Uncharacteristically for me, I have made a bit of a balls up in my work schedule. This means I have two hours to kill before my next meeting. Ordinarily a moment to be cherished. A moment to seize. A moment to reflect on the capitalistic vacuousness of modern life.

Unfortunately I am in Meidling. I say unfortunately because when you are professionally marooned for a couple hours, moments of reflection and chrerishment are perfectly suited to the cafe, especially a Viennese version
of one. Yet Meidling, more specifically Philladelphiabrücke (named after the cheese), doesn’t have a decent one. There is an Anker and Ströck (more bakeries than coffee shop), a very smoky neo-cafe in the high street, a very dodgy pub (most likely brilliant) and a McDonalds. Downstairs in the station itself, currently the main station in Vienna until the re-opening of the old Südbanhof, there is a depressing clutch of fast-food outlets with all the charm of a neglected skip.

And thus I am emotionally torn. It is high treason I know in the city that codified coffee for the Western Hemisphere but given the dearth of decent places to park my arse, I am forced to compromise. And where better to sell your soul whilst ruminating on the state of western capitalism, than the home of Ronald McDonald.

I order a one Euro coffee and perch myself on a high stool gazing sleepily out on to foggy Edelsinnstrasse and the bus and tram-stops of the 7A, 8A, 62 and Badnerbahn. Many people, mostly dressed in dark colours, wait impatiently, invariably smoking and then, as the buses approach, discarding their cigarette butts onto a pavement already awash with the detritus of the tobacco industry. Threadbare pigeons mooch around hunting for something peckable, whilst nearby a stocky dog looks on waiting for any excuse to bite something with feathers or skin. And there is a constant flow of people; the young, the old, the badly dressed, the suspicious, the tired and the unconventional. It reminds me of a language school.

Just across the way is one of those places that attracts the career drinker. Not a pub or bar as such, but a meeting point just outside the entrance to the underground station for the down and out, the homeless and the drug addicted. Here there is a semi-enclosed, sheltered space where they sit on procured copies of the free Vienna newspapers and chat in voices oblivious to the normal conventions of public space. They bother no-one but occasionally the police stroll by to assuage the insecurities of the middle classes and check a few papers.

I have been through Philladelphiabrücke hundreds of time. It was my first station on the way south to my first teaching job in Lower Austria. I waited for ages on the platform, perplexed and mildly distressed as the only train seemed to be going to a place called Eilzug (fast train). Eventually I worked it out but only to board a train that nearly took me to the Alps. It was at that moment that I realised that although you might come back smelling like a pair of medieval trousers, Inter-railing was probably not such a bad thing.

The weather reminds me of a mildly amusing story, however, of a man in a group I taught years and years ago who insisted that the frog in London was much worse than Vienna. Treacherous frog, I thought, an image to conjure.

(C) RJ Barratt 2013.

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