Monday, 7 July 2008

International Esperanto Museum in Vienna, Austria

The National Library in Vienna is home to one for the purists: a museum devoted to a language that hardly anyone speaks and no nation recognises as an official mother tongue.
And what could possibly be better than learning Esperanto by playing Pacman? The computer game is the unquestioned highlight of the International Esperanto Museum. A word comes up on the screen, and visitors have to pick the right suffix by eating the correct ghost.
This isn’t quite as implausibly difficult as it sounds. It was designed as an auxiliary language – something the whole world could speak as a second language in order to communicate with each other better – and is structured to be as simple as possible. It also steals heavily from the Latin languages, so anyone with vague Spanish or French is in with a chance. Rapida means fast, urbo means town, sana means healthy – all fairly logical, and the ghosts take a pounding.
The rest of the exhibition charts the history of the language, created in 1887 by well-meaning Pole L. L. Zamenhof, and much of it is brilliantly pointless. There are photos of people meeting at Esperanto congresses (with a predictably high concentration of beards), translations of famous books and headphones where you can listen to people reading in the doomed language. It’s almost enough to make you want to learn out of solidarity.
But it also manages to make the point that the idea of an invented language isn’t quite as silly as many may think. After all, we speak one ourselves. The exhibition runs through everyday English words that have been made up on the spot by someone (usually Shakespeare). Bedroom, amazement, serendipity, fashionable, worthless... even God.
It’s bizarrely gripping, and makes skipping all those spectacular Hapsburg palaces and art galleries seem inherently worthwhile.

Getting to the International Esperanto Museum in Vienna

Nearest international airport: Vienna’s airport is served by a wide range of airlines, and is well connected to the rest of the globe.
Using public transport: The International Esperanto Museum at the Austrian National Library can be found in the Palais Mollard, near the Herrengasse U-Bahn station.

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