Linz (population 200,000) is a city in northeast Austria, on the Danube river. It is the capital of the state Upper Austria (Oberösterreich).
The city was founded by the Romans, who called it Lentia.
The city most of the times only was a provincial and local government city of the German Roman Empire and an important waypoint between several trade routes, spanning the river Danube from the west to the east and Czechoslovakia and Poland from north to the Balkans and Italy to the south.
Being the city where the Hapsburg Emperor Friedrich III spend his last years. It was for a short period of time the most important city of the empire. It lost its status, however after the death of the emperor 1493 back to Vienna and Prague.
Another important milestone of the city before the second world war was Johannes Kepler, who spent several years of his life as a local mathematician in this city. There he discovered on May 15, 1618 the distance-cubed-over-time-squared (or 'third') law of planetary motion (he first made the discovery on March 8 but rejected the idea for a while) Kepler is the namesake of the local university, the only one in Austria that embraces the campus system.
The third milestone of the city was Anton Bruckner, who spent the years of 1855-1868 working as a local composer and church organist in this city. The local concert hall and a local private music and arts university is named after him.
Near Linz, in the town of Leonding, the parents of Adolf Hitler were buried. Adolf Hitler himself went to school ("Fadingergymnasium") in Linz, but left before finishing it, and instead went to a school in Steyr (Upper Austria).
During World War II, Linz became a major industrial area, manufacturing chemicals and steel for the Nazi war machine. Many of these factories had been dismantled in the newly acquired Czechoslovakia, and reassembled in Linz. After the war, the river Danube that runs through the eastern most portion of Linz, separating the Urfahr district in the north from the rest of Linz, served as the border between the American and Russian occupation troops.
The Mauthausen-Gusen camp complex, the last Nazi concentration camp to close, is located mostly around Linz, with the main camp in Mauthausen just 30 kilometres away.
Linz today is still an industrial city. The VOEST ALPINE a rather large steel mill (Founded as "Hermann Göring Werke" during WW2, famous for the LD- ("Linz- Donawitz") procedure for the production of steel) and the former "Chemie Linz" a chemical group, now split up in several companies, made Linz to one of Austria's most important economical centers. The city itself is not signed by these heavy industries. The city is home to a vibrant music and arts scene that is well-funded by the city and the state of Upper Austria.
The main street "Landstrasse" leads from the "Blumauerplatz" to the main square. In the middle of this square the high "Pestsäule" ("plaque monument", also known as "Dreifaltigkeitssäule") was built to remember the people who died in the plague epidemics.
The composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote his Symphony No. 36 (1783) in Linz for a concert to be given there, and the work is today known as the Linz Symphony. The first version of Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 1 in C minor is known as the Linz version.
Ars Electronica Center on the north bank of the Danube (in the Urfahr district), across from the Alt Stadt is home to one of the few public 3D CAVEs in Europe (the very first 3D CAVE world-wide that was publicly accessible) and attracts a large gathering of technologically oriented artists every year for the Ars Electronica Festival.
Recently built (2003) was the new modern art gallery called "Lentos". It is situated on the banks of the river Danube. The building can be enlighted in blue, pink and violet at night.
At the norther outskirts of Linz, the local public university can be found (The Johannes Kepler University), which hosts law, business and technical faculties. A spinoff of the university can be found 20 miles north of linz in the small town of Hagenberg/Upper Austria.
Near the castle, which is located at the same place as the old roman fortress Lentia once was built, being the former seat of Friedrich the III, the oldest Austrian church is located - the Martins church. It was built during the early medieval carolingian times.
Linz. Hitler's favourite city. That, and the Linzer Torte cake are about the only thing that Linz can claim fame for. Stuck between glamourous Vienna and stunning Salzburg, poor urban industrial Linz is a place most people bypass. Even Graz has more pulling power. So when I landed at Linz airport, I wasn't expecting much, although I was curious to find out what was so special about the place that made Hitler love it so much.
I like visiting the unlikely tourist destinations, the second cities, the poor cousins and the urban sprawls. I guess it has something to do with my love of the underdog, and the fact that I was brought up near Britain's eternal second city, the forgotten and much maligned Birmingham. I also find that cities away from the main tourist drag give you a real feel for the people who live in the country. Stripped of their desire to pocket your tourist dollar, and undiluted by the tourist cacophony, people are much more likely to show you their true face. And it is often a lot kinder.
These places often have pockets of surprising beauty and splendour, and Linz proved to be no exception. While walking from the station brought little but row after row of multi-storey pre-war housing blocks painted in uninspiring rainy day grey, rusty tin can brown and car choked green, as I approached the town centre the drab gave way to splashes of historic treasure and green parks. I was drawn to the Neuer Dom cathedral, towering above the town, and north of there I found some fantastic buildings, museums and an opera, many cut into the side of the hill that rolled down to the Danube.
Ah, the Danube. How could any city be on the Danube and not have something special about it. As I exited the last clump of buildings before this enormous river, the vista opened up onto a busy esplanade drawn along the side of this famous river. The Danube is the second biggest river in Europe, dwarfing the Thames, and in Linz I swear it is wider than both that river as it reaches the estuary and the Seine in Paris. It was when I got to the Danube that I suddenly saw the hills I'd been glimpsing through the buildings in all their glory. It was a sight to behold.
Maybe this was what Hitler had seen in Linz. Walking along the banks of the Danube it is hard not to be in awe of the view, finding yourself nestled in the green foothills of the Alps. All around you are different shades of verdant green; green Alpine forests and lush green grassy knolls. I soon found myself in a park listening to the sounds of an oompah-pah band playing raucously to a small audience of ferocious clappers. The event was free, and there were many gathering around to listen indirectly to them playing a number of classical greats in the up-tempo feet-tapping style of a German brass orchestra. It's one of the things I love about continental Europe - the way they put on civic events that make so many people smile for such a small cost.
I don't know my classical music all that well, and I don't speak German, but I could pick out some of the tracks they were playing. Of course they had to play some of Strauss's the Blue Danube Waltz. It was just sublime to sit on the grass, overlooking the Danube, on a hot summer's evening, listening to an Austrian orchestra play the river's theme song. Everyone who walked or cycled past me was smiling contentedly. It was wonderful, and an experience that will not be forgotten fast. The orchestra moved onto a medley of Gershwin numbers, just as the sun set behind the grand church perched on the tall Postlingberg hill, and I was feeling very pleased with myself for deciding to spend the night in Linz.
Before it got dark I walked back to the hotel, hoping to find a shop where I could pick up on some snacks for the evening, and some bottles of Austrian beer. I'd been informed by a kindly, handsome, older Austrian lady as the plane landed that this day was an Austrian public holiday, which I found peculiar it being a Thursday. She was also adamant that only the Nile was bigger than the Danube, and that the European elections being held everywhere on this Thursday, were actually being held in Austria on the Sunday. Maybe that was because it was a public holiday.
There was no way of knowing if it really was a public holiday, but as seems to be typical of the entire continent of Europe, and especially Germanic countries, there were no shops anywhere, and what shops there were, were shut at 8pm. I was in luck, though, and I found not one, not two, but three 24 hour garages on my walk home. I chanced that Austrian garages might sell beer to passing motorists, in that bizarre way that foreigners sell beer everywhere but little of anything else, and I was right. I had no idea what I was buying, so I went on looks and picked up a pack of Steigl, which sounded suitably Austrian.
When I got back to the hotel I realised I had no bottle opener, but the friendly hotel owner, who spoke excellent English and had a disturbing forest of underarm hair, found one for me, meaning I could write up this little essay, while sitting back with a few bottles of hoppy beer chilled in the hotel sink. That sounds a little sad, but after checking out the nearby bars I decided that a beer on my own would be preferable. The area of town I ended up in seems to have a preponderance of seedy sex joints, and while I'm no prude, the idea of drinking beer in a live peep show in Linz wasn't appealing. I could only imagine the quality of women on show in a back-street bar in Austria's fourth city would be. I imagine it would put me off my beer.
Tomorrow I head for Ljubljana in Slovenia, and a meeting with a long time gaming friend. We hope to chug a few beers while watching some Euro 2004 action.
I woke in a sweat to find the room lit in a flickering electric blue. Outside the rain had come from nowhere, and the pounding rain was accompanied by a distant thunder. Surprisingly distant. The lightning was impressive, brighter and of a greater duration than you would normally get in Britain, but by counting the seconds from the strikes that lit up the Linz streets to the inevitable thunder, it seemed that the actual lightning must be striking the ground an incredible distance away considering the noise it was making. Several times that night the lightning drew me from my slumber, along with my inconsiderate neighbours.
The streets of Linz were wet the next day, but fortunately the rain had stopped, even if the clouds had remained. This brought about an unexpected inconvenience. When I’d been in Germany earlier in the year, my shoes had developed an embarrassing squeak, causing me to condemn them to a dark corner of the house in disgust upon my return to England. Being as the shoes were brand new, I later recanted, testing them out and finding the squeak to have miraculously cured itself. I was wary of taking the shoes on this long journey of much walking, fearing that the exercise would set them off again, so imagine my annoyance when I entered a shop to find them squeaking like a stuck pig with each step on the polished floor. I realised then that it was the wet that was causing it, the wet snow of Coburg and the wet rain of Linz. I backed out of the shop, and walked up the street towards the Danube again, intent on drinking my morning coffee in a café overlooking the river. I kept to the noisy streets to mask the squeaking shoes, and skipped over puddles to keep the problem from getting worse.
The morning had brought a preponderance of beggars and urchins onto the streets, and in surprising numbers. I’d seen one the night before, but his behaviour had caused me to mistake him for someone who was praying or tying his shoelaces. Unlike normal beggars, Linzer beggars genuflect to passers by, holding their hands out in front of them, in a manner that is so pathetic it engenders immediate pity. That is until I saw that they are all doing it, and then it made me feel somewhat disgusted that they would humiliate themselves in that manner, when they couldn’t be any worse off than any other beggars in the world. It must have been hard on the knees too, especially those that embellished their act by rocking backwards and forwards.
Through the houses of Linz I again caught glimpses of the hills that encircled the city, but this time, because of the low rain clouds, the smoky hills were shrouded in mist, making them even more picture postcard perfect. I headed for the Kurnst museum where I’d seen diners on the balcony of a café the day before, only this time it was empty of anyone, and all the seats stacked up next to shiny wet white tables. I thought it was shut, but through the door I saw some people gathered at the bar. They were all sweaty labourers taking a break from a nearby project, drinking spirits and generally making the whole idea of drinking a coffee on the Danube all the less romantic. The Café Lentos, squashed under one foot of a post-modern rectangular arch of a building which housed the museum, didn’t really quite catch the mood as you imagine the designers would have wanted. The interior was dark, and almost minimalist, but then someone had bizarrely added several gigantic chandeliers from the ceiling.
Coffee is universal, but ordering it is not. I should have learned by now, but I unthinkingly ordered “kaffee mit milch”, thinking I would get coffee with milk. The waitress questioned me, realising that I had probably made a mistake. Surely I would prefer a cappuccino, but I insisted that I knew what I wanted. When she returned with an espresso I realised why ordering one with milk would have appeared odd. Espressos on the continent can be bastard strong, and the last one I’d had in Verona contained so much caffeine I was nearly hallucinating. As Austria is famous for its coffee, I was relieved to find it not quite as bitter as it could be, meaning that I wouldn’t be paying for my bill while forcing down an avalanche of nervous ticks.
Outside again I headed back up the path I’d taken the night before, intent on taking the pictures that I’d missed because of my camera batteries packing up. Around the corner from the Kurnst museum I jerked my head to the right on hearing a loud guttural rasping phlegm filled spit. A man, dressed in track running gear, was pressing his hands hard against the wall, as if trying to move it. I stared at him, he stared back at me. He didn’t look right, I moved on. Later he jogged past me as I was taking pictures along the river, and he farted loudly as he went by, the kind of wet fart that that leaves a stain on your underwear.
I headed for the station after unsuccessfully trying to buy some Linzer Torte cake in a bakery, and a bottle of water in a newsagents, in a manner of resigned frustration that I have become accustomed to when trying to buy the obvious from shops that should sell them. “Was? You vant cake? But this is a bakery not a cake shop!” I still haven’t figured out what kind of Austrian shop sells water. Just before reaching the station the heavens opened, but I didn’t mind. I had a six hour journey ahead of me. I just prayed that I wouldn’t be taking the weather with me.
On the train to Salzburg I sat with some nice, honest, genuine Austrian folk: a mother and her two children and a posse of cyclists. Everyone was chatting with each other, and me, in a manner that isn’t normal in England, where people try and avoid conversation with their neighbours at all costs, staring vacantly out of the window at imagined sights of interest. Even in tunnels. The cyclists were all from the same factory in Linz, and showed a great camaraderie. I was reminded of Austria’s strong socialist past, and the way fellow workers always pull for each other. People in England spend a lot of their time avoiding each other after work, not wanting to be reminded of it, the Austrians seem to organise regular holidays with each other, without the family, as if the work unit was as strong as any other.
Salzburg was amazing, and that was just from the station as I passed through. The only English speaking cyclist, who like the Austrian woman on the plane had learned his accent in South Africa, pointed out “goat mountain”, and laughed, before telling me a joke about the Salzburg police, some of whom carried a badge proclaiming themselves to be “English speaking”. Apparently, and this really tickled the cyclists, one of these English speaking police had pulled over a tourist for travelling illegally on a bus, and had asked him for his “forename”. They found this hilarious, because, as everyone knows, it’s not forename but first name. They mocked this so-called English speaking police officer. Oh well, humour doesn’t often translate that well.
Trying to figure out which train to get on in Salzburg wasn’t easy, despite knowing the train number and time. I found the right platform, but the train insisted it started in Munich and was finishing in Klagenfurt. As Klagenfurt was in Austria it made no sense as I was heading for Slovenia, and nowhere, not even on my carriage, was Slovenia mentioned. A confused Slovenian looking gentleman proffered his ticket at me and asked me a question in German. I couldn’t help him, even though I was sure he was looking for the same answer as me. In the end I decided to leave matters to fate, and the Austrian ticket booking bureau, and got onto the seat assigned to me.
I was comforted to find the guy sharing my cabin with me was an Australian heading in the same direction. He was equally confused about the destination, and had taken the same decision as me in Munich, relying on the Germans to get him to his destination. He was actually the son of Slovenian emigrants to Australia, so I was able to learn a lot about the place from him, and we talked avidly for the entire four to five hour journey. The journey itself was incredible, and the backdrop was some of the most stunning scenery you will ever see on a train journey anywhere in the world. Every so often I would have to break off the conversation to gasp in awe as the train weaved its way through the valleys of the Alps.