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Remembrances of My Time in Austria
(Erinnerungen an Österreich)
Part Three

by Adam Martini

From the Jan-Mar 2010 issue of the Trentoner Donauschwaben Nachrichten
 English translation by Hans Martini

The long, cold winter that served as a quiet “down” time for local farmers was now at an end.  In 1948, I was eleven years old and enrolled in the Haigermoos (Austria) primary school.  Since my formal education had stopped during my captivity in Yugoslavia, I was definitely too old to be attending the second grade.  It turns out that the many hours of practicing my reading with my Grossmutter during my “stay” in the camps paid off however and I was in very good shape to move ahead.  So with the help of my teacher, Mr. Egon Kreuzbauer, and his colleagues, I was able to skip through the second, third and fourth classes all in just one year. 

In any case, reading now became my salvation in the long weeks and months spent in that little hut of ours.  I fondly remember the books written by Karl May whose novels were set in the American West - cowboys and Indians!  These were popular in every German speaking area of Europe.  I read these page-turners with a voracious appetite.  Indeed, the endless Austrian winter was ideal for such a welcome distraction. 

My grandmother put up with my reading habit at first, but as spring approached her patience waned.  She had other plans for my free time.  We had to build a pigpen and a vegetable garden. She also wanted to construct a chicken enclosure since we had some extra space.  She said she needed no less than ten hens and a rooster for this new undertaking. 

Our farmer/landlord, Herr Neissl, wasn’t really pleased with this news and he warned of the foxes and hawks that preyed on such creatures.  Grossmutter had her own ideas about such predators and said that should they endanger our chickens they would be in for a big surprise.  It slowly occurred to me that my grandmother could not be scared by the well intentioned farmer into believing this plan of hers wasn’t a good idea.  One morning I heard the voices of my Grossmutter and the farmer having a heated discussion.  Finally, Herr Neissl said in an exasperated manner, “Go ahead, Susi (my Oma’s name was Susanna), do what you want so I can have some peace and quiet.  No more than ten hens and one rooster however.”

This of course meant that I would be very busy constructing the chicken enclosure, further reducing my already precious free time.  The plan was carried out rather quickly and soon we had a fenced in area with nest-beds for egg laying.  The idea was to keep them inside at night and let them loose in a fenced-in section of the yard during the day.

Of course my grandmother had more than ten hens!  She reasoned that some might die or that there might be more than one rooster so the number of hens had to keep pace.  The poor farmer looked on in dismay but said nothing. 

Slowly the months passed and our chickens grew in size.  Some spent the night in the trees while others stayed inside the stall.  Our small home became livelier and livelier.  The pigs, chickens and rooster gave our tiny patch of land a unique and interesting quality all its own.  Things were happening and none of our relatives had anything comparable.  They lived too close to the farm so it just wasn’t possible for them to do what we did. 

And so my grandmother’s goal was realized and we now had our own little enterprise.  We had valuable fresh eggs and we had two pigs, one for us and one to be sold to a relative in nearby Salzburg. Things were looking up!

My uncle Toni Mack and a bunch of other relatives helped butcher the pig late in the year.  Uncle Toni knew all the ins and outs of sausage making and meat cutting.  He set the tone and everyone in the group followed his instructions.  Even my sister and I were expected to help along.  It was a real Donauschwaben undertaking:  there was drinking of fruit wine, occasional swearing in Croatian or Hungarian, and later, when the men had a enough wine (called Most), there was the singing of melodious Croatian songs.  It was just like at home in Bukin, Yugoslavia, and I loved it. 

It was, however, quite different from what the local farmers in Austria did.  They didn’t spend nearly as much time doing the work and the event was far less festive.  For instance, when our farmer/landlord Mr. Neissl slaughtered a pig he sent for Mr. Pfaffinger from the village of Haigermoos.  Mr. Pfaffinger was the village barber, the church administrator, the priest’s assistant and acolyte, as well as a small-scale farmer.  He also had a store that served as a gathering place for the entire area. 

Anyway, Mr. Pffafinger had his own system when it came to slaughtering pigs.  Unlike the Donauschwaben, no sausages or head cheese (Schwartenmagen) would be produced.  Even the killing of the pig was done differently.  The Austrian would first stun the pig with a heavy hammer blow before “bleeding” the animal with a knife and killing it.  Uncle Toni, on the other hand, would simply use a sharp knife to take the life of the hapless pig, bleeding it at the same time.  This difference in dispatching the animal and a few other disparities in handling the meat convinced both my grandmother and uncle Toni that the Donauschwaben way was a far better way.  Naturally opinions varied but my Grossmutter told everyone the Austrians didn’t know what they were doing.  It sure didn’t make her many friends among our hosts!

As the excitement of the Schlachtfest subsided, winter was once again upon us.   Falling snow signaled the beginning of a period of rest for the farmers.  Card games would be played and we would all listen to radio broadcasts in the farmer’s parlor.  It was a time of relaxation ahead of the busy spring season just a few months away. 

To be continued......

Adam Martini

[Published at www.dvhh.org, 22 Feb 2008]