Archive for the ‘Austria’ Category

Viennese Coffee now available in Pyongyang

Monday, February 13th, 2012

UPDATE 1 (2012-2-13): Thanks Dr. Seliger we now have some photos of the interior of the newly opened Viennese Coffee Restaurant:

And if you don’t feel like coffee, they have more “traditional” drinks on offer:

The sign on the front door reads “Helmut Sachers Kaffee,” but the menu shows another name: Ryongwang Coffee Shop (련광). Perhaps this is the name of the Korean Join-Venture company, but I cannot find any additional information on it.

A reader notes the following:

Helmut Sacher is an Austrian coffee roaster (web page here). It is probably that Ryon’gwang buys beans from Sacher, and/or Sacher owns part of the joint company.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-12-4):

Pictured above (Google Maps): Korean Central History Museum on Kim Il-sung Square–site of the new coffee house.

According to a German reader:

A report published [2011-11-24] in the German Daily “Frankfurter Rundschau” reports on the opening of a “Viennese Coffe House” right on Kim Il Sung Square inside the Museum of Korean History (the one wih the “trumpet soldier”).

In brief: Austrian enterpreneur Helmut Sachers has opened this new Vienna style cofee house in October after training Korean service- and bakery staff. It says that it mainly serves the foreign community in Pyongyang, but alo an increasing number of Koreans appear to be able to pay EUR 2, the equivalent of 5000 Won, for a cup of cappucino.

Then reference is made to two older pizza-places and a a Swiss coffe house …. and various duty free shops serving the international community and wealthy North Koreans… which is contrasted with the children and young soldiers exercising on Kim Il Sung Square, who show indications of malnurishment.

You can read a PDF of the German article here. If a reader has the ability and inclination to provide an English-language copy of this article, I would appreciate it.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mr. Knoll I have a full English translation of the article:

Whipped Cream in Pyongyang

The heart of the North Korean capital Pyongyang now boasts a Viennese coffee house – a sign that the isolation of the country is showing cracks.

By Bernhard Bartsch

A cappuccino is not political, in most places in the world. But the milk foam coffee now being served on Pyongyang´s Kim Il Sung Square has an unmistakably political flavor – and some customers think that´s why it tastes so good. Right next to the parade ground in the heart of the North Korean capital, a Viennese café has opened its doors in late October – a sign the isolation of the arch-communist regime is slowly showing cracks.

The Austrian operator could hardly have asked for a more iconic building: the Museum of Korean History, a Stalinist representative structure, on its roof, a 10 m (30 ft) tall soldier is sounding the charge. Inside, you get a crash course in the history of the Korean revolution, and you´ll be served “Viennese coffee with whipped cream”, but only after passing through a door inconspicuously marked “café” in Korean. Only then the yellow coffeepot-shaped emblem marked “Helmut Sachers Kaffee” becomes visible.

“We have thirty to fourty customers per day” the young waitress says. “Most of them are diplomats or other foreigners living here”. She wears a black pantsuit, and like most North Koreans, she is rather tight-lipped when talking to foreigners. A couple sitting at one of the eleven tables is examining the room, a peculiar mix of Austrian gemuetlichkeit and North Korean drabness. Two fans with gaudily-colored lamps are hanging from the ceiling, there´s wood paneling to half height, pink blinds cover the windows. A large flat screen TV is showing Austrian scenery, waltz is being played as background music.

Payment in hard currency

Expensive coffeemakers can be seen behind the bar, a vitrine shows a variety of cakes: apple tart, cherry streusel, poppyseed-walnut-vanilla. They won´t win any prizes in Vienna, they might in Pyongyang, though. The coffee, the dishes, even the sugar packs are imported from Austria. A cappuccino is two euros, you pay in hard currency. The Koreans prefer euros, Chinese yuan, even US dollars, over their own currency. Two euros are worth about 5,000 Korean won on the black market. That´s about a month´s salary for the average North Korean, not counting food and clothing rations.

The man the café is named after is living in Oeynhausen, near Vienna. “We seem to have a monopoly on exotic export markets” explains Helmut Sachers, owner of a long-standing family-owned coffee-roasting establishment, now doing business in 25 countries. “There´s a Café Sachers in the Mongolian capital Ulan Bator, too”. The cafés, however, are not operated by Sachers himself, but by importers. The one in Pyongyang was the brainchild of Vienna entrepreneur Helmut Brammen. “In 2009 he told me he´s doing business in very unusual destinations”, Sachers says. The negotiations went on for two years, before Sachers and Brammen flew to Pyongyang in March, accompanied by an Austrian baker to train staff. They met very eager men and women, Sachers says. The North Koreans soaked up Austrian coffee culture like a sponge.
The fact that a Viennese coffee house can open its doors in Pyongyang shows that behind the rigid façade things are in a state of flux, a European diplomat says. “Ordinary North Koreans won´t come here, of course, but the elites know what life is like outside the country, and they want a part of it to enjoy at home.

Communist Pizza

The Viennese café is not the first international establishment in the city. A member of the Italian Communist Party opened a pizzeria in 2009, the second in Pyongyang, but the first that is partly owned by foreigners. Adra, an aid organization run by Swiss Adventists, opened a Swiss café a few years ago, serving cheese fondue to North Koreans. There are also several stores selling exclusive imported goods. At the “Pyongyang Shop”, where the clientele consists of embassy staff and members of international aid groups, Italian pasta, German jam, Swiss chocolate, and a large selection of wine and whisky are available.
“Those with money can buy almost anything they want in North Korea” the diplomat says. “It is remarkable that more and more customers are North Koreans.” Despite the egalitarian rhetoric in the Communist country, the real-life wealth disparities are much more blatant than in capitalist countries.

The scene outside the Viennese café on Kim Il Sung Square is no exception. Schoolchildren are rehearsing in the cold for the celebrations planned for April 2012, the 100th birthday of the country´s founder. A gigantic mass gymnastics show involving hundreds of thousands of participants is supposed to strengthen unity among the Korean people. By command, children turn cartwheels and do flic-flacs, a student band plays military marches. On the other side of the street, an army unit doing construction work has pitched its tents. Clothing has been left to dry on bushes, there are lines of cabbage leaves to be pickled by the unit´s chef, to make kimchi, the national dish.

Almost all of the young soldiers are stunted – a result of the famine in the 1990s that killed millions of North Koreans and left many survivors with permanent health problems. “The food situation is still very bad, but a catastrophe as in those days seems unimaginable today”, says a Western aid worker, who is almost a regular at Helmut Sachers`s. “The country is opening up, and this is irreversible.


Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts hosts DPFK art

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

UPDATE 3: The Los Angeles Times also covers the story:

More than 100 oils, watercolors, traditional Korean ink paintings and posters from the Korean Art Gallery in Pyongyang have been drawing a blurry line here between art and propaganda.

Does the show at Vienna’s MAK: Austrian Museum for Applied Arts/Contemporary Art offer a rare glimpse into an isolated and largely unknown North Korean art scene, or is it merely a stage for a regime that uses art not only as a messenger of its political ideology but also as a source of international funding?

The term “political propaganda” does indeed come to mind while viewing the exhibit “Flowers for Kim Il Sung,” on display since May and running through Sept. 5.

A significant portion of the show is dedicated to monumental portraits of Kim Il Sung and his son/successor, Kim Jong Il. They are either walking proudly together or are featured in scenes with peasants, soldiers or children in front of lush, blossoming gardens.

One work, titled “Kim Jong Il, the Supreme Commander of the KPA, Deeply Concerned Over the Soldiers’ Diet,” shows Kim looking into a cooking pot.

Another is a portrait of Kim Jong Il staring at paperwork on his desk, a cigarette burning in his hand. The night sky dominates the view from the window at his side. The canvas is called “The Endlessly Burning Light of the Party Center.”

All paintings with the Kims are carefully arranged in deep niches and protectively cordoned off with red rope. None of the artworks in the exhibit bears any comment about the nature of the North Korean regime — the main point contested by the critics of the show.

But MAK’s director, Peter Noever, appears unfazed by any debate surrounding the exhibit.

“I am neither a politician nor a political scientist. And besides, everybody knows what sort of a regime that is; we don’t have to explain this to anyone,” Noever said, sipping coffee in his office on the same floor as the North Korean artworks.

Such a display, the museum director said, offers a unique glimpse into the character, the mentality and the culture of a nation.

Along with portrayals of smiling, neatly dressed citizens, children with rosy cheeks under baby blue skies and happy peasants toiling amid stunning scenery, there are brightly colored prints in a style reminiscent of the Soviet poster tradition. The North Korean ones transmit messages — complete with exclamation marks — such as “Utmost efficiency in the use of electricity!”, “Spare every drop of water!” and “Even more consumer goods for the people!”

MAK officials said it is the first time the Korean Art Gallery has sent such a significant collection of work — dating from the 1960s to 2010 — abroad.

In North Korea, “art assumes a social function and is subordinate to the revolutionary process,” organizers of the Viennese exhibit said in a news release. North Korean artists are all members of state artist associations and have regular working hours. They receive a monthly salary for producing a certain number of works that “communicate the correct attitude, behaviors, morality and values.”

And their work has apparently become a profitable export that is able to skirt North Korea’s international isolation, helping to bring cash back home.

Ardent collectors can travel to the country to shop for art, said Rudiger Frank, professor of East Asian Economy and Society at the University of Vienna. Or works can be acquired at specialized galleries in more easily accessible locations, such as Beijing. Art can even be ordered directly from North Korean artists or the associations they work for.

Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies — the largest such association and the main center of production for North Korean art — was founded in 1959 and employs about 4,000 people, including about 1,000 artists working in all media.

Noever said his counterparts in Pyongyang had no financial demands for lending works to the Vienna exhibition, but arranging the show had its difficulties.

While on a trip to Japan seven years ago, he spontaneously decided to visit North Korea, managing to obtain a permit to enter alone and stay for a week. He went to the national art gallery in Pyongyang and met its manager, who showed him artworks that Noever decided had to be seen by a wider audience.

Persuading North Korean authorities, however, was not easy.

“They were surprised and did not understand at first why we would want such an exhibition,” Noever said. “It was a long back-and-forth affair. We had to wrestle with them because they had totally different, very academic ideas about what should go on display.”

He has had the chance to visit some of the artists’ workshops and said he was impressed by the decent working conditions, although he doubts that all North Korean artists have such good jobs.

After all his effort, Noever believes that bringing the North Korean artworks to Vienna was a coup. Frank too is convinced that having them in Austria is a good thing.

“One quickly forgets that North Korea is not only about nuclear weapons and its regime. The exhibition helps people think about what more is there; it brings up questions,” Frank said.

UPDATE 2: The BBC offers coverage of the art show. See it here. 

UPDATE 1:  Daylife offers some pictures of the exhibit: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4, Photo 5, Photo 6, Photo 7, Photo 8.

ORIGINAL POST: According to the AFP:

Portraits never seen outside North Korea of leader Kim Jong-Il and his late father Kim Il-Sung go on display in Vienna on Wednesday alongside dozens of propaganda posters produced by the secretive nuclear state.

The exhibition, entitled “Flowers for Kim Il Sung” also includes a model of the capital Pyongyang’s landmark Juche Tower and architectural drawings and photographs.

The 16 portraits of Kim and his father, the founder of North Korea, are being exhibited for the first time abroad, according to museum officials.

The pair are the subject of an all-embracing personality cult in North Korea.

Kim Il-Sung was declared president for eternity after he died of a heart attack in 1994 at the age of 82. His embalmed body lies in a glass coffin at a palace in Pyongyang.

Kim, 67, who reportedly suffered a stroke in August 2008, is widely thought to have chosen his third son, Jong-Un, to inherit power.

Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts, or MAK, which prepared the exhibition in cooperation with the Korean Art Gallery in Pyongyang and the Paektusan Academy of Architecture, has been accused by some critics in Austria of supporting the North Korean regime.

But the museum’s director Peter Noever dismissed the suggestion.

“As a museum of art, our job is to display art so that it can be discussed afterwards,” he said.

The exhibition runs until September 5.Read the full story here:
Rare portraits of N.Korea leader revealed


DPRK art on display in Vienna this summer

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

(h/t Werner) According to a reader the MAK Museum Vienna (Museum of Applied Arts, Museum of Contemporary Arts) will hold from May 9-September 5, 2010 a special exhibition of North Korean paintings, posters, and architecture in collaboration with the National Gallery in Pyongyang (located here-satellite image).

According to the MAK Museum:

Art and architecture from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
19.05.2010 – 05.09.2010

Through large format paintings and contemporary positions in the areas of film, poster art, and architecture, the exhibition offers insight into the art production of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In collaboration with the National Gallery in Pyongyang, MAK has put together a comprehensive show offering the first presentation of the gallery’s original works in a foreign museum.

For several months, visitors to MAK will have the opportunity to gain, in a world premiere, an impression of the culture of the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea (DPRK). which has been isolated since its founding in 1948. Already in the past, MAK has offered insight into worlds beyond Western art and architecture movements with exhibitions, such as “Art and Revolution. Russian and Soviet Art 1919–1932” (1988), “The Tyranny of the Beautiful: Architecture in the Time of Stalin” (1994), “Architecture Again. The Havana Project” (1997), and “Cine Art. Indian Poster Painters at the MAK” (1999). After years of intense effort, it has been possible to arrange a collaboration with the National Gallery in Pyongyang that aims to present the officially recognized art of the Democratic People’s Republic, in context, and make transparent the development of art within the nation’s political framework. The paintings from the National Gallery, many of which present idealized everyday scenes, are able to offer revealing insight into this country’s largely unknown culture.

A majority of the work is comparable with Soviet Realism. Formally, the artists fall back on stylistic means from Realism and Romanticism: motifs from the working world and the revolutionary struggle are depicted in an academic painterly style, mediating a picture of the ideal world and showing new hero figures: workers, airplane crews and pilots are commonly the protagonists doing the “glorious and good.”

The exhibition will also document with photos, original designs, and models, the special architectural development of Pyongyang, which was entirely destroyed during the Korean War (1950–1953). The model of the Juche Tower, landmark of the city, is hereby attributed special significance. In the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea, the fine arts developed in a special way under the rule of State founder President Kim Il Sung and his son and successor President Kim Jong Il.

Taking recourse to historical role models, President Kim developed the “Juche” ideology, which postulates the concept of independence as the ideal view of the world. In art, promoted along with portraits and scenes showing heads of state, are primarily motifs displaying the country and life in the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea in their most positive forms.

Curator Christiane Bauermeister
Consultant curator
Christiane Bauermeister
Project coordination
Dunja Gottweis

A catalogue will be published in conjunction with the exhibition.

Guided tours
Sat, Sun 4.00 p.m.
Continuous information service and short tours: Sat 2.00-4.00 p.m.

Special guided tours by advance booking: Gabriele Fabiankowitsch, phone (+43-1) 711 36-298, e-mail: [email protected]


Vienna trains North Korean orchestra conductors…

Friday, February 29th, 2008

This week that Washington Post (hat tip Dr. Petrov)published an article which took a unique position on the NY Phil’s performance.  Rather than comment on whether the event was diplomatically significant, or whether it legitimized a regime with a poor human rights record, the columnist denounced it for having a “tinge of benevolent didacticism”…before pointing out that North Korea has no shortage of classically-trained, quality orchestra conductors.  In fact, for years they have been sending students to Vienna:

Asia is a hotbed of Western classical music. This passion has evidently not bypassed North Korea. Much of the West harbors images of North Koreans as either wealthy soldiers or starving peasants. But in Vienna, Austria, there is another image of them: as conducting students. The elite conducting class at the University of Music and Performing Arts there has trained no fewer than 17 North Korean students in the past decade.

According to Mark Stringer, the conductor who leads the class, the North Korean government decides, every few years, that it is time to train a new crop of elite young conductors. In the early 2000s — a few years before Stringer took over in 2005 — the government’s choice fell on this Vienna school. There were considerable bureaucratic hurdles to overcome; North Korean representatives insisted on sitting in on auditions, and had a hard time understanding why not all of their handpicked candidates were accepted by the school. But they were also paying attention.

“The next batch,” Stringer said, “knew what to expect. They were so prepared they could nail every single bit of our ferociously difficult entrance exam.”

The students also do not fulfill anyone’s expectations of politically guarded wards of the state. “They have a completely normal experience,” Stringer says. “Once they’re in the walls of the school, politics disappear. There is no breathing down our necks from the North Korean officials.” He describes the students as generally more open, easygoing and funny than their South Korean counterparts.

“Were they to be allowed to stay in the West,” he says, “a number of the ones I’ve seen would have a serious chance of a prominent international career. It’s phenomenal what they come to Vienna knowing how to do.”

UPDATE email from a reader:

I also visited that performance of the joint North-South Korean student’s orchestra at Vienna Music Universtity (and took a video of this performance).

Contrary to the Washington Post article the ambassadors were not attending the performance, but other staff of the respective embassies [were]. I don’t know, if they drank beer together, but anyhow, when arriving at the hall before performance the consuls (not ambassadors) greeted themselves nicely.

Very interesting the seating arrangement of the South and North Korean spectators in this student concert. The men (Korean, North an[d] south) in rows 2-4, the women in rows 5-6 and the students behind. (very Confucian …)  It was amazing to see how many North Koreans must be living here in Vienna.

In Vienna, there are not only North Korean conductor students, but also piano, violin, biology, architecture or English students. The same in Germany, Italy and maybe France and other countries.

The full article can be read here:
The N.Y. Philharmonic in North Korea: Symbology and the Music
Washington Post
Anne Midgette
Tuesday, February 26, 2008; Page C04