By Samantha Mitchell
Americans in Vienna looking for a touch of home will find a warm welcome mat waiting at the newly renovated Amerika Haus.
For more than six decades, Americans and Austrians used Amerika Haus as a place to meet and learn about one another’s culture.
That sentiment was apparent on Monday evening, while several dozen people mingled at a reception that revealed changes to the Amerika Haus building. Around the room you could hear old friends reconnecting over hors d’oeuvres, while first timers exchanged business cards and a cling of prost.
U.S. Ambassador William C. Eacho welcomed the crowd, and spoke about the history of Amerika Haus, which first opened on April 15th 1946. Initially located on Kärntner Straße, it functioned as an information centre about the United States.
After another move in the mid-fifties, Amerika Haus finally settled into its current location on Friedrich Schmidt Platz in 1971. The building featured a lending library, newsroom, and a space for concerts and exhibitions. The government maintained the library until the 1990’s, but later closed it due to budgetary reasons.
Now, the space serves as a post to present and highlight work created by Americans, and share it with Vienna. The multi purpose showroom features seminars, lectures, art exhibitions, film presentations, concerts and other events hosted by the U.S. Embassy.
Months of planning, designing and construction have breathed new life into the old walls. Harald Lembacher with the Public Affairs Section of the embassy led the redesign efforts. Lembacher says the rooms were modified extensively. He estimates partial costs of phase one renovations at around 90,000. The facelift includes an enlarged entry hall with updated ceiling lights. Guests can also hang coats and hats in a freshly designed wardrobe. Blinds replaced curtains to let in more natural light, but also serve an important security function preventing those on the outside from seeing inward.
When the budget allows, phase two of the redesign will include improved seating and a new air conditioning unit. For now, fresh floors, walls and furniture enhance the true essence of the space, which is meant to bring people together.
The reopening also kicked of the celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month or JAM. The month promotes the recognition of jazz as America’s contribution to music. April was selected to honor jazz because music legends like Billie Holiday, Herbie Hancock, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald all have birthdays this month. Guests at the Amerika Haus reopening received the 2012 JAM poster featuring jazz icon Frank Sinatra.
Vocalist Francesca Kelly and pianist Markus Gaudriot entertained the crowd with American jazz classics. The Austro-American duo began with Cole Porter’s version of spring, “It’s De-Lovely” and ended with George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.”
You can discover more cultural gems at Amerika Haus, which holds events weekly.
Amerika Haus offers several ways for internationals to learn more about one another and make new friends, “Who Could ask for anything more?” For more on these events visit the U.S. Embassy website at http://austria.usembassy.gov/.