Musings Inspired by my Journey to Vienna Part 4

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The most vivid memories that my trip to Vienna stirred were, of course, of my last days there, after I got married in the Fall of 1949. I had been anxious to be married before my final exams because I did not believe that I could pass them all unless my sweetheart was with me, and we wanted to have our marriage confirmed in a Catholic church in Vienna because my Protestant family had been opposed to my sudden engagement. We were more amicably received by our Viennese relatives. Geraldine and I were married in St. Mary’s Church in December. And, my aunt Liesl made the arrangements for a proper reception, at which we were to have a surprise guest, someone I had never before met. Aunt Liesl had gone to some trouble to find his address and send him a written invitation.

St. Mary's church, Vienna, The statue of Joseph Hayden in the foreground

St. Mary’s church, Vienna, The statue of Joseph Hayden in the foreground

My mother’s youngest brother, Teddy Jauner, had been one of the opposing party in the estate battle after Grandma Jauner’s death in 1923. My father had been furious over my uncle’s role in the affair, and we were forbidden from mentioning his name in our household. After almost three decades, my mother was longing to let bygones be bygones, but she did not dare suggest this to our father. When I went to Vienna to study, she took me aside in confidence and asked if I would try to find out how Teddy is doing and, if possible, arrange to meet him to pass on his sister’s greetings, to tell him that she wishes him well.

Geraldine and I did not meet Uncle Teddy until we were assembled in the sacristy of the church to sign our marriage papers. He had slipped into the church unnoticed to witness the wedding ceremony, then snuck into the sacristy to meet us and to kiss the bride. He wished us well and told me that finally, after 25 years, he had called my mother in Salzburg and had a pleasant talk with her. Before my aunt Liesl could invite him to the dinner party that she had arranged for all the wedding guests, however, he had vanished.

I am happy to say that we did have the opportunity to meet him again, though. He invited us to have lunch with him in his small apartment, where we could have a heart-to-heat talk. We learned about his life and his work. He had written a self-published biography of Franz Ritter von Jauner, the famous theatre director and his own uncle, and was now living life in general isolation. He also described the tragic misunderstandings that had occurred upon the death of my grandmother.

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Franz Ritter von Jauner

Times were very hard after World War I. The depression and mounting inflation gave rise to a sect of greedy, artful lawyers and government agents who preyed on the ignorance of the relatives of those who had been lost, robbing them of their inheritance. A few years earlier, Uncle Teddy had received a pittance from the estate, then a letter from the two sisters of his lawyer who had passed away. The sisters were packing up their brother’s office and had found a heavy box marked ‘Jauner’. When Uncle Teddy brought the box home and opened it, he found it was packed with stock certificates that had been issued to his mother. The companies in question had flourished during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, but now their stock was, as he said, “worth as much as wallpaper”.

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Geraldine and I met with Uncle Teddy a few more times and I was able to put him in touch with my brother, Benvenuto, when he moved to Vienna as well. At least he then had something of a semblance to family. Unfortunately, he and my mother never had the opportunity to meet, ever again, in person.

Yes, Vienna is still very much on my mind and will continue to be as I complete the English translation of Uncle Teddy’s manuscript, Franz Ritter von Jauner: The King of the Operetta. I am very happy that I had the chance to become reconnected with my brother’s children in the most pleasant way. I hope that, one day, they will come to visit me in Canada.

And now 60 years later, the Eastern Townships, where I live, does not seem so different.

The Eastern Townships of Quebec, where I have now lived for 60 years, does not seem so different from home.

Photo source, google images

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.

 

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.