The train to time
long-term chief editor and managing director of the Kleine Zeitung
There is no longer a train in the valley. Thinking back, the train became shorter year after year until there was one lonely waggon. The tracks remained though. If you use an unguarded crossing, you still stop your car to check and make sure no train is coming. This paradox rule seems like a silent order, lingering in an illusion, in an as-if: perhaps the termination of the service was just a mistake!
The sighs about the loss of trust don’t help, they only make you weak and tearfully sentimental. Anyway, the lamentations are self-accusations: The local Trafik tobacconists closed because people bought the accessories for their habit in Slovenia. The shoemaker is gone because prosperity degraded shoes to throwaway products. There is no longer a butcher’s because the inhabitants changed to pre-packed goods, and what about the post office: who went there before it closed for good?
Luckily, there are the forward-thinking who have freed themselves from yesterday and are reinventing the region. At the beginning, there were the disapproving looks. Here and there they were called oddballs, this how this country calls people who break new ground. It’s a title of nobility.
The oddballs brewed beer and gave it a Roman name, they generated power from natural resources, they roasted coffee beans from fair trade, they democratised the Toque cuisine in the valley as top-notcher-newcomers, they established fine food shops, opened organic hotels with forest sauna, developed farmers’ market experiences and they converted the slow pace into a quality seal: Slow Food Region, that is what the most southern valley called now, becoming suddenly an avantgarde topic on Ö1 radio.
Well, these are good news because they tell about a fresh start, about future and new tracks. They pick up the ends from yesterday and bring them back to the height of time. The key is quality. They forge ahead everywhere. Province is not seclusion, province is the absence of quality and aspiration. But both is becoming increasingly available in this region. This is how the narrowness gets wider and a region comes to live again - audible and multilingual – on the chairlifts in winter as well as on the bike routes in summer. German, Italian and Slovenian, the languages mix and merge to a soundscape. The Frigga Festival at Nassfeld is the most sensual place to experience this melting pot of cultures.
Today, border is associated with openness. You can imagine what this means when you think about what happened on the ridges in the south a hundred years ago.
There is no doubt, the region is becoming a strong, trendy brand with Nassfeld as engine and the Lesachtal Valley and Lake Weissensee as first-class compartments. This region doesn’t do many silly things. It isn’t Disney, but it focuses deliberately on the human need for authenticity, originality and experiences close to nature.
What is missing? Perhaps the strong awareness of contemporary architecture, for which the vintners and hoteliers in South Styria are a great example. Perhaps, or even pretty sure, it is the awareness of the necessity of digitality that is missing. Without connection to modern data highways, no connection to modernity. These highways must be fast and toll-free. "Edge" is the code for slow charging on the mobile phone. Edge means fringe. No-one wants to be at the fringe. A guest can go offline, a region mustn’t. Without a digital infrastructure, businesses will not be competitive and you will not keep the young in the valleys. They will only stay in touch if they are connected – connected to the world. The world is a village, and now the village becomes the world. A good life and a good job are no longer tied to living in towns and cities. You can learn, read, shop, book and have your say digitally even in the countryside. The older ones can create a digital carpool like the Carinthian students in Graz. Must everyone leave? If a place like Hagenberg in Upper Austria manages to teach young developers at its schools and in that causes a sensation, then why is it not possible to do the same in a district town like Hermagor? Programming must become a part of the curriculum. It also should become a teaching profession. With this, the young would not have to leave the valleys in their white delivery vans in the morning. They could be developing a digital market place for the region’s natural products as programmer in rentable co-working offices. They could come up with a Gailtal Valley Slow Food App or they could code a software for a global enterprise from their home with view across the roofs and to the mountains. Of course, we first have to step on this train, but the good thing is: you do not have to hang around at the tracks, waiting for something that will never come back.
We just need to jump on that train – quickly and with great optimism for the future.