Today was a travelling day with stops in Salzburg, the Mauthausen concentration camp and ending in Vienna. I will briefly talk about each one.
In order to prepare us for our first stop we watched “The Sound of Music” in the tour bus. I can honestly say that the back of the bus was the place to be. While the front of the bus simply watched the movie, we were singing along to every song and (some of us) revealed that we knew much more than just the songs. Go Julie Andrews, you rock. When we arrived in Salzburg we crossed a pedestrian bridge covered in pad locks where Cordell Briggs and his wife joined the thousand others in locking their love-padlock to the bridge and throwing the keys in the river. On the other side of the river we got to see the house where Mozart was born. If it wasn’t written right on the house though you would have never known it was there. All the houses were of the same style and were well kept. Salzburg is a beautiful clean city that I wouldn’t mind living in actually. Despite being a tourist attraction the locals take pride in running clean shops, maintaining beautiful store-front windows and going about their regular business as if we were never there.
Our tour guide Fritz took us to some of the more famous sites including the steps where the Van Trapp Children sang the Do Re Me song and the giant fountain that Fraeulein Maria goes by when she sings her “Confidence in Me” song.
I must confess that I was not happy at only having 45 minutes to do shopping before we had to be back at the bus but I used every second. I quickly found a store that sold Lederhosen, tried on a pair, had them fitted (quite tenaciously by an elderly lady) and made it back to the group with 45 seconds to spare.
To be totally honest I did not look forward to going here and even less so to have to write about it. We watched a 25 minute video that covered the history of the camp and while the first 20 minutes were mostly facts and figures the last 5 minutes showed the most graphic pictures of the people . . . the bodies. Not everyone in the group made it to the end of the video and although I was not the one who walked out, I was left deeply shaken and trying to maintain my composure. After the presentation I split off from the group both to collect myself and because I felt that this journey would be better alone.
While the main group headed off into the heart of the camp I left and headed down to the “Death Stairs” where the rock quarry was. These steep steps were of great amusement to the guards because overworked and underfed prisoners would collapse near the top and lose control of the heavy rocks they were carrying. These would then start a domino effect that maimed and killed others in an avalanche of rocks and bodies. The dying would then attempt to drag themselves off the stairs to either die on the side of the path or fall off the cliff into the pool of water where they would drown. Guards sometimes grew impatient and instead of waiting for a domino effect to start would just push them off the top of the cliff, saving time, and rapidly decreasing the camp. This was especially effective if they had too many prisoners
Going down the stairs I ran into a group of high school kids and was at first offended that they were joking around and making noise but I then realized that those who dies here would probably be happy that happiness and laughter had returned to a place of such horror and hopelessness.
On my way back up the stairs to the main camp I ran into others from our group that, apparently, had the same desire to be alone. In none of the places we visited did we have so many people desire solitude. Back on the bus we all agreed that we had just visited hallowed ground, sanctified by thousands and while at first I felt sorrow and despair, by the time I left I felt that there was peace as well.
We arrived in Vienna or Wien as the Austrians call it in the evening and after dropping off our stuff went for a walk to the city center. As in Salzburg we were greeted by beautifully decorated shop windows, clean streets and friendly people. One of the places that Fritz showed us was the stables where the world famous Lipizzaner Stallions are. These stallions are synonymous with the “Spanish Riding School” which is one of the most famous riding schools in the world. This riding school is located on the grounds of the Hofburg Palace which is where we will go tomorrow for the Mozart Concert.
After a brief walk we were released to go out on our own or in groups. I needed to do laundry because I didn’t have enough to pay the exorbitant fees that they charge at the hotel. We actually did the math and determined that I saved 200 dollars by doing the laundry myself.
Austria is absolutely beautiful and we all felt perfectly safe to go anywhere at any time. I can see why Fritz speaks so highly of Austria and why so many people come here to visit, work or retire.
EMBA Class of 2013