In line with every single stereotype the English-speaking world has about Austria, Matura Balls exist.
Instead of awkward proms (with Schloer in lieu of harder stuff) at the age of 16, Austrian students get to enjoy a full blown ball, alcohol and all, when they graduate at the age of 18. And these balls aren’t just some flight of fancy, they’re intricately planned and practised for. It opens with an elegant dance called a Polonaise, performed by the graduating class. Everyone’s in tuxedos and white dresses for this, which makes for an amazing spectacle. Imagine trying to pull that off in a British school… These students will literally practise for this for months before the big day, and when they finish, students invite their parents to dance with them before the floor is opened to all other ballgoers. And like, it’s an actual, bona fide, very grown up ball, with waltzes and everything.
And what’s more, unlike proms, pretty much anyone can just turn up to these things. After the students and their families take their tickets, anything left over is sold off to the general public and students from other schools. Which means, I heavily reccomend that anyone studying in Austria takes advantage of this…
I digress, but naturally, I did take advantage of this. In a slightly different fashion, because I attended the Ball der Technik held by TU Graz in late January. So there was no graduating class and nary a teenager in sight, but the same rules applied throughout the night. You donned your fanciest clothes and, clutching your 27€ ticket in hand, you made your way to Congress Graz, a short walk from Hauptplatz.
Once we wrestled with the queues for the wardrobe (because it was in the minus’ outside and every sensible person bought a coat) it was time to climb the stairs and head up into the party. Congress is, as it sounds, is a congress hall, but inside it houses a beautiful hall for concerts and balls, which is where the main events took place. First things first, it was time to grab a drink. It turned out to be a fairly sober night in the end, because the crowds around the bar were unreal, but we were so busy throughout the night it wasn’t even something we missed.
Now, I hate dancing. I feel like a fool when I do it. However, my friend has zero shame and is also very convincing, so I was eventually dragged onto the floor and made an effort. Turns out I don’t suck, even if i have no idea what I’m doing. Fast songs, slow songs, modern and traditional, we danced to basically every style imagine. Even the waltz. The abilities on the dance floor ranged from literal professionals to people who somehow were dancing worse than us. Young and old, student and teacher, it was a fantastic melting pot.
Eventually, we sat for a moment to catch our breath and read the program. We saw that soon there were be an art installation in the main hall, so we snuck out of the crowds to grab a seat on the balcony level and watch it. Frankly I have no idea what went on, it was something to do with science and I’m a humanities guy through and through so I was clueless. But it was incredibly cool at least.
Another look at the program told us there was a live band in another room, so we went and checked that out. Brilliant isn’t the word. I had so much fun watching the concert and they played basically everything iconic from the German music catalogue you could think of, as well as some English hits. Highlight of this was everyone loosing their mind when Narcotic by Liquido played. This happens in nightclubs too and yes, I also go wild for it.
After another drink and another round of dancing, we were starting to flag. It was getting close to 3am and we’d been at the ball since around 8pm. The party was by no means dying down, there was still a live rock/metal band going wild in the basement, but we were done. So, we collected our coats and stumbled across the road to the taxi rank so my friend could get home, and then I walked the ten minutes home across the river and slept like a log.