I am writing this for you on the roof top of deVere’s office in the Himmelpfortgasse, right in the centre of Vienna’s City. Not literally with clammy fingers, of course, since I have only one pair of hands, which are busy holding a glass of bubbly and a camera.
Above but not aloof of the hurly-burly of the many thousands of revellers who are milling invisibly and almost inaudibly below us in front of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, bathed in flood lights, and right across the City, I am quietly counting down the minutes towards midnight. If you have ever experienced the exhilarating moment when the odometer in your treasured old car moved from 99,999 to the magical 100,000 miles you know what I mean. (Sometimes it goes right back to zero but that won’t do in my story so we’ll ignore it.) There is something similar and equally exciting when in front of your mental eye 2019 slides away to be replaced by a new number: 2020, the dawn of a new decade. I know, I know, purists will point out 2020 is only the end of the old decade and they are right of course but still there is always something sexy in the finality of a number concluding a set of ten. At least mathematicians and nerds will think so.
Not so much a numerological mystery but still something unique. Thirty Nine as in “‘39” by Queen, or “The Thirty Nine Steps” by John Buchan or even 39 as in the house number of my former Aberdeen abode of 20 years. String out the thoughts. Oh yes, there is indeed a MA 39 in Vienna, a paragraph 39 BO (look it up in Google), the crazy fact that 39 E-Scooters were chucked into the Danube Canal in November and that a 39 degrees fever is considered by most as high.
But 39 is also a record! The much acclaimed presidential speech by Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch at this year’s Pre-Christmas Gathering in the British Embassy less than two weeks ago mentioned that this was the 38th event with one more to come, a 39th on New Year’s Eve, which means one up on last year and therefore a new record. And here we really are: at this 39th Event of the Austro-British Society, the one which has been cleverly billed as “The Absolute First and Never Happened before Year End Roof Top Party”! Should such a party ever be repeated, which is to be hoped, then we know, the one today will have been definitely and irrevocably the very last before Brexit.
Around twenty four Corporate and Board Members followed the kind invitation by David Mihalic, deVere Country Manager and Corporate Member, to see out the old Year and bring in the New on the terrace of their offices only a few hundred metres from Saint Stephen’s Cathedral and high above the throngs of the revellers milling in their thousands on the traditional Sylvester Path, 800,000 this time, with a glass of Sekt in the hand waiting for the giant bell, the Pummerin, ringing in with her deep throated call the New Year 2020!
Now, David Mihalic decided to stay put and spend the New Year’s festivities in England, so it was still deVere’s offices, in particular the terrace we used thanks to member Darren Capel who was given the keys to the castle to make it still possible. Café Ministerium provided the sekt and our President Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch was given the unique opportunity to have really the last word in 2019!
“The Voice of Austria”.
Oh yes, the Pummerin. Like Saint Stephen’s Cathedral “she” is also a much loved national treasure even though she had to be “resurrected” after World War Two.
The Old Pummerin was originally cast in 1705 from 208 of the 300 cannons captured from the Muslim invaders in the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna. The Old Pummerin last sounded on Easter 1937. Due to a fire caused by war-time looters the bell crashed onto the stone floor on 12 April 1945 and shattered.
The New Pummerin (officially named “Saint Mary”) was a gift from the federal state of Upper Austria and was cast on 5 September 1951 in Sankt Florian from old Pummerin’s metal, supplemented by metal of some of the remaining captured Turkish cannons. Since 5 October 1957 she is on a steel structure within the north tower of Saint Stephen’s. At 20,130 kg without the clapper, which weighs some 813 kg, she is the largest bell in Austria and the third largest swinging bell in Europe. Next to Easter, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, Christmas Eve, Saint Stephen’s Day as well as State Funerals she only sounds at the beginning of New Year.
From past experience I know that it is nigh impossible to hear her deep throated sound over the noise of the crowd and the ensuing cacophony of fireworks that erupt simultaneously when the celestial odometer jumps onto the year 2020.
The night is getting cold but most of us crowd onto the roof top terrace. I look around into the expectant faces which reflect the distant lights feeling true fondness and gratitude for being part of this group. Suddenly the sky lights up and all around us the colossal sonic bombardment of hissing, crackling, thunderclaps, booming explosions of whole galaxies of stars and curtains of golden rain that descend earthwards tell us that it has happened. 2020 has arrived! Shouts of “Happy New Year”! Clinking of glasses! Couples embracing! Shaking of hands! With a kiss and embrace we sealed the 45th Hogmanay my wife and I have once again enjoyed together.
Now let the New Year begin!