hidden europe 39

Asia in the mind

by hidden europe


We start with a dubious attribution, a few words allegedly uttered by the Austrian diplomat and politician Count Metternich. And we end with the Ukrainian poet and dramatist Lesya Ukrainka in Georgia. In between, we discover that Asia is a state of mind – a place of the imagination that always lies away to the east.

The Austrian Foreign Minister Klemens von Metternich is often credited with having said of Vienna that “Asia begins at the Landstrasse” — although we have never pinpointed an authoritative source for the quote. It seems to be one of those little fables which writers of guidebooks and travel blogs just copy from each others.

But, whether or not the words were ever uttered by Count Metternich, they nicely capture the notion that the East is different. There was a time when some Viennese worried that their city might be a little too close to the boundary between sophisticated Europe and the wild East. Indeed, as the preceding article shows, 19th-century travellers to Vienna were often very struck by the social and ethnic mix on the city’s streets.

This notion of Europe as a metaphor for civilisation has always thrived on having an Asian counterpoint.

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