Tear Through Graz: Jousting Between Old and New
Story and photos by Gary Singh (except where
The Styrian Armoury in Graz, Austria, ©
storehouse of 16th- and 17th-century weapons. On four floors. Thirty-two-thousand
pieces of equipment surround me, enough to arm 4000 soldiers. Match-lock
and wheel-lock muskets, cannons, helmets and inlaid-ivory pistols for
the headmen. Cannons on the first floor, tournament dress on the third.
The oldest pieces date from 1520.
The Styrian Armoury in Graz, Austria, ©
Among them, a 10-foot wooden lance hangs above me. What
a place: Torso breastplates and jousting paraphernalia sorted out uniformly
on wooden racks, almost like produce in a supermarket. The ancient helmets
came fitted with sliding visors so a soldier could give a military salute
to the general. Most everything is made of Styrian iron.
Bullet dents highlight some of the breastplates, but
not from battle. They were test shots fired to make sure the armor worked.
The Ottoman invasion was 1480, I'm told. For the next 200 years, money
was then invested in defense, in the form of town walls and fortresses
to fight off the Ottomans and the Magyars.
I'm on a tear through Graz, in the world's largest historical
armoury. Oak flooring and stone walls contain all the stories.
Outside, the Styrian Panther, the insignia of Graz,
appears wherever I roam in courtyards, parliamentary halls, on the
façades of cafés and bridges. The color green represents
the surrounding forests.
The Styrian Panther looms large in Graz
Contrary to other parts of Austria, Graz exudes a Mediterranean
vibe. The weather comes from the Adriatic. Inner courtyards appear everywhere,
reminding me of Italy, only a few hours away by car. Roofing made from
red beavertail tile blankets the top of the city, also recalling Italy.
From the main square, I see a mix of Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic and
Stucco. Much Italian influence, I observe, with a progression of different
eras of stucco. From here, one can see exactly how stucco developed
over the years. On one building, the gods of Greco-Roman mythology seem
to look right at me.
In 1742, Baroque artist Johann Mayer painted frescoes
Looking down on the city
I am in contrast. A few examples: Green spaces and green
ideas comprise fifty percent of the city. A Franciscan monastery features
solar panels all over its roof, just to cite one example. New supplements
old, rather than replacing old.
Hotel Wiesler, where Arnold Schwarzenegger usually stays,
features two murals riffing on the Birth of Venus, two different takes
on the Botticelli classic. One exists to the far left of the entrance,
while the other adorns the far right wall, both serving as backdrops
for different function areas. In the lobby, old disco LPs are for sale,
intentionally part of the decor, oddly enough. New supplements old.
As I continue, I think: Eighty zillion cities from Berlin
to Bakersfield claim to be "where old meets new," but somehow
in Graz it actually works. For the Graz Art Museum, British architects
Peter Cook and Colin Fournier fabricated a deep blue creature, not unlike
an H.P. Lovecraft monster, and stretched it out along the right bank
of the River Mur, right smack between low suburban houses. Urban jousts
against suburban, but in complete harmony.
The Kunsthaus Graz © Graz Tourismus
I'm on a roll and it's easy to eavesdrop on a warm sunny
afternoon. Residents bask in the weather as if they haven't seen the
sun in twenty years. Everyone is outdoors. No one seems to be working.
The dialect of German here sounds like it's being spoken with an Italian
accent, exhibiting the rhythms and cadences of a Romance language.
I discover more as I roam: Fifty thousand students across
four universities comprise a significant portion of the populace. The
Universalmuseum Joanneum, 200 years old, is an arts/university complex
that somehow includes every building in one entire neighborhood: the
main library, museums, galleries, convention space and outdoor courtyards--sort
of like a miniature version of the Museums Quartier in Vienna.
Graz is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a UNESCO City of Design,
making it a member of the Creative Cities Network. And 12.5% of the
entire workforce can be attributed to the creative industry. So if I
eavesdrop in a cafe and write down what everyone says, they probably
The Mediterranean vibe rings true here,
© Graz Tourismus
It's easy to navigate the streets here. Sporgasse, originally
an eleventh-century trade route, corrals me through the Altstadt. I
can still see copper gargoyles on top of the buildings, originally functioning
as pre-gutter-era technology for rainwater dispersal. Nowadays the buildings
have gutters but the gargoyles remain. Again, a harmonious joust between
urban and suburban. Old and new. I relish in the contrast.
Later, even more inner courtyards await. In older centuries,
the cheapest way to fabricate cobblestone streets was to use stones
from the River Mur. So they're called Mur Dumplings or "Murnockerl."
Graz features over fifty inner courtyards
The cafés are still hopping as I head back to
grab the final Vienna-bound
train. Students, artists, businessmen, priests and fashion slaves all
continue to mill about. At the end of my quick tear through Graz, I
stop and order a sausage from a street vendor. The jousting is over.
Creative sausage stands are aplenty
Through Vienna; Vienna:
The City that Endures;
My Vienna, My Native Cuisine; Salzburg,