Conversation pieces: The way the water flows
In June, I wrote a postcard to all Lungau mayors to exchange views on the future of their municipality. Mayor Manfred Sampl of Sankt Michael im Lungau responded enthusiastically right away. The newspaper reports about his attempt to make it harder to sell out to foreign investors and stop the flight of young people from this rural region. We agreed to meet at the town hall.
While most young people leave to study in the city, I wonder how this migration can be reversed. After all, all the elements for a good learning environment are present in Sankt Michael im Lungau. Clean air, space & quiet for studying and new sports facilities are under construction. Theresa Santner lives in this market town and took us on a tour. Just imagine if studying in the countryside wins out over the city, perhaps the nightlife here could also be revived.
Back in my childhood we went on holiday in Austria a few times. We played with the stones at a waterfall in the summertime. Depending on the position, size and shape of these stones, the flow of the water changed. Of course, the water itself was unstoppable. In Lungau I looked at how we arrange the environment and how this affects our movements.
Christina Zitz works for Akzente (an organisation dedicated to youngsters), she gave me the Ultimo magazine, a special on “Youth between crises”. In it, you can find an essential article on public space as democratic space. Within this environment, we present ourselves to others. This is the place where we actually show who we are. The article mentions that youngsters do not have so much to say about this shared environment.
Social geographer Andreas Koch concludes this article with “Public spaces are not neutral in terms of their possible uses. They offer – like stages – a contingent, but not completely arbitrary framework. On the one hand, this means that they must be open to design, to change. On the other hand, this means that it is not the space itself, but the actors assigning meaning to it, who have to ensure creative conflict management – and this among equals.”
What is our role in shaping this space? Can we work together to change something (temporarily) and see how this affects our ‘movements’? As with the stones and the flow of the water, the active imagination and shaping of our living environment.
It strikes me that young people do get asked for their opinions, for instance with a youth parliament or a summer school, I just cannot find the outcomes anywhere documented.
In “Between wilderness and leisure park”, a pamphlet by Werner Bätzing, is explained how after 1989 neoliberalism affects the movement of persons in the mountain region. Shrinkage regions emerge and ‘feral’ in several ways. Foreign investors see holiday regions as a revenue model. Where there are hotels built, young people from the region cannot live. Metropolitan areas, on the other hand, are becoming increasingly similar and losing their identity.
In Lungau, you are never alone, Magdelana Egger wrote to me. The air is clean and the nights are wonderfully cool in the summer. Life here is connected to nature wrote Anna Aigner. “Club life is supported in Lungau, many friends, acquaintances in the association who help and support each other, also professionally.”
In the studies “Heidi no longer lives here” a project by StadtLandBerg and “Land without a daughter” by Isabel Stumfol, is mentioned that these close-knit communities can also have a downside. There is high social control, which does not suit everyone. Somewhere else, I read that staying means adapting, following traditions and rituals – ‘the course of the river’.
With Christina Zitz of Akzente I talked about the relatively high number of people who commit suicide. We agreed that it is a difficult topic surrounded by taboo. How do you find the right help when things get tough? In a newspaper article was written that when someone commits suicide, others follow their example. “In the regions, people don’t accept help so quickly. People are almost ashamed if they have mental problems or are depressed.” In another article is the emergency number 147 mentioned where you can seek for help.
The mayor of Zederhaus, Thomas Kößler, told me about the rich association life in his nature park municipality. Christina Zitz emphasised that research shows the need for informal spaces for youngsters, outside the association structure. After all, when your parents are on Facebook, you also prefer to choose another platform to keep in touch with friends.
With Nataliya Oberhummer I spoke about the special work of the Lungauer Women network (“Lungauer Frauennetzwerk”). This is an independent platform for women’s interests. The studies mentioned earlier both write that the rural exodus is feminine. We talked about the patriarchal division of roles between men and women, the importance of opportunity equality and the lack of suitable jobs for highly skilled women. We also discussed the fact that in Lungau are currently 14 male mayors and only 1 female mayor Waltraud Grall, whom I met later that week.
When I follow the news in Lungau, I see an article about heavy rainfall and flooding in June. Climate change affects us all. Summer was hot across Europe. In the Netherlands, rivers (which originate in the Alps) reached their lowest water levels. The climate is changing across national borders – the rivers connect us.
In Mauterndorf, young people mentioned the long travel time between their native region and student cities like Linz or Graz. Whereas you drive to Salzburg in an hour and a half by car, from Tamsweg it takes six hours and fifty minutes by train. The planned Tauernbahn was never built. The narrow-gauge railway stops at Club 760 “Verein der Freunde der Murtalbahn in Mauterndorf.” Iris Burtscher writes provocatively in Salzburger Nachrichten “Führt uns die Murtalbahn nach Salzburg?” I talked about this topic with the mayor of Mauterndorf Herbert Eßl.
The good news is that recently a night bus for young people “Nightline Lungau” is presented. Between our appointments, out on the street, we had an energetic encounter with Ursula Mayr from Hotel Post. We showed her the first idea sketches and agreed to keep in touch.
Baker Werner Löcker in Zederhaus passionately told us about working and living in Lungau, it’s hard to live on just a few cows he ensured us. Before we left the bakery, he also confides a saying to us: “We pray the Lord give us our daily bread and protect us from black and red!” Then we step outside with bread and delicious cookies.
Dutch architect Floris van Alkemade wrote: “The most powerful engine for change is evoking a desire for change. Imagination is essential here. Not the world determines who we are, but vice versa, with our stories we shape the world.” This text inspires me.
The Supergau Festival is an opportunity for me to share these stories by moving ‘the stones’ (metaphorically), so that it enables us to imagine what happens when we change ‘the way the water flows’. If the one way exodus of young people towards universities concerns you, or the lack of public transportation, or equal rights for women, or informal spaces where youngsters can meet, let this text be an open invitation to get in touch and work together on these aims.
Photographs: © Hristina Tasheva