staunch Catholic occassion then!
About 2pm we headed to the local graveyard, S gripping my hand and leading me in amongst his many family members. The beautiful thing was, it didn’t feel like a sad occasion to be a part of. I was worried it would be morbid, or i’d be too upset on his behalf to get through whatever the ceremony was without crying. But as we were walking there, different family members turned up (they are Catholic communities, his father’s side alone had 6 siblings!!) and were hugging and jumping on each other in joy. The ceremony itself was simply standing by the graveside, with hushed conversations and – at least amongst his family – little jokes and messing around with the kids until the official part of the day began. It looked like other grave sites were much more sombre, but the way his family dealt with the gravity of remembrance was with lightness, humour and love. At 2:30 the church bells tolled, the church brass band played authenitic Austrian songs and hymns, followed by the ceremonial blessing of the graves by the Priest and some public prayers at the churchyard. It was all over relatively fast, but standing there, thousands of miles away from home, I had to admire a country that kept such rural, traditional and community based ceremonies alive. The fresh, cool winter air and snow-sprinkled mountains surrounding us felt timeless, as did the small rituals I was being invited to join in with. Trite as it sounds – I felt lucky to be witness to something so personal and close to this family’s heart.
From there on we descended into more familiar territory for me, despite the language barriers. A small house filled with noise, people, food and wine. Granny’s special salad, stories of kids and catch ups, a portrait of them all from the ’80’s framed on the wall and hours and hours of chatting, drinking, laughing and a light grilling for me. The warmth with which they welcomed me was overwhelming, and the similarity with my own families way of celebrating reassuring. All in all it proved exactly what we all know – traditions may be different, but families are the same worldwide!
Candles lit on gravestones to commemorate loved ones**
**N.B I’m working on getting my own photographs up onto the blog, but my digital camera is having trouble communicating with my ancient Mac. Stay tuned for more personal images soon!! **