I operate in a series of half finished notebooks with writing only at the front and back, a whole empty center neglected, filled with notes and “what if?” scenarios. Sometimes I find something that’s just too funny to pass up, and that “what if” turns into a 2.5 hour bus ride and a trip to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum.
I won’t lie and say I’ve always wanted to go to Graz. I knew nothing about Austria’s 2nd largest city before uncovering a piece of American pop culture right outside of it, but I think I’ve found my favorite city in the world. So thank you, Arnold, for showing me the way.
Arnold’s childhood home, where he lived until he decided at age 19 to pursue his American dream, is in Thal, an easy half-hour bus ride from Graz’s city center. It’s a small, beautiful village surrounded by forests and hills with an adorable lake that’s a lovely stroll (but who has time for that when you’re going to Arnold’s?!). A quick uphill walk brings you to a sunny yellow stucco house and a statue of Mr. Olympia (x7) in an iconic pose.
By this point, I was practically cackling with glee and feeling ridiculous. I’m not a crazy movie person, so what were my reasons for being there? If asked, “Jingle All the Way” is my fave Arnold film, and I slept through “Conan the Barbarian”. Yet there I was, retracing the very same steps upon which the young Terminator learned to crawl and began the growth of those 55 centimeter biceps.
I was here because if asked to explain who he was, I’d say this:
“He’s an Austrian with an business degree who became this big time body builder or something, and then decided to go to America to make some movies with all these catchphrases you probably know, and one where he was pregnant with Danny Devito. Then he became the Governor of California.”
…and that was the only reason I needed. WHY NOT!
The first floor had his childhood bedroom and a room dedicated to his tenure as Governor of California. The walls are covered with Arnold, past and present. Fan letters, childhood moments, and photos with famous friends present a rounded out picture of a man. You can imagine the young Arnold dozing in his iron frame bed, maybe even pretend to read a book to him if you’re feeling particularly mischievous. The Governator room has his official desk, with various items strewn across and a glass name plate. There’s campaign paraphernalia, as well as a wax figure to snap selfies with…because DUH.
The upper floors are dedicated to his work in the special olympics, his body building accomplishments, and, of course, his success in Hollywood. Movie memorabilia is everywhere; original costumes, props, and other miscellanea for you to get up close and personal with. His weight room has another wax figure depicting the young Arnie in a classic Mr. Olympia stance, as well as some of his original training gear.
Here I’ll note that in the bathroom is the original rural 1950s toilet (in addition to more modern facilities, of course). You can relieve yourself while craning your neck and looking at Arnold’s commode if you really want to channel him or whatever. Anyway!
An audio guide will tell you more about the home and his time growing up in Thal, the gift shop has tons of branded memorabilia to take home…and YES! There ARE indeed cookies with his face on them that you can cram into your mouth while quoting “Jingle All the Way”! You can even connect to the Arnold wifi using the password “arnieslife”, and maybe pick up a glow in the dark Arnie branded condom.
So how does this tie into my history based travel goals? It’s outside of my usual fare, but it sticks to my idea of searching for context to fully understand a story, and in the process often uncover much more than I set out to find. Prior to this I didn’t know much about Schwarzenegger, but after learning more about his life story and the hard work he put into his accomplishments it’s hard not to admire his work ethic and savviness. He’s not without faults, but I never quite realized just how much of an impact he’s had in the USA until seeing it all curated before me. It’s the history of an individual with a remarkable story, who came from a tiny suburb of a large city, one that I never would have known about if it weren’t for this museum.
…and spending an hour and a half in a constant state of giggles is always a no brainer. So Mr. Schwarzenegger, if this ever finds its way onto your screen, thanks for a really great time….maybe I’LL BE BACK.