Image result for gliders bungee launch

This is pretty much what my first solo flight looked like. A whimsical but sturdy glider of pre- war vintage was being launched by bungee cord on the edge of a hill. It gives a whole new meaning to the old song "Nearer my God to Thee..."

I realize that I had promised to speak about schooling, life in the late 50s in Austria and such issues of gravitas, but my first flight on my 14th birthday at the Linz Glider Club was to me a lot more important than Latin, long divisions, physics, chemistry, biology, music, arts education, history, geography and the other litany of subjects we inmates of the Gymnasium in Linz had to muster. When I call us "inmates", we were just that. In order to get into a Gymnasium you first had to pass a grueling examination which only about 20% of recent primary school graduates managed. Gymnasium is eight long years and if you lived through it and had good grades at "Maturation", a student was guaranteed acceptance to a college or University. Most parents elected to send their children to a more "normal" high school or a trade school. Not my tribe. "Matura or Bust" was the motto and as we were graded three times/year in every subject, a grade of less than B was just not acceptable. Even my beloved easy going grandfather turned into a master sergeant, torture master and totally inflexible tyrant when it came to education. The threat of failure looms large at every trimester. If on the end of a school year you flunked one subject (of 28 graded subjects), you were given the chance to take a make-up examination. If you flunked two subjects you had to repeat the whole school year but this was only allowed once. No second chances. My best friend when I was about 14 years old was Erich Mutter. Faced with possible failure at the end of the school year, he committed suicide...! Sadly, this draconian education turned some of the people who made it into unbearable bores, pedantic nitpickers and carbon copies on our inflexible professors when they finally entered University or the working environment. Others started drinking. I sincerely hope things have changed but I can honestly state that I would have never allowed a child of mine to have to go through this crap had I remained in Austria. I have met many happy people who went to trade school, entered a profession and lived a long and happy life unburdened by social pressures which were such a huge part of Austria in those years. Titles were everything. You had to have at least one Doctorate or at least be a Magister (Master) of something if you wanted to be "somebody" in government, industry, banking, the legal profession or like me, in journalism. I got my Ph.D. in Journalism at age 22 to the great relief of all those around me. It could have ben in MacramĂ© but at least everyone had to call me Herr Doctor. My grandparents and parent's work was done. I was free to start a brothel, run a night club, become a ski bum or an alcoholic. No matter - I was Herr Doctor!

Titles traditionally were also accorded to the wifes of those so blessed. If you were a station master at the National Railroad, your wife would be addressed as "Frau Stationmaster". The cream of the crop were of course us Doctors. Every chick dreamed of being called "Frau Doctor". Sadly a lot of guys ended up with the prettiest girls with social aspirations and I saw a lot of unhappy marriages result from this social misconception.

Now after all this negative soliloquy, lets get to the good part: Life after school and work.

In my family the term "hard work" was anathema. You hired people for that. My architect grandpa hired the best architects and engineers for his firms, he conceptualized, watched over the work with a critical eye but probably hardly ever spent more than a few hours in the office every day. Ditto my dad. He was "Generaldirector", the Boss. For everything remotely connected to the daily operation of his various steel works or the family vineyards, there were Directors, managers, highly paid and valued employees and the general work force. He did however show up every morning at exactly 7 A.M., having been driven to work in his newest model Mercedes S-Class which year after year was delivered in the same shade of dark blue. All his top employees had Mercedes company cars as well, same blue color as his fleet but you could always tell who was highest in the order of things. Really top managers would rate a 220 series, those slightly below them got the model 219 and division managers all had 180s. At 8 A.M. he held a manager's meeting which was never allowed to last more than one hour. Then he was off to a light breakfast at CafĂ© Schnabl where he was usually met by a bevvy of other hard working leaders of commerce. Politics were committed and deals made until about noon when he went home for some rest and a light lunch. By mid afternoon he was back at the company headquarters for mail call and such matters he could not delegate and he always stayed until the afternoon shift ended at 5:30 P.M. This afforded him to state that he was the first in in the morning and that he left after the workers had gone home...(I will not go there but I often cringed when he orated about work ethics and such subjects. He was a lazy bum but he got away with it all his life).

Granddad was even more sporadic but he loved to visit work sites, see construction in progress and he truly supervised his projects with the love of an artist. I remember a time when I travelled with him to a construction site where he had drawn the plans for a lovely ski lodge. He walked around the building, plans in hand and suddenly called for a complete stop of all work. The building master was summoned and grandpa simply stated "Take the roof down, I don't like it". His buildings had to compliment the landscape and in this case, the roof line was too shallow against the backdrop of the foothills near Salzburg. "It must be steeper, more pronounced" he stated and went to the office where he and his team redesigned the whole roof structure over a very long weekend. As often, he bore the extra cost but he did so gladly. The outcome was everything for him.

So much for work. Now let us go play:

We never spend weekends or vacations near home. My dad and his tribe had a vacation home in Bad Aussee in the Styrian Alps, my grandfather moved the household every July to a villa at Lago di Orta in Italy. For me this was heaven. I had the use of a beautifully varnished Riva motor boat, grandfather often went sailing with friends, evenings were spent eating and drinking on the terrace. The thing I did not have was friends. I had a few back home but was never allowed to bring anyone on vacation with me and the local Italian kids were told to stay away from people like us, possibly in fear of loosing our custom if one of their children misbehaved. Even in my middle teens I lusted after the pretty Italian girls, wanted to go fishing with the boys from the village but all of this was verboten. There were always the same friends of my elders and their ghastly kids which I did not like at home and had no inclination to have as companions during vacation. So I wrote a lot of letters, mainly to a pretty girl named Waltrudis and to my best friend Martin Abel. We had an old Grundig tube type radio, just like at home, a piano badly out of tune but no TV or any other form of entertainment other than books and newspapers. I spent a lot of time fishing and reading and envying the children of my family's workers who could explore, bike, roam the forests or swim all day without having to dress up for dinner. I presume a good time was had by all but me.

Grandfather did make a point to take me on mini excursions into the countryside and showed me architectural treasures and beautiful vistas but eventually he realized that I was not exactly happy, so he promised me the often asked for but always denied flying lesson after we returned home in mid August

sounds a bit high falluting because the local glider and flying club my grandfather and father belonged to was actually just a large field on the banks of the Danube with two ancient barns large enough to house the "fleet". There were three pre-war gliders like the one shown in the illustration above, my grandfather's much abused but barely maintained two seat Piper Pacer and dad's ancient Fieseler Stork, a well maintained relic from the war.

My lessons started out with me sweeping the hangar floors after which I was allowed to help sand and oil the skimpy fuselages of the wooden gliders. However, there is nothing so educational as to learn the intricacies of even the most primitive flying machine. Soon I understand what makes things move, the spoilers on the wings, the stabilizer, the rudder and the pedals. The wires had to be carefully checked and sheaves oiled, the rudder pedals had to move freely but with some friction to prevent unintended over reaction and the wings which were Douglas fir ribs covered with fabric, had to be inspected for tears and tightness. The rest was theory and observation and being a bungee dog.
The little gliders were launched by stretching a long bungee cord which went around a simple vertical bar under the seat. When the cord was fully tight, the glider was let go and after flying over the end of the bungee it just fell away and one was flying. It normally took between eight and ten helpers to pull the cord and one person to arrest the glider before the cord was let go. Thus, we were all called the bungee dogs but every member of the club took turns at that task. The craft was launched over the edge of the hill and should there not be enough updraft to let you climb, there were large friendly meadows below where one could safely land which ticked everyone off because the glider had to be carried back up onto the field. But we all landed in the meadow eventually so it did not matter much.
My first solo flight (there is no dual instruction on a wooden stick with wings...) happened at 10 A.M. on my 14th birthday. Initially I climbed a bit too steep but I had a lovely updraft, corrected and soared for almost 15 minutes, riding the same warm air column back and forth until my ground handler waved the "come back" flag. I landed gently, was given my club pin and now was a regular  flying member of the group after my granddad had paid the annual membership dues of 500 Schillings (about $ 20.-)

Tomorrow I shall continue with the "puberty" part of this tale. Right now I have to get ready for chemo therapy and am not in the mood to discuss the sexual phantasies and aspirations of a young teen.


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