Hannes Richter

The Southern Connection: Austria and New Orleans One Year After Katrina

Hannes Richter

For over thirty years New Orleans has been the center of a model Austrian-American partnership. This relationship has fostered student and faculty exchanges between the University of New Orleans (UNO) and the Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck. Eventually it led to the establishment of the Center for Austrian Culture and Commerce (Center Austria) at the University of New Orleans and a formal sister city agreement with Innsbruck. The University of New Orleans-Innsbruck International Summer School is one of the largest university-level summer programs for study abroad and has brought over 7,000 students from all over the United States to the heart of the Austrian Alps.  Austrian Information looks south to see if the fruitful relationship between Austria and New Orleans remains as the city tries to recover from the devestating effects of Hurricane Katrina.

 Inquiring about the status of things, AI learned that programs and people are bouncing back: Ellen Palli, coordinator of the Austrian Student Program reports that a group of Austrian students is planning  to return to New Orleans in February 2007 to study there for a month. Since the university’s reopening the number of Austrian degree-seeking students at the University of New Orleans has been increasing from a peak of 40 before Katrina to around 20 today, explains Gertraud Griessner, the Center’s project manager. In addition, the Austrian Art Exchange has brought artists from New Orleans to Innsbruck to display their work, while two Austrian artists have been showing their paintings at the UNO Fine Arts Gallery this fall.

Center Austria Group Photo
Austrian students and Center Austria staff at the University of New Orleans, November 2006.
Romana Redlinger

 Austrian ties also proved helpful for a number of American students from UNO, who were admitted to study at Austrian universities after the storm. The Leopold Franzens University of Innsbruck and the Karl-Franzens University of Graz have opened their doors and invited students from New Orleans to study in Austria – all of whom receive tuition, housing, and a stipend. At the same time, displaced Austrian students, who could not return to New Orleans were admitted to different U.S. Universities across the country, ranging from The University of Mississippi to Cornell. Others have returned to Austria to continue their studies.

There are more signs of life: The National World War II Museum, located in New Orleans, hosted an International Conference on World War II this November, bringing together war veterans from the U.S., Germany, and Japan, some of the foremost scholars, film makers and other luminaries, including former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. The Museum’s President and CEO, Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller,  founded the University of New Orleans’ International Summer School in Innsbruck in 1976, as well as Center Austria in 1997, thus laying the foundation for today’s partnership. In addition, Center Austria’s Director, Dr. Guenter Bischof, served as co-chair of the conference, in which Austrian historians Rolf Steininger and Barbara Stelzl-Marx also participated.

We were glad to learn that people on both sides of the Atlantic have made this relationship vibrant, and have made this Austrian-American exchange a success. Just a year after the catastrophe, we were glad to see that a full recovery is well under way. HR