Soon after arriving into Austria, I started to believe that maybe Hitler was right about the Germanicpeople being the superior race.
After all, things here just work.
- After the clunky Eastern European trains, I stepped into a sleek Austrian train with its huge crystal clear windows.
- The views of the countryside showed perfectly cut lawns and impeccably arranged flower beds.
- The bathrooms smelled like roses.
I was especially impressed with robo-toilet. This toilet had a seat that rotated and cleaned itself after using it. No plastic or paper cover. Sit on the real thing and then watch it clean itself when you're done. Neat.
I could sum it all up with an epiphany one early one morning in Salzburg. At precisely 8AM I started hearing a cacophony of church bells. There are about a dozen churches in a small area of Salzburg and they all rang at exactly the same time.
In Eastern Europe, the bells ring within a few minutes of each other.
In Latin America, well, the bells may not ring until... mañana.
In Brno it's noon at 11
Speaking of church bells, back in the Czech Rep I was surprised when a church in Brno (pronounced "Bruno") rang 12 times at 11AM. I know the Czechs aren't German, but still, that's a major gaffe for a Czech.
But I found out that there's a reason for it.
A few centuries ago a Swedish commander swore that if he could not breech Brno's town walls by noon, he would give up and go home.
He was on the brink of breaking through at 11AM. Somehow the Czechs heard about his vow, and some priest ordered to have the church bells ring 12 times at 11AM. True to his word, the Swedish commander ordered his army to retreat.
Ever since then the church in Brno rings 12 times at 11AM.
More stupid tricks that fool siege commanders
I noticed many statues of painted cows throughout Prague. I didn't care to ask why. But then I saw them again in Salzburg. Now I was curious.
Back in 1525 the Fortress Hohensalzburg, which looms over Salzburg, was under siege during a peasant uprising. After a few months of siege, the peasants thought they had the Archbishop starving to death. They did. He had one cow left. But he didn't want them to know that. So he came up with brilliant idea:
"Let's paint our last cow blue and parade it around the walls so they can see it."
"Sounds stupid, boss...."
"Shut up, you fool! The next day, we wash up the cow and paint it green and show it off."
"What's the point, your worship?"
"You buffoon!! Don't you see!? If we keep that up and keep showing them different colored cows, they'll think we have tons of cows left! Duh!!!"
Believe it or not, just like the bells that ring 12 times at 11, this silly idea worked too. The peasants weren't willing to it stick out through the winter, so they split.
Who are these idiots who lay siege?
By the way, nobody has ever managed to take the fortress by force, although the Austrians gave it up to Napoleon without a fight. That was back when the short French dude was still a bad ass.
Let's get back to everybody's pal, Adolf Hitler. The Fuerer was born in a small town near Linz, Austria. Since it's so close to Salzburg, I'm sure Adolf checked out the beautiful town that inspired Alexander von Humboldt to say:
"I consider the regions of Salzburg, Naples, and Constantinople to be the most beautiful on earth."
That's a pretty big compliment. OK, so most history books don't mention that the only other cities that Humboldt ever saw were Detroit, Cleveland, and Poughkeepsie.
I almost agreed with Humboldt's statement, just like I almost agreed with Adolf's belief that the Germanic people are homo superior.
What made me change my mind?
I heard the Austrians open up their mouths.
Note to Aryans: If you want to be the perfect race, you gotta have a language that doesn't make you want to throw up.
Everywhere I look, I see the word "...VERBOTEN..." I was tired of seeing it and not knowing what it meant, so I asked an Austrian to clarify.
It means "forbidden."
The Austrian sheepishly added, "Yeah, many things here are forbidden."
Oh, so that's why everything works....
It's enough to drive you crazy
A Korean mother, who was traveling with her 15-year old son, was living in NYC and was well dressed. But even she told me, "I couldn't believe it, these Austrians actually clean the walls! Isn't that unbelievable? The walls!? It's all nice and pretty, but after a few days here I feel like I am suffocating. The pedestrians don't cross on a red light even when there are no cars in sight. It's incredible."
"Kinda like the Japanese," I offered.
"Yeah. Those Japanese and Germans. Same blood."
Cubans in Australia
But their anal behavior is infectious. I talked to two Cuban cleaning ladies in the Fortress. They were married to Austrians and have been living here for seven years. They remarked that this was their first day working at the Fortress, but that it would be their last.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because look at this place! It's filthy! They probably haven't cleaned it in months!"
"Funny you say that," I said, "because I was wondering why you were cleaning the floor since it looks spotless and dust free. Before you showed up I was considering licking the floor to verify its cleanliness."
So here were these two former Latin American communists, a combo that might lead to laid back behavior, and they were as militant about cleanliness as Hitler's mom.
Differences between the Austrians and the Germans
Some Austrians assert that they don't speak German, they speak Austrian. Give me a break.
I asked a German tourist from Bavaria (sometimes Bavarians try to claim they are not German) if she could understand the Austrians. Yes, it's 99.9% German. The pronunciation is a bit different from northern Germany (they stretch out the words), but it's the same damn language.
One insisted that the languages are different, "just like a Texan speaks different than a San Franciscan." Right. But that just makes my point: just because I say "soda" and he says "pop" doesn't mean we're speaking different languages. OK, George Bush doesn't speak much English, but that's another story.
So I asked this German what are the differences between Austrians and Germans. I couldn't believe her response:
"Well, the Austrians are more laid back then Germans."
I almost burst out laughing.
Are you kidding me? Can you possibly be more anal than the Austrians?
She said, "Yeah, the Germans will make a plan and stick to it. The Austrians will make a plan, and then maybe they'll adjust. They're more flexible."
So I guess when a pair of Austrians say they will meet for lunch at 1PM on Sept 5, they might go crazy and meet at 1:01PM.
Thanks to friend-of-a-friend connection, I stayed with a married couple, Andreas (an Austrian) and Cynthia (a Guatemalan). They confirmed that Germans, especially those in the North, are much more anal than the Austrians.
Although Germans may be the superior race, they make the Austrians feel like they're a step down on this pedestal.
"We're like the stupid little brother to them," said Andreas. "If we do any little thing wrong," he continued, "they will say, 'See, how typical! You can't depend on those damn Austrians!'"
His wife added, "Yeah, if we're the perfectionists, they're the father of the perfectionists."
More than one person in this journey has whispered in my ear, "Beware of those Germans, they're little Nazis."
"Huh?" I said.
"They think they are the best people on the planet," said an Eastern European who lived in Hamburg for a year.
I couldn't believe that the Germans are the most conceited people on the planet. I've been to Germany and I never picked up on it.
But Cynthia told me that when she is working at the hotel reception she can spot a German from a mile away.
"They come down the stairs with this super arrogant look, as if they're thinking, 'I can't believe I gotta put up with this sloppy four star hotel.' They think they are so damn great."
"Really? Are they worse than the French?" I asked.
"Oh no! Not THAT bad!!!!"
"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness...Broad, wholesome,
charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner
of the earth all one's lifetime." - Mark Twain
September 1, 2004