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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

26th September 2017 Vienna, Austria

#ViennaMemories #3: Silesiastahl

I was in the flea-market at the Naschmarkt in Vienna in 1984 when I saw for sale a broken mechanical wall-calendar.  With its black, white and gold decoration, it looked like something between Jugendstil (Austrian art nouveau) and Italian Futurism – I was reminded of a work by Umberto Boccioni in The Tate Modern.

Further investigation showed the calendar, fronted with glass and mounted on wood, to be an advertising device for the “Verkaufsgesellschaft der Vereinigte Oberschlesische Hüttenwerke AG Gleiwitz”.

So far as I can see, this was an iron and steel works founded in 1926 at a time when Gleiwitz (now Gliwice, in Poland, since 1945) was part of Germany.

The calendar is a reminder of the tumultuous history of Central Europe.  The Wikipedia entry on Silesia, most of which is in Poland, starts with a map outlining “Austrian Silesia, before 1740 Prussian intervention”; and the historical section refers to Celts, Slavic tribes, Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, the Mongol invasion, German settlement, Silesian duchies, the Habsburg monarchy, the Thirty Years’ War, Polish rule, Prussia, the Napoleonic era, the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires, and World Wars I and II.

A fake attack on a radio station in Gleiwitz on 31 August 1939 by German forces served as a pretext for Nazi Germany to invade Poland at the start of World War II.  The city was also the location of a sub-camp of the Ausschwitz concentration camp.

The complex and sometimes grim history of Gleiwitz/Gliwice raises a question as to the extent to which one can legitimately appreciate an object which, although outwardly apparently unexceptionable, recalls that history.  I would welcome your thoughts on this.

Meanwhile, for now, I continue to use the wall-calendar, although the glass front has splintered somewhat in my many moves since 1984.  Back then I restored it by mending the paper strip behind the glass face of the calendar with a stapled strip of denim from an old pair of jeans, and it is still – just – in working order.

About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.