This past weekend, the grantees from the Austrian Fulbright Commission participated in a joint event with those of the Hungarian Fulbright Commission to visit Sopron, a small town on the Austro-Hungarian border. We decided to meet up on the actual border, the site of the Pan-European Picnic in 1989, before heading to a restaurant and vineyard in town.
But before we got there, we on the Austrian side had some touristing to do on our own side of the border. We met up at our office, and, after watching a short video about the fall of the Berlin Wall, loaded into a bus and headed for one of Austria’s nine states, Burgenland.
We started off in the town of Rohrau with a visit to the birthplace of the composer Joseph Haydn. The house was a small, thatched-roof building (the town of Rohrau is located near the Neusiedlersee, a large lake surrounded by massive amounts of reeds). The front part of the house was original to the time of Haydn; the rear courtyard had been rebuilt when the house was converted to a museum. We saw his parents’ room, complete with the freakishly small bed. Fun fact: the reason the beds were so small was that during this period, people believed that only dead people lay fully stretched out, and so people slept sitting up. We had a tour of the building from one of the museum staff, who told us more about Haydn’s home life and childhood. The Haydn family had twelve children, of whom six survived. Joseph Haydn was also only six years old when he left his parents’ home to live with a relative in the nearby town of Hainburg, where he began his musical studies.
After the tour of the Haydn house, we headed off to Purbach to get some lunch. We went to a Heurige, a tavern where they sell new wine, usually grown on-site. While most Viennese Heurigen produce a white wine called Grüner Veltliner, Burgenland is particularly known for its red wines, like Blaufränkisch. We were originally supposed to eat outside, but the weather was nasty, so we stayed indoors, where the owner had mercifully turned on the space heater. The food was amazing—lots of different spreads, meats, cheeses, and pickles—and there was plenty of it. Frankly, I was a bit sad to leave for the next part of our trip.
Eisenstadt was one of the main seats of the Esterhazy family, one of the major aristocratic families of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We were less concerned with the Esterhazys, though (since we would be visiting their palace the next day), and instead occupied ourselves with the history of the city’s Jewish community. The Jewish community in Eisenstadt dated back to the Middle Ages, but really took off in the 17th century, when they came under the protection of Prince Nicholas Esterhazy. During the 19th century, Eisenstadt was a well-known center for traditional Jewish scholarship in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the Third Reich, Eisenstadt’s Jews were among the first to suffer expropriation and deportation at the hands of the Nazis, which also meant that a comparatively large number were able to survive the Holocaust, although almost none returned to the town after the war. We took our tour through the city with a guide from the Eisenstadt Jewish Museum, which included a tour of a Baroque-era synagogue, a walking tour of the Jewish quarter (where you can still see the Sabbath chain used to block entrance to the quarter on the Sabbath), and the cemetery.
Next time: the border, Sopron, and Schloss Esterhazy.