Jun 022013
At Bleiburg

In the last post, I wrote about Carinthia, where my grandfather spent most of the Second World War as a prisoner of war. I’ve often wondered what impression this left on him; his parents came from Devon and he was born on the New Kent Road and grew up there and in Tooting. So far as I know, he did not leave Britain before the war; to have travelled around the world and ended up in this sleepy, mountainous corner of Austria must have seemed very strange. He visited Klagenfurt again, in the 1960s, but as far as I know, this was his only return visit. He felt a much closer connection, largely because of his friend Ida and her family, with the country which, when I was small, was called Yugoslavia, and which now is called Slovenia. Read full post>>

May 152013
In Carinthia

History and the past are not the same thing. Doing history is not about creating some facsimile, making a perfect replica, finding the ‘correct’ facts as if just writing them all down would mean that history was now ‘right’. What we are doing when we think about, write about and remember the past is really to try and say something about how we see ourselves in the present and the future. I’ve come to Slovenia and Austria in search of my grandfather’s wartime experience, but have also learned a lot more about the history of this area, and about how the events of the past still have relevance today. Read full post >>

May 052013
Walking through history

I’ve had a couple of excellent days in Austria, where I met up with a local historian called Paul Angerer, who showed incredible kindness in giving up his weekend to drive me around the region and show me the various sites associated with my grandpa. Paul’s own history is around here; he has lived in and around Klagenfurt for most of his life, and runs an advertising agency for his main job – but in his spare time, for most of the last three or four years, he has been engaged in some heavy-duty research to write the history of Carinthia (this region of Austria) from all perspectives. Paul’s drive Read full post >>

May 042013
In Domžale

It’s been a warm day in Domžale, and humid too. I arrived yesterday evening after what felt like endless miles crawling up and then coasting down Austrian mountain passes, above dandelion-flecked meadows, with road and railway ribbling along past towns with names like Spittal an der Drau. I’m not so fond of manicured Alpine landscapes, at least not the inhabited ones; the predictability and tidiness of it all makes me think of the wild jaggedness that they have lost. The rain didn’t help, either, decapitating the mountains’ majesty with fog, and leaving only the staid, mannered human landscape below. Eventually the change of train conductor to one in a blue-green Read full post >>

May 022013
In Munich

I’m finally on my way to Slovenia! This is being written in a cafe near the main station in Munich, with me feeling a bit bleary and cradling a double espresso, my bags safely stashed in a locker at the station. I arrived on the night train from Paris, which was a fun experience. I was surprised how full it was, but then when there is a service that good that enables one to escape the hell of flying, why wouldn’t it be well used? It was a pretty decent night’s sleep on the top ‘couchette’ – a kind of miniature bunk bed about eighteen inches under the ceiling, though Read full post >>