Real Snow in Minnesota . . . and Real Warm in My Real Austrian Walkjanker

Snowplow clearing snow in a snowstorm at Eden Prairie, MN, Community Center. Photo 2013 by BF Newhall

A snowplow cleared snow — tried to — from the driveway of the Eden Prairie, MN, Community Center. Jon and I and the kids went there every day during our visit to Minnesota so we could work off the meals we sampled during auditions for our May rehearsal dinner. Photo by BF Newhall

Writer Barbara Falconer Newhall wears her vintage Austrian Walkjanker in Minnesota 2013. Photo by Jon Newhall.

My vintage, preindustrial Austrian Walkjanker finally got to strut its thermal stuff. Photo by Jon Newhall.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

My genuine Austrian Walkjanker had hung forlornly at the far end of a plastic garment bag for decades. It had no place to go.

Till my son got engaged to a Minnesota girl.

A classic Walkjanker, just so you know, is a traditional, no-nonsense Austrian winter jacket of real wool. It’s densely knit and, using an ancient, pre-industrial technology known as Walke in German and fulling in English, it is aggressively soaked, heated, beaten and shrunk until it’s two-thirds its original size and the scales on the wool fibers have loosened and hooked on to each other. The finished fabric is as thick and stiff and impenetrable as a slab of berber carpeting.

It’s a garment so old-timey and so Old World that even Google can’t find you more than a couple photos of the real thing.

I bought my Walkjanker in Austria during a mid-century stint as a nanny in Salzburg. I saw the loden green, dark red and teal blue garments everywhere in Salzburg – in the adorable shop windows on the Getreidegasse and on the backs of the (to me) sophisticated, old-worldly

The Eden Prairie, MN, Community Center in a heavy snowfall, January, 2013. Photo by BF Newhall

Jon and I have visited Minnesota several times, but have gone home each time disappointed at the snowless landscape. This trip we were pummeled by a snowstorm  at the Eden Prairie Community Center. Photo by BF Newhall

young Austrians I spotted on the town’s narrow sidewalks. I wanted some of that authentic, continental je ne sais quoi for myself, so I sprang for a Walkjanker of my own.

Snow collects on the rim of a well-designed trash can at Eden Prairie, MN, Community Center. Photo by BF Newhall

At the community center, even the trash cans looked great with their dusting of brand new snow.

My Walkjanker (say valk-YAHNK-ehr) cost me a pretty penny – twenty or thirty dollars, a fortune for a young student at the time. (Today they’ll still cost you – 199 Euros, which comes to $269.) But it was worth it to me. I was now the owner of something truly and authentically Austrian.

My Janker is loden green, a unisex affair with buttonholes down the front on both sides of the opening so that you can string your buttons on a ribbon and button them onto the left or right side depending on your sex.

It gets plenty cold in Austria; you can’t throw too much wool at a winter day in the Tirol. Which means my souvenir coat has what it takes to resist wind, snow and even a light drizzle. But I’ve held on to my Walkjanker all these years, not because it’s practical, but because I’m so sentimentally attached to it. It reminds me that I was — and on most days still am — an adventuresome soul.

Trouble is, I’ve nowhere to go in my Walkjanker. I live in San Francisco’s East Bay, where a severe winter’s day is 45 degrees and foggy. I don’t ski any more. And my trips home to Michigan

Fat snowflakes falling at the entrance to the Eden Prairie, MN, Community Center. Photo by BF Newhall.

Fat snowflakes fell at the entrance to the community center. Photo by BF Newhall.

are always in summertime, when the blueberry bushes are green and Lake Michigan is swimmable.

Also, sad to say, my berberish Walkjanker makes me look, well . . . plump. As plump and round as a potato dumpling.

And so it was that a couple of weeks ago, while packing for a trip to Minnesota to audition rehearsal dinner restaurants with Peter and his fiancée, I spotted my beloved Walkjanker waiting

Last summer's plants are dry and brown against the snow in a Chanhassen, MN, garden. Photo by BF Newhall.

We got to see a garden, beautifully dormant in winter, at Chanhassen, MN. Photo by BF Newhall.

patiently at the far end of its garment bag. I thought, it’s now or never for that dear old vintage thing.

Here was my chance to put my genuine Austrian Walkjanker to the test in a genuine Minnesota winter. It was also my chance to show off my interesting past and my interesting taste in clothes to the kids.

I folded the thing in half and pressed it into a carry-on suitcase. Unlike Jon’s high-tech down jacket, which we rolled up and stuffed into a corner of his bag, my preindustrial Walkjanker took up the better half of our carry-on.

Two days later there I was, ankle deep in real Minnesota snow wearing my real Austrian Walkjanker.

As warm and round as a potato dumpling.

More stories about Peter and his fiancée at “I’m the Mother of the Groom — Now What Do I Do?”  and  “Time to Crack Open My Hope Chest and Live a Little.”

Loden green Walkjanker with dual button holes and Rudbertus coin buttons held with a ribbon. Photo by BF Newhall.

My Walkjanker has buttons fashioned after a 15 Kreuzer 1686 Saint Rudbertus of Salzburg coin. Two sets of buttonholes make it possible to place the buttons on the  left or right, depending on the sex of he wearer.

 

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Comments

  1. Barbie…you look fantastic, and I do remember those Walkjankers from my stint in Salzburg in 1961!!!!!! However, I did not buy one, so am VERY happy I am in Guadalajara, Mexico for the duration of the snow!
    When are you returning? Not until May? Hope we have an opportunity to see one another. I will be home by then.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I didn’t know you spent time in Salzburg! Cookie and I went to summer school there in 1962. Amazing that you remember the Walkjankers.

      I’m hoping to make another trip to MN before the wedding. Hope we can get together.

  2. You don’t look a thing like a dumpling! But the coat is a marvel! Congratulations to Peter. When is the wedding–and will it be in CA or MN??

  3. The Walkjanker looked great and really brand new – very sharp and rich green coloring. You definitely were looking more stylish than dad in his green poofy thing and me in my bulky Northface jacket!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Thanks, Guy! I was trying to impress you and yours. Good to know I kinda succeeded . . . Brand new it is not! I bought it during the year I spent in Austria and Germany.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      It probably looked brand new cuz it’s so danged . . . stiff! Which made it hard to bend my arms and get in and out of seatbelts.

  4. Caroline Conroy says:

    That was a wonderful story. Are u going to use your jacket in your future winter vacations or are u going to update your apparel for modern fabric?

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      Hi Caroline, My Walkjanker takes up a huge amount of space in my closet and suitcase, but I’m too sentimental to part with it. And it is warm and so tightly knit that it keeps out the wind. It’s a keeper.

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