Hannes Richter

Returning to New Orleans

Hannes Richter
by Günter Bischof

I visited New Orleans today. Like Northern France after World War I, Hurricane   Katrina left a virtual waste land (T.S. Elliot) in many parts of town. I dreaded the trip but finally went to the Lakefront campus at the University of New Orleans (UNO) and drove around town, not exactly knowing what to expect. I knew it would be emotional, like New Orleans always is with its strangely attractive traits.

Destruction at Lake Terrace Gardens Apartments, where many Austrian students used to live. Photo: Bischof

I walk up to Center Austria. The flyer is still on the door announcing that Lorenz Mikoletzky, director of the Austrian State Archives in Vienna, will give a talk three days after  Katrina. Herr Hofrat obviously never made it to town. The Welcome Visitors board is untouched. It’s dark in the building since the UNO campus still has no electricity. I fumble around with my key. The lock does not work. I get nervous. Somebody helps me into Center Austria. And then the shock of disbelief. The Center Austria offices are in the exact pre-Katrina state!

No damage, no mold, no visible signs of moisture, other than with the open boxes of no longer crisp Soletti and Manner Schnitten on the table. My Center Austria office is fine - the books rest peacefully in their cases and so do all my teaching materials. Next to family and kin and neighbors, those are the precious things a scholar most dreads to lose. After the first dire reports from the city and UNO, I was sure that I lost it all. And now, unbelievably, everything is still there. Our seminar room is in its relative state of disorder. But all the pictures and art works from our visiting Innsbruck artists are still hanging on the wall - undamaged and undisturbed. There are so many people at work on the UNO campus that the projection of opening up in January 2006 for the spring term seems a realistic one.

This is an excerpt from a letter written by Günter Bischof, after his return to the devastated city of New Orleans on October 5. Mr. Bischof is Professor of History and Director of Center Austria at the University of New Orleans.