Memoir Excerpt #2
Note: This is a segment from a longer composition , so if the beginning and the end both seem abrupt, that's why.
My junior year at the U began that fall. I had switched from being a music major to being an education major, with primary emphasis on German, and secondary emphasis on music. I had been taking German classes for fun, and realized I might as well focus on a subject I was enjoying. In retrospect, I wish I had officially been a German major and not an Education major; it would have meant more German classes, which were interesting, and fewer Education classes, which were generally boring. However, because I was taking all those German classes I qualified to participate in the “Spring Quarter in Vienna” program offered by the U's Foreign Language Department. I convinced my older brother to loan me enough money so I could afford to go, and in March 1977 I took the bus to Great Falls, flew to Toronto, met up with the rest of the group, and flew to Vienna.
There were thirteen of us in the group, plus one of the German instructors from the U. One of the girls went home before long; I think she had an eating disorder. The remaining dozen of us spent the term studying the German language, Austrian culture, and a few other subjects I’ve since forgotten. We lived in various locations scattered throughout the city and its suburbs. We were all supposed to have boarded with local families, but some of those arrangements fell through at the last minute. My roommate and I were among those who ended up living in an apartment building for young people. It was the next-to-the-last stop on our Stadtbahn, and about a 45 minute ride to the center of the city where our classes were held.
We had a small room with two beds, two desks, and a sink and shower in the corner. The toilets were down the hall. We all shared a kitchen, which was stocked with odds and ends of pans, dishes, and cutlery for all to use. Each of us had a tiny fridge cubicle and a tiny pantry space. We quickly became acquainted with the nearby bakery, meat shops, and also the larger grocery stores. It was a shock to learn we were not allowed to select our own fruits and vegetables from the display; an employee did that for us. And we had to ask an employee to cut a piece of cheese for us, which meant we had to figure out how much of a kilo was a reasonable amount to buy and eat.
We had regularly scheduled classes, and the inevitable homework and tests, but we also had ample free time in which to explore the city and immerse ourselves in Viennese culture. Many of us were from small towns and needed a couple of weeks just to become accustomed to dealing with public transportation and the overwhelming number of people. It was comforting to fortify oneself with a dish of ice cream from a street vendor. The sellers expected the customer to request more than one flavor, which made it easy to try many new flavors.
Because of my love for music, I took advantage of the many operas and concerts. I saw Fidelio, Don Giovanni, the Nutcracker Ballet, Romeo and Juliet, The Magic Flute, La Traviata, Lohengrin, La Boheme (with Herbert van Karajan conducting the orchestra), the Bartered Bride, The Tales of Hoffman, and more. Most of these took place at the Staatsoper, the big fancy opera house, where standing place tickets were nevertheless inexpensive. There was always a long wait in line to get in, and then I stood all through the performances. Some of the performances were held at the Volksoper, which was not quite as upper class, but still very impressive for a small-town girl like me. My favorite show there was “Zwei Herzen in Dreiveirteltakt,” or “Two Hearts in Three-Quarter Time.”
There were some organized excursions for us, often involving a bus trip to a nearby town or attraction such as Baden, Laxenburg, Klosterneuburg, Heiligenkreuz, and Burg Kreuzenstein. We even got to ride on a tour boat along the Danube River, and I was filled with happiness by all the castle ruins along the way. I love castles!
There was so much to see and do in those few weeks; it is difficult to write a short overview. I haven’t even mentioned all the museums, and the beautiful parks. Schloss Schonbrunn was one of the Stadtbahn stops on the way back to our apartment building, so I stopped there often to enjoy the colorful flowers, spacious lawns and sparkling fountains. It was a little taste of being back home again, away from the noise and bustle of the big city. I did get homesick sometimes, but a visit to one of the parks always helped.
P.S. If you are fluent in German, please forgive the lack of umlauts. I don't think my keyboard has them.