The Austrian countryside

May 2011

I spent five nights with family in Ardagger, about one hour’s drive from Vienna. Ardagger is close to Amstetten and about half an hour’s drive to Dürnstein, which is famous because in 1192, in the castle above the town, King Richard I Lionheart of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V of Austria after their dispute during the Third Crusade. The house overlooks the Danube and backs onto a the wood and various tracks that go for miles up into the hills.

I write this as I sip cold coffee. While hot coffee is also very good, I now appreciate cold coffee much more, due to the fact that… “Kalter Kaffee macht schön” – a German saying, which doesn’t have a precise English translation, however the closest possible translation is “Drinking cold coffee makes you so beautiful that it is almost cheesy”.

There’s lots of other fantastic traditions and sayings for German-speaking people. For instance, it is an understatement to say that direct eye-contact with whom ever you are clinking glasses with as you say ‘ein prosit!’ (a toast) in Austria is important. Advice to help people who are learning the German language (me) is but a Google away:-

The origin of the English word “toast”—in the sense of “drink a toast to someone”—has several explanations. According to most sources, a drinking “toast” (a word also used in German) is actually related to roasted bread, aka toast. Webster’s [Dictionary] says the word is derived “from the use of toasted spiced bread to flavor the wine [during a toast], and the notion that the person honoured also added flavor.” Other sources claim that the word is derived from the 18th century English custom of covering a glass of hot spiced wine with a slice of toast as it was passed around the table. Each person lifted the toast, took a sip of wine, said a few words, and passed the glass on. When the glass reached the person being “toasted,” the honouree got to eat the toast.

The German equivalents of “Cheers!” or “Bottoms up!” are Prost! or Zum Wohl! But longer, more formal toasts (Trinksprüche, (kurze) Tischreden) are common on special occasions such as marriage, retirement, or a birthday. A birthday toast almost always includes Alles Gute zum Geburtstag! (or nowadays even an English “Happy Birthday!”), but a real birthday toast would expand on that with more good wishes, such as this humorous jab: “Hoffentlich hast du soviel Spaß an deinem Geburtstag, dass du ihn von nun an jährlich feierst! Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!” (“I hope you have so much fun on your birthday that you’ll celebrate it annually from now on! Happy birthday!”)

That was a tangent. Sorry. But it was kind of practical. My memory of the idyllic Austrian countryside holiday, will sadly need to be continued…

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