personally

About me

Harald Kalasek

Year of birth: 1965
Living in Vienna
 

As many people perceive my resume as rather unusual and interesting, I would like to share a few anecdotes with readers who may be interested in my personal experiences.

The early years
 

I grew up in Vienna, in Heiligenstadt, near the Danube and the Danube Canal. Until the 70s, the Danube & Danube Canal were largely unspoilt, actually still untamed; the ideal playground for children who want to discover the world. There was plenty to discover; the spectrum ranged from the banal to the exciting, such as war relics or ancient steam trains on sidings.

 

At this time, my curiosity was stimulated, together with the willingness to take risks and to enter uncharted territory.

My parents were divorced, and I grew up with my grandmother. My mother had chosen a life in the circus.

 

She wanted me to get a proper education and therefore entrusted me to the care of my grandmother, but I always spent the school holidays with her. So as a child, I got to know “the whole wide world”. That always was pure adventure too: foreign countries, foreign languages; a different location every few days. A small world of its own that constantly moves through the big wide world.

 

This time shaped my ability to access and become aware of both "the big picture" and my own position in it.

 

In my childhood, I had a rather unusual “hobby”: astronomy.
 

One night, the 3 belt stars of Orion piqued my interest, and my passion for astronomy was born. I quickly read most children’s books on the subject; at the age of 9 or 10, I started to read specialist textbooks while other kids were still playing marbles.

 

Much of it I had to read repeatedly until I understood it; but I quickly reached such a high level that a scholarship was promised as my knowledge and understanding at my age stunned everybody. Well meant, but absolutely frightening for me, however. From an interest grew an obligation; I wanted to be allowed to learn, not to be forced to learn.

 

I learnt two things about myself: even a very complicated and complex subject can be learned if one has the will and the interest. II will not let myself be forced, however.

Jouth years and education
 

After “classical” education I had to attend the Polytechnic School. Not really something to write home about, except that I had a really special and exceptional person as a class teacher.

 

Right at the beginning of the school year, I put some salt in the mineral water which he always drank. It was, in the truest sense of the word, undrinkable (tasted it myself). He nevertheless drank it without saying anything. Respect!

 

He asked a girl student to have a taste and tell him if something was wrong with it. She spat it out immediately. He put the bottle away again and did not say anything further.

 

A few days later, he had figured out it was me, and our little “game” “the mental banana peel” began for the remainder of the school year.

 

Whenever I was cheeky or impertinent, he would remind me of the “mental banana peel” on which I would step if I didn’t watch out. He would try to get me to step on it, and I would try to avoid it. It wasn’t spiteful or vicious, rather it was a “friendly game” between student and teacher.

 

After school, he also occasionally organized and participated in recreational activities such as mini golf for us students, or was trying to prepare us for life. The “mental banana peel” was an issue between us only during class.

 

Listening intently to my counterpart and questioning statements in order not to fall into "the trap" has stayed with me to this day. This experience has saved me from many a “banana peel”. Thank you, Sir!

 

More than 20 years later, our paths crossed again: he came with his class on a tour of the plant in the factory I was managing. Only in conversation did we discover that he actually was my old teacher. He was impressed and from then on I was his shining example that despite “classical” and Polytechnic education one always has opportunities for professional advancement.

 

Subsequently I got trained as a photo businessman and photographer. I discovered my creative side and my love for art. To see some things and overlook others. Photography became a way for me to draw people’s attention to things. To show them a world by which they are surrounded daily without consciously perceiving it.
 

Despite a very good offer after completing my studies, I decided to pursue a different path (or continue my own way?).

Grown up
 

At he time, I had a very good friend, we were like brothers. He had just completed his apprenticeship as a cook and his father had 2 restaurants in Vienna. His father entrusted one to us; I took over the commercial management, my friend the gastronomic. Approximately one/one and a half years later, I had other views than his father and I left the company.

 

It was time for a sniff of freedom, and I went to Italy to work for the circus. Initially, in advertising, construction and dismantling, later I met Fakir, juggling, plate number (the one with the rotating plates on metal rods). And tried many more.
 

Circus in its entirety is teamwork! Everybody does everything, from laborer to the director, regardless of his position. At least in the smaller establishments where I was working. There is no “this doesn’t concern me” or “I don’t do that.” It goes without saying that everyone helps everyone.

 

During this time I learned to do what has to be done and not to make excuses or to wait for others do the work.

 

After a bust in Ireland (I and 3 friends had a commitment in Ireland, but the director did not want to pay the agreed fee), I returned to Italy and shortly afterwards to Vienna.

 

It should really only have been a short visit but …

Things always turn out different than expected
 

Actually, I had just wanted to get my driver’s license for trucks with trailers in Vienna, as I was traveling with the circus in trucks and trailers (in the ’80s a lot was tolerated, especially when you were from the circus, that would not be allowed today).

 

In this planned short time a lady friend, who at that time had a video production company, approached me and asked me for help with a larger project. How can I explain it? The planned three weeks grew into 2 years. The market situation had deteriorated significantly for us, and we decided to call it a day, before it became unprofitable.

 

You have to let go sometimes, even if it´s hard.

More than just a job
 

During 1987/88 I worked as a driver for an organization providing aid to refugees. Some people and families of the Jewish faith were allowed, at that time, to leave the former USSR under certain conditions. Several thousands came to Austria at that time, almost unnoticed by the general public, and after staying for about 2 month, traveled on to their countries of destination.

 

That was an extremely interesting time and I gained a very deep insight in life in the former USSR, and on refugees, their circumstances and motivations for escape.

 

Just the experiences and stories of that time could fill a book, but I want to mention two stories here nevertheless:

 

  • One day, an old lady traveling all alone arrived in Vienna. I was a little surprised because it normally were whole families (according to the Russian authorities). I talked with her, asked her age and asked why, after she had survived the Czar and two world wars, she still wanted to emigrate to the United States. She replied, “I am 103 years old and have heard so many good things about the United States; I want to see this country and die”.

 

  • There is another family I will never forget. The conspicuous thing about them was that the grandfather was in a wheelchair and approximately ⅓ of his head was missing. It was not clear to me how anyone could survive with such a serious (WW2) injury for so long. The grandfather passed away in Vienna and was buried there. I made friends with the family, helped where I could. The youngest member of the family was a girl of about 7 years old. Through my childhood experiences abroad I could understand exactly how she was doing. That was probably one of the reasons why I cared for her particularly. We stayed in touch even after their departure; I visited her in New York, she came to Vienna to see me and to visit the grave of her grandfather. One day in Vienna, she told me how she had viewed everything back then and what I had meant to them.  To her, I was their “white knight” with whom she and her family felt secure; who helped them, and so made a very difficult time bearable.

 

Today she is a teacher at a school in New York and with a description of how they viewed things back then, years later made me the most beautiful compliment I’ve ever received.I

 

In 1988 the travel route was changed from Austria to Finland and also this stage of my life came to an end.

 

This was a very trying time in which I learned how little one needed to have in order to be happy, how little one had to do to help others find happiness. It also was a time when I learned the importance of being able to differentiate. Not every "refugee" was a fugitive, some used it only for their own benefit and to the detriment of others.

 

So I was looking for a new job and opened a commercial fuel business. A physically strenuous, but promising undertaking.

Houston, we have a problem
 

My fuel business was abruptly brought to an end by a leisure-time accident. I crashed through a glass door and cut my right forearm right up to the bone; tendons, nerves, muscles … everything severed. This was followed by 3 operations and 1.5 years therapy.

 

How bad it really was to my right hand, I learned only at the very end of the treatment while I was gratefully thanking my surgeon for his outstanding performance:

 

He explained to me how bad my hand had actually been, and said if he had not found an iron will in me, he would have had to amputate. My first words to him, after waking up from the general anesthesia (11 hours OP) were: “Let them do whatever they think is necessary, but I want to cut my Schnitzel myself and drive my car again!”“. I apparently said this in a very convincing way.

 

In the therapy came my time with the circus came in handy. II started to juggle again to learn coordination, agility and reflexes by means of visual perception and to train from memory. My therapist was always amazed that I could “perceive” and carry out everything with one hand without any sensation and with impaired mobility.

 

Today the movement is almost as before, but still lacks any sensation. I can semi-reliably use only what I can see.

 

The therapy made me aware of how much our past influences the present and consequently the future. Without my previous life experience, the consequences of an accident would probably have been very different.

Life becomes more serious
 

What now? Which job could I do with my left hand? Although My right hand was still there, I could not (yet) do much with it,

 

so as I had a passion for driving, and spoke 3 languages fluently, had always been interested in history and have no problem in dealing with people, I became a tour guide in Prague, Budapest and Salzburg.

 

I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people; from simple workers to government officials of other countries; from artists to managers of global corporations. And some very tempting offers were made by these contacts, but I had to reject them all.

 

Ever since my childhood, the freedom to decide for myself and not being accountable to anybody was stronger than the most tempting offer

Isettle down
 

After a few years my many trips took their toll, and my wife wanted to see me more often. The opportunity arose to start in a bottle cap company office. They needed someone who spoke Italian. A few months later I became Manager and directed the work in Vienna.

 

From this period dates also my nickname “free spirit” (Freigeist).  One evening I was talking with the owner and we had again different views on a problem-solving for the parent company; he laughed and said “I know you’re the free spirit of our company“.

 

I found this to be a very apt description of my person, so I kept it as a trademark.

 

The subsequent change of ownership left our parent company almost-bankrupt and as a result also ended this period of my life rather abruptly. The new owner closed the factory in Vienna; we all became unemployed.

 

Life is like sailing the ocean in a nutshell; sometimes one is at the top of the wave, and soon afterwards you´re at the bottom again.

Don’t worry, … or should you?
 

In the “prime of my life” (40), with a lot of experience,foreign languages, location-independent, flexible, … it couldn’t be that hard to find an adequate job yet again. That’s what I thought, anyway. Then came the disappointment: “Overqualified” – probably the stupidest rejection grounds in the world. You may be underpaid, but never overqualified!

 

I queried some of the rejections, since the vacancies seemed to fit my profile exactly. Conclusion: too old (the age range was moving between 28 and 35).

 

Since apparently only the options “welfare state” or “self-employed”, remained for me, the decision was easy. I founded “Kalasek Flaschenverschlüsse” (“Kalasek bottle caps”). I knew the trade, I knew a lot of customers and many producers. The only problem: I had waited too long; I should have taken over my former company right away. So the undertaking did not kick off as successfully as I had hoped it would.

 

Later, “”Freigeist Fotografie & Film”” was added (to compensate for the quiet times in the bottle-top trade) and subsequently also also Schnitt- und Werbetechnik (cutting and advertising technology).

 

Never give up. Recognize and take chances; do not just rely on others and pick out your own way through life´s opportunities. Act responsibly yourself, but also towards business partners and friends. Remain fair and open, but also draw borderlines in order to keep moving forward. That shaped my life today.

Epilog
 

This was only a small part of my life story; those are the episodes which were probably the most educational for me. Most of these resulted from a whim of life, from falling and getting up again, out of curiosity and daring.

 

My often idiosyncratic point of view is based on all my different life experiences, and when someone asks me about my training, the most appropriate answer probably is “the University of Life“.

 

Material things come and go; nobody can take away knowledge and experience of life.

Thanks
 

The biggest thanks go to my wife and life companion, who has stood by my side for 25 years. Without her understanding, her help and support, much would not have been possible.

 

Also thank you very much to my family and friends who stood by me in good and bad times, and also played a major role in my life.

 

Lastly, I would like to thank all those interesting and extraordinary people who crossed my path in life and showed me the possibilities.

 

Thank you very much to all of you, for allowing me be to be part of your life.