Linz Bahnhof - Katzenberg. 3.7.23
I leave Linz Hbf, slipping onto the regional train at the end of platform 2. We rattle slowly across the Eisenbrücke, sunlight flashing through steel. I feel like I am inside the barrel of an old film being played back slowly.
I think about our dearly departed, who took this route in reverse every morning sixty five years ago. I imagine that in crossing the Donau this way, not much has changed. It’s my first taste of ghosts. I steig out at Steyregg on a silent Sunday morning, step across the tracks, observe a line of metal rings in the grass. They seem to have been there since the village was created. The Dorf is sleeping.
The old Lagerhaus too. There are two cyclists standing at its sliding doors. They do not open.
There is no sign of life behind the blacked out glass. There is also no sign of when it might open. I leaf through my booklet but can’t figure it out. They, father and son, are also none the wiser and wheel off along the road. I have the feeling I have missed the show.
Around the side of the majestic Lagerhaus are traces of a performance. Names on a card with no bodies attached. I imagine them daubing graffiti, sliding their feet through the gravel, a crowd of people standing in respectful silence as they sip at tins of beer.
I return to the station, scan a QR code, watch strange rituals performed by robed spirits in iconic parts of the trainline’s landscape: they extend branches across ravines, flap things in the wind, lurk in caves. I finger a strip of black mourning fabric that covers the QR code, gathering its rough message. I think about daily commuters doing the same and smile.
Waiting for the next train I observe a string of ghost cars lined up alongside the rails. Made from potted plants woven together like living wicker effigies, their multi-coloured ribbons whip the silent air. I wonder if the specific colours of the ribbons symbolise the different colours of cars; if I should have taken the car rather than the train.
The next stop is St Georgian a.d. Donau Ort. How else should I proceed when bound by rails?
The town is completely deserted and there is a fine, mist-like rain falling. I find nothing at the station apart from two reunited young lovers. They hug, kiss, and step into the back of mother's car. I drift into the village, following a different kind of map. (It's the official festival map, not the Map of Life taken by them lovers)
At the archway to KV Tribüne is a person with their back to me, smoking a cigarette.
It is not clear if I should be there so I slip on, their face never known - if they even had one. I head to the ‘House of Memories’.
There is a hush over the village to accompany the shroud of fine rain. I pass old people filing out of fancy wooden houses into black Mercedes. I walk fast, busting to pee.
The House of Memories is completely deserted. Of course it is.
I peer through windows into darkened rooms, filled with chairs. I imagine long, respectful conversations about the KZ I am now desperate to enter. Finally I force my way into the toilet - the door stopper was down but I wiggle my foot in and free it. The facilities are luxurious.
On my way back across the bridge to the station, I try to take a picture of a christ on a cross who has gone green and looks lost in thought, but my fingers can’t wake my phone – the rain is too fine. Now I am the ghost, following the trainline, one step out of time, unseen even by tech.
I decide to skip the next stop, Lungitz. It is only one lonely asterisk on the map. What are the chances there is something there?
I go on to Gaisbach-Wartberg and finally, there’s a friendly face at the station with official FDR merch! She tells me what’s what, nods, “Yeah, all the exhibitions open at 12.” I was confused because the FDR office in Linz opened at 1000. She explains that I missed a really great exhibition at Lungitz and that there is a Spar automat at the next stop. I wish I could go back and forward simultaneously.
Inside the Wartberg station are videos of ghosts. A missile flies along the trainline, a transparent sticker of a ballistic rocket, stuck to the glass in an effective lo-fi film trick. A young woman and her younger brother play weird games in the dirt with the severed hands of monsters. In the back room are desperate looking characters on a projection screen. Male refugees on route to somewhere: They are hunched and barely surviving at an abandoned train station. They are travelling hugged-in under trains. They burn fires from cut down trees and dry themselves with steaming buckets. They thumbs-up the camera, hiding their desperation, presenting as being solid despite being vapour thin. I feel like them, my eyes burning in the darkness of the station, hungry for the video light.
I know I am not like them, their lives much more precarious, closer to actual death.
Outside is a truncated slice of a train like the last slice of cake, with lovely wooden benches inside of it. The assistant tells me she has seen many families and couples resting there. Makes sense. It’s nice and has that sweet smell of fresh cut wood.
Next to it are two roughly welded boxes of steel with lumpy sketches painted on them. I nudge one with my foot. It rocks, untethered like a dice. The scene depicted is of vague forms on the rails nearby, mirroring the landscape, reflecting my feeling. Once again, it’s ghosts. One scene shows a figure on the tracks. You shouldn't stand out there, yet she does. But she doesn’t. Just another image on a box.
This time I fill the wait for the next train by chatting to the attendant. It’s great. I catch the next train with two other ghosters on the FDR trail. The carriage leans and hisses. I feel like I’m in a dream. Leaves and sunlight glance by. And then there is a giant scaffolding looming into view, curving on its own rail. It arches just as we did, translated through ninety degrees. I see figures out there, examining it. Two cyclists.
Them again? I can't tell. It’s on the other side of the tracks and then we’re arriving.
We hop off together at Katzenberg, three ghosts. This time the attendant seems stressed, ill informed and edgy. He isn’t sure if the church is open. He makes a call. It is. There is no way of getting to Gallneukirchen (where the main fun is, apparently) from here. No shuttle bus, or actual bus.
I leave my fellow ghosts, wanting to enjoy my lonely sojourn up to the church. The climb is steep but fun. I’m there in no time. Inside of the church is a large, deflated effigy made from plastic inflatables positioned opposite the impressive catholic altar and lectern. It creates a strange feeling. I am not a religious person, but this tacky plastic intrusion is jarring. Therefore it made me feel something interesting. But also disappointed. I had been led to believe it was going to be fun, alive, musical. It was literally flat. This was the moment where I gave into pessimism and decided to head home.
I bought a chilled Snickers at the Spar automat on the way back to the station. Yes, as if it had been held in the mouth of a ghost.
My fellow ghosts were there before me - with hot coffee! Dammit. We chatted. It turned out we shared vocations, friends, a feeling of not having been very well informed. We said our goodbyes and I slipped back into the train to enjoy the ride home.
It was clunky, sleepy, beautiful.