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by Liz Finney
Liz comes from Guildford, England, studied at Lancaster University and has lived in Bologna and Toulouse as well as in northern and southern England. She has taught foreign languages and music and has had opinions published in „The Guardian“ and „The Independent“. As well as her work for CIC, she teaches in primary schools and plays with orchestras in Villach and Weissenstein.
As I write, spring is in full flow and isn’t it lovely. Going out on to the balcony or into the garden is such a treat after months of freezing temperatures, and the combination of spring bulbs and birdsong should serve to blow away any cobwebs and enthuse us all with outdoor projects. It’s also the kind of treatment you need if you were out on the town on Saturday night at the 9th Honky Tonk Festival - at which much alcohol was consumed and ear drums got a megablasting . . in Lederergasse anyway. Wasn’t it great. As well as enjoying peace and quiet on a Sunday, if like me you’ve had the pleasure of hearing your solar panel heating system click into life recently . . . well, that’s just the icing on the cake of the spring experience.
What’s more, this month we have a bank holiday on Monday 25th April „Ostermontag“. Friday 22nd, a holiday in some countries, is a normal working day here. Sadly we don’t get the day off on the 1st May bank holiday either as it falls on the following Sunday this year. This one is called “Tag der Arbeit“.
Here in Villach Easter is marked by the decorating of blown out eggs - „ausgeblasene Eier“ - as well as the Easter bunny - „der Osterhase“ - and flowers. All are symbols of fertility which can be traced back to pre-Christian rites and celebrations. You’ll see coloured or glittery eggs hanging in windows, on trees and on pussy willow 'Palmkatzerln'. Some children and adults enjoy knocking painted or stained eggs against each other in a competitive game called “Eierpecken” or “Ostereiertitschen”, where the loser is the first person's egg to get a crack or be smashed – which I suppose is a seasonal version of Conkers, a game we play in the autumn in the UK with horse chestnuts. Apparently the egg-bashing custom originated in Bavaria, from where it spread to the Rheinland, Austria, Switzerland and Russia. I know lots of foreigners would like to see this in action, and perhaps we’ll get lucky between Thursday 14th April and Saturday 23rd, when crafty products will be on sale around the parish church of St Jakob. A children’s zoo and pony rides will be offered in the lower church square, with flying swings in the “Hauptplatz”.
In the days leading up to the Easter weekend, church bells are not rung between “Gründonnerstag” and the evening resurrection service of Easter Night (Saturday). In former times, boys walked from door to door instead summoning local people to prayer with wooden instruments called “Ratschen”. It seems that this was done in part to wake people up at five in the morning – so let’s hope it’s a tradition that’s now defunct. “Eine Ratsche” is an old type of ratchet.
On Easter morning decorated eggs, sweets and small presents are hidden in the house or garden by a mythical Easter bunny for children to find. Nowadays some families use chocolate eggs or plastic ones filled with jelly beans. Otherwise people put eggs in a basket filled with real or artificial straw to resemble a bird's nest. On Easter Sunday the end of lent fasting is celebrated with sweet bread called “Osterreindling” – sometimes with an egg in the hole in middle -, cold meat with “Apfelkren” (mashed apple and horseradish) and coloured eggs. There is also sometimes a pastry in the shape of a lamb – “Osterlamm” – and it’s customary for godparents to give children gifts, in former times new clothes, for example. On Easter Night some communities make bonfires, a practice which goes back to pagan times to encourage the sun to shine.
Villach town centre is typically bright and showery in April, and very pretty too, with the council spending a considerable amount on floral displays - and the children’s train outside the town hall runs till 1st May.
On the 9th of April there’s a flea market especially for kids’ toys and clothes at Pfarre St. Joseph, Richtstrasse 33.
And on the following weekend, 16th – 17th April, there’s a Sommersportbörse“ at the main fire station in Villach in Kasernengasse from 10 to 4 both days. If you’re looking for trips out for family or visitors, only a few attractions are open. One is the animal park in Rosegg which opened on 1st April
and the first boat trips along the river Drau begin on 24th April
As spring comes late here in the mountains, people have only been venturing out into their gardens in the last two to three weeks. Those of us with new lawns will simply be hoping that the conditions will be right for grass seed to germinate. With my limited experience of two summers, I’ve found gardening conditions to be generally very favourable here, with both warm temperatures and reasonable amounts of rainfall. It’s therefore well worth making some sort of effort, however modest. Have a nice spring.