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VIENNA (CAP) - After decades of trying to lure travelers to its mix of majestic ski trails in the Alps and elegant music and art history in Vienna, Austria's official travel and tourism department was closed for good yesterday, just days after the staff learned the details of that country's latest abhorrent scandal involving rape and incest.
A retired electrician from Amstetten confessed to imprisoning his daughter for 24 years in a soundproof cellar, sexually abusing her, fathering seven children with her and discarding the body of one, who died in infancy, in a furnace.
"Look, I love a challenge as much as the next guy," said Austrian tourism chief Franz Grossglockner. "But who the hell would visit this country on purpose? For every beautiful snowcapped peak and cathedral, we're either: starting a world war, electing an admitted xenophobe to power, or - apparently - letting sicko incestuous rapists grab all the headlines."
The Amstetten case is the country's second instance of bizarre and horrific child imprisonment in two years. Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped at age 10 and kept in a basement outside Vienna for more than eight years before being discovered in 2006.
All of this from the country that caused World War I, harbored numerous Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and more recently was condemned by the European Union in 2000 for electing to power the party of an admitted anti-immigration candidate - not bad for a country roughly the size of Maine.
Despite all of that, a string of well-crafted ad campaigns over the last four years had the tourism department feeling optimistic. Its 2004 slogan: "Most Of The Nazis Are Gone, Come On Over" saw a small but notable rise in tourism figures. And a year later its "We Hate Immigrants, Not Tourists, So Come On Over (But Just Don't Stay Long)" ad blitz is credited for earming the country its first two-year rise in tourism revenue in nearly 30 years.
The staff said it tried to do its best to work with the country's past, but finally admitted this week that this cause wasn't worth their efforts. The last of Grossglockner's staff of 15 filtered out of the office at about 6 p.m. The office's lead videographer was still visibly distraught and frustrated about what could have been.
"It's not like producing a promo video for America," explained Hans Mahler. "We can't do quick cuts to beaches, baseball games, and cowboys and call it a day.
"It's more like 'Oh, we can't show that because there's a concentration camp in the background,' or 'Yeah, that would be a great shot, but that looks a lot like the house where the guy locked his daughter in the basement for more than two decades and raped her and fathered her seven children.'"
The staff reportedly made a plea for help yesterday morning to Austrian native and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who did not take the call. One of his staffers offered to send stock video of the Golden State, however. But Mahler said was "too little too late."
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