Seasonal Austerity

Normally at this time of year in Vienna you often hear people moaning that there is no longer any real autumn. Almost as if overnight summer passes to winter and we may just as well retire to bed till March with our fading memories of warm evenings and large buzzing things which lead my wife to break world records in sudden terror-stricken leaping. No this year is a real autumn. Beautiful, changing colours, the slow but incontrovertible march of metabolic dormancy, and the creeping approach of the spectre of the culturally imperialistic import of Halloween.

But I am bored. So bored in fact that I am leafing through the official newspaper of Vienna – aptly named Wien AT. The paper is produced every month by the Magistrats Abteilung 53 (press and information office) and is as close as you can get to print-based, state-sponsored propaganda outside of North Korea. It has virtually no advertising which is a unambiguous sign that I paid for it through the taxation pot set aside for the public pursuit of self-aggrandizement and political justification. In other words, it consists of article upon article about the unassailable civic, social and cultural prowess of the capital of Austria and, like the nocturnal excretions of my neighbour’s cat in our garden, the paper appears without want and warning. But for your delectation, and given that collective boredom is the new black, here is a fleeting summary:

Inside the front cover we find two icons of the city: first the beaming, bearded face of the man responsible for housing in Vienna, Michael Ludwig. Secondly, the beaming, moustached face of the man responsible for running the city and supporting the wine industry of Vienna, larger than life, but mostly larger, inscrutable, much adored, gorgeous mayor Mikey Häupl (looking increasingly like the mayor of Trumpton).

Herr Ludwig, housing honcho for Vienna, and The Mayor of Trumpton

Their smiley visages are the backdrop to a puff-piece on the city’s commitment to council and subsidized housing under the headline ” Wohnen in Wien: Sozial und Modern” (Vienna living: social and modern). I was always led to believe that Glasgow had the biggest council housing stock in Europe but apparently not, it is red Vienna. And after ninety years of social democratic housing policy, the numbers are impressive (but perhaps a bit boring):

– 1923 was the first council flat in the Metzleinstaler Hof (equipped with water, electricity and balconies in which to shout at small children for playing too loud).

– Sixty percent of Wieners currently live in subsidized housing (some even appreciate it) of which just over half live in council housing.

– there are 220 thousand council flats spread over 2000 estates (which is a lot of caretakers and brooms) and 200 thousand other subsidized flats.

– this amounts to 13 million square metres of real estate (about four Pentagons) and means enough space for 500 thousand people and their muzzle-less dogs.

But don’t take my word for it. Haul your urban backsides down the Anton Brenner Council House Museum in the 15th district (Vienna has a museum for everything) to see some of the first flat-pack kitchens in the world alongside what is planned for the current wasteland across the Danube – known locally as Seestadt – and the impending construction of a huge housing development (ghetto) which they are compelled to build because the underground line 2 started running there this month.

Moving swiftly on to page 6 we learn that the city is slowly and surely in the throes of the Stadtentwicklungsplan (kind of big blueprint for city redevelopment towards 2025 – see Smart City in the blog) and seems to consist of a large effort to freshen up parts of town, install some posh looking street furniture and give the Green Party something to do before they can be booted out in the next city election. I spy also that Mariahilferstrasse has its own website where you can “participate in the dialogue” (my inverted commas). And you know you are trouble when streets get their own homepage.

Opposite is a heart-warming story about Vienna’s favourite council estate caretaker, Günther Spirek, nominated by his tenants, and next to this news of the annual competition for the capital’s best wine – this year very fruity according to Herbert Schilling, head of the wine federation of Vienna.

And then on to page nine where I read news of a “National Prize” in the category Planning, Building and Operations, for the new Vienna Transport electric bus which can be recharged in the time it takes to cook three hard boiled eggs. Smartphone developers take note. They can recharge a bus in fifteen minutes. That’s fifteen minutes.

Electric bus

Page 10 tells us that Vienna is not only number eins for life quality and money spinning congresses, but it has also been voted the best city in the world for young people by, er, influential US list obsessed website

And just below this in the same ambitiously termed section “Welt Stadt” we learn that Vienna is now the biggest German speaking university city in the whole of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, which I presume means the world. This is no innocent boast, of course. I have met numerous Austrians who view the invasion of Austrian universities by underperforming German students as nothing less than a second Anschluss. Although to be fair, the Viennese get there own back by making them wait on tables and work in retail.

And then a pull out section entitled, “Wien Spezial: Zivilschutz” which chronicles the superb organsiation and work of the capital’s professional / volunteer emergency services, and what we must do in an emergency on hearing one of the many civil defence sirens dotted around the city (pack one suitcase each and head to the British embassy for airlift back to civilization was curiously not part of the advice).

Next up a little nod to the environment and my old buddies at the MA48 (who whisk away and process your rubbish). Under a headline that includes dustbin and “energy-wonder”, we are informed that Vienna generates half a million tones of rubbish per year (one third of this is cigarette butts) and it is collected each day by a fastidiously precise 159 daily dust carts (refuse trucks) and taken for separation, recycling and burning (this includes cowboy dolls, space rangers and wise cracking pigs).

And towards the back we get some prescriptive articles and flimsy advice about children and our health, including a very dodgy picture, taken in the deprived millionaire’s district of Hietzing, of Sonja Wehsely, health minister for the city, breaking the first rule of political photographs by inexpertly kicking a football and looking like a bit of a Wappla (a prat).


Penultimate choice goes to news that this year if you want a kindergarten place for your Kinder 2014 – 2015, then registration begins on the 4th of November running through till the end of December. Which being Vienna means until the 23rd of December.

And finally a snippet about the “Young Entrepreneurs Day” run by my favorite mafia club of Vienna – The Chamber of Commerce. As far back as I remember, I always wanted to be my own boss and each year I am joined in my endeavours by an estimated 8000 new business. Entry to the fair is free although as a member, or future member of the chamber, it will cost you a punitive 40 Euros annually for protection from other entrepreneurial wiseguys looking to whack you.

So there you have it. Next week I tackle Vienna’s dirty secret – integration – which I pondered at length quite recently, as I sat in an Irish pub, eating fish and chips and watching English football. Bloody foreigners.

© RJ Barratt 2013

Note: all pictures except the electric bus property of Wien AT (which as a local taxpayer means me).

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