I have been in Graz, Austria, since the end of September and will remain here for at least another two to three months. For such a relatively quiet city, it has much to offer those of us who tinker at our words, sounds and ideas from dusk to dawn, from dawn to dusk.
Graz has been described as boring, inspiring, conservative, liberal and in parts, unpredictable and dangerous. The people are said to be supportive, encouraging and in general, helpful and curious. It is known as the retirement village for the post-war generation and the first school of jazz in Europe was founded here.
There are its many festivals, jazz venues, electronic music events and a community radio station. The University for Music and Performing Arts, the Institute for Electronic Music and Acoustics and University for Applied Sciences are just three of the important learning centres that draw musicians and composers the world over to this city.
Graz was the European city of culture in 2003 and to this day boasts the largest PD (Pure Data) user base of any city in the world.
A healthy open source movement maintains itself through the efforts of a handful of people – organisations such as mur.at and ESC im Labor being a catalyst for much of the public access and open content consciousness raising.
It is home to a growing underclass of east European refugees, many who resort to begging, kneeling or sitting on the pavement, some who rock to keep themselves warm, others whose face change from nonchalant to desperation in mere seconds.
A black community seems to have literally cornered the street market for Austria’s street press, some so eager to part with their magazines they follow anyone offering the barest of glances.
Graz is geographically situated close to the countryside, but is said to have the worst air of any city in the EU. An expanding urban population, satellite shopping centres and malls drain many from the ceity centre that is largely closed by 8pm and near vacant by 10. For the uninitiated one must look hard for a place to take a quite few moments in at that time of day.
Dividing the city in two is the mighty Mur, 295 km of its 465 total length runs through Austria. Graz is the largest city on the river where it continues to race on to Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary.
Graz may not have the dynamism of Vienna, but it offers space for creative reflection and practice, proximity to the countryside and the promise of community amongst family and friends who inform, encourage and stimulate each other.