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东游记活动|Vienna: The Portal to the East维也纳: 通往东方之门

Journey to the East event in Vienna, Austria, Feb 15


Journey to the East cycling project is an attempt to map, understand and reflect upon the cultural axis of East and West, as perhaps the most lasting generator of global history and creative drive. Cycling this axis goes further though. From an intellectual discourse, this time the axis can be experienced as an immediate reality, being embodied by real situations in time and space, and real people living their lives before and beyond reflection. This is literally about leaving any proverbial armchair, and act with a profound physical effort and risk, going beyond any theory in favor of evidence, evidence, and nothing but evidence.


To break down this ongoing action of many months in a row into smaller acts, there will be held several events, marking about any 1000km or so. Each of them will address a specific dimension of the East West relationship, intended to capture insights more precisely, to establish connections, and to generate a physical legacy to be taken on the journey towards final destination Shanghai, where a group of students will start working on a tangible conclusion of the journey.


The series' second event unfolded in Vienna, a city at the heart of what was traditionally seen as the Eastern realm, accentuating its historical perception as an Eastern entity within the Eastern Reich. This perspective seem to stem from the times of Charlemagne. Loosely ruled from Aachen, it must have looked like the place of the dawning day. The ascent of the Habsburg Monarchy, along with its deep-rooted connections to Western European dynasties, solidified its identity firmly within the European House, a self-perception that was apparent for centuries. A pivotal figure in shaping this perception was Klemens von Metternich, whose advocacy at the Vienna Congress for a Pan-European unity underscored his warning that 'Asia begins at his backside garden,' highlighting Vienna's liminal position between continents. As he used to live at the Rennweg 1, now location of the Metternich Palace. It brings Asia rhetorically very close. I’m happy we made it to there, allowing me to touch upon not just the East, but Asia more precisely.


But there is much more, and much more substantial evidence to understand this projection of Vienna as the last bastion of what recurringly was considered the Christian, European civilization. A visit to the Vienna Museum brought the event participants eye to eye with a few essential sources of the Sieges of Vienna by the Ottomans in the 16th and 17th centuries. Next door the Fischer von Erlach designed giant Karlskirche bears witness to the sense of victory against the Ottomans as the ultimate Others, aka barbarians.


But even within this frame, reality always seeps through. Even literally. The story goes that the Ottomans, after having left their positions upon defeat, left traces of coffee in their trenches. Some Viennese boiled it in water and the rest is history. Coffee, as the ultimate drink of conversation, became an essential aspect of Viennese culture. The tradition of serving Kuchen with coffee, potentially a historical echo from the Ottoman's influence, exemplifies the Viennese integration of Eastern customs into its cultural fabric, illustrating how without the Ottoman influence, this hallmark of Viennese culture might not have emerged.


With Metternich Palace, Karlskirche and museum pieces mentioned, it turns out an almost contemporary echo to see the Soviet War Memorial on the Schwarzenbergplatz as another example of Vienna’s deep interdependence with forces, energies and seductions from the East. Vienna is as Asian as a diverse global city these days can be, but it is also Asian in its cultural and historical set of urban references. A perfect place to start learning the East as a living culture.



Journey to be continued...

and to follow the Journey by





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