Austria

Graz, Austria: Landeszeughaus (Styrian Armoury)

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As I mentioned in my previous post, the other reason I was so keen on going to Graz (besides the pretzels, obviously), was the Styrian Armoury.  Around 5-6 years ago, I went to a medieval armour exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Like most of the special exhibitions at CMA, it was incredible.  They’d managed to acquire an unbelievable quantity of armour from around the world, including, most memorably, an entire army’s worth of pikemen, which they has arranged in impressive battle formation.  At the time, I noted that most of the collection was on loan from the Graz Armoury, and added it to my mental list of places to visit.

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Perhaps because armour is one of the few tangible reminders we have of the medieval era, or perhaps because it conjures up the imagery of jousting, chivalry, and glory which I suspect we all like to associate with the Middle Ages, no matter how far removed it is from reality, I’ve always had a soft spot for armour. (I feel this is an ideal time to insert a book recommendation regarding the fallacy of popular perceptions of medieval Europe: Ian Mortimer’s excellent Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England). Because of this, I’ve been to quite a few other armouries; most notably the Royal Armouries in Leeds (which I really should get around to writing a review of).  The Styrian Armoury was nothing like those.

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I think the Royal Armouries might be an exception, in that they seemed to be more about the history of British warfare in general, and included lots of fun interactives, but all of the other armouries I’ve visited follow a similar format.  There will usually be a striking centrepiece of a knight on a horse in full battle armour, surrounded by cases of various weapons, and some suits of armour belonging to famous (or at least wealthy) people, with captions throughout.  The Styrian Armoury effectively decides to do away with all that pesky (helpful?) reading and carefully arranged displays, choosing instead to cram as much crap into a tall, narrow building as is physically possible.

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Your 8 euro entrance fee gains you access to a darkened, cluttered labyrinth of metal.  The Armoury is spread out (I use that term loosely) over 5 or 6 floors (I lost track after a while), and you’re left to wander it at will, though under the constant hawk-like gaze of the staff.  All the surveillance was a bit puzzling, actually, since I was required to leave my (normal sized) purse in a locker at the entrance, so I’m not sure how they thought I was going to steal anything.  Was I just going to stick a giant sword under my arm and walk out?  Who knows, I guess people are capable of anything.  At any rate, despite the heavy staff presence, none of them were forthcoming with any information about the place.  I saw an audio guide mentioned online, but no one at the admissions desk offered it to us (though we probably would have been too cheap to get it anyway), and there were quite literally no signs of any kind in the armoury.

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I honestly don’t think I’ve ever left a museum before knowing less about it than I did when I walked in, but I feel that’s what happened at the Styrian Armoury.  From what I’ve been able to cobble together on the internet, I believe everything there was for the purpose of equipping the Styrian forces, and that it was a sort of communal arsenal that they would collect their armour from in times of war.  That would explain the unusual layout, as well as the sheer size of the collection.  Most of it was identical, e.g. a wall of matching shields, or a shelf of helmets, rather than the finely wrought detail and unique design of privately commissioned armour, which is what makes up the bulk of collections elsewhere. I’m not even sure if the armour here was properly medieval, as their website claims the collection dates from the 15th-18th centuries, but the building itself is 17th century, which would make it Early Modern instead.  Ugh, so many questions!

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My most pressing question, however, remains this: what happened to all the codpieces?  After passing wall after wall of breastplates and pikes, I was all geared up for the inevitable wall of codpieces.  Alas, there was not a codpiece to be found in the entire armoury, not even on the otherwise complete suits of armour.  I want to know how the men of Styria protected their, erm, manhood. Every other armoury I’ve been to has had codpieces galore, so why not here?

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See, not a codpiece in sight!

I suppose all my questions will have to remain unanswered, as the complete dearth of information at the armoury left me feeling clueless. It’s a shame, because I really liked the atmosphere of the armoury, and the, shall we say, eclectic arrangement of their collection, but if I visit something historical, I want to learn all that I can about it.  The Styrian Armoury left me feeling at a loss.

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I’m only going to give the Styrian Armoury a 2/5.  It was neat to be able to see so much armour in one place, but I really don’t think it would kill them to throw up a few signs.  After seeing the amazing exhibit the Cleveland Museum of Art was able to put together with the same objects, I can’t help but feel that the Styrian Armoury suffers from a real lack of effort.  And 8 euros frankly seems pretty steep for something that doesn’t appear to have been curated at all. It’s probably worth checking out if you’re in the area already, and exceedingly bored, but I wouldn’t make a special trip there the way we did.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the armoury, but Graz had some amazingly creamy and delicious ice cream (eis).  This picture was taken after I'd already eaten about half the scoop, and it only cost 1.20!  The perfect way to ease my disappointment over the armoury.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with the armoury, but Graz had some amazingly creamy and delicious ice cream (eis). This picture was taken after I’d already eaten about half the scoop, and it only cost 1.20! The perfect way to ease my disappointment over the armoury.

Thal, Austria: The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum!

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In what may be a refreshing change for some of you, I’ve finally visited a museum with no historical pretensions whatsoever.  The Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, aka, “Arnie’s Life,” was an unadulterated guilty pleasure, the sort you have to allow yourself on holiday (like eating at least two ice creams a day, and allowing myself to buy a Marie Claire to read on the airplane, despite the fact that it is probably the worst magazine ever, except for maybe Cosmo).

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When planning our trip to Ljubljana, I happened to notice that Graz, Austria, was only about a two hour drive away.  Now I’ve been wanting to visit Graz for a while on account of the Armoury there (which I’ll cover in a future post), but more importantly, Graz is also very near to Arnold’s Museum.  The village of Thal is in a picturesque corner of Austria, full of dandelion-dimpled meadows that one could easily imagine Julie Andrews (or as I like to think, maybe even a young Arnie) twirling around in whilst bursting into song.  Though Thal is only a few miles outside of Graz, there are virtually no signs to it until you’re well out of the city, and as we belatedly realised our GPS didn’t have a map of Austria on it, we had a heck of a time finding it.  We only got there in the end because my boyfriend had the foresight to download directions onto his phone before we left, but we still took a number of wrong turns on the way.  Basically what I’m saying is if you want to come here, have a functioning GPS, or else a passenger who is less hopeless with directions than I am.

Arnie's childhood bed. According to him, this is the most important object in the museum.

Arnie’s childhood bed. According to him, this is the most important object in the museum.

I should mention that I don’t really have any particular fondness for Arnold as either a person, or an actor.  I’m not really into action films, with the exception of Indiana Jones (because c’mon, Indy is hot) so I’ve only seen a handful of his movies.  However, my father and brother are both into body building, and my mom has a major crush on Arnold, so we always had some of his books hanging around the house, and I consequently grew up knowing more about him than I probably should.  Aside from that, whatever you think of him, Arnold is undeniably quite a personality, and there was no way I could resist visiting his house for the cheesiness factor alone.

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Apparently I make a disgusting face when flexing my huge muscles.

So, all that being said, when we finally located the museum, I enthusiastically bounded out of the car and raced up to the statue of Arnold outside, only too happy to pose for a picture with my hand on his heavily muscled thigh.  Admission was 6 euros, and the woman working there was of course fluent in English, so there’s no need to worry about that sort of thing.  Since the museum is in his actual childhood home, it is rather small; only about five rooms.  They recommend that you start out in the room devoted to his childhood, and then progress through the upstairs rooms, ending in the “Governor” room on the ground floor.

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As you might expect, the museum was largely graphic in nature (in the sense that there were a lot of posters and photographs, NOT that it was sexually explicit), with accompanying facts about Arnold’s life in both English and German.  Actually, the museum was home to some real gems of posters, as seen below.

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We wanted to buy a copy of them to take home, but unfortunately the only posters on offer were movie-related ones.  There were also lots of great photos of Arnie as a child and young man (he was actually a fine looking lad), including many of him posing in various states of undress, though he always at least kept on a skimpy mankini (which may disappoint a certain segment of his fanbase).

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I was actually quite interested to learn that his father disapproved of his weight lifting, so he was only permitted to go to the gym three times a week, but kept up his workouts at home whilst listening to his neighbour practice the trumpet.  Because of this, the upstairs rooms had some of his original weights and other apparatuses on display.  The way you were meant to progress through the museum would take you through “Arnie’s Life” chronologically, so you got to view his childhood kitchen and (excitingly) toilet before learning about the body building years, and then his acting career.

Wooden toilet actually used by Arnold.  Unfortunately, you are not allowed to plant your buttocks where his powerful glutes once perched.

Wooden toilet actually used by Arnold. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to plant your buttocks where his powerful glutes once perched.

The movie bit was more or less what you’d expect.  Some memorabilia, a few videos, various correspondence between Arnold and the museum, and thank you notes to people who had given him gifts, including an excellent Austrian style motorcycle jacket which he later donated to the museum.  There was also an Xbox set up with what I believe was a Terminator game in it (it was hard to tell as I spent the entire time just running into a wall.  I am amazing at SNES, but with any system after that, especially ones with those stupid joysticks and all the buttons, I am a huge pile of suck), presumably to keep the children entertained whilst their fathers gawped at all the Arnold accessories.

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My favourite part of the museum was all the wax figures (of varying quality) of Arnie, and I got my picture taken with every last one of them.  The one with the worst toupee was probably the one in the “Governor” room at the end, which was also rife with Arnold propaganda, and some pretty neat objects, including his “Governator” cowboy boots and jacket

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I mean, essentially the whole museum was just an exercise in self-promotion, though I’m not really sure what political aspirations, if any, Arnold has left at this point.  In fact, as far as merchandising goes, I think the museum is missing a trick, since the gift shop was limited to a small selection of posters and books, and only one t-shirt design.  I know my whole family would have been thrilled to receive t-shirts, but as they only had one size available, I guess it goes to whomever it fits.  I’m not saying they should turn the entire thing into a huge shop, but maybe at least have a t-shirt for women as well, and a better poster selection.

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Or will I…?

I think I have to take this museum at face value.  You won’t be particularly intellectually challenged, or learn any amazing revelations about Arnold’s life, but you will enjoy yourself.  We certainly didn’t regret visiting at all, even with the hassle of finding the place.  Therefore, I’m going to give it a 4/5.  Arnie’s Life gives the people what they want, assuming what they want is a whole hell of a lot of Schwarzeneggery goodness.

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