Something a little different today – a contribution on the invitation of the Thuringian museum Burg Posterstein. I was rather surprised when back in August I was contacted by Burg Posterstein (Thuringia, Germany) about one of my Vienna photos. They had seen it on Instagram and wanted to exhibit it in their upcoming exhibition #SalonEuropa vor Ort und digital: Vernetzung damals und heute – Europa bedeutet für mich …? with an accompanying text.
Since 2011 the Thuringian Museum Burg Posterstein has been writing stories about its collection, research and everyday life at the museum – and they have now launched a “blog parade” in cooperation with the German blogger Tanja Praschke and asked me to contribute – so I decided to rise to the challenge. The hashtag #SalonEuropa stands for dialogue, culture, life, travel, politics, differences, opposites, ideas and visions in Europe. The team at Burg Posterstein wants to talk with you and me about Europe, and what it means to us.
The exhibition takes up the theme of the former “salons“, where intellectuals and artists used to come together and philosophize and talk about current affairs. My hometown Vienna was a hotspot for such salons in the imperial days. So this exhibition transforms salon culture – as a forum for discussion and exchange – from analog to digital and back again. The curators of the exhibition have selected posts and photos from different countries. Video interviews and current comments on the project website salon-europa.eu are displayed on a large screen. A map of Europe shows short commentaries from different countries, and the Danish artist Pernille Egeskov created the artwork “Europa”. Historic texts about Europe at the time of the Vienna Congress and today, as well as quotes from then and now complement the photos and art work.
I wish Posterstein were not so far from Vienna, I would love to visit the exhibition in person – but the museum has at least kindly sent me some picture sof my photo on the wall – thank you!
So, what does Europe mean to me?
I am not a political commentator, nor a historian, but I venture out on a limb here and share my opinion. Above all else, Europe means a peaceful environment for me, one I was fortunate to grow up in. One where I was also able to experience meeting people from so many different places, and to come together despite major cultural differences. It also means inexhaustible possibilities of discovery and cultural enjoyment.
I grew up in times of peace, but I found the war stories of my grandmother fascinating. We used to sit together for hours and pore over Oma´s old photographs of my grandfather in the war, and her and my father during those hard times and shortly after, when Vienna was being rebuilt. I suppose these talks with her were influential on how I value the European idea today. As a child I also witnessed the separation of Europe through the iron curtain. I remember the barbed wire fence that marked the border between Austria and what was then communist Czechoslovakia. I can recall the soldiers standing with their machine guns on their watchtowers when we visited Burgenland. Peaceful times, such as we have enjoyed since the end of World War II in the European Union, are not self-evident for all.
All around us, the consequences of war, poverty, catastrophes and terror erupt again and again and threaten to come to us, in whatever form. I find the reaction of several of Europe´s majority-elected right-wing politicians (have people no historical memory?) more frightening than the actual threats against which fear is fueled. Fear for our prosperity, fear that not everything will stay as it is, that in the end we would have to share with others a bit of our wealth – and the solution: isolation, fences? It has apparently been forgotten why borders were opened, why walls and barbed wire can never be effective means for peacekeeping. Some also seem to forget how well we all are living – comparatively at least.
I lived for many years in the USA and other countries outside of Europe. I am aware of the grace of having been born in Austria, of having absorbed hundreds of years of cultural history as a matter of course. I love Europe´s cultural diversity, love the possibility of traveling and working internationally, and now again living in an environment with so much old culture. (No, I do not think cultures can remain fixed at some point past, there is always room and indeed the need to integrate new elements. In fact our present cultures are historically grown conglomerates constructed from hundreds of years of people´s migrations and re-settlement. Actually, I am myself a product of this history – my paternal grandfather had come from the Czech part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and my maternal grandfather was a German who married an Austrian woman.)
When populist opinion-makers attempt to curtail human rights that had become second-nature to most Europeans after World War II, I worry. Policies that despise fundamental rights (the right to life!) in favor of exclusion call into question the fundamental principles of the European Union. Where is the dignity of the human being in such thinking? Should human rights only apply to some, but not to others? This is not how I understood the basic values of Europe. I do not want a Europe that defines itself as a bulwark against the outside world. I know, there are great challenges to tackle, but I think this cannot be done with hypocrysy or misguided notions of self-interest.
I do not have the answers, but I want to live in a tolerant world. Can I still experience that? Has it ever existed, or is it just a fantasy, wishful thinking?
A historic government building
I took the two photos of Vienna Ballhausplatz on 1 May 2018. The Ballhausplatz buildings are the seat of the “political powerhouse” of Austria, the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Presidency. It is also a place with a lot of passenger and vehicle traffic. You can hardly see it as empty as in these pictures during the daytime, but in the early afternoon on Labor Day there is only leisure traffic.
In the background you can see a part of the 42 “anti-terrorism” bollards, which were embedded in 2017 in front of the Chancellery and the Presidential office. These are to prevent a possible motorized terror attack. They were a hotly discussed topic in the Austrian election campaign. Allegedly, the construction of the bollards cost 488,000 Euro. Of course it is important to protect the government. Whether such a measure can really prevent a terrorist attack, I dont know. Unfortunately, there are more ways than one to commit such crimes of terrorism. In Vienna, we have so far been lucky to have avoided major attacks. I hope it stays that way.
At any rate, I am quite proud to have my photo exhibited in such a worthwhile exhibition. If any of you fellow bloggers want to contribute to the discussion, there is still a chance to submit a blog entry.
Current exhibition 23 September to 11 November 2018 #SalonEuropa vor Ort und digital: Vernetzung damals und heute – Europa bedeutet für mich …?