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CULTURE

Aberglaube: Eight strange Austrian superstitions foreigners should know about

Practical, punctual and fond of preparation, Austrians are also surprisingly superstitious. Here are eight strange superstitions foreigners should know about.

Aberglaube: Eight strange Austrian superstitions foreigners should know about
A cat in a box. Bad luck in Austria. Bad kitty parenting everywhere. Photo by iam_os on Unsplash

Few new arrivals would connect Austrians with superstition, with practical, punctual and well-prepared perhaps the adjectives that come to mind. 

However the longer you live here – and the more of the language you learn – the greater the connections with superstition (Aberglaube) you’re likely to find. 

As a traditional culture, many superstitions in Austria have a long history. 

And even the most modern Austrians you meet are likely to follow one or more of these superstitions – even if they don’t care to admit it. 

Here are eight common Austrian superstitions. 

Garlic luck

Eating raw sliced garlic mixed with yoghurt is believed to bring you good luck. 

We’re not sure this would have the desired effect if taken before a first date though. 

It’s also thought to be a powerful cold remedy – which makes more sense, as garlic is believed to stimulate the immune system.

Garlic. Good luck in Austria. Photo by Michele Blackwell on Unsplash

Dreams can wait

People learning German and German speakers occasionally think the word for nightmare – Alptraum – is a combination of ‘Alp/alps’ and ‘Traum/dream’, but they’d unfortunately be mistaken. 

Alp – otherwise known as Alb – means ‘elf’, which refers to a mythical creature from Germanic folklore that comes in and sits on people’s chests as they sleep. 

READ MORE: Six ways you might be annoying your neighbours (and not realising it) in Austria

Anyway, the superstition here relates to the morning after a nightmare – and specifically when you decide to tell someone about it. 

If you tell someone about your nightmares in Austria, make sure to let them have a glass of water first, otherwise it is believed to bring bad luck. 

Sit down, be humble

When arriving in Austria, it’s often surprising how hard people try to be modest – particularly for anyone arriving from the USA, where modesty was removed from the dictionary a long time ago. 

But not only do Austrians try to be modest and avoid bragging about their wealth, good fortune or anything else positive that may have befallen them, but they believe to do so is bad luck. 

Why did no-one come to my party? Didn’t I tell them how rich I was? Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

Sneeze-perstiton 

For a country that loves putting pepper on things, it’s perhaps surprising the amount of sneeze-related superstition that exists in Austria. 

Austrians believe that bad things will happen to you if you sneeze when looking at the new moon. It’s also considered bad luck to sneeze before breakfast – so remember that when peppering your eggs. 

Head-to-tree recuperation

Forests occupy an important position in the Austrian psyche, with few worries or concerns unsolvable by a quick walk in the woods. 

READ MORE: Waldeinsamkeit and five short walks near Vienna 

According to superstition, resting your head against a tree when you have a headache will make the headache go away. 

Be aware of the white cat/dog/cow/horse/umbrella

For most of us, black cats are considered to be bad luck – but in Austria, white is the unlucky colour. 

According to Vienna.net, nobody goes near white animals out of fear they are bad luck – and if you’re carrying a white umbrella, they’ll give you the same treatment. 

I was right all along

When entering a house or any other form of building, its believed to be bad luck to put your left foot first – no matter whether you’re right or left handed. 

Weddings

There are a number of strong superstitions surrounding weddings in Austria, many of which are weird and most of which will spoil the process of proposing. 

According to tradition, when a man wanted to marry a woman, he would send his friends and family to represent himself to the bride. 

On the way, they were told to keep their eyes peeled. If they saw a blind man, a pregnant woman or a monk, the wedding was considered doomed and it should be called off. 

If they saw a pigeon, a goat or a wolf, then these were considered good omens and everything could go ahead as planned. 

Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash
Austria might be the only country where being chased by a wolf on the way to propose to your girlfriend is good luck. Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

Fortunately, that kind of stuff is rare these days – or at least rarer than it was. 

In the old days it was considered unlucky for a woman to marry a man with a surname that started with the same letter as hers. 

A rhyme mothers would tell their daughters went: “To change the name and not the letter, is to change the worst and not the better.” An Austrian bride was not even supposed to practice writing her new name before the wedding

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CULTURE

‘Love in midst of horror’: Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

The two newlyweds have dressed up for the picture, but they are not smiling. And for good reason: their union was sealed at Auschwitz -- the only wedding known to have taken place in the death camp.

'Love in midst of horror': Austria hosts The Wedding of Auschwitz exhibition

The yellowed photo of Rudolf Friemel, an Austrian communist who resisted the Nazis, and his Spanish wife Margarita Ferrer Rey, is now on show in his home town Vienna.

It is the centrepiece of an exhibition, “The Wedding of Auschwitz”, which uses papers donated by their family to tell the couple’s heart-breaking story.

Friemel met Ferrer Rey in Spain after going there to fight with the International Brigades in 1936 against General Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War.

He was sent to Auschwitz in 1942 after returning home.

In the camp he was set to work repairing SS vehicles, and was held in “better conditions than other prisoners”, according to Vienna’s Social Democratic mayor, Michael Ludwig, who wrote the introduction to the catalogue.

But why the Nazis granted the Friemels — their bitter enemies — “such an unique privilege to be able to marry remains a mystery to this day,” Ludwig added.

Escape attempt

“What I find most interesting is that we see that there was love in the midst of horror,” the couple’s grandson, Rodolphe Friemel, told AFP from his home in southern France.

He wondered if “maybe my grandparents did all this just to see each other again,” with Margarita allowed to travel to Auschwitz from Vienna for the wedding with their son — who was born in 1941 — and Friemel’s father.

The marriage was registered at 11 a.m. on March 18th, 1944, as the slaughter at the camp reached its peak.

Some one million Jews were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as homosexuals, prisoners of war and others persecuted by Germany’s Nazi regime.

Photos of the Gestapo Vienna detection service, September 1941. (Rudolf Friemel Estate, Vienna Library in the City Hall)

Friemel, 48, gave the wedding documents, including congratulations messages from other prisoners, to the Vienna City Library early this year to ensure their preservation.

His grandfather was allowed to wear civilian clothes and let his hair grow for the occasion, and a cell was made available to the couple for their wedding night in the camp brothel.

But the respite was shortlived. Rudolf Friemel was hanged in December 1944 for helping to organise an escape attempt. The camp was liberated a month later.

All his wife and child — who moved to France after the war — were left with were his heartbreaking letters and poems.

Margarita died in 1987.

The show runs at Vienna City Library until the end of the month.

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