To recount my childhood years is a strange exercise. Not because I had a strange childhood, not at all. If I wanted to summarise its benchmark data, I guess it would look insipid, trite, even dull: living in the bosom of my family from age zero to four; kindergarten from four to six; primary school from six to ten.
That’s about it.
Seen from that angle, it’s a dry documentary starring me. Mom. Dad. Kathi. Uncles, aunts, cousins. Several friends.
Alright, any story seems uninteresting when you tell it that way. That’s why most résumés make people yawn.
But that’s my point. I can’t find anything strange when I try to remember my life as a kid.
The strangeness I’m talking about lies in the fact that when I look back, nothing feels fixed or solid. It’s a long, shifting, hazy period with no room for a clear chronology. I remember facts as precisely as I remember the secret code of my Visa card. But those events could have happened at one moment. Or another. Later. Or sooner.
My childhood is a borderless, timeless, enchanted realm.
A happy, carefree realm.
No wonder. I’ve been born, and I’ve grown up, in a sort of fairytale country.
Austria. A land with more than thousand years of history. Knights, counts, dukes, archdukes, kings, emperors galore. If you rather go for the beautiful princess, you can find some neat examples, too.
By the way, I daresay that Austria makes a pretty good living milking that fat cow. Even today. There’s the tale of archduke Johann, for instance. Very popular in my home region Styria. He was a member of the Habsburg clan. Born in 1782, he married Anna Plochl, a simple postmaster’s daughter, against the explicit opposition of his family. Trite? No, no, no! That’s the yarn with which we spin the story of an outlasting romance in Austria. A romance that sells.
And almost everything is like that. On the surface at least. Visit Vienna, and you’ll see the truth of what I’m saying. It’s all about Mozart, and Maria Theresia, and empress Sissi, with a zest of Freud and the Sweet Era of Coffeehouse Writers.
We lost two World Wars? Go find traces of that. I wish you good luck.
We’ve never shied away from a good lie, either. If it stands a chance to be profitable, that is. In the 14th century, didn’t Rudolf IV forge a document creating the rank of archduke for the Habsburgs in order to show they were better than simple dukes?
You bet he did.
Didn’t we collectively accept a legend, invented in 1943 by the Moscow Declaration, claiming that Austria was the first victim to fall prey to the aggressive foreign policy of the National Socialists?
You bet we did. That 99.7561% of the population voted in favour of the Anschluss in 1938 is considered a minor detail in that matter.
Didn’t we collectively applaud when pope Paul VI. dubbed the country “The Isle of the Blessed”, shortly before I was born? No one knew exactly why, by the way. The pope, a refined and cultivated Italian, had intended no irony. Perhaps he had only meant to be nice. Yet we all adhered to that ridiculous idea.
And when you drive through Austria, you’ll have the overall impression that everything is swell, neat, clean. Beautiful wooden chalets with big balconies where geraniums bloom. An ever yodelling population wearing traditional garb. It’s like “The Sound of Music” come alive, over and over again.
Well, yes, some visitors are disappointed they don’t stumble upon any kangaroos. They’ve mistaken us for Australia. We simply pat them on their shoulders, offer a glass of schnapps, and yodel away their frustration.
I’ve went astray. Again. Let’s come back to my childhood years, then.
What I’m trying to tell you is this: I will not be able to recount a straight story. No pun intended, here. This part of my personal novel will come in odd bits and pieces. A chunk from when I was one year old, maybe. Then a chunk from when I turned four.
A medley, in other words. A childhood compilation. Childhood fairytales from an Austrian fairy boy.
I try and do my best to keep confusion at bay, though.