We left Salzburg and had a 300 kilometre drive to Vienna. To break the journey up we stopped, nearly half way, at the World War 2 Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp Memorial, near Linz, in Austria.
The camp is situated on the top of a hill and there was an icy wind howling through the memorial complex the day we visited – it was freezing.
The Mauthausen Concentration Camp was not an Extermination Camp, it was more a Labour Camp for political prisoners, many of whom were Soviet and Polish; but there were prominent numbers of Spanish, Yugoslav, Hungarians, in fact, there were over 40 different nationalities in total. The camp was in operation from 1938 through to the start of May 1945.
Even though it wasn’t an Extermination Camp, the estimation of deaths were between 130,000 through to 330,000. Exact figures for the camp are unknown due to the crematorium burning the dead and the loss, or destruction of records. The inmates at Mauthausen were basically starved and worked to death.
The location of the concentration camp was near a granite quarry and this is where a lot of the slave labourers worked. When slave labourers became too sick to work they were killed firstly by a mobile gas chamber and, then later, a small permanent one.
The type of political prisoners held in Mauthausen also included; artists, scientists, boy scouts, teachers, and University professors – the educated people. In 1944 a small contingent of females and children came from the overflow of Auschwitz to Mauthausen.
Mauthausen was also used for medical experiments on the prisoners. Mauthausen was the main camp in Austria and there were over 40 sub-camps in the surrounding areas.
It was very confronting for Jesse and Charlotte, who were very cold wandering around the camp complex in their warm winter clothing, to imagine life in the camp without such clothing, little food, long arduous working hours, beatings, sickness and immense overcrowding – the freezing weather we experienced made it all so real.
The entry into the Mauthausen camp is free. The entrance has many individual memorials to each of the races and nationalities who perished in the camp. These memorials are all very hauntingly sobering.
Once inside the camp, there are some rebuilt barracks to see.
The main visiting area though is the museum. One part of the museum has a vast display of photographs and information giving a year by year account of the camp. There is the ‘infirmary’, and the medical experimentation clinic. Then there is the crematorium, execution sites and the gas chamber.
The museum also contains ‘the Room of Names’ listing over 81,000 names of prisoners who were known to have died in Mauthausen.
Mauthausen Concentration camp was a very interesting experience and was well worth the visit. The camp experience generated a lot of discussion in the car as we continued our drive to Vienna.
We stayed at a very nice AirBnB apartment in the centre of Vienna for what should have been three nights – but we stuffed the planning up and had to leave a night early, which meant we had ONE FULL Day in Vienna. The apartment had three very large bedrooms which gave the kids a room for themselves for the first time in two weeks – they wished they could have stayed longer for that reason alone.
So what we did wrong was book a 10am flight from Munich to Istanbul, but forgot that Vienna to Munich is 450 kilometres by road (we had to return the hire car). This meant to get to the airport by say 8am, we would have had to leave Vienna at, say 3amish – was not happening. We left Vienna a day earlier and stayed overnight near Munich airport again – thus we lost a day in Vienna!!!!!!
For our ONE FULL day in Vienna we were all up bright and early and set off for a whirlwind, sightseeing, adventure through the streets of the city. Charlotte chose to go off on her own and explore the museums and art galleries. Whilst Di had a list of several main sights she wanted to see – Jesse and I tagged along with Di before setting off on our own.
Our first stop was the enormously elegant Belvedere Palace. This place was huge.
The grounds of the palace are pretty impressive with flower beds, fountains, lakes and even a maze.
The problem was, with it being winter, the water in the lakes were low, many of the fountains were not working, the flower beds were barren and the maze had no leaves!!! But it was still a great spectacle!
You then walk along and through a large promenade type garden path to the Hochstrahlbrunnen memorial fountain.
From there we swung left to the Karlskirche Baroque Cathedral, where sadly the Christmas markets were being dismantled, our Christmas experience was evaporating!
We eventually made our way to Stephansplatz, the main shopping and tourist area of Vienna. This is a traffic free area and was simply buzzing with people, restaurants, bars and shops.
This led to St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom). The Cathedral is very impressive, BUT, there were vast crowds around and in the church and, sadly I think, some tourists lose the religious respect and sense of the grandeur and history of the location, all for the sake of a selfie photo or for their modelling pose. I’m not just talking about ladies here.
The Cathedral’s current Romanesque and Gothic form was constructed between 1339 and 1365, and is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna, and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.
We then wandered the streets around the area and loved all the music halls, theatres, shops and the sound of the many horse carriages prancing along the cobblestones.
If the cobblestone streets, magnificent architecture and energy of the city don’t get you, then surely the size of the pretzels will!!!!
We did though find time to visit Mozart’s House near St Stephen’s – it was a little underwhelming, but it was history.
At this stage Di was not feeling well, the crowds and the cold were taking their toll and she was a little run down, so she elected to wander back to the apartment on her own. Jesse and I veered away from the crowds and headed to the Unsere Garten.
There are many bridges and monuments to the famous composers in this park – Jesse learnt that there is more to music than Red Hot Chilli Peppers, as we found statues to Schubert and Johann Strauss, as well as writers and artists.
From there we followed the canals down to the Danube River and we were at first disappointed by what we saw of the Danube – it was dirty and full of graffiti.
However, on closer inspection a certain life erupted from the graffiti and there were hidden messages of art along the river that we eventually found enthralling. Jesse and I found the graffiti art some of the most intriguing aspects of our day – it was really interesting – and yes, we did ‘the would be’ modelling poses.
From the river we ventured back towards the main tourist area and the Neue Burg and Hofburg Palace, the statue of Mozart is also nearby.
The Neue Burg is home to three museums, Ephesos Museum (little did I know I would visit the real Ephesus in Turkey soon), the museum for ancient musical instruments and the Arms and Armour museum.
It was now after 3pm and the darkness was creeping in – this also meant the leftover Christmas lights were turned on – so the Christmas experience was not quite over with yet.
There is simply so much to see in Vienna and one day was unrealistic to see it all. Yes, I would have loved another three or four days – our planning was poor in Austria and perhaps we should have forfeited our time in Leogang for more time in Vienna.
By the time we had made our way back to the apartment it was after 6pm and there were just so many landmarks and buildings we missed – but we all had a great day – even poor worn out Di.
On the drive back to Munich the next day we noticed our Vignette (car pass for cars from other countries) had expired so before leaving Vienna we spent the 9 Euros to get another pass rather than risk a fine. It took some six hours to get back to Munich and we stayed at a cheap hotel overnight close to the airport. We returned our hire car the next morning and then flew to Istanbul.
We were going to Istanbul for two reasons. The first one was that Di and I had to leave the Schengen Zone as we were building up too many days in the zone countries. The second reason was that it was where Charlotte really wanted to go, so we fulfilled her dream for her.
We loved Austria. The accommodation was far more expensive than we were used to and on our budget (with the kids in tow) was unsustainable for any longer than the 15 days we spent there. We loved having the hire car and, generally, Austria is small enough and easy enough to get around without any driving problems. The mountain scenery in Austria is all pretty special and if you love skiing, then it is awesome. We loved being in Austria over the Christmas period and adored all that comes with a white Christmas.
We now had two weeks with the kids in Turkey and this was a whole new experience.
The Turkish adventure will continue …………………….