Students sitting around a dining table eating a meal in a sunny room

A Taste of Austria

A Taste of Austria

Wiener schnitzel, lingonberries and Sacher torte. Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese Waltz. Hiking, yodeling and skiing. Williams students had the opportunity to taste, listen to and experience these and others of Austria’s finest offerings as part of a popular Winter Study course taught by Sophia Klingenberg.

Klingenberg, who hails from Graz, Austria, and has a doctorate in medicine from the Vienna University Medical School, had been interested in teaching a Winter Study course. A singular Williams experience, the four weeks in January are a time for students and professors to stretch their intellectual and creative muscles, free from the distraction of other courses or the pressure of being graded. They can use the time to focus on an interest cultivated during the regular academic year, or they can pursue something entirely new.

Klingenberg imagined she would develop a class about anatomy or physiology. But she changed course and developed A Taste of Austria several years ago after being inspired by Kurt Tauber, Williams’ Class of 1924 Professor of Political Science, emeritus. They met as neighbors in Williamstown who shared an Austrian heritage.

“He used to host elaborate dinner parties,” Klingenberg says, and Tauber often invited her and her husband, Professor of Statistics Bernhard Klingenberg, to dine with him. Klingenberg realized after spending time with Tauber that “it would be important to engage students from different countries to a new language and culture … especially through taste.”

That’s what attracted Charlotte Wishnack ’25 to enroll. “This class seemed like it covered so many aspects of Austria,” she says, noting that she enjoyed Klingenberg’s enthusiasm for the subject matter. Adds Allison Norris ’22, “I was unable to study abroad because of Covid-19, which was a really big letdown for me during my college career. This class was a way for me to learn about a European country while still being in Williamstown.”

Covid protocols required some changes to the original syllabus this year. Klingenberg, who as a high schooler performed ballroom dancing with her brother and was frequently an extra in the opera, had to scrap plans to teach students the Viennese waltz the first week. And a planned, in-person concert by Austrian pianist Philipp Scheucher, who won second place in the 2021 International Beethoven Competition in Vienna, moved online. But students were able to view waltz videos, and Scheucher recorded a concert just for the class.

Three students making something in a kitchen with flour, eggs, sliced zucchini and grater visible next to a sink
Students preparing Wiener schnitzel

Meanwhile, they learned to introduce themselves to each other in German, studied the different dialects within Austria and practiced German tongue twisters. The class took over the Zilkha Center’s kitchen to make Wiener schnitzel, Austrian potato salad, Sacher torte and Kaiserschmarrn, the skillet-made dessert also known as Emperor’s pancake. They tasted Austrian-made Manner Schnitten wafers, Zotter Chocolates and the popular herbal beverage Almdudler. In their final week, they had plans to visit the Clark for a scavenger hunt of Austrian artists’ work in the museum. And while Jiminy Peak isn’t quite as expansive as the Austrian Alps, students were to go skiing on their final day of the course. They took a final exam, wrote a paper and gave a presentation on a topic of their choosing, which this year ranged from the rise of Adolf Hitler to Formula One racing.

“It’s a busy itinerary for only four weeks of Winter Study,” says Klingenberg, who aims to move students away from the classroom. “We’re having tons of fun.”