20181108: Schaumbad | Künstlerhaus

Iris offered to lead a tour through the Districts of Puntigam, Graz-Neuhart and Gries. Schaumbad was located on Puchstraße, named after Johann Puch's manufacturing company, most well-known in the U.S. for the 49.cc Puch Maxi mopeds that were popular for existing in a legal gray zone between human-powered and motor-powered conveyances, which required different licenses and road usage. The southern neighborhood was the original industrial center, it should be noted that pollution generated from this area and disposed into the Mur was known to impact towns downstream in southern Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, etc., on the tribulation to the Drava and Danube.

The industrial past and present were evident. Near Schaumbad were distributors of industrial material, landscaping supplies, kitchen decoration, but also a few recycling companies, which could be thought of as the next industrial revolution: once it was less expensive to repurpose refuse than manufacture from raw material.

Walking up Puchstraße we saw the monuments to an industrial past: the towers of concrete about ten stories high, with windows broken and doors missing. The towers were covered in solar panels, which were hung so well that they appeared to be part of the original building design. On the ground floor a modest revival was underway in the form of a rock climbing gym, Crossfit studio and squash court. Around the back was a literary space and a new building to house artists. Graffiti and murals filled in where there weren't solar panels

We saw Caritas Ressidorf, a men's homeless shelter before turning down Auf der Tändelwiese to see Dr. Schlossar-Park where the Grazer artist Hartmut Skerbisch had built a garden labyrinth. The garden was not in the best shape; autumn had not treated it well and most of the phytowalls were in decay. But a gesture of the city's support for local artists, as well as a sign that it had changing its mind.

The buildings in this area, many of which were social housing projects from the beginning of the 20th Century, formed walls along the street and guarded the green space within the block. Other developments were rows of two and three story homes with spacious backyards.

We continued down Kapellenstraße and saw the Urnenfriedhof Graz, one of the older cemeteries in the city. Iris told us that it was very expensive to be buried there and that, unlike plots in the U.S., in Graz they were leased and not permanently owned. When one's descendants no longer paid the lease to the plot, the body was exhumed and the plot leased to a newly dead. Cemeteries were more for the living to remember the dead, than for the dead to have company.

Turning up Payer-Weyprecht-Straße we came to Kunstgarten, a familiar cultural institution in the backyard of Irmi and Reinfrid Horn. They programed film screenings, concerts, exhibitions and residencies, and maintain a botany library. Pure generosity and endurance. Reinfrid was in his overalls, toiling away at the computer, and Irmi welcomed us over tea and Früchtebrot. We chatted for a few hours but the highlight of the conversation was learning of the 23 years of tension that had existed between their institution and their missionary next-door neighbors. Reinfrid portrayed them as rural conservatives who moved to the city, treated their pets like farm animals and didn't appreciate culture nor community. The called the police in response to concerts, and their dogs barked at guests. The long game.

The next stop was the Graz-Karlau Prison, seated on archduke Karl II's summer hunting grounds. From the street we could see the silhouette of two people, whom I presumed were inmates watching the evening traffic. The complex had a central tower with four radial arms, and an adjacent structure running parallel to the street. The grounds are walled off and decorated by public art projects on the side bordering Triester Straße. As one of the larger prisons in Austria, it was the holding cell of the mass-murder Jack Unterweger, who became the icon of prison rehabilitation after he became a writer and journalist. Having used his imprisonment to craft short stories, poems, plays and an autobiography, he gained the respect and admiration of Viennese cafe intellectuals.[1] He recanted his psycho-sexual homicides; his signature works were strangulation of sex workers with their own bras. After serving his first sentence, he became a minor celebrity, international journalist, but soon resumed killing, was re-imprisoned and committed suicide. Terrorists and nationalist terrorist were also held, together, at Graz-Karlau.

The tour brought us past a slaughterhouse, just across the street from a Tierkorper Sammelstelle, or dead pet depository. It was not clear which site was the origin of the foul smell.

We continued across the river over Karlaugürtel, past Peepshow, a laufhaus, and up Neuholdaugasse, when I looked up Leitnergasse and saw a large tree in the sidewalk, seemingly oversized and out of place. I realized that, due to the narrow width of the sidewalks, there were not many sidewalk trees. Instead, the green areas were set behind buildings in the center of the block. Since many sidewalk trees have short, difficult lives due to soil compaction, pet excrement and urban activity, perhaps it was better that trees were centralized on blocks.

[1] "Killer Prose," Rick Atkinson, Washington Post, August 3, 1994.