August 9th, I stood awkwardly in front of the check-in line at the Portland airport waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. It was five in the morning and although I was excited to get going and travel to Europe for the first time, I was still not too happy about waking up at 3:30 a.m., knowing that I would not get any decent sleep for the next 14 hours.

I had about four bags in all, two check-in bags, a carry-on and a purse. Combined, all my luggage weighed more than I did. Suddenly the weight of what I was about to do settled in. In three hours I would step on a plane that would fly me first to Toronto and then the final destination: Austria. I had never been to Austria, let alone Europe and I really had no idea what to expect. Months before I left for Vienna, I had pictured myself standing on a street in Europe, but when I tried to think of exactly what the buildings looked like or what the people were doing, I could never really make the picture clear. In reality I couldn’t picture myself being in a place so foreign, so different.

Now, it’s been two full days and I’m still a little in shock.

Not only is Vienna huge, it has 23 districts, but it is also very confusing. Unlike most cities in America, Vienna is not set up in a grid pattern, but instead it goes around in a ring. This means none of the streets are very straight and for some reason there are hardly any street signs. Therefore, it was almost inevitable that I would get lost.

The five of us studying in Vienna were kindly escorted to and from our different destinations by residents of Vienna, however, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t totally and utterly confused. Our first destination was the Austro-Amerikan Institute right next to the Opera House. There, we got new phones, and a lecture on what to do and what not to do in the city. Then to our surprise we were told that a Holocaust survivor was coming to the institute to speak.

Thomas Frankl is probably one of the strongest men I’ve ever met.  When he spoke he was kind and straightforward. He stood tall and proud and wore a small pendant that said in Hebrew “remember”.   It was easy to tell that, although the memories pained him, he had an important lesson to teach us and he was not going to stop until everyone had understood. At times he bowed his head in sadness, but somehow still found the courage to keep talking. Listening to him speak was the best part of the day, even when it was hard to hear some of the things that were done to him and his family. Even after everything he had been through his message was one of tolerance and empathy.

Today he keeps his father’s memories alive through telling stories and displaying painting by his father, Adolf Frankl, who survived Auschwitz. His father’s memories are kept alive in the museum Artforum Judenplatz in Vienna.

After the lecture we went to dinner and finally, dragging our feet, we made out way back to a pension, where we soon feel asleep. The next day we would be getting on a train and head five hours west to a small village in the Alps called Dorfgastein.

 

Above is a picture from outside the window of the Hotel Baronesse in Vienna.

Advertisements