Graz Interview #2 – Sarah

Interviews with locals and expats offering their own perspectives & recommendations for living in the lovely city of Graz.

The fabulous American artist Sarah Löcker has kindly agreed to be my second interview. Whilst raising 4 children, she still managed to find the time to become a self taught artist. You can read her blog or instagram to see her detailed botanical drawings, still life and landscape paintings. Plus she often writes great posts about Graz and the cultures & customs of living in Austria. Sarah also hosts the Graz chapter of Urban Sketchers. They meet once a month to sketch outdoors in summer or in cafes in winter and everyone (regardless of skill) are warmly welcome to join in. Keep an eye out on Sarah’s facebook or blog for art workshops around Graz too.

Sarah has lived in Graz for over 10 years and has some great tips and recommendations below!

What do you enjoy most about living in Graz?

   I love how compact and walkable Graz is, living in the city center, I feel I can reach most areas of the city fairly quickly and easily. The path along the Mur as well as the many paths through the Stadt park, Eustacchio Gründe, and surrounding hills offer a connection to nature not always available in everyday urban life.

    The architecture of the old city center is also lovely. I try to look for new details whenever I run errands. I bring my camera or phone and snap a picture when I find something especially interesting. Often these details work their way either into my artwork or onto the blog. With Urban sketching and the regular meet ups of the Urban sketchers group I am always on the lookout for interesting places to sketch.

  Having always enjoyed antique stores and markets- I appreciate that Graz has a wide variety of markets to choose from. While I don’t visit as many as I would like to, I have pinpointed a few favorites which I indulge in when ever I have the chance. I have found a lot of treasures this way, and for me part of the joy is in the hunt and moment of discovery.

What was your biggest challenge or culture shock after moving here? 

Adapting to a world of morning people. As a night person I suffer every single morning when my alarm clock rings at 6 am. And of course an early start to the day usually means that everyone is tucked up at home early in the evening preparing for the morrow. Another challenge was the eating schedule, going along with the early to bed, early to rise motive comes a heavy lunch with only a jause in the evening. I spent the first few years being generally hungry most days until I just decided that we would eat ‘normally’ in our own home. Since then we eat three balanced meals and dinner is always when my husband comes home so that we can all eat together every day. This has made a difference to me. We only have larger lunches when we have guests, and since many people eat a regular dinner when they go out, just not at home, it hasn’t been an issue with guests either.

15 years ago I also struggled as an avid reader with finding english books at a reasonable price. There was one english book shop on Tummelplatz which no longer exists and a very abbreviated half shelf of english books at the library. It has taken several years for to offer a wide selection of books. Today however, that is no longer a challenge.

How does Graz differ to your hometown/country?

I come from New York, which is largely populated by Italian Immigrants. The neighborhood I grew up in felt a lot more vibrant than the ones In which I have lived here. They were louder, warmer, and more colourful. While I value Austria’s calm containment, I often miss the feeling of spontaneity and levity I enjoyed in New York. I also miss being part of a culture that values and enjoys the evening hours. I love to be out after dark dining, meeting friends, or just walking around town.

I am not sure whether it is a result of the climate or my ever advancing age, but it seems that the seasons more fluidly and beautifully flow into one another here in Austria. As a child I can remember the ‘day when summer arrived’ as it was suddenly hot, or the first snow chaos each year. Yes we had coloured leaves and spring blossoms but the transitions were faster and the feeling that the first snowflakes might fall this morning but then not again for another week weren’t there. I feel that the seasons are enjoyed and celebrated more here than in many places. It is a slower way of life but a lovely one. This lends itself wonderfully to seasonal specialties and anual treats. I have occasionally been known to be frustrated that I couldn’t find an item that was out of season or not locally available, such as celery stalks at christmas time when I want to make stuffing, but the discovery of the turkish markets has changed that for me. They usually have a much larger selection of produce which is often picked ripe and driven overnight, twice a week, from Istanbul. This has been a life saver more than once.

What are your favourite places to eat / hang out / relax?

   I love cafes and in my opinion this is one area that Graz really shines. What it may lack in diversity of restaurants it certainly compensates for in cafes. I tend to choose the cafe based on my mood at the moment. Sacher cafe, Frankowitsch and Meszaros offer lovely desserts and a slightly more formal atmosphere while Oma’s Teekanne is young, alternative and trendy in it’s retro, upcycled mood. Area 5  is a location I just ‘discovered’. Near Jakominiplatz.It’s lofty location provides a beautiful panorama of the city. However, for everydays I usually go to one of about five Martin Auer Locations. They are modern, good and change their offerings with the seasons. I both work and relax in cafes. When I have a particularly detailed project where my computer is not required I find that the background activity and view in many cafes offer the exact mixture ideal to long term concentration. The silence in my studio can result in shortened working sessions. I don’t need to focus all of my mind on my work, just my hands, and the background chatter offers something to keep the mind busy in the meantime.

   Another favorite are the Joanneum museums. The yearly passes are fairly reasonably priced and although not all of the shows are great there are at least two amazing ones every year. These tend to be at the Kunsthaus. My favorites in the last couple of years have been two thematic ones on Congolese and Soviet art, as well as two solo exhibitions presenting the work of Andy Warhol and Ai Wei Wei.  I also spend time drawing in the natural history museum. My favorite room contains taxidermy animals side by side with their skeletons just adjoining the butterfly collection.

   Picnicking is almost out of season at the time I am writing this but Schloss Eggenberg, the Burggarten, and the Schlossberg offer havens of peaceful solitude in which to enjoy a private picnic with family, friends, or a good book (or sketchbook). I like to shop the specialty shops like Frankowitsch, Billa Corso, s’Fachl, the Italian shop near Kaiser Josef Platz, or one of the many farmers markets for my picnic items. If you are interested in picnicking in one of these places but don’t want to have the hassle of shopping, filled picnic baskets are available from the tourist information or Frankowitsch. To enjoy nature but still be served food, and sit on real chairs, Kastner, Hilmteich and Rosenhein have cosy cafes with a lovely view. The cafe at hilmteich is located in Lederleitner, a beautiful garden and flower shop. It is well worth a browse before or after sitting down. A word of caution- Hilmteich only accepts cash and Rosenhain is extremely slow. So if you choose these lovely locations come prepared.

 I love nature but not necessarily outdoor sport. Austria is very lush and hilly and although I am not an avid hiker I do enjoy taking walks, particularly when the destination is an especially well appointed cafe, restaurant or buschenschank. I also love to draw, sketch and paint both the landscape and the smaller more detailed ‘found treasures’. A trip to the winestreet is about perfect. Sitting, perched above the vines, a glass in one hand, and a pencil in the other is the perfect weekend activity. Right now the vineyards are bustling and walking throught the vines themselves is an exceptional delight.

Any other tips or suggestions you would like to share?

  Austrians are nice but not always easy to meet and become friends with. I believe there are a few causes for this, first many people are still in contact with friends from primary school meaning that their social calendars are full. They don’t need you.  Second, many people in Graz have roots in the surrounding countryside. They tend to leave the city on weekends and holidays, meaning that when you have free time they might not be available. And third, family plays a big role in holiday celebrations often leaving international people out at a time when it would be nice to meet up with people. To work around some of these things I have found that a few things help. First, plan ahead, make plans to do an activity or meet someone well in advance of the date  (maybe even a month or two in advance- calendars fill up fast). Second, evaluate the holidays you celebrate to see whether there are any that are unique to your culture. We used to invite friends for Thanksgiving dinner since it was a day when they didn’t already have family commitments (and yes we moved it to the weekend, who has time for a Thursday evening event?). And lastly, if you have hobbies, join a group, or if your children do activities chat with the other parents. Often long term friendships result from these repeated casual encounters.If all else fails, look for other international people who are in the same boat or even join us for Urban sketching once or twice a month.

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