Europe editor Kenneth Kiesnoski embarked on an exploration of
Graz, the picturesque Austrian city that serves as the European
Union's sole cultural capital for 2003. His report follows:
raz, Austria's second-largest
city, isn't very large, being home to 250,000 or so people. But the
quaint capital of the Styrian region -- which, lying south of the
Austrian Alps, is known for a more laid-back, Mediterranean air --
looms large on the cultural map this year, as it takes on the role
of the European Union's sole cultural capital.
Graz, always a crossroads -- Ljubljana, Slovenia, is as close as
Vienna, and Venice, Italy, is as near as Innsbruck -, this year is
the gathering point for artists, performers and spectators from
When I visited the city during the annual Austrian Travel
Business trade show in early January, many of the 6,000 scheduled
theater, music, art and sporting events -- including 1,000 for
children (see list below) -- had not yet geared up.
But I was able to tour several of its newest temporary and
permanent attractions, in addition to the classic must-see sights
that have charmed visitors to Graz for centuries.
The E.U. Cultural Capital program is an enlightened and benign form
of "urban welfare," I have found.
Each year, an often-overlooked, smaller city -- chosen to hog
the media spotlight -- is showered with funds to spruce up existing
glories and construct bold new ones as venues for cultural
Graz has been no slouch in the preparations department, spending
some $62 million on related events and the construction of 18 new
buildings and public-art installations.
Arriving at the city's Hauptbahnhof train station, I was greeted
by an innovative mural covering the arrivals hall; the
computer-generated images appear three-dimensional and leave no
doubt you've arrived in an art capital.
Graz has installed large art projects at other access points to
the city, such as "Hands-Out," a 325-foot-long wall of 240 waving
arms along a main highway, and "Airport Art Zone," which covers
glass surfaces in the arrivals/departures lounge at Graz Airport
with multiple colors.
Some of this year's 700,000 expected overnight visitors to Graz
also can get around town in one of 15 decorated Kunsttaxis ("art
taxis"), which screen video works on backseat monitors; the taxis,
which charge normal fares, can be hailed at cab stands or ordered
by calling (878) ART-TAXI.
But the big thrills were to be had later, once I'd checked into
my hotel and set out on a walking tour of Graz's old town.
It seems every resident's favorite new structure is the Island
in the Mur, a mussel-shaped, midriver steel span and open-air
theater bridging the city's old town and traditional working-class
When completed, the island will feature a cafe, amphitheater and
At night, the bridge -- along with many other structures and
city streets -- is bathed in an eerie blue-and-green glow designed
by French artist Laurent Fachard.
At the other end of main drag Herrengasse, an elevator has been
built next to the famed Mariensaule ("Mary's Column"); for a euro,
I rode to the top to enjoy a one-minute view of both a statue of
the Virgin Mary and the city below.
Fog and rain, unfortunately, kept me from visiting the most
prominent of Graz's temporary installations -- the Shadow Clock
Tower, a black, steel replica of the city's trademark Uhrturm clock
tower that's been built next to the original atop the Schlossberg
A few blocks from the Island in the Mur, Graz's most striking
permanent addition is the Kunsthaus art museum, still under
construction at Sudtiroler Platz 2.
Set to open to the public on Sept. 27, the odd, curving,
"biomorphic" building looks alien among neighboring baroque
churches and sober offices and hotels; the first exhibit, Peter
Pakesch's "Fancy," debuts Oct. 25.
Clients should take advantage of discounted visitor tickets and
passes available; the Graz 03 Card, which is good for three days'
worth of exhibit admissions and public transit, along with 30%
discounts on nationwide railway fares to and from Graz, costs about
Meanwhile, the 03 Daily Ticket offers a day's worth of
admissions and local transit, plus 30% off regional transit, for
about $19 per person.
The balance of my stay was spent exploring Graz's older
attractions, including the Renaissance-era, arcaded Landhaus, a
setting for outdoor summer concerts; the Provincial Armory next
door, with 30,000 pieces of weaponry dating to 1551; the baroque,
stuccoed House of Luegg; and the Gothic cathedral and
Other essential sights include the Edegger-Tax bakery on
Hofgasse, with its century-old, sculpted-wood facade; the
107-year-old Schlossbergbahn funicular to the clock tower; the
strikingly modern Botanical Gardens; and the mannerist Schloss
Eggenberg palace, a Graz 2003 event venue that was built in
Those clients looking for a break from urban hustle and bustle
should be steered to the rolling hills of the surrounding Styrian
wine country, the Lipizzaner Stud Farm at Piber or the world's
oldest Cistercian monastery at Rein.
Booking Graz 03
The Austrian Tourist Office in New York recommends the following
commission-paying U.S. operators to Graz:
• European Connection: (800) 345-4679; [email protected]; www.europeanconnection.com.
• Patrician Journeys: (973) 992-3938; www.patricianjourneys.com.
• Smolka Tours: (800) 722-0057; [email protected]; www.smolkatours.com.
• Towne & Country Tours: (800) 487-0479; [email protected];
• Turner Trichel & Associates: (877) 360-1999; [email protected]; www.tt-a.com.
Once in Graz, clients can visit the 03 Info/03 Bar at
Mariahilferplatz 2 or the 03 Shop at Herrengasse 16 for
information, exhibit tickets and Graz 03 passes, tour reservations,
and souvenirs and guidebooks.
For details on Graz 2003, visit www.graz03.at or contact the Austrian Tourist
Office at (212) 575-7723 or at www.austria.info/us.
Graz 2003 highlights
• Graz Memory: Multimedia exhibition of citizen histories in
tunnel system under Schlossberg mountain. www.berg03.at. March 22
to Sept. 28.
• Psalm 2003: Festival at Graz Cathedral of Christian, Jewish
and Muslim sacred music. Through April 27.
• Tower of Babel: Exhibit of oral and written communication and
language, at Eggenberg Castle. April 5 to Oct. 5.
• Phantom of Lust: Citywide events explore legacy of Graz author
Von Sacher-Masoch, for whom "masochism" was named. April 26 to
• Styriarte 2003: Music festival brings likes of Cecilia Bartoli
and Nikolaus Harnoncourt to Graz. June 19 to July 27.
• Acconci on the Mur: Local actors proclaim independent
"republic" on Island on the Mur; theater, arts events. July 5 to
• Icons of the 20th Century: Vienna Philharmonic premieres
violin concerto by Bea Furrer, at the new Helmut List-Halle venue.
For more events, visit www.graz03.at on line.