After another substantial buffet lunch in Roggenburg, we boarded the bus for a 4.5-hour ride to the second country on our tour – Austria.
As we approached Austria, the view outside our windows quickly shifted from relatively flat lands to the breathtaking foothills of the Alps. While I could have really used a nap, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the view – partly because it was so beautiful (insert appropriate Sound of Music reference here) and partly because the winding roads were very narrow. I wasn’t convinced our bus was going to make it without sideswiping another vehicle or a building. (It did. I should know better than to doubt Christoph.)
We arrived in Schlägl, Austria just in time for a group dinner in the abbey’s restaurant. We were not surprised when our dinner plates included white asparagus in celebration of Spargel Wochen (aka “asparagus weeks”). White asparagus is in season this time of year and the Germans and Austrians certainly take advantage of that. It was at least the third meal featuring it, not that that’s a bad thing…
After dinner, we gathered in the abbey to meet our hosts. Abbot Martin, Brother Thomas, Father Matthias, and two of their colleagues gave us a history of the Schlägl abbey community.
Cistercian monks were documented in this location as far back as 1204, but in the long winter months they starved to death. In 1208 land was donated to the Premonstratensian Order (Norbertines) and construction began in 1250.
Throughout history, the Protestant Reformation, various fires — including a major fire intentionally set by the Hussites — and a government takeover in 1941 displaced the Schlägl Norbertines. But by 1945 the land and buildings were returned.
In the late 18th century, Enlightenment monarch Emperor Joseph II forced monasteries to “do something useful for society” or risk being closed. Several hundred were shut down, and Schlägl was the only one in the region to survive – mostly because it was poor and didn’t have cash value for the emperor. In the 19th century, wood/lumber begins to become valuable, and forestry services became one way that Schlägl contributed to the infrastructure and economy of the region. Their business acumen continues today.
2018 marks the 800th anniversary of the Schlägl community. They currently have 38 confers serving 27 parishes. These Norbertines still own the same 15,000 acres and have become savvy businessmen. In addition to parish work many are involved in, the abbey also manages a brewery, a guest house (hotel), forestry services, a greenhouse, a ski area, and offer special trades services. Some teach at local middle and high schools. In total, 220 citizens (outside of Norbertines) are employed by the abbey. And they find ways to efficiently connect their programs. For example, forestry workers move to work in the ski area in the offseason. And local high school students studying agriculture plant rye on fields owned by the abbey, which is later used in the Schlägl brewery.
We received a lot of information in a short time. So, after the history talk, our group then moved to the outdoor patio to enjoy wine and beer with our new Norbertine friends before calling it a night.
After Tuesday morning breakfast, we were treated to a guided tour of both the abbey and Schlägl brewery. The photo gallery link below includes captions with more detail on each room we visited. (Flash photography was not allowed in some of the rooms, so I tried my best to capture them without.)
We then had lunch in the cellar room of the restaurant, complete with free samples of Schlägl beer, and sleepily boarded the bus for Vienna.
A few hours later we entered Vienna and were amazed at the architecture outside our windows. (There is also a lot of graffiti, but the architecture makes up for that.) We will call Hotel Regina home for the next 4 nights, and it will be nice not having to pack up our bags for a few days.
Our group enjoyed dinner at a local wine garden complete with live music from an accordion player. He took requests, and a few folks found their dancing shoes. We couldn’t have asked for a better night for it — warm, but not hot. And no bugs!
Quote of the Day – “We have two seasons here — winter and July.” – Father Matthias