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Austria on the banks of Neva

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The entire population of Austria amounts to 8.5 million people. A little more than one and a half St. Petersburgs. Despite its modest size, it borders eight countries. That’s why it’s often called “Europe’s most European country”. Just like St. Petersburg – Russia’s most European city.

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Austrian square. This landmark is a direct result of Austria’s Chancellor to St. Petersburg following the break-up of the USSR. A year later, an Austrian library was opened at the philology faculty of St. Petersburg’s University. Yes, it is Austrian – despite that all books there are in German, native language for Austria.

Professor of the St. Petersburg University and head of the library Alexander Belobratov assures us – major libraries don’t have even a quarter of what this 9-thousand-strong collection holds. And its more than just a library – it’s a literature window to Austria.

The history of political relations between Russia and Austria can hardly be described as successful. Attempts to build a strong partnership failed in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century, the Austro-Hungarian Empire fought against the Russian Empire in World War I. In World War II it fought against the USSR – as part of Nazi Germany. But the ties between our countries have been maintained outside of politics for a very long time.

The first train took 35 minutes to reach the destination – just a little slower than modern-day electric trains. Today, a ride on an electric train to Pushkino is a regular occurrence. But back then those had to be promoted to gain passengers’ interest. In order to do that, Gerstner extended the line to Pavlovsk and even implemented a novelty, which greatly influenced St. Petersburg’s cultural life.

Johan Strauss, or – as local Russians called him – Ivan Ivanovich Straus – had performed at Pavlovsk train station for 10 summers. Speaking in modern terms, this was a PR move by the railroad’s management. Which fully paid off.

His love towards Russian aristocrat Olga Smirnitskaya became the base for a movie in the 1970s – “Farewell to St. Petersburg”. And his waltz with the same name is considered by many as one of his best works. But the main thing is that Pavlovsk essentially opened the “King of Waltz” to the world. And he did a lot for Russian music too. Cultural and “people” diplomacy worked much better than politics back then. And it is still relevant today.

Peter Prezinger from the Austrian city of Gratz often comes to St. Petersburg. And prefers a room at his friends’ communal flat to any hotel.

His distant ancestor headed the construction of “Fort Alexander” in Kronschtadt, his grandmother was from Russia. He first came here at the age of 48 – back then it was still USSR – as a tourist. But now he has been the head of Austrian-Russian friendship society - for many years. Its main purpose is to show Russia to Austrians and vice versa. So people could see both with their own eyes. And every time he brings his compatriots here, he takes them to Piskarevskoe Cemetery.

And it causes the strongest reaction among youths. We met some of those. Anita is a future tourism manager; Tanya is a future market expert. They are both interns at the “Russian-German meeting center” at Peterkirch on Nevskiy. Today they are getting us acquainted with the peculiarities of the Austrian cuisine.

Translated from German, this is “King’s omelet”. A typical dish for Austria, yet an exotic one for St. Petersburg. The city which these Austrian students have visited for the first time – but are already considering taking a closer look at.

And this is yet another proof that the ties between our countries are not just about official meetings and visits. It’s about cultural exchange and communication between the ordinary people. The more we find out about each other, the stronger these ties become.

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