Main Station

Since 2009 a part of Vienna’s tenth district, just north of the Prince Eugene’s immaculate baroque Beveldere Palace, has had the ignominious label of Austria’s biggest building site. But this weekend, the 10th and 11th of October, this less than immaculate location finally sees the re-opening of Vienna’s Südbanhof and Ostbanhof, now renamed Hauptbanhof, a civic engineering project to rival any in Europe and with a history to match (the Ostbanhof was used to service German military units during the war and was generously bombed as a result).

The project is sensational in that not only is it on time, unlike much of the Schnellbahn network that passes through it, but on budget. And this, apparently, is a cause for much festivity throughout Austria. Or, as I suspect, more relief. Especially amongst the be-suited members of the Board of the Austrian Railways – the ÖBB – after their ill-fated efforts to play the money markets just about the time when the infamous phrase toxic asset entered the German lexicon in about 2008 (they lost a billion or so Euros of house-keeping on the one-armed bandit of international finance.)

In any case, this is all snow from yesterday and since then the ÖBB has being going infrastructure crazy with station refits all over the number one city (see Nordbanhof and Westbanhof) and they are keen to show off the results. So it’s time to “get on board and party” (Zusteigen und mitfeiern) with some of the best showbiz Austria’s capital can conjure up. The programm highlights include:

  • Willow, Andi Gabauer and the Hot Pants Road Club live on stage. And no, I have never heard of them either and never will.
  • An ÖBB fashion train which will include the exhibition of the new ÖBB uniform.
  • Excerpts from the hit musical Mamma Mia. The cruel bastards.
  • Stars of the Austrian Skiing Federation promoting their new clothing line.
  • And much, much, really too much more.

Obviously that one billion Euro spin of the wheel didn’t leave too much in the kitty for the after-project piss-up. But no matter. According to the boss of Austrian Railways, Christian Kern, the George Cooney of Austrian state enterprise and perhaps the best groomed heterosexual man in the alpine republic (and mooted future Chancellor of Austria if you believe the gossip which I do) the station gives Vienna:

 “A new symbol – modern and open in the heart of Europe. For our customers, the new transport hub offers more speed, more offers and more quality for our passengers, both for national and international travel. Train travel has never been more attractive.”

I bet. Although perhaps we shouldn’t mention the tiny civil engineering oversight which managed to allow the construction of central Europe’s most important train station without a dedicated underground stop – it will share the nearby Südtirolerplatz a more than short walk away.

More importantly, I adore trains, especially from here. I can travel overnight to Venice and have done. Or journey in comfort to Prague and have done. Going was fine but the return journey was payback for past delinquency as I was accosted by an American who insisted on talking to me for five hours although it was clear I was dying of a Budvar induced hangover. Or even Warsaw, which was fun although I nearly never made it back because no one in the part of Poland I ended up spoke English or German. Or how about Budapest to stay in a grand hotel? Only two hours up the tracks and I really should visit.

But of course, what you really want to know about, apart from the contact details of the Hot Pants Road Club, is some stats. So here goes, gleaned only this week from a huge, full-sized red pull-out from Mrs Barratt’s newspaper.

There are 14 lifts, 29 escalators, 1000 covered spaces for bicycles (handy for shipping to Slovakia for resale in the flea-markets), 3 bicycle garages and places for 600 cars. The Banhöf City itself is a 20 thousand square metre oasis of ticket booths, machine, information points and public toilets. There are 800 hundred places to sit but this being Vienna only 400 hundred because your average commuter always needs a seat for their bag. But don’t worry. There are another 700 hundred seats in the food hall where you can sit down again and contribute to the global obesity epidemic by eating the classics of Austrian cusine and some sushi. And my favourite. A huge forty-four square metre information board. I can hardily contain myself.

What this means is that the new Hauptbanhof is “more than a station” (mehr als ein Banhof). The “more than” fragment is an iniquitous, overly-used phrase which like the trains at the new station should be terminated. For the simple reason that it is meaningless and trite. Yet for a largely nugatory phrase it is surprising how often one sees it. “More than a plumber!” (what exactly is more than a plumber?) Or, “More than a restaurant”. Or “More than a bicycle”. And so on.

And if the mangling of language wasn’t enough, there is somebody somewhere in marketing or advertising (or the dreadful “story-telling business”) sitting on a fat four-figure or more creative fee for dreaming up such an inanity.

Vienna, more than a city. That one is for free Mr Häupl.

© RJ Barratt 2014

Ps – I have just been up there. The walk from the underground to the station is not so bad if you are used to the distances on the tube network in London. But I can understand how it might irk your average Wiener which is unusual because the Viennese are not usually known for their moaning. But the building is huge. And confusing. And impressive. Words which I realise are not at the forefront of descriptive largesse but it is a Monday. My favourite part, sadly not linked to the architecture, was the slogan on the side of the trolley of the concourse mop and bucket troop: “Wir sind cleaning!” I wanted to take a picture but there was a lot of unfit and badly attired security about looking like they needed any excuse to ruff up a passenger. Sorry, customer. Happy travels!

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