“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”, I thought, viewing the artificial cow teats at the big harvest festival in Vienna.
I didn’t try it.
But if you do fancy practicing your milking skills, this 2-day weekend event is the place. If you don’t, there’s still plenty else on offer to warm the country heart.
Once a year, in early September, Austria’s agriculture descends on Vienna’s Heldenplatz* to offer thanks for the harvest, showcase its products and educate city dwellers in the ways of the rural world.
Fortunately, many of those products are edible or drinkable, so a big chunk of the festival is turned over to stands and marquees brimming with regional specialties.
Great rounds of mountain cheese nestle next to rows of homemade jams. Styrian apples compete with Wachauer apricots, pumpkin oil with pancakes, Waldviertel carp with organic kebabs.
On the drink side, beer, wine and fruit juices flow in equal measure, plus there’s a chance to sample some of the regional classics. Sturm, for example, is a cloudy, fermented grape juice, while Most is a popular cider-like drink. And then there’s the Schnapps, which seems to come in endless varieties and colours.
In fact, it’s the colours that are one of the more striking elements of the festival area.
Quite apart from the fruit and vegetables on display, processed products like pasta and chutneys also come in an array of reds, yellows and and greens. Not forgetting the clothes, either, with visitors, exhibitors and musicians alike often dressing in their regional costumes.
I mention musicians because the event is accompanied by a programme of musical treats (assuming you like brass bands and folk dancing).
Aside from the food and drink stalls, there are numerous educational stands, with information about national parks and other organisations.
Kids, in particular, can get to grips (literally) with life on the land, through craft activities, games and quizzes. Forget your bouncy castles: the year I attended there was a bouncy tractor.
For the tourist, it seems a marvellous opportunity to work your way through the culinary concoctions of an entire country without leaving Vienna. Tip: go on the Sunday afternoon when the festival parade takes place.
For more information, see the event’s website.
*There are rumours the festival will move location for 2016