The local address “Am Teichwald 1” (literally “Forest Pond Nr. 1”) does sound tempting. It makes me picture the green, gentle nature of southern Burgenland, the grace of a quiet pond, the cool shaded location in the heat of a midsummer’s day. The open air restaurant KOI – “Kulinarik Am Teich” – has a lot to offer. All of us cannot help but fall for this beautiful spot. Everything fits around here, “I even got married here!” is what Andreas Gross tells us with a knowing smile, Andreas who has come here together with Burgenland Tourism’s managing director Mario Baier to welcome us. He is right, I think in silence, as we all settle comfortably at the restaurant. Together with my travel blogger colleagues Monika & Petar Fuchs, of Travel World Online, and Andreas Susana “Travelwriticus”, we are following a three-day creative cultural itinerary around the Burgenland. From the brilliant premiere of “The Marriage of Figaro” at Schloss Tabor near Jennersdorf up to the majestic Burg Bernstein castle in Bernstein, we experience many highlights of this beautiful region in the southeast of Austria. More often than not, it is the little details that capture most of my attention. Such as the charming accent of Burgenland, also called “Heanzisch” around here. Or the incredible taste of the local meals served below …
Top Culture Pick: The festival summer jOPERA in Jennersdorf with this year’s performance of “The Marriage of Figaro”. Save the date (and make your reservation) until August 17, 2014!
It is our good fortune – and that of the actors as well as many other guests who have appeared at this year’s premiere here at Schloss Tabor – that the weather is truly excellent. Three sunny days free of clouds & thunderstorms is what the Burgenland offers us during our cultural summer trip, all in accordance with the desination’s motto “on the sunny side of Austria”! What an atmosphere here on the open-air stands in front of the ancient castle, a glaring red sun slowly sinking beyond the forest on the horizon, the legendary blue hour dawning and the moon shedding its light over “The Marriage of Figaro“. Mozart’s famous “Opera Buffa” is both cheerful and lively, with all the amusing emotional turmoils hinted at by the musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in his congenial compositions. A true delight for all the senses!
Goosebumps. History. Strong feelings. Such are the cornerstone elements of the stories told by Elfriede Jaindl about Saint Emerich Memorial Church in Southern Burgenland, located right on the former Iron Curtain.
Can you imagine? I deliberately choose to write “on”, not “by” the former Iron Curtain – that is how close, and contested, the history of this church once dividing East from West is. The Burgenland, more than any other province in Austria, has always had to deal with the weight of history of the former Iron Curtain separating East & West. Today, we stand face to face with a lonesome, wonderfully restored church set by a clearing in the forest, complete with humming insects and fragrant flowers swaying in the wind. But the idyll is deceptive. Although there is not much left to see today, the pictures and stories that Elfriede Jaindl recalls are still very vivid and moving. As a child, she lived through the history of the Church together with her family, still able to remember the time of the establishment of the Iron Curtain, her own personal lack of understanding as to why all of a sudden, the joint Fairs and Festivals of entire families and villages of “German West Hungary” should come to an end. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Elfriede Jaindl struggles to keep the history of the Memorial Church of St. Emerich alive, offering “a new home” to people who once had to leave this country (as well as the Church & Community) so many years ago. Moved to the point of tears in her eyes, she tells us the stories of refugees and former priests who barely managed to survive and whose history has turned into a role model for many others to follow. Several times I get goose bumps, standing there as if spellbound, listening to the excellent storyteller Elfriede Jaindl. Next thing I know, I really need a few minutes. To collect myself. And feel the experience this powerful place has upon me, taking a barefoot walk around the church.
The northern part of “Southern Burgenland” lures us with a visit to the unique Burg Bernstein and the Bernstein Rock Museum: Excellent stone carvers & happy hosts who like to cross beets instead of blades in the family coat of arms!
Host Alexander Almasy is a true “force of nature”. Him and his family, descendants of the famous Counts of Almasy, succeed in making you feel truly welcome. Just as Burg Bernstein has already been used as a filming location for the famous movie “The English Patient”, Alexander Almasy’s narratives are nothing short of those of a true adventurer either. “Outside, you may have seen my motorbike, fully loaded, that is! In just a month’s time, I will go on a three-month motorcycle trip to Iran!”
“We simply aim for making our guests feel welcome”, his wife adds in a gentle voice while we continue to praise the good food at Burg Bernstein. “We want to make our guests feel comfortable and also offer special cooking courses, such as baking on the traditional stove in the kitchen!” I talk to Mrs. Almasy about Creative Travel Burgenland & Creative Travel Austria, confirming the international trend towards such (inter)active cultural experiences. After the really excellent lunch at Burg Bernstein, Alexander Almasy is pleased to show us his castle, along with the 11 guest rooms. He leaves all other guests at the restaurant in the care of his wife and son, an engineering physicist with a penchant for the liveliness of a true host and restaurateur – just like his parents! This family truly deserves a visit, along with their castle and its very own historic charm.
My conclusion: The Southern Burgenland is a paradise that is unparalleled in the whole of Austria. Just over a year ago, I have already fallen head over heels with this “culinary-creative” southern district, its inhabitants and their unique stories. I really recommend you to come here and make sure you actually have time. Perhaps on an Ebike for the many winding and really beautiful routes (more about that shortly!). And of course, time for the people. Time for their narratives and stories, as they are what makes the Burgenland so unique, so colorful, so fascinating, and again and again, so exciting.
Disclaimer: We have been invited by Burgenland Tourism to travel in the Burgenland for this cultural summer trip. All opinions are my own.