Thursday, 19 June 2008

'Auf Wiedersehen' Austria - Euro2008

And so the last of the co-hosts of this June’s football extravaganza has bowed out - or to put it more accurately - gone down fighting. Tuesday’s (June 17) early morning match at 0015 IST saw Ballack’s searing direct free kick smash its neighbour Austria’s hopes to smithereens in the 49th minute of play.

Which took me back to the moments when the other co-hosts - the Swiss - too gallantly bowed out as the Balkans came crashing down on them. The 1-2 in favour of Turkey (June 12) was played on their home ground in Basel, Switzerland as was Tuesday’s match in Vienna, the Austrian capital. Yes, they were dignified in defeat – both in front of their home crowd.

And how the Swiss and Austrian fans rooted for their teams! It does not need formidable acumen to know that given the other big boys in the tournament, Switzerland and Austria, frankly, didn’t have a ghost of a chance to make it to the quarters. But they gave all to stage the tournament in their countries and cities. It didn’t matter that they may not win or even qualify. They put the game above all, and above themselves. They were (and continue to be) wonderful hosts – a great lesson for the world. True they lost, but not without honour.

In Die Kinder der Toten / Children of the Dead (1995), Austria’s Nobel Laureate for Literature in 2004 Elfriede Jelinek writes about Vienna and the country’s great dead – Mozart, Haydn, Schubert. She writes about excursions to the Alps; the House of the Hapsburgs - of the archduke who married the daughter of the postmaster of Aussee; and about the owners of the iron forges from the Murz valley.

We were brought up in an age where mum and dad in Goa waltzed away as our HMV 1515 record player (60 rpm) – ‘turn table’ in those days -- played ‘The Emperor Waltz,’ and ‘Tales from the Vienna Woods’ by Austrian composer Johann Strauss II (1825-99). You could almost imagine the placid Danube flowing by as it enters Austria from the northwest from Germany.

Fin de siecle Vienna was the epitome of culture and refinement. At the turn of the 18th century there were no less than 3 composers in Vienna which would make Vienna – and the world – proud, viz. Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert (who lived all of his life in Vienna).

The Wiener Philharmoniker or the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, in Vienna conducted by Herbert von Karajan is considered among the finest in the world. In one of the more well-known arrangements, the orchestra accompanies Krystian Zimmerman on the piano playing Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto No. 5 in E flat major for Piano, conducted by Leonard Bernstien.

Yet Austria’s nadir must surely be the case of Austrian patriarch Josef Fritzl from the town of Amstetten who in 1984 confined his daughter in a nuclear shelter under his house where he could rape her at will. He had three children by her and confined them along with her. Authorities discovered them in May this year.

Just after kick-off at 0016 IST I sms’d one of my friends– a fan of Germany – who works in a call centre, ‘U watching Germany now?’ ‘No working . . Plz keep me updated’- was the terse reply. Now, even if I was ambushed by sleep I would not be able to doze off! The next 110 minutes saw me sms’ing the high points of the game to him. It was anybody’s game, I’d say. And until the 49th minute he was worried. ‘Game over. Germany win 1-0 and qualify for the qf’ was my last sms at 0211 IST. His ecstatic ‘Thanks dude!’ saw him vastly relieved.

As the Austrian team exit centre stage, their country continues to co-host the tournament along with Switzerland. Amidst the football frenzy for the remaining month, a country ponders its historic past buoyed by the glorious spirit of modern soccer. Both the victor (Germany) and the vanquished (Austria) speak the same language, i.e. German. The finals on June 30 will be in Vienna but for now it is ‘Auf Wiedersehen Austria.’ or ‘Farewell Austria.’ Till we meet again.

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