Christmas in Europe comes and goes but is never the same, and that is certainly what makes the event so charming. The difference in temperature between Rhodes (2000) and Kuressaare (2002) was at least 30 degrees Celsius! In Semmering, this time we had to mention the height because the school is perched about one thousand metres above sea-level, at the foot of the ski-slopes of a beautiful ski-resort, an hours drive from the Austrian capital Vienna.
The Semmering school (B.L.T. standing for Höhere BundesLehranstalt für Tourismus) has 516 students aged between 14 and 19, while the village of Semmering en has 600 inhabitants! And just for the record, it was apparently the creation of the school, 24 years ago, that was behind the revival of the resort and of the nearby Panhans hotel. Early last century the hotel was the meeting place for Europe’s aristocracy.
There was a snowfall just as we arrived. Great – Christmas in Europe with snow! Even if it was cold outside, a warm welcome awaited the delegations as they entered the school after arriving by minibus, sometimes after a very long journey; they were quickly taken care of and settled into their bedrooms in the school’s training hotel. And the delegates – some of whom had already met before elsewhere – were obviously delighted to meet again in such surroundings.
Dinner on November 30th set the tone for the rest of our stay. Semmering was certain to be a gastronomic stopover – and so it turned out to be, throughout our stay. The students and the teachers, working in the kitchen and in the restaurant, put their all – their hearts and their professionalism – into ensuring that the stay was unforgettable for us all. While doing the roll-call of the delegations, Anna Posch made a point of introducing her colleagues Otto and Thomas as well as Petra and Thomas – two particularly committed students; and she asked for a round of applause for Christiane Keller – Mother Christmas – and thanked the kitchen and restaurant teams as well as the students busying themselves in other areas. She gave a particular welcome to a whole class of students from Senigallia - Semmering's twin town - who had come for their traditional week of exchanges.
Christmas in Europe without a touch of spirituality would not really be Christmas; so the organisers had invited the participants to Sunday Mass in the ‘Pius’ room, since there was not enough room in the little village church. On this occasion the priest lit the first candle in the Advent crown before a congregation consisting of local inhabitants and a number of Christmas in Europe participants.
For its part the exhibition attracted a large number of curious visitors; among them were many adults, but also a lot of schools had responded to the school’s invitation which had been sent out far and wide by posters, press articles and word of mouth.