Altruppersdorf

July 20, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

_XPR2286_XPR2286 I can't believe it's been seven months since my last blog post; time flies when you're busy, I guess.  But this one's kind of special for me and the folks in the picture above.

Back in 2015, the Santa Margarita Catholic High School choir toured Ireland, including a stop in the little village of Timahoe, the ancestral home of SMCHS's principal, Ray Dunne, whose family emigrated to the US during the famine of the 1840's.  Mr. Dunne accompanied the choir on that tour, and the visit was magical.  It was the first time any touring choir had performed in Timahoe, and the locals turned out in force to welcome us.  It was the kind of day that everyone would remember for years to come.  We even got Mr. Dunne to dance a jig (not a stretch for him).

So, fast forward to today, as the 2017 edition of the SMCHS choir toured Austria, with performances where you'd expect them to be held: the beautiful cities of Salzburg and Vienna, with some "Sound of Music" venues along the way. A boat ride on the Chiemsee on our first day there. The salt mines of Hallstatt, and the church in Mondsee.   But nobody knew what to expect from Altruppersdorf.

Director Francisco Calvo wanted to have another Timahoe experience during this Austria tour as well.  It just so happened that Ortwin Eckert, one of the staff of our international tour operator Tumlare, connected with this little village of 300 near the Czech border, about an hour from Vienna, and the deal was done.  But unlike Timahoe, where there was an obvious connection to our school, Altruppersdorf was another matter.  All we knew was that we would spend the day in this village, play some football (soccer) with the locals (and get our clocks cleaned in the process), and have a concert in the village church.  And, as it turned out, it would be pretty toasty that day as well.

But we had no idea of the warmth and generosity of the folks of Altruppersdorf, or the day they had planned for us.  This day was pure joy from the moment we stepped off the buses.  Just like in Timahoe, the people of Altruppersdorf had never hosted a tour like this (or any tour for that matter).  Altruppersdorf is a small farming community, similar to many others in this beautiful but "off-the-beaten-path" area of Lower Austria. They grow wheat, barley, rye, and grapes.  Several families have their own small wine cellars, schnapps, too.  Their community is spotless, modern but not overly so.  They gather in associations, perhaps foremost among which is the volunteer Feuerwehr (fire department).  So they organized, and planned, and resourced, and delivered a day that we will never forget.  It was a day they won't soon forget either, as the visit succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.

Right off the bus, everyone boarded wagons pulled by tractors.  We had a tractor parade through downtown Altruppersdorf, and up into the countryside, passing fields of freshly harvested wheat, vineyards, and endless fields of blooming sunflowers. 

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The large group photo above was made during our tractor parade.  One of the main organizers of the day was Gerhard, in lederhosen and the typical Austrian straw hat, who flopped down in front of the group.  He was an instant favorite of all of us.

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Working our way down the hill back toward town, we stopped at a forested grotto, with a natural spring and a small shrine.  There were benches set up on the adjacent slope, making a wonderful little amphitheater.  It was a perfect place to contemplate our faith, and an impromptu sing.

_XPR2337_XPR2337 The folks were just as interested in us as we were interested in them.

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A short walk away, we found ourselves in Gerhard's personal wine cellar, where those of us of age tasted some fine local vintages.  Upstairs from the cellar, some directional but diffused light was something a photographer couldn't pass up.

_XPR2353_XPR2353 Back in town, we were treated to a wonderful lunch of roasted chicken, potatoes, salads, and dessert, all prepared by the folks in Altruppersdorf.  The choir members suited up for a game, in uniforms provided by the community, and (as anticipated) we got our clocks cleaned.

_XPR2462_XPR2462 _XPR2468_XPR2468 _XPR2540_XPR2540 _XPR2686_XPR2686 _XPR2687_XPR2687 _XPR2698_XPR2698 And it was indeed hot.  Fortunately, the fire brigade was on hand.  First, they did a hose deployment drill just prior to the start of the game.

_XPR2446_XPR2446 _XPR2450_XPR2450 _XPR2454_XPR2454 And at halftime, they mercifully sprayed the players with wonderful showers.

_XPR2555_XPR2555 _XPR2563_XPR2563 _XPR2571_XPR2571 _XPR2573_XPR2573 _XPR2579_XPR2579 While the players took a break at halftime, several of us went to an adjacent building for a tour of Anton Schreiber's private museum, filled with immaculately restored tractors, farm equipment, and some very sweet classic Mercedes sedans.

_XPR2582_XPR2582 _XPR2583_XPR2583 _XPR2584_XPR2584 _XPR2585_XPR2585 _XPR2586_XPR2586 _XPR2587_XPR2587 After the game, which ended in a generous "tie", it was time to clean up and get ready for the concert in the parish church.  As expected, the entire town showed up, and the performance was energetic and enthusiastically received.  

_XPR2727_XPR2727 _XPR2783_XPR2783 _XPR2807_XPR2807 _XPR2908_XPR2908 _XPR2998_XPR2998 _XPR3015_XPR3015 After the concert, we had dinner together in the local historic school, capped off by an amazing Lower Austrian sunset.

_XPR3039_XPR3039 It was a long, but immensely enjoyable day.  The entire SMCHS contingent agreed that it was the best day of the tour.  The next morning we packed our bags and moved on to Vienna for the final performances in St. Stephen's Cathedral and, on our last night, the Minoritenkirche.

The final day in Vienna featured, among other things, a drenching rainstorm...

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...followed by a clearing sky, in time for rehearsal prior to the concert.  Little did we know that our friends from Altruppersdorf made the hour-long trek to Vienna to surprise us with a visit on our last night. That's everybody's favorite dog Frieda on the lower right.

_XPR3334_XPR3334 _XPR3339_XPR3339 _XPR3421_XPR3421 _DSF1525_DSF1525 _DSF1990_DSF1990 At the end of an emotional concert, we took one last group photo, including the choir's new "mascot" Frieda, and the traditional end-of-tour photo of recently graduated seniors, and we were off to dinner with our friends from Altruppersdorf.  Don Baker generously picked up the tab for the entire Altruppersdorf contingent.

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This was truly an experience none of us will ever forget.  Singing in historic and majestic cathedrals, touring culturally important cities, and tasting authentic regional cuisines are the main features of choir tours.  But the real payoff comes with genuine connection with the local communities, whose language, customs, and traditions may be very different from ours, but whose hopes and dreams are very much the same as ours.  We had a great time with our friends from Altruppersdorf; hopefully we can reciprocate if they come to visit us here in the US.


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