I walk up the grand marble staircase of the natural history museum in Vienna. Every time I come here with my parents, and that’s every week, I count the light beige marble steps. I always end up between 178 and 181. It depends how fast I sprint upstairs and how quickly I count. Up to this day, I’ve never found out how many steps the grand staircase of the natural history museum really has. I like that I don’t know. It is one of the many secrets of this museum.
When I reach the second floor I look around. Then I look behind me and see my mama still climbing the stairs. I stroll ahead towards the café and the museum’s shop. Here I come into the great neo- baroque dome. The marble shines white, beige, black and brown in here, a beautiful combination of earthly colours. It is the grandest room I’ve ever seen and known. My steps echo through the hall as does the chatter of the other visitors in the museum. The marble floor is so smooth I can see a faded reflection of myself within the floor. By the middle of the three archways which open up to a grand gallery with big windows where you can see the museum’s mirror image building, the national gallery of the arts, there sits a replica of a sabre-toothed tiger. It looks a lot like a lynx, only its tail is longer, and it has a bigger, more lion- like head. And of course, it has two large shining marble-white teeth in its jaws.
I always want to touch it, to stroke its fur that looks so soft like a cat’s. But it’s too high up to be touched. And therefore, the experience of touching it feels just as far away and mysterious as touching and seeing a real-life sabre- toothed tiger from the Pleistocene period, 12 000 years ago when they roamed the forests of the ice age.
I picture the frozen sabre-toothed tiger in the wilderness in a land far away and long ago. And there it is not standing still but moving within the high grass. Similar like a lynx, its fur is spotted black, but its fur is not beige- brown but of a warm red and brown. Behind it, a forest looms up against the brown and light green grass of the open land. The sky is covered in thick clouds and snowflakes swirl around in the weather of the ice age. The large cat has spotted a black bird within the gras. Usually, it would not go after birds. It prayed on big mammals like bison or camels. But the bird was right there so why not try. Slowly, like a shadow, the tiger moves closer invisible and unheard. Its amber yellow eyes fixated on its prey. But the bird has excellent senses. It feels the sabre-toothed tiger’s presence and takes off and disappears far away in the distance. Startled, the predator looks up but realises it has missed its chance, another time maybe. The beast of another time gazes at the sky and sniffs the air. A snowstorm is coming. Quickly, the beautiful creature walks back into the thickness of the dark forest where it will find protection.
I turn around and see my mama looking for a free table in the restaurant. I run over to her to tell her how marvellous it would be to encounter a sabre-toothed tiger. Maybe if we walked long enough in the woods of Klosterneuburg, we would eventually find one.