Animal Shenanigans: Slug’s Lunch

IMG_0172
Today in weird things that normal people don’t notice but I totally do: Linz has a lot of slugs hanging around. Well, not really hanging around as much as oozing their way around in the parks, hunting for delectable patches of veg to nosh on. It’s slow living to the max here for Linz’s slug population, so today I bring you a slug, savoring her lunch in slow-motion:

IMG_0379

IMG_0382

IMG_0384

IMG_0388

IMG_0397

IMG_0396

IMG_0428

And here are gifs, BECAUSE I CAN!

Slug eats 2

Slug Eats

This is just a little reminder to all of us that like a slug, we should all slow down and savor life a little bit more.

Ars Electronica Festival 2017

IMG_0120
A robot stops walking in response to a barrier (hand) placed in its path at ARS Electronica Festival 2017.

Growing up as a kid, the question was always whether you went into science or art. It was this weird dichotomy in learning, where there was the precision and quantitative of math, biology, chemistry, and physics, and then the interpretative and creative of art, music, language, and history. Two ways to understand the world standing in opposite sides and never mixing, like students at their first middle school dance.

I understand now that this separation is artificial and that the skills needed in each field intermingle – there is creativity in science, and precision in art – but the world seems to still cling to that science-art dichotomy, where ne’er the two spheres shall meet. After all, we don’t often talk of the exacting quantitative precision of the artist’s work, nor do we speak of the creative interpretations of the biologist’s findings. But why? Why don’t we more often unite these two disparate worlds, or acknowledge that the separation is artificial and never really existed at all?

For me and anyone who has ever had this thought, Ars Electronica is the dreamland you never knew existed, where the artificial barriers between art and science dissolve. It’s a year-round museum in Linz, Austria, but every fall Ars Electronica hosts a festival showcasing the creations that arise from the fusion of art and science. Here science and technology create art and history, and art and history build science and technology. From synchronized drone aerobatics to temporary electro-conductive arm tattoos that control your smartphone, the ARS Electronica Festival is four days of wonder, thought, and inspiration. Here’s what we captured in our visit*:

20170907_185549
Repurposing of industrial robot arms for shadowplay art.
20170907_193600
Doge overlooks a cryptocurrency gathering.
20170908_183702
The LightSail II in the Linz Cathedral, an interactive mesh-and-PVC pipe construction the size of a whale that responds to touch by varying sounds and projected images.
20170910_224716
The crowd in the basement of POST CITY for the Ars Electronica Festival Concert.
IMG_0081
A robot constructs a three-towered sculpture for nothing but concrete chips and string, while its creators look on from the right.
IMG_0089
RFID-reflective clothing, meant to protect your identity in the wireless future.
IMG_0105
A demonstration of DuoSkinDuoSkin, conductive temporary tattoos that enable you to control your smartphone or other electronic devices. Here, a man demonstrates skipping songs and changing the volume on a phone’s music playlist.
IMG_0130
A man reloads markers on an industrial robot arm repurposed for sketching.
20170907_162119
A woman interacts with a display that explores the ability of machines to read and respond to human needs.
20170907_184313
An artist explains his interactive darkroom-and-flashlight display.
20170907_140231
Visitors watch and film a synchronized drone show.
IMG_0315
Attendees at the festival’s seminars, which explore everything from the ethics and law of AI to art created from AI learning.

And a couple of videos:

It can be a little overwhelming to visit the ARS Electronica Festival for the first time, so here are some useful tips to help you get around:

  1. Trust but verify – we sometimes got mixed answers from volunteers as to where/when things were happening. Ask a few people to get a good idea of when/where the big events are.
  2. English speakers welcome – Many of the most fascinating events are in Austrian, but they offer free real-time translations! Grab a pair of headphones on the way into the room, or ask a volunteer on hand if they have any.
  3. Don’t buy a metro pass – Your ARS pass includes free travel on some of the city’s trams, at least from the Linz Train Station to the ARS Electronica Museum and back. (Applicable to full festival pass, not sure about 1-day passes)
  4. The ARS Electronica Concert is amazing – The concert runs late into the night and you might be tempted to skip it if you’re relying on the train to get home. Go for at least a few hours because it’s amazing and absolutely worth it. Tickets are free with the 4-day pass and can be picked up at the ticketing/info booth area in Post City.
  5. Leave time to explore – While most of the events are focused in Post City, there are events throughout Linz for ARS Electronica. Leave time to see those and to wander around Post City without any direction, because stumbling onto something unexpectedly can be thought-transforming.

20170908_100747

* I understand copyright law is a bit more strict in Europe, so if you’re an artist or copyright owner whose work is listed above and want it taken down, please email me.

Desserts of Austria

Despite being a bit shy in vegetables, Austria makes up for it in desserts. Every region seems to have its own thing going on, and everyone we asked had a different favorite dessert. We were not disappointed in the variety.

We start with the Mozart candy. Sightseeing around Vienna, it’s almost impossible to avoid these chocolate balls wrapped with Mozart’s face.

20170831_174509

Called ‘Mozartkugel’ – Morazart balls, they are a 1890’s development by an Austrian confectioner. They became popular and now many companies make them, as this page shows. The Mirabell ones are available everywhere and they’re.. ok. Not super, but not terrible. Were we to go for another round, we’d try a different brand.


Next up are Manner Wafers! Almost as unavoidable as the Mozart balls, and seemingly more beloved. They’re in every grocery store and they’re sold from single packs of four wafers all the way up to 16 packs and up. Our hosts in Wels (near Linz) told us that every household keeps a stash of these on hand for random occasions and also just every-day snacking. They’re very good indeed. Our picture of them, is not.

20170911_103639

You can see the bottom of the wafer wrapper in the top of the photo. For an actual photo type thing, go here. I really liked the manner cookies – not too sweet and just the right touch of hazelnut.


Past the supermarket shelves, Austria has a whole slew of ‘tortes’ – cakes, usually a little bit fancy. The one everyone said we should absolutely try was the Sachertorte. It’s chocolate cake, thin layers of apricot jam in the middle, and a smooth coating of dark chocolate. We had one in Prague, of all places. In a Starbucks. For shame. And really, it would have probably been better in Vienna, the Starbucks version was acceptable but not spectacular.

IMG_20170906_104809

This cake is generally extremely popular. It was so popular it launched a hotel for the creator – the Sacher Hotel. There was a bit of a legal spat about the rights to the ‘Original Sacher Torte’ name and trademark, but it seems to have been worked out and you can get one at either of the Sacher Hotels, the Sacher Cafes, and a few other places. There are also quite acceptable and delicious variants found in bakeries all over Vienna.


Last, and certainly not least, is the Linzer Torte, named after the city of Linz. Natalie had read up on this and knew we needed to try it. Apparently, there is the one highly suggested home of the Linzer Torte – Konditorei Jindrak. Like the Sacher Torte however, there are many variants available, all of them probably quite delicious. We got to the Jindrak Bakery just as it was closing, so we snatched our cake and went on our way. Around us, the rest of the town closed slowly – except for the pubs and restaurants.

IMG_20170908_180703 We tried two varieties – the original, pictured above. And.. IMG_20170908_180141the cookie variety! It’s cuter and looks more edible but it falls apart faster, and the original torte-style seems the better of the two.

The cake, in either of its forms, is a crumbly mass of dough covered in a fruity jam and spiced with cinnamon and lemon zest. The toppings are refreshing in the face of the somewhat heavy dough. As a warning – this is a very crumbly cake. The cookie version was almost impossible to eat without a massive trail of crumbs. Definitely a sit-down dessert. However, we found it worth the effort of keeping intact. It’s sugary but not overly sweet, and the tang and spice of the jam and lemon zest really perk it up. The Linzertorte holds claim to being the oldest cake recipe in the word, having a record dating back to the 1600s. We’re glad it’s still being made!

 

Remembering World War II in Europe

IMG_5501
Tank treads embedded in concrete at a World War II memorial in Warsaw, Poland.

Here in Europe, the memory of World War II is living, breathing, complicated beast. It was less than 100 years ago, and people remember it through stories, monuments, and plaques scattered throughout the cities of the continent. And it’s not remembered in the episodic way we in the U.S. remember the war, which for most of us distills down to we got attacked at Pearl Harbor, we beat Hitler and the Nazis (the Russians would like to have a word with you)*, and we nuked Japan. No, here in Europe it’s remembered by which of your relatives died, how much of your city was leveled, what survived, and how you remember who and what didn’t.

20170726_134600
World War II displays in Moscow’s Museum of Great Patriotic War (a.k.a. World War II).

While it’s hard for me to estimate the exact number of World War II monuments, we’ve seen one in almost every place we’ve visited since we hit Russia. That includes Siberia, where there’s a Soviet monument in Ulan-Ude to the Buryats who fought in the war; to Latvia, where you can find plaques commemorating where the bombs fell and where Jewish refugees were sheltered scattered throughout the city streets; to Hungary, where towering monuments occupy city parks and the bank of the Danube River. There are places where we didn’t see World War II monuments, but in these cases we could have missed them or they could have been removed – the Soviets would have raised them in former Eastern Bloc states, and they might have fallen with the Communist governments.

IMG_8409
A plaque memorializing those killed by the Nazis (I think) in Prague, Czech Republic.

The language of the monuments and plaques also varies by location; it either memorializes the loss of lives of buildings in the war generally, or it memorializes specifically the war against the Nazis. In Estonia where an estimated 1 in 4 peopled died, pamphlets tell how Estonians first fought the Soviet Union, then the Nazis to retain their independence. In Latvia and Warsaw, many of the placards say “here refugees were sheltered,” or “here bombs fell.” And then there are the scattered memorials in Bialowieza, which read (in Russian and Polish), “Here the Nazis committed terrible atrocities.”

IMG_5181
A plaque in the sidewalk in Riga, Latvia, commemorating a hiding place for Jews.
IMG_5759
Memorial to a massacre in the forest, near Bialowieza National Park.

But behind the monuments and the public face of remembrance, there’s a more complicated cultural and personal remembrance that doesn’t conform to the public memorialization. In Austria, this manifests as darkly self-critical humor scattered through the sightseeing pamphlets at hostels: “This location memorializes the terrible acts we committed. Oops, we meant the Nazis, we Austrians were just victims who were invaded.” With the fall of communism in Poland, there are whispers now that some of the murders in the forests of Bialowieza were committed by Soviet soldiers and blamed on the Nazis as a cover-up.

IMG_6862
Two visitors stop in front of the “Monument to the Victims of the German Invasion” in Budapest, Hungary.

But this conflict of public and private remembrance is most evident in Budapest, where that recently-built “Monument to the Victims of the German Invasion” has sparked protests that the Hungarian government is ‘washing over history’ for political expedience*. An independent, home-made monument has sprouted up in front of the official memorial with personal memorabilia from victims killed by the Arrow Cross: photos, letters, ID cards, and books. It’s a reminder visitors that like the Austrians, many in Hungary welcomed the Nazis, and many murders and atrocities were committed by Hungarian hands.

IMG_6864
Memorabilia and decorations on the homemade protest monument in Budapest, Hungary. The monument asserts that Hungary’s “Monument to the Victims of the German Invasion” whitewashes history by failing to acknolwedge that many native Hungarians committed atrocities as part of the Nazi-aligned Arrow Cross Party.
IMG_6870
Two tourists look at both the homemade monument and the “Monument to the Victims of the German Invasion” in Budapest, Hungary.

Only a mile away from Budapest’s new monument, another World War II memorial sits on the bank of the Danube. Dozens of pairs of shoes, cast in bronze, are rooted into the concrete to memorialize those who were shot at the riverbank in 1944 and 1945. With the war drawing to a close and resources scarce, victims were told to remove their shoes before they were shot and their bodies tumbled into the river below. There are rumpled boots and loafers. There are fine, high-heeled pumps. There are children’s shoes.

Plaques embedded in the ground at each end state: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944-45.”

IMG_6994
A child-sized pair of bronze shoes stand amid flowers at the memorial to the victims shot on its banks in World War II.

Side notes:

* Russia took the most World War II casualties of any country by number of deaths, and they were actually the ones to take Berlin on the ground at war’s end.

**The Hungarian government of the last decade has been controlled most by Fidesz, a nationalist right-leaning party that disagrees with Germany’s policy of allowing increased immigration. The memorial cleverly furthers both of its goals by (1) de-associating guilt from itself by failing to mention the atrocities linked to the also nationalist, right-wing party of the Arrow Cross and (2) associating the crimes committed with Germany, not specifically the Nazis, which stirs up subconscious anti-German sentiment.

European Capital Hop: Vienna

IMG_7913
What I would guess is the belltower, St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Next up, we catch a train from Budapest to Vienna, our first foray into Western Europe and a bit of a sticker shock. Food, places to sleep, and things to do cost almost twice that of neighboring Hungary and there really aren’t many cheap options. Still, it’s part of travel, and we adapt to the circumstances: we adjust our budget to $80 USD daily for food and board for the two of us.

And the food…well, the desserts are absolutely lovely. The rest seems to be mostly fried meat/cheese/sausage and it’s not great, although with our limited funds we’re obviously not eating the highest-quality stuff. When we’re tired of fried things, the only other affordable thing is Doner, now ubiquitous as the cheap-and-fast choice in nearly all of Europe.

20170830_172601
The escalators down to the platforms at one of the train stations.
20170831_180623
A street in Vienna.
IMG_7949
Ah, Leibniz: co-inventor of calculus and the butt of Voltaire’s jokes.
IMG_8113
Equality pedestrian walk signs. Don’t worry, they had female/female and female/male ones too.
IMG_8130
Owl figures on the side of the Secession.
IMG_7846
An ancient tree near the cathedral, said to give good luck if you drove a nail into it. This worked out badly for the tree, which died a while ago and is kept in this glass tube.
IMG_7848
Mural on a building in the tourist area.
IMG_7875
A poster that translates roughly to “Don’t talk to the police.”
IMG_7894
Hanging gardens in an apartment courtyard.
IMG_7919
Mushroom foraging and idenfication books.
IMG_8078
An interesting building outside of the tourism zone.
IMG_7925
Vienna’s famous cow-and-wolf playing backgammon mural from the early 1500’s.

 

IMG_7932
No need for Google Translate–I think I got this one.

 

IMG_7969
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
IMG_8056
Tourists pause outside of a museum.
IMG_8018
Some architecture near the Museums Quartier (I think).
IMG_8027
Mmm, lunch: SPAR pasta and Mozartkugeln.