Nick King's Blog

I've done some pretty cool things, but nothing's as cool as creating our family

The Austrian National Anthem - it's not what we thought it was

Anyone who knows me well will be aware of my devotion to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Most people, upon learning of this obsession, react to it with a mix of horror and morbid fascination.  "Why?" is the question asked most often. The music is awful, the voting political, the style, both musical and sartorial, many years out of date.

I love it for all of those reasons.  It's so awful, it's great.  Eurovision night is like a second Christmas in our house.

There's a commonality amongst Eurovision Fans too. A commonality of experience that I share. Watch the audience at a Eurovision Song Contest.  There aren't many girls.

 

I even joined the Eurovision Song Contest Fan Club and it was through this link I, and my then partner, found ourselves in a snowy, freezing Vienna in December 1998.

The link had been made some months before.  The UK had won the 1997 contest, meaning that the 1998 edition was held at the NEC in Birmingham.  We'd been lucky enough to get tickets. to the event.  As I spoke passable German I was asked whether I would help one of the guys attending from the Austrian Eurovision Song Contest Fan Club.  I was glad to and as a consequence we became firm friends.

The friendship produced an invitation to attend the Austrian Eurovision Fan Club's Christmas Party, held in a traditional Austrian restaurant in central Vienna.

 

Arriving off our flight from a grey, overcast but mild London we walked out of the temperate environment of the airport terminal into biting Central European cold.  It was so cold we both stopped in our tracks, causing the bustling Austrians behind to pummel into us.

Time was short, after a brief rest and change at my friend's flat we went straight out to the dinner.

The restaurant was traditional.  In common with most things in Austria.  It's a very traditional place, with very traditional people.  The decor was traditional.  The clientele was traditional and, at the back, was a roped off area where the 30 or so members of the Austrian Eurovision fan club were to congregate and enjoy their meal.

In common with Eurovision Song Contest audiences there were very few girls present.  In fact, just one girl out of a membership of over 30.

 

The evening continued apace.  Traditional food followed.  Wiener Schnitzel, Sauerkraut.  And traditional beer.  Lots of it.

Less traditional games were played.  There was a Eurovision quiz.  Eurovision bingo.  Even some discreet, toned down, Eurovision karaoke, so as not to disturb the remaining two thirds of the restaurant.  

The crowd were dressed in traditional Austrian clothing, thick woollen jackets and formal trousers.  And that was just the Eurovision guys, the remainder of the restaurant were dressed as if in their Sunday best, headed up the mountain to attend one of the ubiquitous onion domed churches.

 

My partner at the time was not particularly into Eurovision.  He also spoke little German.  The Eurovision crowd didn't speak brilliant English.  He certainly wasn't into the Eurovision quiz.  Or the Eurovision Bingo.  Or indeed the discreet Eurovision karaoke. He decided, instead, to be into the beer and, at the end of the meal, the schnapps.

Our lovely, welcoming Austrian hosts asked if we would like to join in the karaoke.  I'm tone deaf. I was also much less extrovert back then.  I was also less drunk than my partner.  

He was more outgoing and didn't have a bad voice.  "I'll sing something," he said in response to the Austrians requests.

Looking through the catalogue of backing tracks he chose 'Congratulations,' Cliff Richard's 1968 UK entry to the contest which came 2nd. (By one point to Spain, we woz robbed by the way).

He gave a pretty good performance, even receiving some applause from the diners in the non Eurovisoni portion of the restaurant.  "I love you all so much," my partner said, slurring slightly into the microphone.  "I'd like to say thank you for your welcome.  Please be upstanding for the Austrian National Anthem!"

One of the Austrian Eurovision members translated this for the restaurant audience.

Now I knew there was no way in the world my partner knew the Austrian National Anthem.  I couldn't reach him to stop this.  I had no idea what he was going to sing.  I just knew it wouldn't be the song the rest of the audience were expecting.  I sat back to watch the car crash happen with a sinking heart.

The audience in the restaurant stood.  My partner stood upright.  A sharp intake of breath ran through the assembled Austrians as they prepared to join in with their Nationalhymne.

He started.

"Edelweiß, Edelweiß, every morning you greet me

Strong and white, clean and bright, 

You look happy to meet me"

The performance was met with stunned silence.  Stunned, shocked, pin dropping silence.  Traditionally dressed.  Traditionally fed.  Traditional Austrians in their traditional surroundings stared in jaw dropping shock.

 

As we walked home with my friend he explained, as kindly as possible to my crest-fallen boyfriend that no-one had ever heard that song before.  He, in common with the vast majority of Austria, had never heard of the Von Trapps, never seen the Sound of Music, never heard that song before.

My friend went on to sing the actual Austrian National Anthem.

It was something of a dirge.  Not dissimilar to many of their past Eurovision entries.