Austria

Well, we may not have been able to go with Ryan on his week-long trip to Vienna, but we didn’t waste the opportunity to spend the week learning about the country from which my grandfather came. As a matter of fact, the first thing we did was look through all of his old documents and papers. I have his passport, (stamped in Vienna, just like Ryan’s is now), his naturalization papers, even old Austrian report cards (he was quite a good student!). I think the children liked looking at pieces of their family history; they were especially intrigued by the black and white photos.

We also spent some time in school one morning mapping his plane routes. This wasn’t particularly new information–they know where Washington D.C. and Germany are, and had a good idea of Austria as well. Surprisingly, learning Toronto’s location was new to them, but then again, we haven’t really studied that part of Canada yet. Anyway, even thought they knew most of the locations, it really stresses how far away Europe is to map it on the wall map, and then also trace it out on the globe. The globe also allowed Turkey and Bunny to figure out what time it was in Austria while we were doing school, which amused them.

No study on Austria, however brief, would be complete without looking at famous Austrian musicians. Sure, Mozart is an obvious choice, and believe me, we listened to plenty. But we also looked at other famous Austrians, including Strauss, (all of them!), Beethoven, (not a native Austrian; rather, a German transplant), Haydn, Franz Gruber, (of Silent Night fame), Liszt, Mahler, and Schubert. I often forget how many great musicians called Austria home!

Our book selection to focus on Austria was White Stallion of Lipizza, a classic horse-tale (pardon the pun–it really was unintentional!), by Margurite Henry. This is a great book, and although it’s “out of print” through normal avenues, Beautiful Feet Books seems to have acquired the rights, so it is still available for purchase. I was as interested in this story as the children were, and was very tempted to just read ahead after they went to bed, to find out what happened. I thought Henry did an excellent job depicting the setting…I really felt like I was in Austria when we were reading (or at least what I imagine Austria to be like!). And the amount of history presented in this book was incredible! Not just Viennese history, but the history of the Lipizzan bloodlines. It was obvious a massive amount of research went into this story.

I think we were all disappointed that we couldn’t actually see the Lipizzaners perform, but YouTube allowed for a passable second. (Note, these are the actual horses from the Spanish Riding School, not the American Lipizzan show, which is also beautiful, and uses some horses from the same bloodlines, but doesn’t have the balletic majesty of the original.)

Of course, we couldn’t learn about Austria without watching The Sound of Music. This is a family favorite, so they’re all familiar with the story, but it’s still fun to watch, and sing along. And even though the story’s location is Salzburg, not Vienna, I think knowing that Daddy was actually in that country made the story a little more real.

At some point, I would also like to show the movie Miracle of the White Stallions, the only Disney movie to deal directly with WWII. We ran out of time to watch it last week, but it looks like a really good movie, about the true story of how the Lipizzans were saved from thanks to the efforts of General Patton. I love introducing my children to history, and I’m not ashamed to use different methods to do so!

We also learned some interesting Austrian trivia. For example, Pez were invented there. Vienna is home to the world’s oldest zoo, and also one of the world’s few zoos to house giant pandas. The palace at Vienna (specifically the treasury), is home to one of the world’s largest collections of regalia, including many items from the Holy Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, those items are being kept “until there is again a Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation,” (talk about positive thinking!). Vienna was occupied in a similar fashion to Berlin following World War II (I had never heard that before!), and residents of Vienna still celebrate the day the occupation ended.

We finished our Viennese studies with a treat–apple strudel. Now, I’m sure my replica is nothing compared to the actual Austrian variety, but it was still fun to make, and good to eat. One of my favorite perks about homeschooling is being able to immerse ourselves in a culture a little bit, by trying out some native dishes–funny how so many of those dishes end up being desserts, isn’t it?

Speaking of desserts, our study of Austria completed once Ryan returned home, bringing with him a real Austrian Sachertorte. We all enjoyed trying this regional specialty, and I think I’m going to try to make the recipe for it I found–I’m sure it won’t be the same, but it’s better than never having it again!

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