What brought you to your corner of Austria?
My partner, Katie, is Austrian, and after I was made redundant in the UK, I jokingly said, “why don’t we go and live in Austria!” I did not think she would say yes, but thank goodness she did, and we have been here for nearly seven years. We are SOOOOOO happy that we took that decision. Many a true word said in jest and all that! We live in Bad St. Leonhard, a lovely, sunny town, with two glorious churches, some pretty shops, and lots of places to walk, ski and live well. We are only a twenty-minute drive from Wolfsberg.
What tradition or custom is typical for your corner of Austria?
Throughout the year, numerous festivals and events take place in the Lavanttal, but the Easter Festivals are intense. My favourite part of Easter is the local Catholic tradition, the “Weihschwamm Weihe” on Easter Saturday. A dried piece of fungus (the Schwamnn), which is a bracket mushroom that grows on dead spruce trees, is burnt at the early morning ceremony. A huge fire is lit which the priest blesses, after which there is a bit of a scramble as everyone rushes forwards to light their dried pieces of Schwamm which cling to homemade metal wire contraptions. Shortly after people leave on foot or in cars, with their burning offerings sticking out of the car window. Returning home to bless their homes, outbuildings and animals.
This day continues with the blessings of the food in church. After which there is a feast following a morning of fasting. People give each other hard-boiled eggs dyed in a myriad of colours. Horseradish is used liberally on everything, and Kärntner Reindling – a sweet Carinthian white bread with raisins and cinnamon is eaten in great quantities with smoked ham! In the evening, Easter fires are lit and can be seen far beyond the borders of the valley. It’s a very special day, and as I am, amongst other things, a Shakespeare scholar I really understood for the first time what Catholic England was like before the Reformation and the birth of Protestantism.
What would you recommend to a visitor to see and do?
There are regular special exhibitions in the Benedictine monastery of St. Paul. The abbey also holds an extensive art collection. There are also great places to eat in St. Paul. The Liaunig Museum is the most amazing Contemporary Art Gallery with a great collection with a small but stunning garden. The Werner Berg Museum in Bleiburg is also a little gem – I was very impressed. There is also a great language institute in Wolfsberg offering language training in many European Languages for businesses.
Where do you recommend going to eat or to have a drink?
The Restaurant Kainz is a lovely restaurant in Wolfsberg. It is tucked away behind the Haus der Region (a great place to buy local produce in a beautifully restored building). The food at Kainz is excellent and so is the atmosphere. Views of the famous castle (which looks decidedly like Windsor Castle from some angles) are good from here and you can wander up to the castle to burn off the calories from all the Kärntner Nudeln you may have eaten!
On a Saturday morning, there is an excellent market called Kukuma (a play on words with the German word for turmeric and a contraction of Kulinarik-Kulturmarkt) in the centre of Wolfsberg, selling fruit, vegetables, cheese, salami, handmade pasta, and arts and crafts. You can also get snacks, cakes and a great cup of coffee from the Krone Kaffee.
How can your corner of Austria be reached (by car or public transport)?
There are very good train connections to Wolfsberg, it’s a bit harder to get out to the outlying regions by public transport, although there are buses. We prefer to travel from Zeltweg railway station, and we manage to travel extensively from there (until 2010 Bad St Leonhard was connected by the Lavantalbahn). There is free parking at this station and a lovely, clean, efficient service to much of Austria. Buses run from Zeltweg fairly often. And aren’t those Sparschiene Tickets are amazing!
Does anyone famous come from your corner of Austria?
The most well-known artistic personality is Christine Lavant (4th July 1915 – 7th June 1973). Christine Lavant is a much-loved literary figure here. As her name testifies, she adopted the name Lavant because she felt so at one with the area of her birth. She was born Christine Thonhauser to a poor miner’s family. She always suffered from poor healthSozialministerium The Austrian Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection is responsible for the following fields: The health care system Initiatives for people with disabilities Consumer protection Public health and medical issues Care and support The rights of consumers and the protection of their health Senior citizens’ policy Social policy Social insurance , but some good may have come from this; at an early age, she was introduced to the work of Rainer Maria Rilke during her hospitalisation in Klagenfurt. The chief physician had noted Christine’s literary interest. His act of kindness was to bear rich fruit. The Museum in Lavanthaus in Wolfsberg celebrates her life, and also so much more that is interesting about the area from agriculture to cinema. They also have temporary exhibitions.
Enjoyed reading this “My Corner of Austria”?
Amelia is also a published author – if you would like to know more about walking in the Lavant, about the history of the area, the flora and fauna, more about that sweet Kärntner Reindling, and about relocating to a quiet corner of Austria, you might find her book Walking into Alchemy: The Transformative Power of Nature of interest. In December the book also came out in German as Alchemie des Gehens: Selbstfindung in der Natur.
Readers in Salzburg might like to attend Amelia’s books readings on 23-24 February at the English Center as part of its Evening Book Club. There are two in English – on the 23rd (4.00 pm) & 24th (6.30 pm) of February – and one in German (with help!) on 23 February (6.30 pm).
To coincide with World Book Day on Saturday, 23rd April, 2022 the Stadtgemeinde in Wolfsberg have agreed to host an event to celebrate all the authors of the Lavanttal. The Hoherplatz in Wolfsberg will be filled with books and authors! It will be a very special festival day with food, drink and music. Please come and find me and say hello! Times to be decided, but probably it will start early – as most things do here in Austria.
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