Saturday 16 December 2017

Kevin Myers: What do Austrian children want to be? Pensioners

FELIX Baumgartner is the Austrian madman who last weekend jumped from 24 miles above the earth -- from Naas to Dublin city centre, say -- to make the world's highest parachute jump, during which his body speed exceeded 824mph: 30pc faster than a jetliner. Though his name is the embodiment of the Alpine idyll (Baumgartner means orchard gardener), he is personally the very rebuttal of the Austrian chocolate box image of neat Tyrolean meadows, strudel and edelweiss.

Of course, all national identities embody some central contradictions, but perhaps no people in Europe are as divided between perception and reality as the Austrians. Baumgartner is merely the extreme of an Austrian tradition of ruthless high achievement concealed within an outward display of pathological provincialism and bourgeois parochialism.

Everyone knows about Hitler: but he was sui-generis, whose gross personality disorders could have emerged anywhere. Less well-known is Baumgartner's spiritual antecedent, the fearless Austrian fighter pilot Walter Nowotny, who during World War Two shot down 258 allied aircraft. This equals the combined total score of the eight top individual aces from the UK, the US, the USSR, France, South Africa, Australia, South Africa and Italy.

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