The Opernhaus was designed by the famous architectural firm of Fellner & Helmer. These two Viennese gentlemen specialized in performance spaces, and you’ll run into their work all over Eastern Europe. You can hop from the Prague State Opera and the Landestheater in Salzburg to the Oradea National Theatre in Romania and the Croatian National Theater and never leave their presence.
Hey, New Yorkers – remind you of anything? An uneasy symbol of peace, the Lichtschwert (“Light Sword” or “Light Saber”) is the work of the Graz artist Hartmut Skerbisch.
Skerbisch found his inspiration in the Opernhaus. During the Steirischer Herbst festival in 1992, the city was looking for a way to celebrate of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s expedition to America. So they decided to produce the opera Amerika.
Created by the 20th century composer Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, the opera uses Franz Kafka’s incomplete first novel – Amerika or “The Man Who Disappeared” – as the basis for the libretto. Kafka’s attempt at a Dickensian narrative tells of an immigrant thrust into the maw of New York City. In the story, the Statue of Liberty is holding (you guessed it) a sword instead of a torch.
Architect’s Bonus: The Lichtschwert is 54 meters high, exactly the same height as the Statue of Liberty.
The city’s largest farmers’ market is open Monday – Saturday, 6 a.m. – 1 p.m. You’ll find it behind the Opernhaus on Glacisstrasse. Bread, flowers, fruit, vegetables – there’s enough here to put together a respectable picnic for the Schlossberg or the Stadtpark.
The guidebooks will advise you to sample Styrian Kürbiskernöl “(“pumpkin seed oil”). Colloquially known as black gold, the nutty oil can be used as an ingredient in salad dressings, drizzled on ice cream, or ingested to combat enlarged prostates. Browning/cooking it destroys the oil’s essential fatty acids and adds a bitter taste, so it’s probably best left in the raw.
The folk dancers in Graz’s Glockenspiel twirl dizzily 3 times a day – 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. There’s a lady in Styrian garb clutching a handkerchief and a bearded man in lederhosen raising a glass of wine. Above them, in the iron turret, 24 bells ring out Alpine yodels, Christmas carols, and contemporary tunes.
The detail of the wine glass is important, since the Glockenspiel owes its existence to Gottfried Maurer, the canny owner of the wine & spirits shop below. In 1929, Maurer gifted the Glockenspiel to the city, on the condition that it always play.
It didn’t – in World War Two, the bells were used for ammunition. Happily for campanologists (and the tourism bureau), the Glockenspiel was resurrected in 1956. Today, at the end of the dance, a golden cock crows the revelers in Graz’s Bermuda Triangle to bed.
The best way to find the Glockenspielplatz is to look for a bunch of befuddled tourists staring up into the air. They are waiting for the Glockenspiel to chime.
While you’re standing there, why not admire the Art Nouveau facade below the tower? Gottfried Maurer was a savvy wine & spirits entrepreneur who often traveled through the wilds of Europe. Entranced by carillons in Germany and Belgium, he decided to put one at the top of his house in Graz. It first rang out in 1905.
Of course, it did no harm to his business that the male dancer in the Glockenspiel is toasting observers. With Maurer’s wine shop, the new carillon, and a series of mosaics and reliefs showing happy inebriates, the Glockenspielplatz became a place of forgetful pleasure. Today, it’s part of the Bermuda Triangle of Graz.
You work, I am free.