Journal Rips Weimar Event

I begin with a rant. Perhaps you saw the March 12 Wall Street Journal's piece on Weimar. The writer, a person named Ed Ward, trashes Weimar in its role as European City of Culture for 1999.

He begins by telling readers the city's tourist information people were "rude and unhelpful" to him during an earlier visit when he was gathering background for a travel guidebook.

He then opines that the city, being one of the first to be administered by the Nazis and close to the Buchenwald concentration camp, has a "dodgy past." At one point he describes Weimar under communism as "flogging its illustrious past to tourists from West Germany in exchange for their hard currency, earning itself a reputation as a closed and unfriendly place in the process."

The article is full of digs and slights; some subtle, some not so subtle. He uses the words "creepy" and "eerie" to describe the town and the Cultural City displays.

But Mr. Ward's main criticisms of Weimar's handling of the Cultural City event are that it doesn't offer enough printed material in English, and that it is a German rather than international event with too much focus on three famous former residents: Schiller, Goethe, and Liszt.

Having spent three days in Weimar in 1997 researching our Weimar issue (February, 1997), I was first interested in Mr. Ward's comments about the tourist office. Our experience with them was totally different than his. Tourism employees we encountered were friendly and professional.

Taking the city to task for shining the spotlight on Liszt, Schiller and Goethe seems a very long critical reach. Weimar is not Berlin or New York, but a small town of about 60,000 people. It would be incredibly stupid if the city did not make this trio the centerpiece of its celebration. Whom should they highlight, Chinese and Swedes? Members of the 1850 Weimar Grange Co-op? Would Philadelphia downplay Benjamin Franklin? Would Florence de-emphasize Michelangelo?

Come on, Mr. Ward. Many historians consider writer-thinker-director-politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to be the greatest German of them all. Friedrich von Schiller is a revered poet whose most famous work, the Ode to Joy, is incorporated in Beethoven's great Choral Symphony, the 9th. (Given the immense popularity of that piece of music, it seems safe to say that Schiller's words are being heard by someone in the world every second of every day.) As for the pianist and composer Franz Liszt, his inclusion seems to refute the Journals argument that the Cultural City focus is parochial. Liszt, who started a music school in Weimar that endures to this day, was Hungarian.

One expects a publication as respected as the Wall Street Journal to keep its pages free of personal reprisals such as Mr. Ward's. When he dismisses Weimar by saying it can be "explored in 30 minutes if one walks at a leisurely pace," the intent to discourage tourism (and thereby get even) is obvious. Of course, one cannot properly see Weimar's attractions - the Schiller House, the Goethe House, the Liszt House, the Lucas Cranach House, the Stadtschloss, the Goethe and Schiller funerary monument, Ilm Park, etc. - in 10 times 30 minutes.

Unfortunately for Journal readers and the city of Weimar, Mr. Ward's story was payback time; an opportunity to use the power of his mighty employer to settle an old score.

Snowbound

Our clipping service sent us an interesting piece from the March 6, 1999, issue of the Financial Times. Its author, Kenneth McKenzie, a London attorney, recounted his family's experience being marooned for five days by the heavy snowfall during the recent series of disastrous avalanches in western Austria.

Mr. McKenzie, whose family had chosen fashionable Lech for a week's ski vacation, was critical of Lech cable TV and city officials. According to him, the magnitude of an approaching storm was kept somewhat of a secret. He says a very few were warned and were able to get out before the storm hit. His party, in fact, did not realize the town was cut off until, after two days of continuous snow, he "casually inquired at the hotel desk." "We learned more about the situation in our first hour back in England than in the previous week in Austria," he says.

The McKenzie's had travel insurance which covered a portion - about $48 per day per person - of the expenses incurred during their prolonged stay but their "carefully planned budget was shattered." They tried, though unsuccessfully, to find cheaper accommodations.

One of their worries became food, especially when they began to notice increasingly bare supermarket shelves. Cable TV carried "assurances from the town Bürgermeister that Lech's supplies were guaranteed" but, according to Mr. McKenzie, items like eggs and orange juice soon disappeared from the hotel's breakfast buffet.

The McKenzie family - mom, dad, three children and one friend - finally escaped via helicopter. At a cost of about $112 per person they were flown in 12 minutes to a nearby town not identified in the story. There - and this, again, is according to Mr. McKenzie's account - previously purchased bus tickets were not honored (the tickets were for travel from Lech, though the bus route passed through the unidentified town). In fact, at the culmination of a heated disagreement over the bus ticket issue, the manager of the bus line struck Mr. McKenzie, "hard, on the shoulder." The family took a taxi to the Zürich Airport for which they paid about $300. Money for the unused bus tickets was not refunded.

Can you spell L-I-T-I-G-A-T-I-O-N?

Correction

Last month we erroneously reported that Maria von Trapp spent 30 years as missionary in New Guinea. According to subscriber Burton Johnson of East Berlin, Connecticut, who is a family friend, it was Maria's daughter who was the missionary.

March 1999