Kim's Austrian Adventure

My year as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar in Graz, Austria. Yes, there are other cities in Austria besides Vienna.

11. Dezember 2006

  • Reading: Wladimir Kaminer: Russendisko

  • Listening to: Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Date with a Night

  • German Word of the Day: Löschzüge

  • Translation: Firetrucks

  • Example: Die Löschzüge sind an uns vorbeigefahren./The firetrucks drove past us.

Around six-thirty Sunday morning, our doorbell rang. Twenty times. I chalked it up to drunken idiots and buried my head under my pillow, trying to go back to sleep. Then, the door opened and shut, which confused me, but not enough to get me out of my cocoon of blankets and warmth.

Then, the fire alarm went off. I heard the collective groan of my roommates and we staggered about, trying to find clothes to wear. I managed to put on everything I had worn the night before and shuffled to the shoe rack, grabbing the first shoes I could find. (They were blue and pink Sauconys. No, they didn’t match, but I don’t really care at 6:30am.) Poor Chrissi ended up in high-heeled boots and her bathrobe. The head of the dorm burst into our room, screaming at us to get going. Then she looked at me and started translating – for some reason, she had forgotten that I SPEAK GERMAN. I reminded her as such and wrapped my scarf around me in a dignified manner, sweeping past her to the stairwell.

Once outside, we speculated as to what had happened. We smelled smoke when up on our fourth floor, but once we were at the ground level we couldn’t smell it anymore. I thought that the party on the terrace the night before had sparked it all, with some reveler forgetting to put out his cigarette completely. None of us had a clue what was going on.

Cue the flashing blue lights of the fire truck. Then, cue the fire truck blowing past our dorm (I thought taxis not finding my dorm was bad enough) and half a mile up the street. In the crisp morning air we could hear the truck in reverse, backing up and finally noticing the group of students freezing in the winter air.

There were a total of three fire trucks, four police cars, and five ambulances, blue lights ablaze. None of us were very concerned, though, as the fireman seemed to be very relaxed, chilling next to their trucks.

Around 7:15 we were allowed back in. When the five of us got back into our apartment, we all started to gag – it was thick with the smell of burned plastic. Turns out one of the drunken revelers from the party the night before had cooked something around three in the morning and forgot to turn off the stove, ruining the backsplash and shorting the electricity. Adding to the stupidity: the boys had taken the battery out of their fire alarm a year ago. If it had been there, they would have noticed the smoke a lot sooner. The door to their apartment is always open, which usually seems stupid, but in this case was a potential lifesaver, as it allowed the smoke to get into the stairwell and trip the alarm.

The cleaning lady is happy because it’s one less stove for her to clean.

3. Dezember 2006

Viele Grüsse vom Krampus

Originally uploaded by Kimmikers.

  • Reading: Patrick Süskind: Das Parfum

  • Listening to: Georges Bizet: Carmen: Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre

  • German Word of the Day: schlagen (past tense geschlagen)

  • Translation: to hit

  • Example: Die Krampusse haben mich zwei mal geschlagen!/The Krampusses hit me twice!

Say hello to Krampus. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about him:

"Often the subject of winter poems and tales, the Companions travel with St. Nicholas or his various equivalents (Father Christmas, Santa Claus), carrying with them a rod (sometimes a stick, bundle of switches or a whip, and in modern times often a broom) and a sack. They are sometimes dressed in black rags, bearing a black face and unruly black hair. In many contemporary portrayals the companions look like dark, sinister, or rustic versions of Nicholas himself, with a similar costume but with a darker color scheme.

Some of the companions take on more monstrous forms. Krampus and Klaubauf are variously depicted as horned, shaggy, bestial, or demonic. In many depictions the Krampus looks like popular images of the Devil, complete with red skin, cloven hooves, and short horns.

In some of the Ruprecht traditions the children would be summoned to the door to perform tricks, such as a dance or singing a song to impress upon Santa and Ruprecht that they were indeed good children. Those who performed badly would be beaten soundly by Servant Ruprecht, and those who performed well were given a gift or some treats. Those who performed badly enough or had committed other misdeeds throughout the year were put into Ruprecht's sack and taken away, variously to Ruprecht’s home in the Black Forest, or to be tossed into a river. In other versions the children must be asleep, and would either awake to find their shoes filled with sweets, coal, or in some cases a stick. Over time, other customs developed: parents giving kids who misbehaved a stick instead of treats and saying that it was a warning from Nikolaus that "unless you improve by Christmas day, Nikolaus' black servant Ruprecht will come and beat you with the stick and you won't get any Christmas gifts." Often there would be variations idiosyncratic to individual families.

In parts of Austria, Krampusse, who local tradition says are (typically children of poor families), roamed the streets and sledding hills during the festival. They wore black rags and masks, dragging chains behind them, and occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampusumzüge (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past.

Today, Schladming, a town in Styria (my state!), over 1200 "Krampus" gather from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks (which usually cost about $1400), carrying bundles of sticks used as switches, and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically young men in their teens and early twenties and are generally intoxicated. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches."

I got hit by a switch and screamed both times, freaking out the kids around me. The Krampusse are really nice to the children, shaking their hands and patting them on their heads, but they enjoy taking unsuspecting American exchange students by surprise and whacking them on the arm/butt. I got hit with a switch twice today.

Apparently they only hit the bad ones.