This isn’t my first time feeding horses and mucking out stalls and picking cherries and eating loads of apricots on a farm in Austria. In the summers of my tenth and eleventh years, our family spent a summer on a farm in Austria, and I knew one day I would want to relive the experience. How I found the Senning family or how they found me, or why they decided to reply to my request as a workawayer is less important as the belief that my spending time with them here and their giving me the possibility to experience farm life again is part of my road of re-discovery.
Since I’ve arrived, the day trip to my childhood summers in Eichbüchl, only an hour by car from Senning, has always been on my mind, and therefore also on my calendar of places that I try to fit in whenever Birgit says, “You’ve done too much! Go!” When she sent the kids on a three day golf workshop with their grandfather, and she and Charlie took a day for themselves, we knew this would be the perfect day for me to go.
I grab the bike after breakfast and the feedings of animals, bike to Stockerau, where I board with the bike and I set off on the two hour train ride to Wiener Neustadt, the closest train station to today’s destination. I chain the bike in the designated area, and sit on a long bench opposite it; this train is one of the older, regional, slower, every-stop trains, yet I find myself enjoying the warm air coming in through the open window, the emptiness of a train whose commuters have long since left and are sitting in offices somewhere in Vienna. The motion and momentum, the metal of wheels to rail, the screeching, the clicks, the gliding through time is peaceful and both self assuring. Standing still offers the opportunity to capture the Now, I suppose, but moving with time, either on foot, bike or any type of conveyance, makes me feel part of the world as it moves through the universe.
Leaving Vienna now, heading south, these are the stations that greet us along the way in 1973: Liesing, Mödling, Pfaffstätten, Baden, Sollenau, Felixdorf, Theresienfeld….The hills become more pronounced now, the villages are small and train stations are of one ground floor, cement platform. I remember one trip to Wiener Neustadt, maybe two, that we took by train, on these very tracks. One was concerning a pair of jeans, but for whom and whether the shopping trip was successful, I don’t remember. It may not have been about jeans at all. Another was for an experience to eat a wiener schnitzel, (or was it a Linzer torte? Was this the memory that created my coffeehouse story?) but again, this may simply be part of my memory that is patched with other memories, and may have nothing at all to do with us driving to Wiener Neustadt. Still, I remember the long train ride, at least, which of course seemed longer than it actually is; and I distinctly remember wanting to get back to the farm as quickly as possible, to the rabbits, the dog, the horses, and the awareness of teetering on the cusp between childhood and teenager.
We arrive in Wiener Neustadt. I unlock the bike and roll it onto an elevator – surely this is a new addition in the handicapped accessorized station – and then out and up to the main floor of the station, which now has a mini mart (Spar) and Lanauer Konditorie on the opposite side.
I walk through the open door facing the Main Street that heads right down to the main square of the city. Here somewhere our friend Sevi picked us up in the red VW bus and we got our first taste of Austrian words and the dialect. I check google maps for a direction to Katzelsdorf, and within a few minutes map out the few turns in my head and then am off. Down the main road, Bahngasse for just two blocks, thrn a right onto Ledererstrasse through the park, and then left and right onto Günserstrasse until the signs point to Katzelsdorferstrasse, and a left turn takes me out of Wiener Neustadt and into countryside for the five km to Katzelsdorf.
Little is familiar to me of course, but I like to think of our rambling along this little road fresh off the train from Istanbul from where we must have sent a telegram to indicate an arrival day and time – or was a telephone involved? I arrive in Katzelsdorf, and then find the sign to Eichbüchl, which takes me through the one main street with a Gastätte, a butcher, a post office, a church or two.
I make a left, and pedal over a wooden bridge and up the road. Closer. The road becomes one lane, the houses smaller, the woods deeper, the incline steeper. I decide to take the woods up, which will take me through the lush back yards we used to play in as children despite warnings from the adults to not stray too far – Czechoslovakia was only 20 minutes away. Deep ravines, hunting post look outs, paths veering up, down and across yielding to one’s imagination. In these woods we roamed, often on foot but also bareback courtesy of Befluga and Blida, the two black horses that roamed the pasture across the gravel road from the castle grounds. After a steep 30 minute walk, rolling the bike up with me (although a mountain bike, I’m not here for a cross trek challenge). Finally, the paths levels off into a clearing. I get a feel for where I am, finally, a sense of recognition. To my right I glimpse a terra-cotta roof and beige stucco walls, but beyond this, the thick hedge keeps eyes out. I walk on, keeping the hedge to my right, and soon come to a thick-barred, tall gate, two square, stucco columns standing sentry on either side. I look through the gate and find an island of trees and a tall cement stone with engraved information about the castle’s significance in its being the place where Austria became the Second Republic during early April 1945. In the 70s, only one unassuming plaque hung by the gate, whose presence I find comforting: We only knew it as a 16th century castle where strange things occurred and noises were heard. Then I look right, through the bars and towards the entrance of the castle itself. The anachronistic image cannot be missed: a black luxury SUV is parked along what used to be the gravel road leading to the wooden red and white courtyard gates, but which is now an asphalt road leading to dark green doors; besides the two cone shaped spires from the main building, I can’t see anything else. I feel an instant affront from the owner from his obvious desire to keep nostalgic viewers like me away.
Whoever owns this place, with its precise landscaping and detailed renovation painting does not want to be called on. I am locked out of my once summer playground. Later, I learn that Wikipedia can do no better: Walter Burghart, industrialist, who ever he may be, has been the owner since 2012. Two nameplates and a buzzer on the left tempt me, but I don’t ring. There are two choices: Schloß (castle) and Kastellan (captain of the castle). Burgahrt must be the captain. Among all of the signs commemorating this place, there is none that says van Lieshouts or the Clods were here in the summers of 73 and 74. But there I was, a little girl.
I look to the left and my view is again blocked from where the barn used to be, so I walk down the road a bit to get a better view and notice to my left, up where the apricot trees and the hay fields scented the air with late summer ripeness and from where we gathered up enough apricots to fill the hay wagon, our hands an orange sticky sweet; and where the hay, prickly and prolific and stiff, tinged the air with sweet haze, are now orderly, trimmed, neat rows of grape vines. Maybe Burghart’s into wine.
I turn my attention back to the right, to find the barn, and then I spy it through the hedge. It has been converted into a home. Maybe the same property, maybe not. I notice homes around me everywhere, where none used to be, these new houses locked away behind gates and private entrances and hedges. What used to be a an open farm, a welcome haven to all kinds of people, a castle on a hill, with open gates and grazing sheep and rabbits is now a place for the rich.
I get on my bike, slowly allowing myself to roll downhill, away from what is unfamiliar to me now, and I turn around one last time to look at what once was.
Down and around, Eichbüchl appears as it was, and this street gives me the nostalgia I’ve been looking for. Farm houses, a mill, chickens in the yard, and the old peeling yellowed paint of memories.