Musings Inspired by my Journey to Vienna Part 3

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My Alma Mater, University of Vienna

On the Ring Boulevard, driving by the main university building of my alma mater, I remembered my uncle Bobble, the younger brother of my father, Alfred Wilhelm Freiherr von Kap-herr. Uncle Bobble was the highest ranking member of the Federal Department of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, promoted to the position of Chief of that department in Vienna in the early 1940s, when he came to live there with his wife and three small children. He recognised early on that the war in Russia would end in a miserable defeat for Germany, and that Vienna would be subject to a brutal occupation by the Red Army. With this foresight, he brought several trainloads of dried peas, a non-perishable staple, from Bulgaria, and had it stored in warehouses across several districts of Vienna. And as it turned out, when the Russian army invaded Vienna, they raided every food store, but left the peas to the populace to sustain themselves.

Market peas

Market peas

However, food resources were still a terrible problem. By April 1947, the people of Vienna were becoming desperate, as the Austrian government was no longer able to distribute any rations. On the 5th of May, this state of near-starvation culminated in a violent food riot. The people of Vienna, driven mad by their exclusively pea diet, exploded. To mollify them, the Russian occupation forces began to allow the purchase of a particularly intoxicating alcoholic beverage, ominously called ‘Sturm’. Translated to English, it means ‘storm’ and consists of fermented freshly pressed grape juice.

Quick fermentation in oak casks. Peels and all

Quick fermentation in oak casks. Peels and all

Thankfully, before the Viennese starved to death, the United States government released $300 million in food aid. My uncle left Vienna with his family before the end of the war, so did not witness the survival of its people, mainly thanks to his wisdom and his conscientious contribution of provisions. When I returned to Vienna from my summer holidays in Salzburg to resume my studies in September, I was impressed by the happy-go-lucky spirit of the Viennese people. Of course, they were spared from their depression by a pleasant fog of spirit fumes and flatulence.

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To be cont.

Musings Inspired by my Journey to Vienna Part 2

Vienna Streets

Vienna Streets

When grandmother died in 1923, there ensued a battle over her estate, a prolonged legal battle waged between expensive lawyers who, having control, began to sell off parts of the estate to cover their own exorbitant fees. My uncle, Ludwig Jauner, who was on my mother’s side, had a friend. This friend suggested that my mother sell the valuable pearl necklace that my grandmother had left her in the interest of salvaging what remained of the estate. My mother agreed, so he took the precious pearls with him to Amsterdam and sold them, but before he boarded a steamer to South America, he sent my uncle a postcard with just one short message:

Dear Mr. Jauner,

I am sorry, but pearls just bring tears.

Your friend, XYZ

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My mother had another idea. Just before the lawyers tried to sell my grandmother’s apartment house in Vienna, at Strohgasse 10, she decided she would move there to live and give birth to me. During the journey she contracted puerperal fever and it nearly killed her, however, she recovered under the tireless care of an old friend. They shared a bedroom at the Sacré Cœur nunnery in Baden near Vienna until my mother was well and had borne her child. That lady, whom I called Aunt Liesl, also took care of me and later let me stay at her apartment, rent-free, during my years of study from 1946 to 1949.

When my father sold his share in a business in Salzburg early in the 1930s in order to join his old comrades from the First World War, the family moved to Munich, then to another city in Germany before settling in Berlin. I first attended a boarding school in Bavaria, then went to a high school in Berlin, which, when the Second World War began to rage, transferred its student classes to safer places. I was billeted, along with my classmates, in Leitmeritz, Czechoslovakia, but I applied for military service in the Luftwaffe. However, I had to forego a three-month stint with the Nazi Arbeitsdienst to help build a stretch of highway in the province of Silesia instead. In the meantime, my mother relocated the household, including her two concert pianos, to a villa in Mödling, a suburb of Vienna, to escape the bombing raids.

My Mother

My Mother

My oldest brother, Benvenuto d’Albert, instead of following the orders of the Swiss government to relocate back to Switzerland and perform his military service there, joined the German Mountaineers troop with his friends. He went to war in Russia and later fought against the partisans in Yugoslavia. On one of his leaves he came to Vienna to stay in our mother’s villa. One night, there was an air raid, and rather than seek refuge with the family in a bomb shelter, he stayed at the house. He had not witnessed the onset of these city bombings, having been on the front lines. Curious, he went out onto the terrace to watch the bomber formations in the sky, but when he heard the tell-tale whistling of the bombs falling, he dove back into the living room and crouched between the two pianos. This decision saved his life. A bomb exploded on the roof and the second floor of the villa collapsed, burying my brother under the debris. The pianos saved his life, but only just, as a bolder from the chimney had lodged itself against his neck and shoulder. He was paralysed for several hours in the hospital and later said that he was probably safer at the front than in the city, although by the end of the war he had been wounded nine times and had earned the golden hand-to-hand combat order, a decoration which was awarded only three hundred times during the course of the whole war.

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After that bombing raid, my mother could no longer bear to stay in Vienna. When I completed my service in the Arbeitsdienst, I went back to stay with her for a week, to help pack whatever belongings could be salvaged, then to drive the delivery truck to Salzburg where my sister Wilfriede was living with her two girls. My mother’s things were stored in a farmer’s barn.

I then received my orders to join the Luftwaffe and to report at a camp near Munich on August 23rd, 1943… However, that is another story, to be related some other time, as it does not pertain to my reminiscences of Vienna during my recent trip.

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To be cont.

 

Musings Inspired by my Journey to Vienna – Part 1

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source google images Vienna

My trip to Europe this year was well-planned, but my getting sick during the flight to Berlin muddled my schedule. Five days in a Berlin hospital with a contagious intestinal viral infection forced me to cancel an outing to the Rhineland area of Germany, and the planned stops on the way in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart. I regretted missing visits with certain elderly relatives and friends, but I could not risk infecting them.

The day I was to be released from hospital, I had my son Christopher, my travel escort, book a direct flight to Vienna to make up for lost time. I wished to visit my late brother’s first daughter Charlotte and her daughter Alexandra, whom I had never met, but was eager to see for the first time. She’d struck me as being a very perceptive person for I had been deeply moved by the lovely condolence letter she had sent me upon the death of my Geraldine, the grandmother she would never meet, at least, not in this lifetime.

Vienna

Vienna

Vienna was the place of my birth, and after World War II I studied there, graduating with my first Ph.D. I was also married there; the Catholic ceremony was performed shortly after my graduation in December 1949. Vienna was, at that time, an old and tired, foreign-occupied city with a war-weary population, but it has changed greatly and has regained its splendour from imperial times.

Vienna is intricately woven in my personal history with Salzburg, where my parents established their residence after World War I. My mother had inherited, or to be more specific, became the custodian of two villas which her mother had owned and had bequeathed to her grandchildren. My grandmother’s three sons had not sired any children, so her only daughter’s, my mother’s, children would inherit the properties.

Salzburg Austria

Salzburg Austria

My future mother-in-law also lived in Salzburg, where she became a close friend and confidante of my mother’s. At that time, she was married to a dentist, Vokalek, with whom she shared a villa with extensive grounds in the neighbouring suburb of Parsch. As a clairvoyant, she was a much sought-after socialite, and was visited by many admirers, included among them such as Dr. Albert Schweitzer and other members of the theosophical society.

 

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She was instrumental as an advisor to my mother, who considered aborting her sixth pregnancy as she was then in a troubled marriage. Also pregnant then, her friend counselled her against undergoing such a risky procedure at her age. They were both in their early thirties and could still look forward to leading productive lives. Were it not for this advice, I would not be writing this today.

To be con’t.

Pigrimage to Austria Part 2

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Pilgrimage to Austria Part 2: We made it to Vienna
by Christopher von Kap-herr

I had spent the five and a half days of relative inactivity with my sister mostly in acquainting myself with the café houses in her neighborhood. One in particular sticks in my memory. It was run by a lady from Australia, a ‘hangout’ for English-speaking expats. (Who knew there were so many of them?) It provided a welcome relief from having to search for German words that just didn’t want to flow off my tongue. This hiatus gave me time to reflect on my ‘Hero’s Journey’.

In present times, ‘Hero’ is a metaphor for someone who successfully meets unexpected challenges so that a project or goal can still be accomplished successfully. As I described in Part 1, I think I was pushed into this quest by a message I received in a dream, a message which I believed came from my mother. Since my quest was initiated under the direction of someone from the spirit world, I felt I would receive help from this realm in order to complete my journey. Therefore, giving up because my father was in hospital was not an option. All I had to do was to persevere with the plan of travelling to Austria and trust that a way would open up to us. It occurred to me that the shape our journey was taking on very much resembled a mythological or, perhaps, a fairy story.

My niece had wanted to meet us in the Vienna airport properly, rather than do a ‘drive-by’ on the road outside the terminal. After my father and I had landed, I called her cell phone to tell her that we had arrived and were in the baggage claim area. She asked for a landmark, and I spotted a McDonald’s right across from me. Its presence in Vienna exemplified, for me, how America is benefiting from the new ‘globalism’. After ending the call, my father and I went over to the restaurant and ordered café lattes with lactose-free milk. My niece arrived shortly thereafter along with her mother, (who is my cousin), and her little boy, Conrad. They greeted us warmly, then ordered coffee and a Happy Meal for the little boy. Except for the monuments just outside, we could have been sitting in a restaurant in America.

I use the term ‘fairy story’ specifically because when I saw my cousin at the Vienna airport, the first thought that came into my mind was that “she is like a fairy godmother in a fairy story”. She wore a thigh-length winter coat and carried two plain bags, one large and one small, each on opposite shoulders. She had gray hair tied back in a bun and was slightly stooped, perhaps from the weight she was carrying. It wouldn’t be long before I would find out some of what her large bag contained. In a fairy tale, such as Cinderella, a fairy godmother carries within her powers which are divine and which can, for instance, change mice into horses. I was sure this was not within my cousin’s ability, but perhaps there were other ways in which she could aid us in our quest. The contrast between my cousin and my niece could not have been more striking. My niece is the quintessential young, trim-looking professional with toddler in tow. She is, in fact, a medical doctor.

I had read in The Hero with a Thousand Faces that the fairy godmother, or kindly aunt, often has a beautiful daughter. What made my niece so beautiful was not any particular feature in her appearance or behavior, but a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Even though she is a scientist, she seldom spoke of science. Her main focus was on family and relationships. What I found particularly inspiring about her was that there were never any silent moments in her presence. She had the ability to always keep the conversation going without ever being annoying. What also impressed me was how affectionate she was, walking close to me when we were in the garden of Schloss Schönbrunn, touching my arm, and occasionally even linking elbows. This closeness was an amazing surprise and gave me a lovely feeling of well-being in her presence.

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After McDonald’s, my cousin decided that my father and I should go directly to our bed-and-breakfast where we could freshen up. My cousin lived nearby and said she would have my niece drive back in an hour to take us all on a tour of Vienna. I don’t know if it was intentional on the part of my cousin or not, but the pension we were booked into was run by nuns. She knew that there was a chapel one floor above, or perhaps she had read a sign, but that was where she took me while my father lay down for a much-needed rest after the ordeal of being taken from a hospital bed and flown to another country.

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My cousin and I knelt in one of the pews where she removed several soft-covered books from her large bag. These contained devotionals and from the condition of the books, looked like they were frequently referenced. My cousin turned to a specific page and had me read it out loud. I recall nothing of what I read, but I do remember thinking that I was glad to be here with God because I really had not given Him much of my attention since I started this trip. So, alternately, I read and listened to my cousin read for no less than an hour. I felt spiritually refreshed after this, but also very tired. However, I knew there would be no rest at present because we had less than two days to spend in Austria with not a moment to waste.

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We returned to the room, woke my father, then met up with my niece for the driving tour of Vienna. We visited the place where my father had lived as a boy, the University of Vienna where he’d studied and, in general, just took in the beautiful architecture. Our tour ended that day at the Schloss Belvedere where we marveled at the almost life-size paintings of the last emperor, Kaiser Franz Joseph, and his wife, Empress Elizabeth, or “Sissy” as she was and is still affectionately known to locals and tourists. Before stopping for coffee at the Schloss, we visited the gift shop, which sold silk scarves and handbags imprinted with images of the paintings of Gustav Klimt. I bargained with the owner and was able to purchase a silk scarf worth 60 Euros for only half that amount. I would give it to my sister as her birthday present.

The next morning we drove to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the most well-known church in Vienna. We did a quick circuit of the church and as we neared the entrance, I spotted their gift shop. “I have been looking for a crucifix to wear around my neck for a while now,” I thought.

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“I wonder if I might find one here?” I went up to the sales counter and asked the man whether he had any crucifixes on neck chains. He told me ‘no’, but I decided to look anyway. Lo and behold, I found two silver crucifixes with the image of Jesus being held by His mother. These were not on chains, but hung from plain brown cords. I was ecstatic. My cousin, (or fairy godmother as I should now call her), informed me, however, that the crucifixes carried no spiritual energy unless they were first blessed. So, we set off on an almost comical search for a priest.

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My cousin led me first to the confessional near the rear entrance where several people waited in line. She asked a rather distraught-looking man if she could move ahead of him just to have the crucifixes blessed, but he shook his head in a negative response. Looking at him, I had the eerie feeling that he was there because of something he had done to his wife. Perhaps he had abused her, or maybe she’d caught him watching porn on his computer.

My cousin then had the idea that there might be a priest in the sacristy behind the front altar. To get there we had to open a gate in the altar railing and then walk past the side of the altar to a back room. I will never forget the surprised look on face of the priest, surrounded by his acolytes, when my cousin entered. I dared not voice the thought that flashed through my mind: “It’s OK, she is my fairy godmother in the employ of my mother!” My cousin asked the priest to bless the crucifixes, but in a heavy Eastern European accent he replied, “After the Mass”. We bowed in a way that we hoped was both humble and apologetic.

I was ready to give up, but my cousin was determined. She returned to the rear entrance of the church, saw that there was still a queue of penitents, so proceeded to pull me into a side chapel. It appeared that a mass or prayer service was in progress. As we sat down quietly in a pew, I fought to control a cold fear that my cousin might approach the priest before he had finished, but thankfully this did not happen. She got up, but instead of heading to the altar, went to a font of holy water and dipped the crucifixes in. She handed them back to me and whispered the German equivalent of, “Here you are; you’re good to go!”

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Perhaps because the crucifix around my neck energized me, I was able to keep going in the afternoon on a tour of the Schloss Schönbrunn with my niece. To finish off the day, she took us to a Heuriger which is, to my understanding, a wine garden where in addition to serving wine they offered sausages and roast pork. All of the fare was terribly high in cholesterol, I guessed, but with all of the walking we had done, both inside and out, who was counting calories? My father finally had his first really good day in Europe, in part due to the wine, which helped stimulate his reminiscences about his family members who had long since passed away, but mainly thanks to the company of my cousin and my niece!

In the taxi the next morning, heading back to the airport, I thought to myself, “Except for the souvenirs telling me otherwise, what I experienced yesterday could easily have been a dream.”

To read part 1 click here.

Pilgrimage to Austria Part 1

Salzburg, Austria.My oldest son, Christoper and I made a trip to Germany and Austria. I’ve invited him give his accounts of what happened. The trip was fraught with inspiration, illness, wonderful meetings and the final resting place of my beloved wife. I hope you enjoy.
Gerhart

We almost didn’t make it to Vienna
by Christopher von Kap-herr

“Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
Luke 24:36b.

Several weeks ago, at my weekly Men’s Club meeting, I mentioned that I would be journeying to Germany and Austria over most of March with my 89-year-old father. The purpose of this trip would be for him to revisit the places of his youth and exchange family stories with relatives in Austria. My role on this journey would be to assist him on the trip and to not only hear the family stories, but also to visit the places where they’d happened. There was another reason, as well, which turned out to be important in turning this from a tourists’ enterprise into a ‘Hero’s Journey’.
I uncovered this ‘other purpose’ when I started reviewing my dream journal to see if any of my dreams had predicted this journey, and then, if there would be a good outcome. When I looked back on my dreams from the past year, I found one that I’d had on October 12, 2014 that might have been a message from my mother, who had passed away in 2013.

I was approached by a woman at a flea market who asked me if I wanted a new pair of shoes. The woman was dressed in what appeared to be a peasant or gypsy skirt. Before I could answer, she led me by the hand to a mall to find a pair of shoes. I turned to my left and saw a street with a bus on it. I was not sure where I was, so I asked her, “Is that Sheffington Street?” She said, “No, we are on Shefford Road.” I awoke shortly thereafter.

This dream seemed remarkable because Shefford Road is the road on which my father still lives. The way the woman in the dream was dressed reminded me of the style of skirts favored by my mother. I began to wonder whether my insistent guide was really my mother taking me to see my father. That she was escorting me personally meant that there was an important reason for my visit. I had not seen my father since before this dream, so it seems that my mother wanted me to undertake something with him, like this upcoming trip.

The house of my parents

The house of my parents

How do I know this journey was what she had in mind when she escorted me towards my father’s place? The shoes suggest this because they are, obviously, symbolic of walking and travelling, something my father and I would be doing a lot of. Yet why would this be important to my mother? At first, I thought she wanted me to give this gift to my father, accompanying him on one last journey to Austria and Germany. But, perhaps there was more to it than that. What if she wanted us to undertake this journey, not for my father’s sake, but for her sake? If so, then what could be so important that she came to me in a dream? The only thing I could think of was that she wanted her ashes returned to Salzburg, the place of her birth. My father had been waffling on this idea. He said that maybe I should wait until he dies and then “do with our ashes what you will”. I cannot give the reason for why my mother might be so insistent that her ashes go back to Austria, but as with God who asks us to do things we do not understand, I decided to fulfill her wishes.

Mother's Ashes
When I wrote to my father about my dream, he agreed that this was a sign and the time was right for us to travel together to Europe. He was so eager that he put together the itinerary for our trip almost immediately. Our plan was that I was to travel from the USA to Montreal and from there we would fly together to Berlin. After that, we planned to take a short trip to Austria so my father could show me where he grew up and went to University, as well to Salzburg where he had proposed to my mother. The highpoint was to be the sprinkling of my mother’s ashes on the top of the Untersberg mountain. All of this had to be accomplished in four days because we had in mind to be back in Berlin in time to celebrate my sister’s 60th birthday by attending the recital of a well-known pianist at the Symphony Hall of the famous Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. Once we arrived in Germany, however, events spun out of our control and I felt myself torn from the role of tourist and thrust into the midst of a Hero’s Journey!
I should have realized from the beginning that this excursion would not be just a stroll past the monuments of my father’s youth. Upon our arrival in Amsterdam from Montreal, I noticed my father walking through the airport in a way that seemed ‘labored’. Sure, I should have requested the use of one of those motorized golf-cart type vehicles that so annoys walking passengers with its incessant beeping. Why I didn’t was a combination of my father being, in my mind, the strong hiker he’d been for so many years, and the fact that he didn’t give me any indication that I should seek assistance. We made it to our destination in one piece, but I was finally shaken from my state of denial about my father’s condition when, on the second night of our stay in a ‘pension’ in Berlin, I heard a loud crash in the middle of the night. “Oh my God, my father has fallen!” I screamed to myself. I leaped out of bed and to my dismay realized he could not lift himself from the floor. Suffering some stress to my lower back, I managed to help him up. I held his arm to lead him to the bathroom when I noticed a standing lamp lying on the carpet. “Oh my goodness, he fell on the way to the bathroom already earlier in the evening!”, my thoughts shouted. I supported my father to the bathroom, but when he tried to sit on the toilet he fell again! Again I lifted him, then helped him back to his bed. I thought, “This is it, we are stuck in Berlin. I will have to continue on this quest alone.”

Berlin

Berlin

The next morning, at my sister’s nearby apartment, we related the story of my father’s falls. It occurs from time to time in my family that when something out of the ordinary happens we look for someone to blame, particularly when it is something unsettling. In this case, my sister chose to blame my younger brother for “neglecting to fulfill his role as caretaker; our father has clearly not been eating well and has not been exercising”. As described in Joseph Campbell’s classic novel, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, help was soon on the way. A friend of my sister’s advised us to bring our father to a clinic near the Schloss Charlottenburg. We arrived by taxi unannounced, which caused some grumbling on the part of the attending physician, but who despite the lack of notice agreed to admit my dad. A few tests were performed and it was quickly determined that my father was not only seriously dehydrated, but had contracted some kind of contagious intestinal virus. This diagnosis resulted in his being quarantined in a private room for five and a half days. I must say, if I had to be in a hospital this would be the place to be. My father had a large room with a picture window overlooking the Schloss, which at night was ablaze with lights. I certainly felt alright about leaving him there until he was well enough to be sent ‘home’.
Reasonable people said there was no way he could go to Austria, let alone ride in a gondola to the top of a 2000-meter mountain, which was what we planned to do in Salzburg. But, on this trip, I had checked reason in at the airport and allowed myself to be guided by the spirit of my mother. As long as we have assistance from the spirit world, who cares what is reasonable. With some persuasion, my father convinced the doctor to release him in time for our flight to Vienna. He called to tell me to pick him up, so I grabbed our suitcases, packed with a few clothes and my mother’s ashes, and took a taxi to the hospital right away. From there, we went directly to the airport to catch our flight.

Next stop, Vienna

Next stop, Vienna

To be continued…