Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Reflections from Vienna, part 2

(I realize I'd better get the second part of this blog post finished before the wonders of Vienna fade from my memory...-cac)

In the last post, I talked about my first day in Vienna (Sunday, Sept 27), basically sightseeing, and the second morning (Monday), when I attended the Conference's welcoming ceremony. As I mentioned, the building that the conference was in--the main building at the University of Vienna, was simply beautiful, although it was pretty hard to find ones way around. Fortunately, there were a ton of helpful graduate students (over 100! I learned later) and numerous signs posted all over to help out.

The first day of the conference, I was shy (as I usually am when I don't know anyone), and didn't speak to anyone (other than the few people I already knew), but enjoyed taking in the ambience. The coffee breaks were in the gorgeous arcade of the main building:

an area which was filled with statuary and other monuments to the glorious history of the University.

(This one, I think, is Eve, considering the snake at her feet.)

(However, as I learned later from my friend Stefan Hopmann, local organizer of the conference, the arcade is not without controversy, since only one Jew--Sigmund Freud--is honored there, even though prior to the late 1930s many distinguished Jews were affiliated with the University. This lack of recognition is just one facet of the University's continuing ambivalence about its willingness to embrace diversity.)

The coffee breaks were quite fine--lots of good coffee with fresh creme, as well as sugar cookies (not so good for me) as well as fresh fruit. People tended to linger in the sun long after the next sessions were supposed to start.

The other thing that was ubiquitous at the coffee breaks was thousands of bottles of mineral water

which I didn't like at first, but after trying the tap water, I thought it was delicious!

That first day, I took in the poster session at the conference, and found this particularly interesting one called "The Pedagogical Machine," which related to a session I went to later in the conference by Andrew Stables (of which more later).

Also on that first day, I had a delightful lunch with my friend Asia from Poland (who was recently elected to the EERA Council which organizes the conference).

We had a nice lunch and walked a bit around the university neighborhood, where she was staying.

That evening, there was a keynote address from Michael Young of the University of London, who took a surprisingly conservative turn in his claim that the purpose of schools is to teach traditional subject-matter, followed by a wine and beer reception out in the arcade.

which was a delightful reception, although because I didn't know many people, mostly I wandered around looking lost, although I did manage to find a few wayward people to talk to

including a professor from the University of Edinburgh who had given a talk earlier in the day on how philosophers can (and do) influence policy

as well as an interesting consultant from near Melbourne who told me about his house on the top of a mountain

The conference organizers tried to gather us all together for some formalities and niceties (including a greeting from the Minister of Education for Austria), but that didn't work very well, and the Austrian folk music that followed was drowned out by the conversation.

I did have a very nice conversation later in the reception with a woman named Isabella, from Poland, who is studying in Munich:

We talked about her erstwhile boyfriend, who doesn't want to have a family, even though she's in her early 30s, and about family interaction (her mother called while we were talking to check up on her...she does that every day!).

I ended up "closing" the reception

leaving with the last few drops of wine with another lingerer, Marcus from Portugal, with whom I enjoyed a lovely dinner at a famous restaurant (I learned later) called Caffetteria Maximilian:

Because I had to give my paper the next morning, and wanted to be at least a little fresh, I returned to my hotel fairly early.

But when I got to the hotel, I realized I wasn't sleepy, so I looked in a local events newspaper and found a bar that had live reggae music, and hopped a cab. The cab dropped me at the wrong place, and so I hailed another cab that took me to the right place, Chelsea, where I found a Canadian singer-songwriter singing in English to a group of perky teenagers. I stayed through the set (he was funny and creative)--had a couple of drinks, and then back to the hotel by 1 a.m.

The next morning, I travelled back to the University via U-Bahn (a trip that became routine that week), observing this interesting phenomenon in Westbahnhof:

(The Austrians are nothing if not rule-following. :-)) I found something to eat in the University Strasse station:

(yes, those are kernels of corn on the pepperoni pizza).

Then, I delivered my paper, which received an interesting, almost-stunned, response (of which, perhaps more in another post), and spent the rest of the afternoon in the Information and Communications Technology strand, getting to know a very interesting group of researchers from the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK, six of which I went back to the Maximilian with afterwards for a couple of quick beers. (It said "Budweiser" on the menu...I had to know if that was OUR Bud or the original one, Budvar, which of course it was,

so we had a couple of rounds of those and laughed about American beer and European haughtiness. Then, I had to rush off, because I had a ticket to a reception for conference-goers at the National Library of Austria, something I definitely did not want to miss.

I wasn't disappointed. It took me (and a German lady who made fun of my bad German and called me a typical American for walking across a lawn at the Hapsburghof) a while to find the right entrance to the reception, but once we did, we were given three drink tickets and ushered into a very modern but nice hall, where we had delicious Austrian wine (the wine was ALWAYS delicious in Vienna) and finger foods. I saw a few people I had seen in the philosophy strand at the conference, and got some useful feedback on my paper. Then, someone came around and urged us to come on a tour of the library, which of course we did, and




what an amazing place!!!

I have to say, the main room in this library (State Hall) is the most beautiful room I have ever been in, quite literally! I was in awe!

The library was built from 1723-1726, and was designed to house a collection of books that had been collected by Prince Eugene of Savoy and inherited by Maria Theresa and then given to Emperor Charles VI (consisting of 15,000 volumes, which occupy the center rotunda), and room for 175,000 more books, which was filled with all of the books published in Austria from 1722 until 1850, when the library became filled. (Read more here.)

This was Stephanie, our delightful tourguide:

When I told her I was from the US, she rushed me over to see this display, which is a hand-painted plate depicting "the Americas" in a 1680 Encyclopedia:

The cataloguing system was devised by Maria Theresa (who did so many other things to benefit Vienna), and consists basically of which case, shelf, and number the book can be found at. There used to be a CARD CATALOG, but, as someone on the tour pointed out, at some point it became an ITEM in the collection of the library, instead of the way of finding things. (The new catalog is here.)

Here are a couple of Aussies who were with me on the tour

and here, Stephanie talked with Horval and his wife, who are philosophers from Norway

The Library allows anyone to view any book in its collection (ranging from as early as 1501), provided that they wear gloves and, of course, not remove the materials from the library.

And here am I in front of Charles VI himself, who occupies a position of honor in the center of the rotunda.

Needless to say, I was quite impressed with this library, and urge ANYone who goes to Vienna (particularly any bibliophiles) to make sure the libary is part of their tour.

After the tour, I returned to the reception room for some more wine and finger food, and ended up talking for a while with a few random strangers:

And then ended up with Sarah and Darrell, a husband-wife pair who had given a presentation the previous day on the public's expectations for "scientific" evidence in educational research.

As the reception was winding down, one of the workers told us that if we were still interested in partying (of course!) we could join the "young persons" reception at the Juridicum (law school) back at the University. So Sarah and Darrell and I decided to wind our way to the Juridicum. We got a bit lost along the way, but eventually found it. And MAN, was that party ROCKIN!

(my camera wasn't quite up to the challenge of taking photos there without a flash, though!)

There was this truly awesome cover band that was playing 1970s American motown, blues, and rock'n'roll

and the crowd was, for the most part, willing to dance!

I tell you, if I'm ever organizing a party in Vienna, I want THAT band to play at the event!

Once that reception wound down, around midnight or so, one of the locals at the party announced that he knew of a great bar/dance club that was open late, and so a group of about 30 of us (somewhat drunken) educational researchers followed him on a winding path through Vienna (most of us not having any idea where we were going) to this place called Floridita:

Here, Sarah and Darrell (still hanging in), catch their breath.

A group of Latina locals (not from the conference) were a bit overwhelmed by all us professorial types:

who were definitely not afraid to dance!

By about 1:45 in the morning, I had had enough (this was, remember, my FOURTH drinking event of the evening), and so I stumbled (somehow) back to my hotel:

...arriving sometime after 2:36 am (which is the last time-stamp on the photos I took that night). I was, and this doesn't need to be said, exhausted.

(to be continued....)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Some random observations from trip to Vienna

This blog post describes things I saw on my trip to Vienna for the European Conference on Educational Research 2009.

On September 26 at 2:30 pm, I boarded a plane for Frankfurt, getting there about 5:15 a.m. The Frankfurt airport was DESERTED!

So I had about 90 minutes to wander around before anything opened. I immediately realized I wasn't in the US anymore, because there were advertisements like this one:

I hadn't used my German much since 1991 when I was last there, and once the shops did open, I realized how rusty I was...I had trouble ordering a cup of coffee with milk ("kaffe mit milch, bitte" as I gradually re-learned. Finally at 7 I was able to go through "passport control" and go to the gate for the flight to Vienna, arriving there about 9:30 am. First thing I saw in Vienna? A reminder of the multinational/corporate nature of the world:

(Pretty cool artwork, though!)

So I changed some money (132 Euros for $200 OUCH) and took the City Airport Train into town:

and observed a lot of graffiti along the way, much of it pretty artistic:

and arrived in central Wien, then transfered to the U-Bahn:

to Mariahilfestrasse, where I found my Tourhotel a few blocks from Westbahnhof:

I was way early, so I asked where I could get some breakfast, and wandered around for a while, passing by the McDonalds:

and finally having a traditional Austrian Grossefruestuck at the Westend Cafe:

Then I checked in, and took a short nap, before awakening and walking from the hotel to the Universitat Wien, where the conference was to be held, and picked up my nametag for the conference, the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) 2009:

On my walk, I re-learned just how beautiful Vienna is:

I was also reminded how much history is here, seeing an apartment where Beethoven lived

and, later, the house where Freud lived and worked:

After registering for the conference, I took a tram ride around the Ringstrasse:

to Prater, a park with a nice promenade:

On the way back, I noticed that we passed HunnerWasserHaus, a very cool apartment building by an eccentric Viennese architect of the 20th century, so I got out to look around:

In the touristy mall across the street, I found this:

And followed the signs downstairs to this:

but discovered one had to pay .50 to use it, which I didn't want to do. There was a cool fountain down there:

Then, I finished the ring tram ride back to the University, and then I walked back to my hotel:

passing by the Rathaus (city hall):

where there was a circus:

and seeing more sites:

This tent was thumping with club music, and beautifully dressed people were going in and out:

I thought this shop was pretty cool:

And this was a kiosk where you could "borrow" a bike, returning it to any other kiosk in the city. (Chicago needs this!!!)

I was impressed with the window displays at this sex shop:

This one looked a little painful, but kinda cool looking, too :-)

(After returning to Chicago, a friend explained how it might be used.) I also saw this very strange shop window:

And these three-wheeled bike vehicles:

Anyway, it was getting late, so I stopped at a cool place called the Freiraum and had a beer, and then went back to my hotel and fell asleep (it was about 8 pm).

At midnight, I awoke, and decided that I might as well take advantage of being awake, so I finished working on my paper for the conference, and then went back to sleep, awakening in time to get to the Opening Ceremony of the conference, which was in the Grosse Festhalle at the Universitat. What an amazing room!!!

After the opening, I wandered around the building a bit. Wow!!!

(to be continued.....)