Wednesday, August 08, 2007

AUSTRIAN ALPS- BOHEMIA, travel through Martin & Ivanka real life story

AFOOT and light-hearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me, leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune—I myself am good fortune;
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Strong and content, I travel the open road.

The earth—that is sufficient;
I do not want the constellations any nearer;
I know they are very well where they are;
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens;
I carry them, men and women—I carry them with me wherever I go;
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them;
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

Allons! after the GREAT COMPANIONS! and to belong to them!
They too are on the road! they are the swift and majestic men; they are the greatest women.
Over that which hinder’d them—over that which retarded—passing impediments large or small,
Walt Whitman

Martin & Ivana invited us for a trip. As we were sitting under our lemon tree in Buenos Aires, chatting about their Austrian and Bohemian houses, we did not know that it would be a journey in space and time. A journey from the idyllic austro-czech present through the communist past- exile – back to the neo-communist era. We were traveling companions and we could not avoid to be emotionally involved. Involved in the REAL LIFE STORY of Martin and Ivana.
After a very intensive week in Prague ( not only tango wise, also because of the end of July heat wave) and a soak- in a swimming pool + asado day at Achim & Jana’s splendid residence in Horomerzice, Martin and Ivanka appeared to pick us up in their car and carry us to Austria, to Linz an der Donau, where they live. Both of them, apart from being our most faithful students in Prague (they come from Austria every time we appear in Prague, all four times) got closer to us sharing a month in our guest apartment in Buenos Aires. It was back then, when I first heard the bits and pieces of their AMAZING STORY, which made shivers come down my spine… Invited for a week of holiday and travel round Austria and Bohemia we were to explore the authentic places associated with the story...
FIRST IT WAS PRAGUE. Then, it was a couple of hours journey by car through Czech Republic to the Austrian border and then to Linz. More and more rolling landscape and tipical Bohemian court houses. We have stayed in a spacious apartment in a beautiful residential area with a view on the town,Danub and, from the garden up on a hill, even the Alps around, on a clear day… Martin and Ivana have lived in this apartment for nearly 40 years. Even though they are Czech born, or better to say, Czechoslovakia born, they feel Austrian and they declare themselves Austrian. Is it time question or rejection of a painful past they wish to forget, but at least they can make jokes about now…?
Martin was born in a Jindrzichuv Hradec, one of the few most interesting medieval, tourist ctowns in Czech, now protected by the UNESCO. He was born into a rich family of the textile factory owners, just after the II world war. The parents with a new born Martin ( “ Martinek”) lived in a huge palace-like house, built from the 16th till the 18th century by a noble family; The house includes numerous rooms for the family, guests and service. It must have some 3000 2m exclaimed Victor, the arquitect, when he saw it for the first time!
The happiness of Lukschal family did not last long. 1948, after the soviet glorious victory in the war, the communist take power. And the gloomy, perverse times began. The family was first deprived of textile factory- the communist society was to be based on the principle of equality, there was no place for the rich, aristocracy or bourgeois. Martin’s father, on a business trip selling the products in Austria, evaluated the situation and decided to stay there, calling and desperately writing the letters of urgency for the wife to come over with a small boy, Martin. The wife, however, could not believe, that the fruits of hard work of the family were to be confiscated; she decides to stay and defend the family’s fortune. It only got worse and the possibility to emigrate from the Soviet block countries decreased and disappeared. 4 years old Martin was not only deprived of well –off life, he lost his father as well. The communist have broken the family bonds successfully. Soon, the family situation was reduced even more: the communists took away the big house, and dozens of families were put up to live there. Martin with the mother was to use only a tiny part, being tenants like the others. The evil, however, was not reduced to the material side of the family. Martin and his mother were doomed forever, as enemies of the system. As such, not only ridiculed, Martin had no right to study at the university or get a decent job. The only possibilities he had, like any other person with a black stain on the family reputation, was the job as cooperative agricultural farm worker on the outskirts of the country, or, rending the services to the country as a simple construction worker. Always supervised, always scorned upon.The sin of his rich family was stuck to him forever. Martin, however, through his perseverance, manage to get all the stamps, permissions and good behavior certificates to be able to study on his own, getting his university degree based almost on the “ apartheid system”. He was always a danger for his colleagues and the system! A self made man, in all the senses of a word...
During his studies and work as a construction worker he met Ivana. They met at the ballroom dance classes and the dance united them forever. They dance till today, but they changed ballroom for argentinean tango. The destiny, paradoxically, wanted Ivana to be the daughter of the high positioned communist leader! Ivana’ s spirit was different, even though she loved her parents and the family, she was a black ship: she dared to rebel against the communism and her love to Martin went even further. There was no future in their condemned lives in Czechoslovakia, but the destiny opens the door to help Martin and Ivanka. It’s a PRAGUE’S SPRING, 1968. Both of our protagonists are only over twenty, but they take the change, forge the permits, using the idea of Martin’s father’s financial help from abroad and Martin's own impeccable behavior and they leave the country. Soon after the deed, the IRON COURTAIN CLOSES AGAIN… The Russians enter Prague.Martin and Ivanka are on on the other side, safe and stunned like Alice in the Land of Marvel!
We are sitting on the fairy tale lake in Sant Wolfgang, sipping cold beer in a blissful summer afternoon, the table situated just by the lake. The magnificent Alps surrounding the lake, give the air of dignity and gloominess to the story. I’m totally obsessed by the story and by those green eys of communism monster. I ask Martin: “ How did you feel, when you first arrived here, to Austria, were you taken aback by the beauty of the Alps? By the peaceful life? The possibilities? How did you feel, freshly out from the grey communistic country?” I was so curious. But Martin recalls:
We did not see the beauty of the Alps or the lake. I remember coming to this very place, St. Wolfgang, wandering around and looking at the windows displays. I only remember those stunning window displays with so much choice of everything. I was wandering- what the hell the people want so much of everything!? It is too much! What for?!” I could not believe the answer I heard. Martin continues his story:
I was only 23 with a wife and a new born child. Yes, in order to have Ivana as a wife, I had to make her pregnant. Only this kind of pressure made her father, dedicated communist, take the urgency measures. Then, I was in a paradise, which was strange and unfriendly. Nobody really invited us. We did not know the language. When you don’t have a roof above your head or a job to nourish your family, when everything is unfamiliar and unknown, YOU DO NOT SEE THE BEAUTY, neither of the Alps, nor the lakes or picturesque spa towns like Gmunden…”
But I knew Martin had a father, the one who desperately wanted his wife with a small son to come to Austria, to escape from the brutal change of the country, to escape from the prison. The time, however, changed it all. Martin’s father remarried with an Austrian, had another son, made his textile factory from the scrap. The appearance of a long lost son with the wife and an offspring only embittered the relationships. The stepmother was the worst. She was afraid that Martin came to claim his inheritance. They finally helped, but Martin and Ivana remember this year as pure hardship and discomfort. They got a job – in the factory, a roof and food. They were not considered to need more . The stepmother made their lives impossible. The first opportunity they had to leave, they accepted without a second thought. After having studied German with eagerness I can depict today. Martin speaks the very educated, Hochdeutch, without Austrian accent (which is considered a dialect form of “ High German” ) and expresses himself without afford, choosing and playing with words with the air of professor. In his job and a private life, he is a perfectionist. Ivana, however, learnt quickely by try and err, she was the first one to speak and her principle is communication.
The young couple accept the first serious job offer and move to Linz an der Donau. Martin, a clever, intelligent, educated professional was splendid acquisition for the company. Again, sitting on the balcony of Linz apartment, having a “ pantagruelic breakfast” I was asking him:” how was it to get a first job in Austria? Was it a big difference to a communist system, in which you get your salary not according to the merits, but according to the principle: “you may work you may idle, the salary is the same”. And this time too, Martin talked about the hard time he had, straight from the communism to work in a capitalistic country :
I was afraid to take initiative, to make my own decisions. The communist erased the whole idea of decision making from the individual. There were always commissions to be summoned and the “collectivity “decided. Of course, everything took forever and things were never made correctly. Everybody was afraid to put a brick on the wall without the general agreement about “where”, “how”, what for”. In his first job, Martin remembers his chiefs getting irritated with him asking so many questions all the time!. “I was asking for every stupid detail, I was afraid to pick something up from the table without asking permission”. But soon he grew to be appreciated engineer and got involved in many prestigious projects. Ivanka too, got a job and found a circle of friends on the spot. Their second son was born in Austria.

We are on a Gaisberg ( 1288 m), Salzburg at our feet. Perfect summer day, surprisingly no tourist, only paragliders on the othes side of a mountain, adding colour to the different shades of green. We look down at a picturesquely located town. It’s a Mozart’s city. Ivanka becomes pensive and a strange grimace rules her face. What happened? “ I’ m sorry, she says” but all those beautiful places we are taking you to, Gmuden, San Wolfgang, now Salzburg, I also shared with my Czech family. My father was there. I remember he sat down and he did not want to go away. He was moved. Or maybe he understood his lost life? And my brother too. You know, my brother, like my father, was a devoted believer in a communism. My brother could not believe it ended. He committed suicide when the new better times were to start for Czechoslovakia.. He could not live in other system than a communist… “ She pauses. A sudden gasp of wind makes me immediately think about this poor communist spirit. A young man who threw himself from the 9th floor of one of those grey depressing communist blocks of flats because he could not live without communism… The Alps are so majestic and they hide all the secrets. Even the thoughts of Ivanka’s father and brother’s exploring the land of an enemy…

Times changed. The communism, unexpectedly to everyone, crumbles to dust, without any war or revolution. Martin and Ivana find out they can claim the property taken away by the communism and they started a long beaurocratic battle to get Martin’s family house back.
Why hardships again? Has not the communism disappeared and a new era was beginning?
BY NO MEANS! And here are two testimonies of the eye witnesses, Aisha & Victor, traveling with the tango also to explore the post communist countries. We, hereby testify, that the communism is by no means over, it still lives in the heads of survivors contaging their offsprings- as long as they live, the communism is there as well. Martin & Ivanka hit against this wall!
To make a “ nice start” , Martin was allowed to recover ONLY THE HALF of the property, based on the still communist law ( SIC!) that he may claim only his mother’s part, as she stayed in the country; however, his father's part, as he was considered a traitor to the patria, can only be bought! Needless to say, Martin had NO CHANCE fighting for his rights for the whole house; he resigned and had to BUY A HALF OF HIS OWN HOUSE.
Actually, what he got was A RUIN OF A ONCE SPELDID RESIDENCE. 70 years of communism, neglect, abuse and not a single penny( korona) for renovation made a house into a ruin. A very depressing looking WRECK where you could hardly see the past glory.
One sunny morning we were sitting int this house " tower" looking at the photographs. Martin has the whole process registered in pictures. One day they will make a splendid album...

The post- communist odyssey did not finish there. Martin got the house, all right, but he got also THE TENANTS! All the families dwelling in the house, put up there by the communist, were STILL THERE. NO WAY TO DISMISS them. NO LAW TO REGULATE IT, only human persuasion and … money!!!!
Beautiful summer dusk in Jindrichuv Hradec. Our last day there and invitation of our hosts to go out and drink VELVET, a special 18% beer in a charming bar by the defense walls of the castle “ Pod Hradom” . Lights reflected in the river, by which we got a table. Perfect table again. And again the “ communist subject “ is raised. “ How do you feel now, Martin, when you meet your old communist acquaintances, the wrong-doers to be precise? They are alive and around, as you are. How do you react face to face with somebody whom you knew as a pig in the communist past? Do you reproach? Shout or scream? Do you ignore- is it possible to ignore? Do you seek justice?”- I enquire.
Martin smiles with the most bitter of his smiles and says: “ Yes. Zdenek is one of them. This communist pig STILL LIVES IN MY HOUSE. What do you think I can say more? “ But then Ivanka continues “ Zdenek was the one who denounced a 4 year old Martin and his mother Ivanka as dangerous enemies of the party and demanded them to be deprived of the house and all the sources of income…”
Then I get more details about Zdenek’s story: old, abandoned and fat he keeps drinking his vodka and lives like a pig in a stall. He is still an eager beaver communist and clings to his rights of living in “ party-given “ residence, which is now a private property of Martin. The part of his flat is a stinky ruin, to such an extend, that Ivana and Martin gave him a newly renovated flat in a house to be able to disinfect and refurbish this dungeon. Not only Zdenek was a phantom of the past. The bitterest memory was an OLD LADY. This is how they recalled her: an old witch. She was from the real high communist party member family. Got not only a part of Martin’s house , but the confiscated palace of a Czech “ bourgeois’ in the center of Vienna, plus another big house outside of Prague. A rich untouchable communist. “ She was so hard to get rid of “ – says Martin “ First she demanded an incredible amount of money to leave. Then, when I pointed out that according to the law she looses her right to live in a place if she had not occupied it for a specific number of years- she put her witchy smile and said : Then, denounce me and put me to the court. YOU WILL SEE WHO I AM THEN!”
This sad truth cannot be beaten. But life and time has a different truth. The OLD WICH died soon after, liberating Martin’s house by one more horrible tenant for FREE.
The night was cooler and we decided to have a walk, all together, Martin, Ivanka, Victor and me through the OLD TOWN of HOROMERZICE HRADEC, illuminated Castle and the cobble stoned streets. So little seemed to remain from the past. The past not so remote. 15 years? What is it? If Garden sings “ 20 anos es nada. 20 years is nothing” , then 15 years is less than nothing. Generations will have to pass to erase the roots of communism.

Landstein castle is a ruin. The most picturesque, imposing medieval castle ruin in Czech. It has been, though, forgotten and forbidden during the communist era. Why? Was it too dangerous to remind about the royal past? Castles and palaces were reduced to be only the reminders of the fate of the rich. Communism wanted it that way. But, no. Landstejn could not be visited ONLY BECAUSE IT IS SITUATED IN A BORDER ZONE. A dangerous zone , some 20 km to Austria, the line between two enemy systems. From the tower of the ruin we can see vast view on the beautiful Bohemia and Moravia. A labyrinth of rolling landscapes, rivers and forests. Victor comes up with a question: “ How come people during communism did not use this wilderness around the border to escape? You cannot have guarded borders everywhere- there are mountains, rivers and forests! Did the people try to escape? A different world was just a couple of kilometers away…? Martin gets serious and talks about how perfectly protected the zone was. He tells us about the trained dogs, which could tear a human to pieces. About the fences with high voltage running through them, about the sensor zone which realized automatic shooting when entered… We look at the beautiful landscape below and the part of the beauty was gone automatically…. We wandered around the ruins, hearing that only high party members had an access to it. They could have their orgies there. Or secret communist party meetings on the summit. The sad past was hanging around this castle. And we could not think about kings, queens and knights anymore. Victor was inventing a paraglider to fly from the top of the tower of Landstein castle to the Austrian freedom…..

Bohemia is a region of castles. Not surprising- the landscape is so inspiring! Many of the castles are real jewels of architecture and landscaping. Ivana and Martin took us to Cervena Lhota, that is, RED CASTLE. Its story was pretty similar to Landstejn’s castle. During communism it was only accessible for high party members for their meetings and parties ( the idea of orgies there was not repeated by mistake). After the communism it was recovered by the descendent of the family, refurbished and exposed to the public. The castle is wonderfully situated: on an island on a lake! The only connection to the premises: suspension bridge ( “ puente levadizo” in Spanish).The nature around is stunning and totally wild. The lake invites for a rowing. Crowds of tourists put us off. Bohemia is Czech’s favorite destination region for holidays and weekend outings. People of all the ages on the bicycles. Entire families by cars.
We dream about dancing tango in this scenery one day…
Martin has been working on renovation of the house for years now. As he write to us in a mail today “ he has bled himself out financially” the palace devours so much of money and afford. Everything is still difficult in Czech, things do not function, people live and work by old patterns…
But he is a new man, with initiative and decision, perseverance and determination. Is it about the big possession generating money ( Martin refurbishes and installs the companies in the adequate spaces of the house)? By all means no! As Ivanka repeats “ I would not put up with this whole renovation idea, had it not been Martin’s family house. He wants to restore his FAMILY HOUSE, for the memory of his mother, who died not getting it back, for the memory of the child Martin, whose WHOLE LIFE WAS DOOMED ONLY BECAUSE HE WAS BORN IN THIS PALACE!”
Now Martin and Ivana are in their 60ties, but their young spirit and energy make them look at least 20 years younger. They surround themselves with younger friends ( LIKE US!) they spent their free time and money on Argentinean Tango and they say, they can talk and laugh about the past. They do not fit in their age group neither in Austria nor in Czech.

Among people like Ruda from Straz nad Nezarkou ( 40years old, Rumtsais type : a jolly character from the Czech cartoons) life is fun and laughter again. To give a simple example, Ruda calls us the next day after our arrival at the “ Jindrzichuv palace” and invites US: that is Ivanka, Martin, Victor and me, whom he does not know but from the stories, for the bonfire evening at his place. The bonfire was preceded by the visit in Beer Factory (Trebon Brovar) and a nearby castle. Sitting by the fire and baking Klobasa, that is, sausages ( 2 kinds: one with cheese: se syrem, other with garlic, s cesnekem, inside) and uzena krkovice, that is smoked meat, we talked about time and people. We talked and drank slivovice, until they began to sing. Ruda, Martin and Ivanka were singing the communist songs and laughing. When I asked why they laughed themselves to tears they started to translate us the lyrics. It was their own lyrics to the communist songs…
Once Martin or Ruda send them to me, I will put them down.
The story has its “ to be continued” . Ruda’s daughter, for the students’ exchange in Brasil now, writes to me mails in Portuguese. Maja is an incarnation of a new generation : language- and cultures minded, open, entrepreneur…and she has never even met us! Nothing of communist shadow above her head! She does not want to come back home to Czech, definitely not after discovering the LATIN WORLD..

Martin and Ivanka have spent a big part of their lives fighting, escaping and dreaming.
But I am sure they have lived their lives fully and intensly so far and neither communism nor the old age will defeat them! They are young and strong, the soul of the company and an example for the young-old people…

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