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NYTimes: Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe

8 Aug

Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe

The Times makes the point that this is a tradition mainly in German-speaking countries. That’s in keeping with the respect for apprenticeships I’m so fond of writing about.


The trades

18 Mar

I have reported in the past on how well Austria does in international competitions of apprentices. Today in the Kurier is an article about how the chosen representatives are already intensively (and, according to the vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, “conscientiously”) preparing for the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi in October. As usual the competitors are honing their professional skills as well as preparing mentally. This year, in addition, they are working with top sports trainers to improve their performances. Austria takes this seriously. It seems to be almost as much a part of the national identity as the dominance in skiing. And long may it last. I think it’s great that people who make a point of doing their jobs spectacularly well have the chance to gain national and international recognition, not on the basis of how much they earn but on the basis of what they physically produce.

They’re at it again

10 Dec

The EuroSkills championship has just taken place in Göteborg,  Sweden, and once again Austria has done extremely well for such a small country (see below).

At the top of the list is Lisa Janisch, painter. She had the highest points of all competitors and with that got a gold medal and was “Best of Nation” and “Best of Europe”. The tasks she had to complete: painting an inside door in two colors, putting up wallpaper, painting Göteborg’s opera house on a wall (with some technical details I can’t translate because I don’t understand them), speed painting, and finally using a technique of her choice to decorate a 2 m2 wall area. (She chose to paint her shadow on the wall using a sophisticated stucco technique.) She said the hardest part was  completing these tasks well in the time allowed and that she was helped by the fact that she had been practicing all day, every day for months until her boss told her to go home and get some sleep. I continue to love the fact that there are competitions for work performance.

From today’s Kurier the list of winners:

And the former president …

4 Dec

And the former president of Austria, Heinz Fischer, recently was at a gala concert in the Musikverein to celebrate pianist Rudolf Buchbinder’s 70th birthday. One thing I have always appreciated about Fischer is that he likes classical music and can often be seen at concerts, usually without any obvious security. The first time I saw him, I was dissecting a concert with some Austrian friends and interrupted to point and say, “Der Bundespräsident!” They glanced over and said, more or less, “Of course. What did you expect? He often comes to concerts” and turned back to continue our conversation. What did I expect??? A security detail taking the president out through a back passage, not this short, middle-aged man walking out alone looking contemplative.

A new president for Austria

4 Dec

Austria has elected Alexander van der Bellen as its new president. Van der Bellen was formerly head of the Green Party and ran as an independent. He won against Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the right-wing, nationalist party. Thank you, Austria!


1 Dec

After four months in the U.S. Maylo and I are back in Vienna. Anyone who’s been following this blog at all knows how much I love this city, but what did I notice most in the last 48 hours? Sadly, how much and how indiscriminately people smoke. Ah, well. Nothing is perfect.

Karlheinz Böhm, 1928 – 2014

31 May

I went into the Trafik as usual this morning to pick up my Saturday Kurier to read at breakfast and saw on the front page of every Austrian newspaper a large photo of Karlheinz Böhm and his dates. This news led me to break my otherwise firm habit of starting the Saturday paper at the back of the supplement and working my way forward and then starting on the last page of the newspaper itself and working my way forward. I turned immediately to pages 17 and 18 to read more.

Who is Karlheinz Böhm and why so much news coverage of his death? What follows is a very personal response to that question. The short version: Karlheinz Böhm was a dashing actor who became famous playing the Emperor Franz Josef (second to last emperor of Austria) to Romy Schneider’s Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) in the “Sissi” films of the 1950s. Thanks to genuine acting talent he was, miraculously, able to move beyond this role and later even played the part of a serial killer with success.

At some point he was on vacation in Kenya with friends and was appalled by the gap between the relative wealth of the tourists and the poverty around them. He decided to do something and changed his life completely. On a famous German TV show “Wetten, dass …?” (more or less “Do you want to bet …?”) he expressed the bet that not even one-third of the viewers (an estimated six to seven million people) would give one Deutschmark (this was a long time ago!) or one Schilling (for the Austrian viewers) to alleviate hunger in Africa. He won that bet, but enough people gave that over a million marks came in and he was able to start an aid and development project in Africa, ultimately in Ethiopia.

There’s an interesting story about how the country was chosen, if you were wondering why Ethiopia when he had the idea in Kenya. Apparently, he went to the Kenyan government first, but they did not want to accept his terms (he wanted full say in how the money was spent) so he carried on from one country to the next. The first government to agree to his terms was the government of Ethiopia and his organization “Menschen für Menschen”  (“People for People”) was born . He gave up his acting career and devoted the rest of his life to helping people in Ethiopia.

His way of using the money from “Wetten, dass …?” He went from village to village with an interpreter and sat down, literally, on the ground with the people in these villages and asked them what they most needed. Everything Menschen für Menschen does–and they’re still around after 30 years–is based on the answers he got.

Some of what the short version above leaves out is that, on top of being a famous actor himself, he was Karl Böhm’s (the world-famous conductor’s) son so he was brought up with considerable privilege. The short version also leaves out why Menschen für Menschen (MfM) is one of the few charitable organizations I contribute to on a monthly basis. First of all, I love the picture of this man leaving behind a career with the kind of success most of us would give our eye teeth for and going and asking what people need and then doing his best to deliver it. In addition, by focusing on one country MfM can apply an integrative approach to development very effectively. That means they don’t just focus on clean water or education or more productive farming techniques or making women more independent or health care. They work on on all these aspects at the same time to increase the impact of what they are doing in each area. And, as well as focusing in an ongoing way on making people independent from their support, they are also there quickly with help when there are natural disasters.

Austrian TV is, of course, in addition to the commemorations of Karlheinz Böhm’s life and life’s work, showing all the “Sissi” films over the next week or so. So please forgive me if I leave you now to go watch them one more time. But first I need to go and increase my standing donation to the work that meant so much more to him.