Austrians proud of skydiver Fearless Felix

Associated Press Modified: October 15, 2012 at 4:46 pm •  Published: October 15, 2012
Advertisement
;

VIENNA (AP) — In tiny Austria, where souvenir shops do brisk business in T-shirts bearing the crossed-out image of a kangaroo, some hope skydiver Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking jump will mean that — for a while at least — people will stop confusing their country with Australia.

The daredevil Austrian not only became the first man to shatter the sound barrier without traveling in a jet or spacecraft, he also made the highest jump ever — a tumbling, death-defying plunge from a gossamer balloon floating in the stratosphere — before landing safely Sunday in the New Mexico desert.

But the pride felt here in the man known as "Fearless Felix" goes beyond reminding the world that Austria is not Australia. It also resonates on a deeper level in a country whose positive achievements have often been overshadowed by its association with Adolf Hitler.

This nation of less than 9 million people gave birth to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Franz Schubert, Gustav Mahler and Sigmund Freud as well as scores of other Austrians who have left huge footprints across the centuries in music, politics, art and science. Its Alpine lakes and mountain peaks are immortalized in "The Sound of Music," and its famed contemporary human exports include Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hollywood chef Wolfgang Puck.

But Austria is also frequently invoked as the birthplace of the Nazi dictator — and more recently as the home of Josef Fritzl, the man sentenced three years ago to life in prison for locking his daughter in a basement dungeon for 25 years and fathering her seven children.

Foreign media commentaries back then argued that there must be something inherently evil in a nation that can produce both Hitler and Fritzl, prompting the government to declare that Fritzl's crimes were an "isolated case" that the country could not be held hostage to.

Continue reading this story on the...