Hallo! Austria represents two “firsts” for us. First, it’s the first country to which one of us can claim an ancestral connection: Derek’s great-grandparents immigrated to America from Galicia, a Polish territory within the Austrian Empire. It’s also the first country one of us has visited in person. Derek visited the Austrian city of Salzburg in 2008 with his college choir, and the above picture is one of many he took on his trip. He fondly recalls eating Mozartkugel, chocolate candies with marzipan and nougat, in spite of his nut allergy. We didn’t live quite as dangerously this globetrotting weekend, but we still enjoyed ourselves.
Somehow we wound up with an abundance of groceries for the themed weekend, so we started our globetrotting a little earlier than usual, on Friday evening, rather than Saturday morning. Derek made potato goulash, and I prepared krautsalat, Austrian cabbage salad, substituting vegetarian bacon and salt for real bacon (and halving the recipe not just once, but twice). We also enjoyed some toasted Kaiser rolls. A hearty meal, but maybe a little incongruous with the warm September evening.
We began Saturday with an Austrian-style breakfast, a spread of breads, cheeses, cold meat (for Derek), pickles and jam. Before you get alarmed by the amount of food in the picture (considering that there are only two of us), let me reassure you that after the following picture was taken, we packed up half of the food for the next morning.
If you’re wondering why croissants, which are French, are in the picture, that’s because they were originally invented in Austria. Croissants, like danishes and strudels, are all examples of viennoiserie, a style of pastry baking that was first invented in Vienna centuries ago before spreading across Europe.
Many consider Vienna the music capital of the world, since so many great composers lived and worked there. Quite a few composers like Mozart, Haydn, and Bruckner were from Austria (or, more accurately, what is now considered Austria). We wanted to find a concert to attend this weekend, but were unfortunately unable to find any good options. This may be because a lot of the schools in the Boston area, which host classical music performances that are open to the public, have just started their fall semesters. Maybe we’d have better luck in a few weeks, but, so ist das Leben, or as the French would say, c’est la vie. We were still a little weary from our Labor Day weekend vacation (to Philadelphia) and from jumping back into our work/school routines, so listening to Mozart on iTunes Radio in our apartment suited us just fine.
For lunch, we ate bosna, an Austrian sandwich similar to the American hot dog and bun. We substituted vegetarian-friendly Field Roast sausages for the bratwursts. Since we had plenty of krautsalat from the previous evening, we had some of that on the side, too.
Derek was particularly keen on finding YouTube videos about Salzburg, so we watched several of those. It really does look like a beautiful city, and Derek even got to point out places where he and his choir performed. But our most comprehensive tour of Austria was via a DVD Derek had checked out of the Cambridge library, called Visions of Austria. The film took us on an aerial tour of the country, showing us snow-capped mountains, little lakeside towns, and the lavish architecture of Salzburg and Vienna.
Here’s a promo from when Visions of Austria originally aired on New York public television:
As a sweet afternoon treat, I made palatschinken, which are similar to French crepes. Traditionally they’re filled with apricot jam before being rolled up, but we used raspberry preserves, cream cheese and honey, which we had on hand. I’ve always been intimidated by the idea of making crepes (how do you flip over something so thin without ripping it or folding it onto itself?), but they turned out pretty well, after the first one, which resembled scrambled eggs more than a pancake.
Our final Saturday meal (which took place a respectable amount of time after our afternoon snack, of course!) was a vegetarian version of the Austrian national dish wiener schnitzel–ours made from portobello mushrooms caps and eggplant slices, instead of veal, and a warm Austrian-style potato salad. The potatoes and the schnitzel’s lemon-caper sauce came out great, and the mushrooms were fine, but the eggplant didn’t seem entirely cooked through. The plate, however, did look pretty good.
We watched the Austrian-German film The Counterfeiters, which focuses on a Jewish counterfeiter in a World War II concentration camp, coerced into helping the Nazi cause. The gripping storyline made it easy to see how this movie had won so much critical acclaim, including the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
On Sunday morning we enjoyed more of our smorgasbord of breads, cheeses, pickles and meats. Since Saturday night’s thunderstorms had cooled the air considerably, we took advantage of the breezy morning and walked across the Mass Ave Bridge to the Boston Esplanade. One of Boston’s most well-known Austrian-Americans, Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra for 50 years, is honored twice on the Esplanade, with a sculpture and a footbridge.
This is the Arthur Fielder Memorial, an aluminum sculpture of the conductor’s head:
All the people crowded around the memorial were participating in the Run of Hope, an annual charity run/walk that supports pediatric cancer care and research. It’s nice that Arthur has some company. For a clearer view of the sculpture, see this page.
And here’s Derek waving from the top of the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge:
Back at home, we lunched on more bosna and krautsalat, and relaxed for the afternoon. If the Busch-Reisinger Museum, part of the Harvard Art Museums, were open, we would have gone there, as they are said to have a collection of Viennese Secession art. Gustav Klimt, the painter perhaps most well known for The Kiss, was a member of this movement. But the Harvard Art Museums are currently closed due to renovation, and won’t re-open until November. But any readers interested in an Austrian-Bostonian experience may want to take note.
We walked to Somerville’s Union Square for dinner, where we dined at Bronwyn, a German/Central European restaurant. We felt like royalty in our high-backed chairs made of dark carved wood:
If you’ve been wondering about the absence of beer in our Austrian experience, we did start our meal with beers from Salzburg. I had the Stiegel Goldbrau, a pretty straightforward lager, and Derek had the Stiegel Grapefruit Radler, which was like a delicious half-beer, half-grapefruit soda. We also had a giant pretzel as an appetizer.
For our entrees, I had the spatzle, which is like a soft egg noodle/dumpling, sautéed with butter and cheese. Derek had the potato rosti, a shredded and fried potato cake. We were still working on the pretzel.
We were very full after our main dishes, but for the sake of research, I felt we had to order kaiserschmarrn for dessert. It was similar to the palatschinken I made the previous afternoon, but this pancake was shredded and served with peach and ginger.
I’m not to going to brag, but Derek did say–without any prompting–he preferred my palatschinken, as this was a bit too eggy. To be fair, however, we may have appreciated the kaiserschmarrn more if we weren’t already so stuffed. Thankfully we had to walk home, which would help us feel a little less bloated.
Even though we just scratched the surface in terms of what Austria has to offer, it’s been a very full weekend. We weren’t able to fit in a few activities because of our timing—the Busch-Reisinger and perhaps a live musical performance—and we were also a few years too late for Austrian-American Heritage Day in Boston, which took place back in 2012. But maybe that’s to be expected. Even if we were physically visiting all these countries, we’d never be able to do “everything.” From what we’ve experienced this weekend, Austria strikes me as a country with a rich cultural heritage, and a place I hope Derek wouldn’t mind revisiting with me. Danke, Österreich! Thanks, Austria!