Whenever I drive through Vienna, I enter the city from the South via the Triester Straße (this road still connects Vienna and Trieste in Italy). At its top there is an intricate statue, the Spinnerin am Kreuz (Spinner at the Cross). Today, this statue is easily overlooked. Located next to one of the biggest roads into Vienna, it is hard to imagine that this once was a hill outside of Vienna overlooking the South. Today, drivers are more worried about rush hour traffic than paying attention to the statue and its legend.
The Spinner at the Cross was one of my favourite Austrian legends when I was a child. According to this legend, the news reached Vienna that the Ottomans invaded the Holy Land. The Duke, consequently, planned a crusade to defend his catholic belief and asked male citizens to sign up for it. There was a young couple, they had only been married for three days, and the husband decided to join the crusade to earn money.
The wife was devastated but she could not stop him. A month later, he left and they said good-bye at this very hill outside of Vienna. They promised to wait for each other. The wife sat by the wooden cross, turned away and cried. She could not watch him leave. When she looked up, all she saw was a cloud of smoke caused the crusaders in the distance.
The wife sold her house in Vienna and bought a distaff. Every day, she span, sitting next to the wooden cross where they said good-bye. One day, she had an idea: she wanted to earn money by spinning and erect a statue at the place of the wooden cross. Every day, she was sitting there, hardly noticing anyone who passed by her. She herself had become an urban legend in Vienna, people pitied her. But she only looked up when men returned from the South and asked them if they had seen her husband.
After two years, she commissioned a builder. They started with the statue and it was finished three years later. She had changed a lot – she looked tired and lost a lot of weight because she worried about her husband who still had not come back. One day, she saw a dust cloud approaching from the South. Excitedly she waited but her husband was not part of the group. She was devastated, she cried and cried. Then she looked up and saw a thin and pale man with a long beard who needed a stick to walk. Maybe this stranger knew something about her husband? She approached him, and it took some time but then they recognized each other, hugged, kissed and cried. Three years had passed, her husband got sick during the crusade. But they had made it. With the additional money from spinning they bought back the house in the city. The statue still reminds everyone entering the city about this love story.
This legend from the 14th century is indeed just a legend. We do not know if it really happened. But I find this story truly beautiful. I am not a romantic. (Those who know me in person know that I am not a big fan of cheesy dates and I also really do not enjoy big weddings.) But every time, I pass by the statue in the morning, I think of this story. And then I wonder if something like that happens in real life too?
I used to spend many summers in Carinthia, the Southern part of Austria, with the aunt and uncle of my grandmother who I called Mitzi Tant and Pepi Onkel. For the longest time, I only knew that they were crazy travelers. They had been to exotic destinations such as India or Africa when travelling was not as accessible as it is today. One day, Pepi Onkel told me how they met. I do not remember exactly if they met before or during World War II. But I remember what he told me: “Right when the war was over, I decided to see this woman again. Roads were cut off, there were no trains, the only choice I had was to walk. So I walked from Wiener Neustadt to Villach.” He walked over 300 kilometers for her and they were married until he died in 2007.
Today, we can video call our loved ones, we can chat on Whatsapp whenever and wherever we want to. Still it can be hard to be apart. But I wanted to share these two stories – one fictional and one which really happened – to show that love seems to be able to conquer time. I think I like these stories because they show that relationships are not only based on love but also on commitment.
Whoever needs to read this today because they miss their loved ones, I hope it gives you strength and puts a smile to your face. And when you come to Vienna one day, maybe stop by the Spinner at the Cross.