The little city of Krems
This will be the first of our travel blogs that we’ll upload as we travel around the world, with our impressions of the places we visit. The first stop on our journey was the city of Krems in Austria, to start the Masters in Social Innovation.
It’s called a city, but we’re not convinced (maybe it was by medieval standards). It’s more like a little town or village. We allocated a day to explore it, and by lunchtime we had seen pretty much everything (that’s including a break for coffee and strudel along the way).
It’s quiet and perfectly ordered in the typical Austrian way (not a piece of rubbish or graffiti in sight), with a unique and stark combination of the old and the new.
The city has been in existence for thousands of years – a grave of a child was found that’s 27,000 years old! The old city ‘gates’ that mark the entrance into the main shopping street and the ‘old town’ are still standing, and most of the houses are typically Austrian with steeply slopping brown roofs, rendered walls in green, white and yellow, and little shuttered windows.
And then there are the new areas of the town, where it’s clear there has been no attempt to retain the traditional style. These buildings are characterised by futuristic design, in grey metal and glass.
The town is mainly residential, with a few different schools and campuses, and of all things, a maximum security prison! And beyond the town borders are rolling hills covered in vineyards and little villages with ‘heurigen’ wine bars – wine bars that only sell their own wine (a small scale example of an Austrian social innovation that revolutionised the Austrian wine industry to support local wine growers). After the first day of the course, the Course Coordinators took all the students out to one of the wine bars just down the river – a little outdoor courtyard surrounded by cherry blossom trees where the waitresses wear traditional Austrian dress. The wine was excellent – the Riesling especially – and the huge platters of local meats and cheeses were delicious (other than the strange grey pickled meat and the blood sausage – we tried them, but one bite was enough).
It was hard to believe that three weeks ago the village (and most of Austria) was covered in snow. When we arrived the city was in full bloom. Everywhere you looked were trees covered in blossoms in purple, pink and yellow, accompanied by little flower pots on window sills and along footpaths full of pansies, daffodils and tulips – a colourful display in defiance of the winter that lasted so long this year.
The people are very friendly and of course very polite (what else would you expect from Austrians?), and almost everyone speaks English (very helpful for us!). The interesting thing was, there just weren’t many people around. On the first morning we arrived we went for a morning walk around some of the town, and all the streets were so quiet! It’s the same after about 6pm at night. The main street empties completely, to the point where you can hear the echo of your shoes clicking on the cobblestones.
Krems is really a university town, like Oxford in the UK but smaller. The Danube University where we’re studying was one of the first in Europe established only for post graduate study, and is now the first in the world to offer a Masters in Social Innovation. Not what you’d expect from a little town in the Austrian countryside, but that’s part of what attracted us to it – the university and course founders are stepping outside expectation and doing things a little bit differently. Pioneers you could say – jus the type of people we’d like to work with.
The university itself is a perfect example of the juxtaposition of the old and the new. One half of the campus used to be a cigar factory – a grand old white building with high ceilings, and large windows. The other half is constructed with floor to ceiling glass revealing the grey metal skeleton of the internal structure. And across the campus are examples of the Austrian ‘art in pubic space’ project, including a water feature that bubbles when you walk past it, a series of walls covered in rainbow bubbles and mosaic carpets spread out randomly on the concrete and grass between the old and new buildings.
Seems like a perfect place to learn some more about social innovation! We’re looking forward to seeing it covered in snow later in the year.