Thursday, May 28, 2009

Waltz into Wien

The Geezer avoids endorsing services and products (except for his own books!), but the situation in Vienna cries out for a recommendation. The historic city describes itself as “the capital that looks like a capital,” and it does. Cathedrals, palaces, theaters, museums, government buildings, and parks were designed and built on a grand scale in the days the city was a center of empire and the arts.

Unfortunately, Viennese prices are equally grand. You can skimp and put you and your spouse, lover, or good friend into a modest hotel room for a night for 150 Euros ($198) or treat yourselves to more upscale lodgings for a mere 400 or so Euros ($529 or so). Be sure parking comes with your room, because spaces are hard to find in the central city and carry a hefty price tag (up to 40 Euros for a long day). Some guidebooks suggest lodging costs are mitigated because tourists can take a walking tour from downtown hotels to the major attractions in a single day. Hogwash. Olympic sprinters might make it, tourists never would.

You can, however, get a good overview of Vienna in one day and cover all the important places in three days, and have a few Euros left in your pocket for several glasses of the acclaimed local wines. Do that, or have coffee or tea if you prefer, because Vienna’s sidewalk cafes are great places to people-watch. Just be a visitor who does not stay. Stay in Baden.

Specifically, stay at Pension Elfy, at No. 11 Karlsgasse ( There, you will find immaculate rooms, some with kitchens, a patio for enjoyable breakfasts in good weather, a lovely garden from which you can clearly see remains of an ancient Roman viaduct, and a fine hostess. Elfriede Pusitz, will load you up with good food at breakfast and lots of information on what to see in central Vienna, which is only about 12 miles away.

Take the train for a few Euros. You will disembark right behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of the tourist attractions. Then, making sure your driver speaks English if you don’t do German, rent a horse-drawn carriage for about 10 Euros per person. That may seem extravagant, but it gets you around to the main attractions efficiently, and you’ll get good insights about what to return to later for detailed explorations. Besides, clattering over cobblestones in a carriage is a lot of fun.

For lunch, do what the locals do. Walk to the flea market and buy bread, pretzels, cheese, sausages, and something to drink from a huge selection. You can feed four people in style for about 12 Euros, less than the cost of one lunch at most Viennese restaurants.

You might want to hang around for a bite of dinner if the mid-day meal has left any space for that, or visit a wine tavern for a sing-along (those haughty Viennese don’t frequent beer taverns). Or, you could return to Baden to dine where Frau Pusitz will assure you of finding plenty of good food at good prices.

Baden, a spa city in Roman times, itself is an interesting place to visit. It provided vacation homes for Austro-Hungarian imperial families and such artists as Johann Strauss and Ludwig von Beethoven, who was inspired to write most of his Ninth Symphony there. Nowadays it serves the same function for wealthy Viennese, but you don’t have to be a wealthy tourist to stay there.

In mid-April, we paid 60 Euros for a first-class double room at Pension Elfy, breakfast, taxes, and good advice included.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Up Nort Wit Da Yoopers

After learning I grew up in Northern Wisconsin, a neighbor introduced me to a man he said was a Yooper. Having been exposed to an occasional “Uff da” and dozens of Finlander jokes in my youth, I knew something about where the guy hailed from.

Residents of my hometown had much more in common with the denizens of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula than with those down-State city slickers in Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine. We were suspicious of State government. After all, State agents could hurt our tourist business by enforcing liquor, gambling, and fishing and hunting regulations. (The drug store in the front part of my family’s “Main Street” building had two slot machines in the middle of the establishment, right in front of the fishing tackle display, many years after gambling was declared illegal in Wisconsin.)

We didn’t want to discourage anybody who liked to travel “up Nort for the Fourt” or any other time. The city people brought greenbacks we needed, and we were pretty good at extracting them. There also was a common perception that more tax dollars were traveling the 200 miles south to Madison than were migrating back up Highway 51 to the north.

Similar feelings about Detroit and Lansing were more intense in the U.P. The Yoopers, a true collection of rugged individualists, several times pushed proposals to secede from Michigan. In 1962 they got serious and formed the Upper Peninsula Independence Association to make it happen.

About that time, my Dad became well acquainted with William F. Brown, who had come to town to open a real estate and insurance agency. Mr. Brown was in his early 60s, an energetic, outgoing man with a wry sense of humor. He landed a part-time job as an appraiser when property values were in question during lawsuits in the county court. Brown had lots of real estate expertise, but not much knowledge of the area. He recruited my Dad as a partner who had lived in Tomahawk all his life and knew a lot about the values of various building locations and whether the owners were likely to have maintained their property.

I recall Mr. Brown chuckling about how he and Dad could complete an appraisal in a matter of minutes. He said they never entered a building, or measured much of anything. They just got the construction date, eyeballed the place, roughly paced off a few dimensions, and declared a value. Dad said they must have been fairly accurate; their findings were only challenged once in the many years they worked together.

Mr. Brown wasn’t a Yooper, but he knew a chance to interject some humor into the Northwoods environment when he saw one. He became a vocal supporter of seceding from Wisconsin to join the U.P. in a new Great State of Superior. I was young and quite willing to entertain thoughts of rebellion against any authority that happened to be present. I read some of the realtor’s writings about getting a divorce from Wisconsin and forming a 51st State with the Yoopers. Dad just snorted when I said secession seemed like it had merit. “It’s all a bunch of Brown’s b.s.,” he said.

The State of Superior never materialized, but there was some fun during the campaign. Lots of folks wore T-shirts featuring the proposed State’s official emblem . . . a giant mosquito.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Prosit, Herr Schmidt

Wyman Schmidt was a leader in silvicultural research in the vast Northern Rocky Mountain area for 34 years. His studies and those of the group of scientists he led were directed at many tree species—western larch, ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, whitebark pine, and others—and forest ecosystems at a wide range of elevations.

Schmidt was recognized as an excellent research program planner and manager. He effectively led a unit whose members were scattered over a wide geographic area and organized several international technical conferences attended by hundreds of scientists and resource managers. He also deserved honors as an entertainer.

The forester became a barbershop singer as a teenager. During Air Force service in the Korean War, he often was assigned to Special Services to provide entertainment at bases throughout the U.S. When fellow Forest Service research personnel met in Bozeman or Missoula, Montana, where Schmidt’s unit had offices, you could count on him to have arranged musical or audio-visual shows to help fill off-duty hours.

We had two major laboratories in Missoula, and two people in the unit I supervised were stationed there. It never was a chore to visit Missoula; I enjoyed the city. It just seemed to be a place populated with genuine, down-to-earth people like those I grew up with in the Midwest. It also had some pretty down-to-earth eating places, among them the Missoula Club (the Mo Club), the Oxford (the Ox), the Montana Club, and a pizza place whimsically named “Red Pies Over Montana” after a movie about forest fires and smokejumpers titled “Red Skies Over Montana.”

Schmidt knew how to take advantage of what was available locally to entertain a visitor, sometimes in novel ways. Around midnight after one lengthy Missoula meeting, he invited me to head downtown with him for a bite to eat. He picked the place as one with an unusual menu that included breakfast items served at the bar at all hours.

I ordered scrambled eggs. Schmidt poked me and whispered, “Watch this.” He told the bartender he wanted an order of brains.

The bartender whirled around and yelled to the cook at the top of his lungs, “He needs ‘em!”

Schmidt made several trips at the invitation of governments in Europe to provide expert advice on forestry activities. After a visit to Germany, he put together a slide show describing his trip. He offered it for viewing as an evening activity at a Montana meeting of fellow Research Station employees. The last slide pictured Schmidt raising a stein at the famous Hofbrauhaus in Munich during Octoberfest. He claimed his visit just happened to end in Munich.

Schmidt got a lot of razzing about that. He was accused of arranging a boondoggle trip that allowed him to avoid work and spend most of his time in beer halls. He took all the kidding in stride, and figured out a subtle way to strike back.

Sometime later, Schmidt was sent to what was then Yugoslavia as a technical advisor. He again produced a slide show describing his activities, and attendees at another Research Station meeting were invited to a showing. The last slide showed Schmidt again toasting the audience--from a table in the Hofbrauhaus! He refused to answer any questions about how Munich had been relocated to the Balkans.

We stopped in Munich last month. Of course, we made a special visit to the Hofbrauhaus. Of particular interest was the wall of beer steins there, where personalized mugs are locked away for use only by their owners. Alas, we couldn’t find Schmidt’s stein. All were identified by numbers, not names. A few had pictures of the owner. Perhaps Schmidt’s was removed to be enshrined in a Munich tourist hall of fame somewhere else, but certainly not in Serbia or Croatia.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Raus, eine kurze Hose (Out, Short Pants)

They’re not just for show, although holidays and festivals bring them out of closets in droves. Lederhosen often could be spotted gracing the frames of Teutonic men during our recent four-country auto tour from Baden to Switzerland and Liechtenstein and across Bavaria and Austria.

Lee has been fascinated by the leather shorts for several years. When we reached Salzburg on April 12 he found just the right store and after an hour or so of expert advice from the Austrian shopkeeper and Karen and Sandy, he was outfitted in elegant style.

Lederhosen are among the most versatile forms of clothing. The leather pants come in various lengths, from very short to those that cover the knee. They can be worn with or without suspenders or belts. Any sort of shirt is OK. Men wear them to work on farms. With linen or other expensive coats or jackets, men wear them to work in offices. Men, sometimes sporting ruffled shirts and ties, get married in them. But, men never wear them in Vienna’s State Opera House. We learned that the hard way.

Lee received admiring, and occasionally quizzical, glances (when he spoke English) as he wore his Lederhosen throughout a full day of sightseeing in the old imperial capital. We planned to cap off a grand day by attending a ballet version of “Die Fledermaus” at the historic opera house.

As we waited in line for admission, a uniformed attendant tapped Lee on the shoulder, pointed at his pants, and intoned, “Lederhosen, nein.” We had driven in from the city of Baden, and left our luggage there. Sandy saved the day. She remembered stowing some of her dirty clothes in one suitcase in the car.

Lee and Karen hustled away to see what was available in the laundry as Sandy and I held our places in line. They returned with Lee wearing a pair of Sandy’s slacks. With a six-inch gap between the top of his shoes and the bottom of the slacks, he wasn’t a pretty sight, but he passed the opera house’s pants test.

As our line moved forward, the attendant administered the shoulder tap to a young German man just ahead of us who was wearing regular walking shorts. “Shorts, nein,” was the command this time. The young man promptly stripped to his underwear, pulled a pair of wrinkled trousers out of a backpack, put them on, and smiled in triumph at the official.

Another tap and, “Packs, nein,” wiped away the smile. Everybody got in eventually. The ballet was wonderful. Everyone in the audience wore long pants.

Lee is not the first Klade to run afoul of short pants sanctions. In 1987 I was with a half dozen fellow Forest Service employees who were led by a local to “the best Mexican restaurant” in Santa Fe, New Mexico, after a day of meetings. I had completed my freshening up process before dinner by changing to a pair of walking shorts.

The doorman said I could not enter the restaurant. Plaintive pleas by me and my associates, which were elevated to the manager level, did no good. Shorts were forbidden, whether worn by men or women.

The manager finally said he had a way to solve the problem if I would go along with it. He produced a gaudy embroidered skirt, one usually loaned to women who showed up in shorts. It was a dazzling Hispanic red, yellow, and white creation, with a “one size fits all” elastic waistband.

I put the skirt on, entered with the group, and all sorts of innovative comments about my appearance flew about throughout our meal. The climax came when one of the more fun-loving Forest Service men loudly asked me for a dance, and we got a round of applause after a few whirls around the small floor in the center of the restaurant.

When we left, we moved through the door in a tight group concealing me in the center. The manager was leaning against a pillar a few feet beyond the exit. “All right,” he said, “hand over the skirt. I knew you Forest Service guys would try to sneak it out of here.”