Ich bin Robert


It is the year of our Prophet 2015 and Vienna, capital of Austria and breaded pig, is still the number one city. This may surprise you if you are German although I won’t hold it against you as long as you are quiet and stop saying Tschuss. Certainly it continues to surprise me but not for the reasons you may assume. There are people out there (mostly Anglo-Ameriocans) who think living in the city numero uno is all about antiquated customer service, rude inhabitants and non-stop whinging. But what these people haven’t realised, is that there are, to paraphrase British comedian Tez Ilyas, downsides as well.

But 2015 is symbolic. It is symbolic for the simple reason this year will signify seventy years since the defeat of national socialism and the incarceration of the continent into “east”, “west” and post-war victim Austria. In that time Europe has indubitably flourished, more so after my emigration to Austria in 1997 to escape New Labour and a credit card company. But success breeds resentment and once again my beloved Europe is on the cusp of political upheaval. On going problems in Ukraine, the threat of Islamic terrorism, deflation, economic fatigue, possible social hubbub driven by the no longer clandestine moral panic of poorly controlled immigration and a potential European earthquake of an election in Greece which could trigger a “Grexit”. Students of pan-European politics will know that a Grexit is a clever play of words combining Greece and exit in reference to cessation from the EU. In fact, it sounds more like the kind of cheap supermarket chocolate biscuits my mother bought for my school packed lunch in the 1980s prompting ridicule from my peers and bitterness to this day.

Indeed, experts and political commentators seem fixated with the notion that 2015 will be the year that the paradigm of post-war political two party consensus (not Russia, obviously) will finally cede to a more representative mix of political ideology. In other words, seventy years after amphetamine crazed Hitler did the decent thing and shot himself, relatively mundane European political divides will be eclipsed by a significant shift to the right and perhaps even to some radical elements of the left (see ouzo crazed troublemakers in Athens). The UK is clearly the big one – well, they think so – and it could, like Aldi and Lidl, shape much of Europe for the next few years if they storm out the door throwing their keys in the channel as they head to the pub to triumphantly celebrate with Nigel (Farage) and other throwbacks from 1950s Britain.

But here in cosmopolitan Viennaville, where life is never troublesome unless you are an English teacher incarcerated and scarred by the fatalistic disappointments of the human condition, there is also an election this year. Now you will have to trust me on this but there are three reasons to pique our interest. Firstly, it will almost certainly be the last swansong of incumbent mayor and social democrat heavyweight Michael Haüpl (undefeated champion since 1994). Secondly, it will probably herald the demise of the first “red-green” coalition in Austria, a political love affair seemingly destined for the divorce courts and arguments over who gets the cat. Thirdly, it could finally be the vote that sees the FPÖ (alleged motto: not everything under Adolf was bad) overtake one of the two major parties in the alpine capital. Or at least hold to ransom the political goolies of the conservatives and social democrats.

The election posters have already made some tentative transgressions on the billboard obsessed streets of Vienna in spite of the presumed October poll although media this week has been reporting of a possible June election. But rest assured, or as the local patois might extol – Bleib cool, Kumperl – I shall do my best to deconstruct and disseminate as the weeks and months progress. Although, with a predilection to pick holes from the sidelines, and an ability to run fast, I cannot promise I won’t make any flippant comments referring to the physical attributes of the main candidates. Especially the blokes with or without their Eier being metaphorically squeezed.

And then there is Eurovsion stalking the good burghers of Vienna like an ex-lover on social media. It is impossible to avoid Eurovision in Vienna at the moment due to a salivating press which appears incapable of printing a single newspaper or magazine without some reference to the Singfest which will hit our shores from 17th to the 23rd May. More so after the installation of a giant glow stick outside the town hall reminiscent of a digital damoclean sword counting down the days till the final itself and the reaffirmation of Austria’s most famous incarnation (Conchita) as a modern day bearded deity.

Come to think of it, the very mention of an embodiment of a living God in the form of highly talented and affable drag-queen, particularly in these troubled times of austerity, inequality and the return of double-breasted suits, might lead some disciples of the big book of relgious dogma to take offence. And offence should be avoided where possible with absolutely no jokes, no disrespect or unconcealed anti-faith cheekiness. Especially to Christians, Jews or Muslims who seem to think that because their philosophical viewpoint, unassailable and sanctified, has an inherently greater value than the secular wisdom of Marx, Orwell or Homer Simpson, it should not be teased or critically dismantled.

Spirituality aside, we should not let the imperative of free expression side-track us this early in the year. We have more important issues to ponder and like the thousands of Eurovision fanatical acolytes around the world, we are on a crusade for tickets and a hotel bed. Sources deep in the citadels of Viennese power inform me that the estimated 100 hundred thousand tickets for nine shows (nine shows?) are already on sale and it should be the glitziest and campest party of the year, and might even outdo the Life Ball for once. But for the ticketless there will also be a “fanzone” or “public viewing” (eponymously named “Eurovision Village) in front of the town hall. This will include live transmission of all the rounds, DJs and my idea of hell on this and every other Earth, the dreaded “family programme”.

Meanwhile, over at the Chamber of Commerce (Wirstschaftskammer) the votes have been counted in the members’ referendum from late last year. In it the Chamber asked three pressing questions: First, whether it was desirable to the establish so-called “tourist zones” in the city which in reality was all about shops being allowed to open on a Sunday. Second, whether pub gardens or pavement cafes – the Schanigarten – should have more flexibility when to open, operate and annoy. And thirdly, whether the members should pay less for social insurance. Not surprisingly, from the 14,500 voting cards, 70 percent were in favour of Sunday trading, 80 percent for outdoor seating all year and, confounding all predictions, 60 percent wanted to pay less tax.

According to the Wiener Wirtschafts Report (the “Magazine for Small Business”) a strange publication published by the Wirtschaftsbund Wien costing three Euro which mysteriously appears in my post box a few times a year, the result reinforced the themes of business freedom, Vienna as a world city and social justice. In truth, however, it is more to do with rolling back state interference and extending the “freedoms” of more liberal economic ideas. Although ironically, this commitment to more economic free will does not include the right of the “entrepreneur” (me) to exercise such freedom and quit the Chamber (it is compulsory as I have mentioned many times).

But who cares when we have cake and coffee? So next up tourism and an appointment with the first district and its many treats. And as you asked, yes, its only 115 days till Eurovision!

© RJ Barratt 2015

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