Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Memory of Mankind: Hallstatt, Austria; Did Brian Fall Over the Waterfall?

    Tuesday, we took another day trip, this time an hour drive to Hallstatt, a town I found on social media. I found it by searching the hashtag #Beautifuldestinations on Instagram and immediately added it to the itinerary. Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage town constructed on an itty bitty piece of land/shoreline at the bottom of a mountain. Not just a mountain, but the oldest salt mine in the world. They can prove that salt has been mined here since, get this, 5000-450 BC. My mind can't even comprehend that there has been a settlement of humans here that long AND that there are artifacts to prove it still around! Apparently, the salt in the mines preserves things well. 7,000 years of salt mining and being habitable to humans! Until the 19th century, you could only get to Hallstatt by boat. Now tourists are bussed in by the 100s. Hallstatt is really popular with Asian tourists because China has created a fake Hallstatt village that is a pretty accurate replica. Even though it is only a (really) small village of 750 residents, over a million visitors came in 2018. So if you do go to Hallstatt, consider extending your trip there and staying overnight or several nights. Visit their restaurants and shops. Their economy has taken a hit because it is so hard for locals to do their daily activities in town now since it's so crowded, they have to go to nearby towns to do so. And a large majority of the tourists stop in to take a billion selfies and then leave, adding no value to the economy.

     Today we would be meeting Martin to add our story to the Memory of Mankind archives deep inside the salt mine mountain! Exciting! If you missed our story on the historic MOM project we get to be a part of, read it here. We arrived early so we could explore the town first. I chose to try out a location I had read about that is a little further than the "downtown" but has a great view of the complete town. I'm going to call it the island because you have to walk over a bridge to get to the main area, an open green park, perfect for picnics. There was a playground for the girls to play on while Brian and I took millions of photos. We sat in ultimate peace in the brisk air and sunshine, watching the long wooden ancient boats called Fuhrs, move across the lake, with this beautiful prehistoric town in the background. Our children played and we were living our best life.
The island was known for swimming and there were stairs leading you to the lake. The water that was gathering around the shoreline of the island looked...different than the rest of the lake. I was told it was due to rain. We were hoping to get in the lake and swim as it was Memorial Day and back home we always play at the lake that weekend, but we had to finish filming our Memory of Mankind piece first. Maybe afterward.

     We met Martin at the ticket counter and together we took the cable car up the mountain. At the top of the mountain, there was a historic cafe with outdoor seating, Rudolf's Tower. We ordered coffee and croissants and sat down to talk for a while before our tour time. The view was insane.  I completely understand why this is a UNESCO Heritage view. When it was time for the tour, we were given a special mining outfit to put on, everyone who enters needs to wear it. It wasn't the most flattering or fashionable thing to film an exciting project in, but I made the best of it and covered up my outfit. Plus the kids look so cute in theirs. The tour was a must. The history learned is priceless. I won't go over the actual tour because we filmed the whole thing and will share that later, but the slide down the inside of the mountain back to the middle entrance was AWESOME. Ok, I was afraid. But there was no other way out. none. you either go down the slide or stay in the cave. The slide was a single wooden beam that you sat on and kept your feet to the side of the beam, and you flew down faster than you had time to regret it. I am so overprotective of Briella and scared she would hit her head, even though she was going to sit on my lap.  Luckily everyone was safe and enjoyed the ride. *Edited to add, apparently there was another way out, actually stairs down right next to the slide, who knew?!

     We met up with Martin once again at the end of the tour and he took us to the Memory of Mankind archives. Briella had the honor of adding our ceramic tablets to the archives. I can't wait to show you the video! We included pictures on our tablets that I thought would represent our specific life, to show future generations what family life was like in the middle of the states during our time. Briella liked playing in the dirt and found a large rock of salt. We all licked it to be sure haha. I just wanted to see if it had a different taste-it did not. Martin presented us with our own copies of the tablets and gave us very special instructions.
A quick recap of what Memory of Mankind is:

The Memory of Mankind Foundation (MOM) was founded with the goal of preserving an image of our presence beyond the digital age. For this purpose, ceramic-based data tablets are stored deep in the salt mine of Hallstatt (Austria) in the Memory of Mankind Archive. Will we be able to access the huge data volumes of our digital age in 100, 1,000, or 10,000 years, if highly sensitive hard drives last only about 10 years and we already have problems today reading floppy disks or CD-ROMs? – Does our digital society not threaten “Digital Alzheimer” or a “Digital Dark Age”? – Which storage medium is resilient enough to last for 1,000,000 years or more?

Martin Kunze developed a ceramic color printing process and a ceramic microfilm tablet that can store up to 1000 book pages on a single ceramic tablet sized 8×8 inch. These modern day “clay tablets” made of high-performance ceramics are hard as sapphire, water or temperatures up to 1,500 C° and even acid cannot harm these data carriers. The optimal storage place for MOM, the largest time capsule of humanity, was found in the oldest salt mine in the world, in Hallstatt-Austria, where salt has been mined for more than 7,000 years. The salt mine itself is protected by international agreements as part of the UNESCO World Heritage region Hallstatt-Dachstein / Salzkammergut.

How can the MOM archive ever be rediscovered in some far distant future? – A treasure map in the form of a round ceramic token (diameter approx. 2.4 in) shows the exact position of the MOM archive by means of landmarks. The MOM tokens are given to every participant. In the distant future, the scattered tokens around the world will show a future Indiana Jones the path to the MOM archive knowledge treasure.

     We were given a coin detailed with the map to the archives. It is how the future will find all of this information we leave behind. We and our children are now a part of keeping this history alive. Every 50 years, those who hold the coin will come together to make decisions in the best interest of the MOM project. How exciting to think of the possibilities of who will find the treasure trove of information and what they will do with it.
Rudolf's Tower

Sky Walk
      At the end of finishing our MOM project, we took a wooden seat "train" type ride out of the cave. We were back at where the cafe was, still atop the mountain. We thanked Martin and made plans to have drinks with him on his patio later that night. I still had to go see and photograph Rudolf's Tower. It now just looks like a mansion high in the valley, but it was first a medieval defense tower in 1284. There was a skywalk built off the mountain, that extends outright over the village of Hallstatt. 350 meters over the alpine rooftops with nothing below, it was a freestanding walkway. You can perfectly see the tall bell tower of the Lutheran Church and all the buildings. I am glad the floor isn't made of see-through material like the one in the Grand Canyon but I still had shaky legs. I walked very slow and it took me a while to warm up to looking over the edge at the natural beauty of Austria. Once I took in the beauty, I couldn't help looking and didn't want to leave. I took unreal pictures with felt like the whole world in the background. We wandered around looking at the natural spring that flowed down the mountain, just enjoying the peaceful sounds.

At some point, we realized that there were no other noises but nature and us. We looked around and quickly figured out that everyone had left. Apparently the last cable car down the mountain leaves at 6pm. We were completely alone, not even a single employee. There was a ton of panic between Aubrey and I. Dude, were we going to be spending the night on top of a freaking mountain?! It looked like it was going to rain soon, where would we take shelter? My phone had low battery, I only had 1 bottle of water left and it wasn't even full. We had a couple granola bars and that was it.  I have to pee. So many things are going through my mind. What kind of wildlife is up here? Then the voice of reason sang out that this was a popular mountain, which means there are probably paths down the mountain. That was Brian. Brian is the voice of reason. We take off walking/jogging down the mountain on a narrow path that winds back and forth all the way down the front of the mountain. I was sure there was no way to get down to the town before dark and before it rained, or before we were eaten by a bear...at one point I felt relieved because there was what seemed to be a small prayer area and it had a small roof overhang. We found shelter! So if all else failed, we could come back here if it rains. After a nature potty break, we continued skipping down the mountain with my anxiety in full gear.

 We start to hear running water and as we get closer, Brian is sure it is a waterfall. He says we should go see it, there seems to be a path over towards it. Here is where Brian and I differ on the story. (There is video evidence but we both refuse to look at it because neither wants to be wrong.) I think there was a crappy old broke down fence with a warning sign that said DIE. (Okay, so in German the word DIE means THE hahahahaha.) Brian remembers it as a well paved path that goes to a well visited waterfall. Either way, I am like, nope, not going, that shit looks scary. I am not taking my kids over there. All I can think about anyways is what is my Dad going to say when he finds out we were this irresponsible to be left on a mountain with our daughters, one who has cerebral palsy! I had to get down! No sightseeing.
So the girls and I continued down while Brian, who had the video camera and was filming the entire disaster, went to discover a waterfall. We were a couple zig zags down when we heard the most horrible noise, it shook through my body. We heard something large fall down the waterfall hitting other things on the way down, followed by smaller falling objects. Aubrey starts yelling for her Dad, I try to be calm knowing my anxiety is at 100 right now and that it couldn't be what my brain thought it was. Brian did not fall down the waterfall. Aubrey repeatedly screams for Brian and was left unanswered, so I start yelling. I yelled louder and louder until I was screaming at the top of my lungs. At some point, it hit me, physically, that it was him that fell and then the camera equipment after him. Aubrey thought the same thing. I collapsed to the ground holding on to Briella sobbing while wondering how I am going to go home without my husband. Aubrey is hysterically running towards the waterfall screaming Daddy in such a horrific scream, I will never be able to forget. We were sure he was gone. Aubrey has now said she was running to see if he was still holding on and try to save him, where I didn't want to see it because I heard it fall all the way down. Lackadaisically, Brian comes strolling up the path from the waterfall to the path we are on and we are just crying uncontrollably. He has no idea what is wrong and never heard us yelling.  I yelled at him to never do such a stupid thing again and telling him not to ever die again. He didn't understand why if we were so thankful he was alive, why I was mad at him. At this point, I was beyond done. Done with this mountain, done with this city, done with anxiety and my emotions were numb.  Brian tells us that the noises we heard were boulders falling from above that fell where he was standing and on down the waterfall. What in the hell. Now I am mad again. We start to get low enough that there are houses and I start to calm a bit. Where are these people and why isn't anyone coming to save us? By the time we get completely down the mountain and walk to our car, I am literally numb. Screw eating in this town, I just need to get out of here.
On the drive back to Gmunden, we found a roadside alpine restaurant and pulled over to splurge on dinner. Brian died and came back tonight, we are going to eat like Kings. Brian had a local beer, Zipfer. After dinner, we all decided on dessert. YOLO (You only live once.) I had peach crepes, Aubrey had the kids clown ice cream dessert and Briella had a bee ice cream.

     That night, after we got the kids to bed, we went to the deck to have a drink and talk with Martin. How in the world were we going to explain what we had gone through just since we left him earlier this evening!?! One of the memorable highlights of the trip Brian and I agree on was simply conversing with Martin. If you haven't gathered, he is a pretty interesting guy, intelligent, wants to learn everything he can about different cultures, places. We found out during tonight's talk that Martin did a TED Talk! Well, that makes sense! He is perfect for a Ted Talk! We learned so much from his point of view, from his questions. How lucky we are to be in this moment enjoying his company, in the mountains of Austria. If you are coming to Austria in the Hallstatt region, you would be doing yourself displeasure if you do not have a stay at Martin's home, just for the company alone! The friendships you develop with people from across the world while traveling are profound.. Because intriguing midnight conversations have a way of forging bonds that withstand geographies and calendars.


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