The Olympics are over. Everything I saw – the beach volleyball from the stands at Horseguards Parade; the athletics on television; the cycle road race in Surrey – I loved.
But one of the most memorable parts, for me, was a couple of hours spent in the early evening near Tower Bridge, at Austria House. Various countries set up bases in London and one afternoon a couple of friends and I took a walking tour of the ‘houses’ of three Alpine skiing countries by the Thames.
First stop, after getting waylaid at a maze made entirely of books that we came across while hunting down a loo in the Royal Festival Hall, was Switzerland, near London Bridge. There a big screen, a stage and picnic tables were set up in a shady square and a few minutes after our arrival, the Swiss show jumper Steve Guerdat won gold – to rather restrained applause, we thought. We toasted his success with the free extra half-pint of lager we’d landed due to a mix-up at the bar (where half-pints cost £3; pints £4.50 – dearer than Switzerland, we noted!).
En route to Tower Bridge, we stopped to see Tom Stoddart’s moving outdoor exhibition of black and white photographs, mostly taken in conflict zones over the past 30 years, printed large on a maze of boards near City hall. This runs till 12 September and is well worth a visit.
On the north side of Tower Bridge, Austria had its base at Trinity House, with tables crammed into a courtyard, a couple of small screens and a bar where dirndl- and lederhosen-clad bartenders served beer, wine and bratwurst.
We grabbed a seat next to a tiny stage, on which, promisingly, stood a double bass. Sure enough, within minutes, a three-part band materialised and launched straight into the Kufstein Lied (more easily recognised as the song that goes: “…bei uns in Tirol”) and then the Zillertaler Hochzeitsmarsch.
On double bass, yodelling in harmony and frequently belting out a yyeeeeeeeeaaahhoooaaaa was a musician known as Miss Amadea (I know this because I saw her play the violin at a reception at Austria House a few days earlier – though I can find pretty much nothing about her online).
On the accordion, and singing and yodelling with gusto – as well as throwing in a few yipps of her own – was Leena, short for Karolina Schoepf, who comes from the Oetztal, according to her website. Singing and playing the clarinet or sax and the washboard (with a cymbal on its top) was Paul Heis, who leads Alpinbanda.
With a glass or two of Austrian Gruener Veltliner, a few sociable neighbours at the trestle table and much enthusiasm from the crowd it was a brilliant couple of hours. Needless to say we never made it to the French house, also on the north side of the Thames – though we were told it was a great place to go after pub hours.
I’d travel to London any time to hear Austrian music like this – what a shame they’ve all gone home!
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