Hannes Richter

European Faits divers

Hannes Richter

Babelization: The nature and purpose of coffeehouses is forever evolving. Once a place where a man was safe from his womenfolk, former hotbed of revolutionaries, home to penniless artists, backdrop to beatnik poetry readings, providers of hi-tech equipment to internet users, Austria has now taken it to its next level. It not only provides a place for like-minded people but speakers of like-languages to communicate.

For those interested in renewing their language ties with home or polishing their foreign language skills, one can chat in ten languages with native speakers in ten various cafés located in Salzburg’s shopping center, “Europapark.” In each one of these cafés a native speaker offers conversation in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Greek, Swedish, Hungarian, Russian, Japanese and, of course, German. The ‘Stay in Touch’ project, created by Salzburg’s School for Continuing Education, hopes to encourage more understanding for other countries and cultures through practice of languages, avoiding ‘Babylon’s confusion.’

"Mapping the Past," fragment of the Tabula Peutingeriana, the only surviving map of the Roman Empire

Mapping the Past: During its six-month presidency Austria presented the European Union with a road map. The map, part of a larger exhibition entitled “Austria in Europe,” is the only surviving map of the Roman Empire. It shows the known world from about 300-600 AD and is a copy of the Tabula Peutingeriana. It was placed on the floor for viewing outside the chamber where EU leaders regularly meet in Brussels. “Some of our visitors will be walking over Europe,” noted a man with a compass, who was present at the opening of the exhibit. “For some viewers, such as the Turkish delegation, this is not a novel experience.”  The map depicts greater Europe, India, Afghanistan and China, but not America.

Plastic Left Holding the Bag: Facing fierce competition, supermarkets in Europe started many years ago providing shoppers with free plastic shopping bags. It’s modern, convenient and has proven to attract customers. What is still today a clever business strategy, however, is raising public concern with people worried about pollution because it is reported that plastic needs 400 years to disintegrate. Countries that have given into environmental groups pressuring their governments for reform charge money for plastic bags at the checkout. Other alternatives? Biodegradable bags or…what about creating “plastic bag-free fast lanes?”
    Countries where supermarkets provide free plastic bags: Belgium, Britain, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain,         Luxembourg.
    Those that charge for bags: Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and the Netherlands.


The Answers Lie in Coffee Grounds: Another similar setting. Again...in a coffee house, but with a different project. In celebration of Europe Day on May 9, the Austrian EU Presidency, together with the Institute of the Regions of Europe (Salzburg),  floated the idea of inviting its citizens to take part in a day-long forum in twenty-seven designated Cafés d’Europe throughout Europe’s capitals to discuss Europe’s future. With coffeehouses having a longstanding European tradition, it seemed only appropriate to test it as a venue for expressing one’s affection or disaffection for the new Europe – this time, over coffee and cake. Posters depicting traditional cakes and pastries from every country got out word about the cafés with the slogan, “Europe. Be Seduced.” Sachertorte from Austria, Madeleines from France or Tiramisu from Italy, to name a few, made the event more palatable while stressing Europe’s cultural diversity.

To stimulate public debate, PEN International selected prominent writers from each of the EU capitals (i.e. Vaclav Havel in Prague, Eva Demski in Berlin, Timothy Garton Ash in London, among others) to write and present their own stories and prompt citizens to write theirs. Students, intellectuals, politicians, ambassadors as well as the man on the street took part by listening, discussing and submitting their contributions which were then compiled and translated into English. Visit: www.cafeeurope.at

Photo: Cafe d'Europe
The celebration of Europe Day also saw the launching of the first European newspaper, The Europe Journal, on display in the twenty-seven Cafés d’Europe in separate German and English editions. The stories covering the fears, concerns and visions of the new Europe gathered by correspondents of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung from the different member states are unique. For more information, visit: www.cafeeurope.at/journal.htm