Wilhem Donko, ambassador of Austria, was in Cebu for the reopening of Austria’s Consulate, and to appoint Julie Alegrado Vergara as honorary consul of Austria in the Visayas, Mindanao and Palawan.
The opening took place on site at the Carmen Rodriguez Martinez building at the corner of Escario and Molave Streets. Ambassador Donko briefed Vergara on her duties as well as responsibilities and expectations.
Consul Julie is well aware of them, having served as vice consul to her father, Arcadio “Dodong” Alegrado, who served first as honorary consul and then as honorary consul general from 1985 to 2011.
Her interest in Austria started as a young girl when she visited the country on various occasions with her parents. She learned about its culture, history and place in the Europe that emerged after World War II.
Consul Julie eventually went to Vienna to study Hotel and Restaurant Management. It has been of immense help in running the Alegrado family’s 5-star resorts at Maribago Bluewater in Mactan, and Sumilon Bluewater in southern Cebu.
After the office ceremonies, there was a glittering diplomatic reception at Marco Polo Plaza Hotel. Welcoming all was former Consul General Dodong Alegrado, radiant with paternal pride, and affable as ever.
Ambassador Donko was at the reception line, attentive to the introductions made by Consul Julie and her husband, Victor Vergara. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama led the numerous prominent guests.
Jojo Veloso emceed the program which started with Ambassador Donko presenting Consul Julie with the exequatur of her formal appointment. In her acceptance speech she said she had been fascinated by Austria since childhood, and more so when she went to Vienna to learn the German language.
“I learned about the Habsburg empire ruled from Vienna, and I loved many things about the country,” she said. “There is the classical music, especially the waltzes, the coffee houses and the scenic views all over the countryside.”
Ambassador Donko remarked that Austria’s affinity with Cebu dates to 1521 when Magellan landed in an expedition fostered by Charles V the Great. At the time he was the Habsburg Emperor reigning not just in Austria, but in huge chunks of Europe as well as Spain and all its colonies.
The Ambassador also remarked that Austria’s first Consulate in the Philippines opened in Manila in 1872. In Cebu, it opened in December 1985. “For 26 years, Consul Alegrado did a great job,” he said. “Austrians with problems came to you and you solved them. Everyone spoke positively about you.”
That said, Ambassador Donko presented Consul Alegrado with a star symbolizing one of the highest honors bestowed by the Republic of Austria. “No other Filipino has been so distinguished,” the ambassador punctuated.
Consul Alegrado was asked to say a few words, first of which were to express surprise as well as gratitude for the singular honor just received. “Twenty years went so fast,” he said. “And I am very happy it is my daughter Julie who takes my place.”
A fabulous spread of Central European cuisine was served in various buffets. The dishes had been well-chosen not just by the ambassador and Julie but by the top echelon of Marco Polo: general manager Hans Hauri who is Swiss; F/B director Stephan Wieprich who is German; and executive chef Karl Beter who is Austrian.
Visit Austria Year
The year 2013 is a good time to visit Austria, particularly Vienna. Since Dec. 24, 2012, Austria has been celebrating the 175th birth anniversary of Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Hungary (1837-1898).
Known by her familiar name of Sisi, for years she has inspired a cult to her memory that began in the 1950s with a film trilogy about her life. The little role was played by German actress Romy Schneider, who reprised it later in Luchino Visconti’s “Ludwig.”
Sisi was the daughter of Duke Maximilian in Bavaria and the Duchess Ludovika, born a royal princess, daughter of Bavaria’s King Maximilian II. Ludovika’s sister was the Archduchess Sophia of Austria who planned the marriage of her son, Emperor Franz Josef, to Ludovika’s elder daughter Helene.
A meeting was arranged at the imperial villa in Bad Ischl, and young 15-year-old Sisi went along for the trip. One look at her and Franz Josef was smitten, madly in love, so that he told his consternated mother he’d marry no one else.
This began a romance about which many books have been written. Of course, it was not all happiness for Sisi and Franz Josef, as life brought them many problems, and tragedies, including Sisi’s assassination by an anarchist in Geneva.
A museum at Hofburg imperial palace in Vienna is dedicated to Sisi. On display are her clothes, retrieved from palace basements in recent decades, plus assorted personal jewelry, and the 63 pieces of luggage involved in her endless and breathless travels all over Europe, the Mediterranean and isles in the Atlantic.
In Vienna’s Raymond Theater, for the past 20 years there has been the musical “Elizabeth” based on her life, and it continues to pack enthusiastic audiences.