Friday the 26th of October is Austria’s national holiday celebrating the declaration of Austria’s neutrality after WW II.

On this day a number of events take place, the biggest being a celebration on Heldenplatz.

Below is the Justice Building. It’s not on Heldenplatz, but it is significant, because it was set fire to in the 1920’s, because of differences between two of the major political parties in Austria, the Christian Socials and the Social Democrats. The building was mostly destroyed and the government sent police to stop the riot. The police ended up firing on unarmed protesters. This was one of the events that contributed to the end of the First Republic of Austria, on of the main problems being that each party distrusted the other and both of them had their own private army.

Heldenplatz is located in front of the Hofburg Palace, the winter residence of the Habsburgs. It now houses a number of different things, such as the national library, the office of the Federal President and also the office of the Chancellor. In all it has around 11 different sections.

In the past, this was the square where Hitler gave his speech after Germany invaded Austria. It’s a little scary thinking about what happened on this square not so long ago, but the celebration held today is one of peace and neutrality, not one of fear and hate, which makes all the difference.

Heldenplatz.

On October 26th, all the doors of the official buildings are open, like parliament, the Federal Chancellery, and also the president’s office in the Hofburg Palace. In the square are also food stands with Bratwurst, glühwein (which is hot, spiced wine), and breads.

All around the square sat tanks, helicopters and other vehicles in the army of Austria. It was interesting to see the army celebrated in a different way than in America. After World War II, Austria became a neutral country, so the military is seen in a different light in Austria than in America.

Flags from all different countries, decorating the side of the Hofburg.

An Austrian soldier walking on a tank.

There were soldiers jumping out of a helicopter when we arrived and they parachuted down onto the square with flags trailing behind.

The day before the celebration our politics professor told us that it might be possible to meet the president, because of the Day of the Open Door, which accompanies the national holiday. We really had no idea if it would be possible, but decided that we would maybe try to meet the president if the opportunity arose.

We wandered through the square admiring the tanks and helicopters, but soon became hungry, so we all tried different Bratwürsts and drank some glühwein, which was nice on a cold day.

Afterwards, we headed towards the side of the Hofburg Palace, because there seemed to be a lot of people standing around there. There were two lines to get into two different buildings. We really had no idea what each line was for, but we had a hunch they might be to meet someone important. At first we stood on the right side of the square, but it was a long line, so on a whim we decided to switch to the one across the square. It was only after we walked up closer to the line that we realized it was to meet the president. We were surprised, because it was so short, but a sign on the door told us that we were about an hour early. The opportunity was too good to miss, so we decided to wait.

Before meeting the Federal President of Austria, we were given a short tour of the president’s wing in the Hofburg, called Leopold Wing. It was decorated in the Baroque style with a number of images of Maria Theresa and her husband on the walls. One room was entirely filled with “paintings”, which on closer inspection are actually images made out of stone.

The room below seemed like the office of the president, but he probably only uses it for official reasons, because a much less decorated desk was only two rooms down.

Finally, we came to the president, luckily we were early in the line, so he was still chipper and happy to meet us. No one wanted to go first, so I went and shook his hand and stumbled over some sentences in German. He was really nice and asked where I was from in America and what I was studying. He wished me success in life and joked around a little about the upcoming presidential elections in America.

His wife was right next him and I got to shake her hand too.

Heinz Fischer the President of the Republic of Austria and me!

After everyone had made their way through the line we headed back outside to be greeted by Austria’s military band. While we were listening we ran into Clifford, one of the other students staying with Addison, and together we decided to wait in line to see the Chancellor.

The visit with the Chancellor, Werner Faymann, was a little different. Each room had its own self-guided tour and it felt more like an office building. While we made our way through the building the Chancellor was walking around the different rooms, rather than standing in one spot. We took a picture with him and then he made his way to the next room. We were supposed to receive our photo with him once we exited the building, but somehow it got lost along the way.

We separated ways soon after, Annika and I headed over to the Rathaus, which was covered in tents advertising different occupations. Currently, for men 18 and up, it is required to either go into the army or go into some sort of social service. This however, is being contested and may change in the near future.

Later that night we went to Addison’s and cooked a nice dinner, before watching the last presidential debate over the internet, because we were unable to watch it on TV.

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