Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Please, Mr. Postman

I've been known to rant about the absurdities of living in Vienna to friends and strangers alike.  This is not shocking to anyone who knows me.  I'm going to generalize here:  people in Austria relish making the obviously simple task into a difficult, if not damn near impossible, task.  Just follow expats posting on the internet about living in Vienna and trying to get something accomplished, from banking to housing to registering their educational degree.

Side note:  You read that last part right, Austrians are really into "titles".  For example, If you have a Masters Degree, you can use the title Mag. (Magister) in front of your name.  Officially, you must go through some kind of process to get your degree registered with the government.  I think I am just going to start using Hag. in front of my name and let them wonder what it means.

Living in Vienna means you frequently deal with the party of "NO"- I don't mean the USA Democrats or Republicans (depending on your politics).  The attitude of "Yes, we can!" or "Si se puedes!" does not translate.

That being said, last week I experienced something so amazing in its simplicity and ease, I nearly jumped for joy.  At the Post Office.

Note:  Closed on Saturdays

In the past, the Austrian Post and I have not been friends.  Customs is fanatical, searching (yes, opening) packages looking for something to tax.  Oh, say, like a vintage (used) luxury item purchased at a charity auction and mailed to Vienna, only to be taxed by customs as if it were brand new.  Fighting City Hall is not worth the effort, so one must pay Mag. Tax Man to get the goods out of jail.

For that reason, I don't purchase many items that require shipping, just in case I break some rule and have to pay.  However, the time comes when ordering something from Amazon is critical to one's very existence.  I missed the delivery, took my slip to the Post for pick-up and encountered this:  Automated Package Pick-up.

Hag. Johnson, Your Package is Available for Pick Up
Here is the long and short of it:  stand in front of a bank of cabinets with your package slip, scan the barcode at the computer (directions available in English), sign your name on the touch screen and Holy Strauss! somewhere along the bank of happy yellow cabinets a door pops open and your package is ready for the taking.  When you close the door, the next person can use the system.

Note the Different Sized Cabinets and Sunny Color!

So Easy, Even an English Speaking ExPat Can Do It!!

This can only mean one thing.  When living here frustrates the hell out of me,  Amazon to the rescue.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

If You Get Lost.....

Over the Holiday, I was absorbed in another click through time waster of great importance on  Architectural Digest and remembered I wanted to write you about Mies van der Rohe.

AD's list of Landmark Buildings Then & Now includes the Seagram Building, completed in 1958 by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Located at 375 Park Ave. New York, New York, the building was Mies' first US skyscraper construction and stands today as iconic "international style" architectural modernism.

Photo From AD Link with Credit

So, it is really good to know that if you get lost between the moon and New York City, you'll end up in Brno and fall in love.  Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and home to another Mies van der Rohe architectural achievement.  The UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site at Villa Tugendhat.  A friend and I booked our tour and visited in November.

Fritz and Grete Tugendhat, both from Jewish German industrialist families, commissioned the house from van der Rohe in 1928.  Grete admired the architect's early work in Germany and the "less is more" functionalism of his design aesthetic.

Mies employed novel residential construction techniques and technologies, including steel structural framing, forced air heating-cooling and an electric window lift system.  Mies designed (and/or co-designed) the furniture.  The Brno and Barcelona chairs are both recognizable and desirable today.  Finishing details from around the world were installed-a curved dining room wall of Macassar ebony, Italian travertine, a Morocan onyx paneled wall and other rare hardwoods from Southeast Asia.   Villa Tugendhat was completed in 1930 and the family lived there until the rumblings of war in 1938.  The family fled and left the home in the care of a trusted friend who turned it over to the Gestapo.  Some friend.

During WWII the Nazis damaged and dismantled the Villa and its furnishings and the post war years resulted in even more damage when the Russians housed a calvary unit in the house.  The Villa was used as a dance school and a pediatric medical facility in the 1950s and 1960s.   It became a registered landmark in 1963.  Plans for restoration were thwarted by the Czech Communists throughout the 1970s, but Gerte Tugendhat visited twice in the late 1960s to speak about the Villa's construction and her communications with van der Rohe during that process.  Two major restoration efforts took place in the 1980s and 1990s, saving the structure and contributing to its recognition as a UNESCO site in 2001.  The first sentence in the UNESCO listing says it all:

"The Tugendhat Villa is a masterpiece of the Modern Movement in architecture."

To visit is to marvel-not only in the beauty of the building, but its lot position overlooking Brno, as well as the furnishings and finishes.  All of which is the result of a significant restoration that took place between 2010-2012.  One incredible story from the restoration was the discovery and reinstallation of the curved Macassar dining room wall panels.  Removed by the Nazis in 1940, the panels were rediscovered in a Brno university canteen in 2010 by an art historian.  They had been hiding in plain sight for 70 years.  As had the onyx wall, it had been covered by a brick facade and left unscathed.

 In scouting the internet for information, I found The Glass House by Simon Mawer.  It is fiction that borrows from the story of Villa Tugendhat.  The video link is Simon Mawer discussing the inspiration for his book.

While this novel is on my reading list, the truth of Villa Tugendhat is a story worth knowing.