After the ZEGG Summer Camp, I had about 10 days free that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I’d forgotten that the European Gathering was happening in Austria during the month of August, that is, until I was offered a ride to it. It seemed like the perfect choice. I’d missed the Vermont gathering by being overseas and had never yet been to a European one. I wouldn’t have much time there, but that didn’t bother me.
We had to wait a few days before leaving though (precious days for me, as I had very few left). Not unlike some U.S. Gatherings however, there were some site issues underway–the Austrian police continually harassed and moved the gatherers off each site they chose. So we waited.
By the morning of the third day of waiting, we decided to go anyway. There were a number of “holding camps” in Austria now – places where Rainbows had gathered while waiting for news of where to go. My driver, Andrea, chose Schloss Walchen.
For my part, I wasn’t paying much attention to where we were going. I was just happy to be going along. As a result, I was amazed when we pulled into a little town and I was told that the holding camp was here. Where in the world could there be place enough for 500 Rainbows (what the internet had said for this particular holding camp)?? We parked along the road with a few other hippie vehicles and followed a driveway into an immense parkland whose main feature (among other main features) was Schloss Walchen. (Schloss means ‘castle’.)
Built in the late 1500’s, Schloss Walchen was handed down from nobility to nobility until it ended up in the modern-day hands of the Hanreich-Öttl family. From what I was told by people who live in the castle now, the granddaughter of the owner wants to turn the castle into an intentional community and permaculture demonstration site. A year underway, the denizens of this new community opened their grounds (and later their doors) to the all the scattered Rainbow family waiting for a place to land. So this is where we ended up.
Originally intended, I think, to just be a camping place, the rains were so unending that everything was turned to mud on the grounds and the Rainbows were invited to cook, eat, and for those without tents, to sleep inside. That was the evening we arrived. Since two of the four of us didn’t have tents, this was quite welcome!
My first exposure to the scene (other than trying to get the mud off of me enough to come in clean through the door) was in the room pictured above. Just a small slice, as the photo was taken through a semi-closed doorway, this room had one of the most beautiful singing circles I’d seen in a long, long time. Indeed, it was the first time I felt I could truly relax on my entire trip to abroad. I’m not sure if the surreality of being at a Rainbow Gathering of sorts inside such an old, magical place contributed to the effect or not, but I finally felt I was “Home” for a moment – at least for a moment.
The room was packed with people, all singing or playing instruments. Considering how chilly it was outside, the warmth of the room was so inviting, not just temperature-wise but also with the people. I’ve never seen a Rainbow event that was so truly touch- and cuddle-positive. And while ZEGG can be touch-positive depending on which guests are there at any given point, this room had a far more open, all-encompassing welcome about it: everyone seemed held.
The two of us who were sleeping upstairs left well into the morning for our second-story sleeping area (third-story for US folks). Normally a workshop space, there were so many folks needing to get out of the rain, the room was filled with sleeping bodies of all ages by the time we got up there. The space had hardwood floors and an amazing ceiling:
In the morning, all of the sleeping bags and mattresses were moved aside and a contact improv jam took place.
Though somewhat ordinary-looking on the outside, the castle seemed infinitely fascinating on the inside. The picture below is on the staircase leading down to the main floor where the main kitchen was used for a meal or two for Rainbow until the rain stopped.
A closer look at the picture on the stairwell:
One of the hallways leading into the bowels of the castle. many doors lead off to chambers on each side. The castle, from what I can see, is still heated entirely by wood heat and is quite drafty (as all castles are reputed to be).
(These photos were taken quickly without much planning, so it’s hard to get a good sense of how magical the interior really is.)
The outside grounds were quite immense. They have plans to transform them into edible landscapes and permaculture gardens. While helping to move a large saw into the castle, we got diverted by a French aerial silk artist playing the ukelele nude:
Just about everyone stopped what they were doing to watch and laugh. He was quite the showman and enjoyed the attention (and cameras).
In the end, we stayed there 2 nights. By the last day it seemed clear that it was time to go, so even though there were ominous posts on Facebook about site parking, we all decided to head south to the Italian-Slovenian border where the main gathering holding camp was turning into the full on gathering.