Graz: UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and birthplace to Arnold Schwarzenegger. We took the train from Vienna, which involved the novelty of a reserved car and the inconvenience of the very tight hallway connected to it.
As the train arrived, a voice over the loudspeaker pleasantly announced, “Achtung, Bahnsteig vier.” Growing up with Hollywood movies, I had never heard “achtung” said calmly. More often it was followed by “Schnell! Schnell!” and impending damage to a Jones.
The symbol of Graz is the Schlossberg, or "castle mountain". Arguably the strongest fortification of all time, even Napoleon couldn't conquer this daunting bastion. Instead, he marched on and occupied Vienna, where he threatened to raze the city to the ground to get the fortress' defenders to surrender. He then dismantled all of its fortifications, saving only the bell tower and clock tower in acquiescence to local protestations.
There is one huge similiarity, however: just about everywhere you go, people speak English. The only German conversation I had was with an old man on top of the Schlossberg. My side consisted entirely of "ja." I imagine if I'd admitted that I didn't speak German, he would have reverted to English, too.
My grandfather's last surviving brother lives on farmland just outside of Graz. The pastoral views were incredible. It was also a little strange to be served cookies my grandmother used to make by somebody other than my grandmother.
The collection of arms at most museums are just that: a collection, meant for display. The key to the Styrian Armoury is quantity. Graz was part of the vanguard in ongoing conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, and the Styrian Armoury was a weapons cache designed to outfit 5,000 men. It has remained largely unchanged since the 17th century, and with 32,000 pieces, it declares itself to be the largest historical armoury in the world.
The first floor had the usual museum displays, including a rather dramatic set of figures illustrating precisely why you would not want to go up against a team of pikemen. It was most interesting to note how the 16th-century knights rode with wheel-lock pistols in addition to swords, with pistol holsters on one or both sides of their saddles.
The second to fourth floors were brimming with weapons and armour. There were racks and racks of breastplates, helmets and powder flasks hanging from the ceiling, massive guns clinging to the walls, pistols lined up like bestsellers on bookcases, and a collection of at least 60 two-handed swords, all ready to be grabbed at a moment's notice. Counting up and multiplying, I estimated 5,000 spears, 2,000 suits of armour, 2,000 long guns and 1,000 pistols. The clerk at the ticket booth noted that it wouldn't quite be accurate to say you could equip 5,000 men, however—there are lots of some items, but a marked scarcity of others. Among other things, there were very few gauntlets to be found anywhere.
The plentitude of armour changed my image of medieval warfare, where I had presumed that only the very rich had had access to proper equipment, and that our image of knights was based only on the rare cream of the crop while everyone else ran around with farming tools. Looking at the armoury, it seemed that there was more than enough proper gear to go around. I wondered how 5,000 men equipped with this stuff could possibly lose any battle. And yet they did lose, almost as often as they won, and they were terrified of the Ottomans.
I was so impressed that I bought the Armoury's 100-page, full-colour English-language book. The cost? €4. It seems they had about 1,000 of the things lying around and were trying to get rid of them, leftovers from a tour to Australia in 1998-1999. The book is probably the best description of medieval armour I've ever seen. €4 well spent.