I’m publishing a lot these days, am I? My husband’s already complaining that he can’t read as fast as I write, but hey, if the book is finished, what else am I gonna do with it?
All right then. Another Resident Witch. Alice and the gang are going on another adventure. What can I tell you without offering too many spoilers? Let’s see…
They’ve all finished high school now. Pepper and Greg have left on their work-and-travel trip and are busy sending pics from Australia. No one is envious. Amy is off to Italy, to kick off her career as a future Nobel-prize winning scientist at some elite university. Trouble is starting his job at the motorbike store, and Finn his apprenticeship with the local tattoo artist. Alice? Alice has sweet nothing to do all summer long… or so she thinks.
Until she runs into the Eastern European diaspora she didn’t even know existed in her town, and enters a whole new world.
Now why did I go and confront her with Eastern Europe? That’s easy to explain, but it might take a while. Sit back, and I’ll tell you…
I grew up in Austria, during a time where the Iron Curtain was still a thing. I remember summer vacations in the southeastern corner of the country, close to the Hungarian border, and watchtowers manned with soldiers carrying machine guns. I never felt reassured by the sight.
Like pretty much every Austrian, I have family roots in various Eastern European countries. My mom arrived sometime after WWII, from what is now the Czech Republic. I learned a few choice Czech swear words from my grandma, and my mom loved to entertain us with a half German, half Czech nonsense poem about a guy who travels as a courier and can’t get across the border because he accidentally ate his passport somewhere along the way. Parts of my dad’s family can be traced to Hungary.
I think it was 2004 when I started working for Greenpeace in Vienna. The office there serves as headquearters for Central & Eastern Europe, means we regularly had the people from the Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian and Polish offices hanging around. It was customary to switch to English in the middle of a sentence when one of them entered the room, so they wouldn’t feel excluded. I loved them dearly. They taught me a lot about the different mentalities, and I learned to understand English spoken with five different accents, which were sometimes quite brutal (and I’m totally including the Austrians here). Add that to my family history, and throw about twenty years of listening to Gogol Bordello into the mix, and you might understand why it all had to trickle into a book at some point.
Another thing which influenced the story is Austria’s slightly difficult relationship with its past. After WWII, Austria somehow managed to insist they never really sided with the Germans, but instead were their first victims, forced to fight alonside them. Yeah, right. Rumors have it that the one thing which produced this particular rewriting of history was the fact that Leopold Figl, back then Federal Chancellor, could stomach more vodka than Nikita Khrushchev. I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but it doesn’t sound entirely absurd. Either way, any denazification probably wasn’t conducted with the same thoroughness as in Germany, and feelings of guilt or regret came a lot later. Or not at all. I guess the majority of Austrians is well aware that we weren’t innocent, but growing up I still heard old people of German ethnicity blame the Jews for the fact that they were kicked out of former Czechoslovakia and their homes taken away from them without any compensation because – oops – no one liked the Germans anymore. The so-called Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) grew from a pool of leftover Nazi functionaries, and according to recent surveys will get 31% of the votes in the next election.
I had better stop before I start ranting in earnest.
There’s still the Viennese charm, right? You can’t beat that. Cough, cough.
Whatever, I hope you’ll enjoy the story. I had tons of fun remembering my old colleagues and letting their mannerisms and madnesses run rampant through the book. I’ll leave you with a famous quote by one guy from the Slovak office: “If you have any questions, don’t ask me.”