A Gathering in Graz

It’s no secret that many archaeologists leave their homes and go off to conduct fieldwork for weeks, even months, at a time. This is typical for archaeology graduate students. Often we leave behind family, friends, partners, pets, plants, and a not-so-obvious contingent – subletters.

Even though we leave, those of us with a lease still have to pay rent. Many students, including myself, opt to sublet their rooms. During my second year of graduate school in New York City, I was gearing up to do two field seasons – Oman in the winter and Ethiopia in the summer. When it came time to find a subletter for the winter, I advertised on my usual channels that proved successful in the past – the Anthropology graduate student listserv and Facebook. Unfortunately, not a single person responded.

At first, I attributed the lack of a response to advertising my room last minute. I had a busy fall and finding a subletter consistently got pushed off. Still, I had a creeping suspicion that my apartment’s inconvenient location was the real culprit. Earlier that year, my two flatmates and I decided to move out of Manhattan and into an ‘up and coming’ neighborhood in Brooklyn. We traded in convenient locations and short commute times for more space and less rent. Perhaps we should have gone with the Manhattan closet…

Nonetheless, with no one taking my room, I paid my rent and set off for Oman. When I returned I vowed to start my summer subletter search sooner. While a number of people responded to my posting, the inconvenient location was a strong deterrent (Thanks a lot J-train!). With less than two weeks before I departed again, finding a subletter appeared increasingly unlikely.

One afternoon I was chatting (okay, more like lamenting) with a classmate about my unsuccessful subletter search. She then mentioned her flatmate had a friend who was looking for a summer sublet. Hope! We exchanged details and a viewing was set up. We all met, she wanted the room, and I left for Ethiopia.

Except the story doesn’t end there.

My subletter turned out to be a good friend.

When I was in the field I found two things 1) one of my flatmates was immediately moving out of New York and, therefore, 2) we weren’t renewing our lease. Fortunately, my other flatmate (also an archaeologist!) and I were able to secure other housing; however, that still left the whole moving process. To complicate things further, I was still in the field when our lease ended. Both my remaining flatmate and our subletter jumped in and coordinated all the packing and moving. This was no small feat in New York City. Upon returning from my summer fieldwork, I gifted them with Sephora-filled bags and dinner at Joe’s Shanghai. I was eternally grateful to both of them.

During this time, I also got to know my subletter a bit better. We both fell in love with Germans, were avid travellers, and loved to eat. Over the years, we stayed in touch by checking in now and then, offering congratulations when we married our respective German men, and when we both made big moves – for me, it was Frankfurt, Germany and for her, it was Graz, Austria.

When my former flatmate (the archaeologist!) decided to spend a month in Frankfurt learning German, we all knew two things: 1) a reunion had to happen and 2) we wanted it to happen in Graz. Unfortunately, plane tickets to Graz were pricey. Finally, after weeks of carefully monitoring flights, a reasonable fare showed up. We were off to Graz!

The five of us (me + my German husband + former flatmate + subletter +subletter’s German husband) had a weekend filled with sight-seeing, eating delicious food, reminiscing about New York, and sharing what we’ve been up to since moving out of the city.

How do you describe becoming friends with your subletter and visiting them in another country with your former flatmate? Perhaps there is a German word for that, but, in the meantime, I will stick with AWESOME.


A view of Graz's Hauptplatz and Rathaus.
A view of Graz’s Hauptplatz and Rathaus.

If you follow the tram tracks, you will see the Graz’s Rathaus on the right, which is located in the Hauptplatz. The Rathaus (town hall) serves as the location for a number of official functions, including weddings. Like in Germany, only state-approved locations can enact official, legal wedding ceremonies in Austria. Interestingly, the Graz Rathaus is the only location in the city that allows you to live stream your wedding using the town hall’s webcam.

View from the Schlossberg Funicular
View from the Schlossberg Funicular

The Schlossberg Hill is an iconic landmark in Graz. If you want to get to the top, you have three options: 1) Walk, 2) Take the Elevator, or 3) Take the Funicular.  This photo is taken from the Schlossberg Funicular before we set off for the top of the hill. The funicular has been in operation for over 100 years (established 1894)! Also, if you buy a day pass for the public transportation in Graz, the fare for the funicular is included.

A view of Graz from Schlossberg Hill.
A view of Graz from Schlossberg Hill.

This view of Graz shows the famous ‘red roofs’ of Graz. The red roofs are made up of 600-year old terracotta roof tiles. Graz’s inner city is comprised of a mix of well-preserved historic and contemporary architecture that spans centuries. For this reason, the city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Views of Murinsel
Views of Murinsel

If you walk along the Mur river, you will eventually see a curious structure floating in the middle of rushing rapids. This structure, created by US artist Vito Acconci in 2003, is known as Murinsel, or ‘The Island of Mur’. It’s a curving steel structure that houses a café, amphitheater, and a rope maze. Sadly, if you’re over 14 you’re too old for the ropes.

Love locks on the Hauptbruecke.
Love locks on the Hauptbruecke.

Like many cities, Graz has a bridge that contains love locks. Lovers take a padlock, sometimes it’s engraved with their names or initials, lock it onto a public structure, and throw away the key to symbolize their everlasting love. In Graz, I learned that some lovers add additional locks to their original lock to symbolize their children. If you look carefully at the turtle lock, you will see two little hatchling locks attached.

Ice cream at Eis Greissler.
Ice cream at Eis Greissler.

What’s a summer walk (even if it’s raining most of the time!) without ice cream? My subletter raved about the ice cream at Eis Greissler, which is not too far from Hauptplatz. If you like creamy ice creams, this place is for you. We loved in so much we went twice. Some of our favorite flavors included white chocolate, pistachio, and ziegenkaese (goat cheese). If you’re more into sorbets then an equally good place is right across the street.

A view of Eggenberg Palace
A view of Eggenberg Palace

Eggenberg Palace is an important landmark in Graz. Its importance was solidified when Graz’s UNESCO World Heritage listing was expanded to include the palace. The palace was commissioned by Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg in 1625. The Eggenberg’s were a powerful family in Styria (the region where Graz is located); however, their direct possession of the estate ended with the death of Maria Eleonara von Eggenberg in 1774. At the time of her death she had no heir, thus, the property was transferred to her husband, Johann Leopold Count Herberstein. The palace stayed in possession of the Herberstein family up until its sale to Provice of Styria in 1939.

Inside Eggenberg Palace
Inside Eggenberg Palace

Eggenberg Palace is a curious place. Allusions to astronomy and astrology are filled in the details of numerous design elements in the palace. For example, there are 365 exterior windows representing one calendar year, each floor contains 31 rooms represented the maximum days in a month, each tower of rectangular building points exactly in a cardinal direction, and so much more.

Under the parasol on the Rose Mound.
Under the parasol on the Rose Mound.

The palace grounds of Eggenberg contains a number of gardens. The Rose Mound was created under the Herbersteins and this parasol in a ‘Chinese-style’ was erected in 1833. A number of the decorative elements of Eggenberg Palace were directly imported from East Asian countries. One of the most famous pieces is a folding screen from Japan with images of Osaka pre-1615. This is especially notable because remnants from this period are quite rare. The succeeding regime wiped out most material reminders of the preceding period. In the early 2000’s the significance of the piece was recognized and a joint research project between universities in Japan, Austria, and Germany was set up to study the piece.

One of the peacocks of Eggenberg Palace.
One of the peacocks of Eggenberg Palace.

One of the main attractions of the Eggenberg Palace grounds is its peacocks. Sometimes people spend more time photographing these birds than roaming the interior of palace. Perhaps we were also guilty of this…

Dessert at Gloeckl Braeu.
Dessert at Gloeckl Braeu.

Graz has some pretty good food. As a group of beer lovers, our hosts suggested eating at Gloeckl Braeu, which is a restaurant that brews its own beer and serves Styrian cuisine. I’m not sure how typically Styrian this donut filled with ice cream is, but it was delicious. Perhaps there was some it contained some pumpkin seed oil, which is a speciality in the region.

The friendly alien aka Kunsthaus Graz
The friendly alien aka Kunsthaus Graz

This an up-close view of Kunsthaus Graz, which is the city’s contemporary art museum. Designed by British architects, Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, the building opened in 2003. The museum looks a floating bubble and its exterior displays nozzles, spouts, and eyes. This has led to the structure being affectionately called the ‘friendly alien’.

The Blascka Models with Pinterest in the background.
The Blascka Models with Pinterest in the background.

‘The Painter’s Cabinet’, by Terry Winters was on at the Kunsthaus Graz. For this exhibition, the artist selected materials from natural history collections in Graz. In this image, Blaschka models of invertebrate marine life are on display. Father and son duo Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka made beautiful and scientifically accurate glass models of marine invertebrates and plants. Their glass flowers are world renown and many are on display at Harvard University’s Museum of Natural History. Unfortunately, the Blaschka’s did not take on an apprentice and their art ended with Rudolph’s death in 1939.

In the background of this image, you will see a blown-up image of a Pinterest board of images the artist selected to visual all the contents of the exhibition. I thought it was an interesting way to connect modern social media visualization with more historical and natural aesthetics. If you’re interested to see the Pinterest board, check it out here.

Xylotheque Display in Terry Winter's, 'The Painter's Collection'.
Xylotheque Display in Terry Winter’s, ‘The Painter’s Collection’.

This was my favorite piece of the exhibition. They are 19th century xylotheques (tree books)! They were made and filled with identifiable parts of a specific tree and used as a teaching tool for foresters. These books were costly to make, therefore, only bigger estates could afford them. The detail in the books on display these were absolutely amazing.

A view from the alien's nozzle.
A view from the alien’s nozzle.

Pretty much all of the ‘friendly alien’s’ nozzles face north. The exception is this east facing nozzle that puts on display Graz’s Clock Tower located on Schlossberg Hill. The Clock Tower often confused people because the hour hands are longer than the minute hands, which makes it appear that the clock is displaying the wrong time. The long hour hands were in place so it could be seen from far distances. The minute hands were actually a later edition.

 

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Smiti Nathan

I’m an archaeologist that travels around the world for both work and pleasure. I have a penchant for exploring ancient and modern places and the people, plants, and foods entangled in them. I write about archaeology, travel, and productivity.

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