The private motor car is the root of many societal ills. It contributes to obesity. It is a cause of alienation. It is a harbinger of stress. It generates anti-social behaviour. It encourages egoism. It reconfigures shared public spaces which should, first and foremost, exist purely for the well-being of humans and their animal friends.
Here in Austria, social division is substantially enhanced by the regional number plate (license plate). What this means is one is able to tell at a glance the home town (more or less) of a car and its peanut-brained occupant. So, for example, if you drive anywhere in Austria outside the capital with a Viennese plate, you are essentially marked. It is like the “black spot” in Stevenson’s Treasure Island and the rest of the nation’s 6.5 million inhabitants will hate you simply because of that little “W” (for Wien) adorning your bumper.
But in an effort to redress this imbalance, here is Robert Barratt’s guide to the most seen vehicular trespassers onto Vienna’s streets. Details which you will find nowhere else, especially not on the Austrian Automobile Association (the ÖAMTC) website:
MD – Mödling
The “M” is for Mödling and the “D” for Depp (idiot). Mödling is to the south-west of Vienna surrounded by industrial estates and crappy shopping malls. During the Nazis era, in an attempt to conceal the fact that Vienna was considerably smaller than other European capitals, Freud called it Metropolis Envy, it was actually incorporated into the city and designated as the 24th district. But around about the same time Austria threw off its post-war occupiers (in 1954) it was dispatched back to Lower Austria where it belonged. In many ways, Mödling is like Croydon near London, a schizophrenic vortex unsure whether it is city or suburb. The drivers, like most from outside the city, think a 50 kilometre city-wide speed limit (about 30 mph) means 100 kilometres per hour. And they drive accordingly. This in turn leads to an intrinsic sense of entitlement and means they still haven’t quite got used to the complexities of motoring in a compact and busy city. Famous also for its “Mödlinger Tussi” generously translated as “bimbo” or perhaps “Essex girl” (with all due respect to Essex).
Typical cars. Women: Mini Cooper or Fiat 500 – Men: Audi Q5
BN – Baden
In the UK, folklore dictates that those who are insular, conservative and forever writing letters of complaint, are “angry from Tunbridge Wells”. In Austria, it is Baden, also a spa town, quite picturesque, rich and full of insufferable middle-classes consumed by their own myths of self-regard. Inevitably, their driving style culminates in a toxic emission of arrogance, haughtiness and braying impatience. If you are in front of them, you are in their way. This means they are renowned for driving up very fast behind you, slamming on their brakes, throwing their hands up in the air and then gesticulating wildly as if you have just committed the most monstrous of crimes by slowing down at a red light. Speed limits are for the poor (or lazy) and Baden drivers are easy to spot in car-parks as they need two parking spaces (this is due to insecurity about their sex-lives). This in turn reflects their attitude to other citizens communicating in a very public way: “Up yours proletarian scum!”
Typical cars. Women: Mercedes B-Class – Men: Bigger BMWs, Range Rover, Jaguar
WU – Greater Vienna
Stands for Wien Umgebung (greater Vienna, I suppose). Difficult to classify because it encompasses a broad brush of geography, accents and semi-rural fashion from 1987. Demographic is a mix of established “country dwellers” (who believe the Viennese are crazy, rude and without charm) and “in-comers” (former Viennese) who think they have escaped the city but view all established locals as charmless, uncouth and in-bred. Residents have no conception of road traffic rules unless it involves a tractor, small 50cc motorbikes or souped up cars better suited to the inner city ring-roads of long ignored English towns. As such, there is a high concentration of not quite new vehicles often highly polished and adorned with a stripe or exhaust that is easy not to confuse with a Lamborghini or any car of class or true sporting heritage.
Typical cars. Women: Opel Astra – Men: Mitsubushi
TU – Tulln
TU stands for Tulln, a town to the north -west of Vienna including a wide swathe of countryside where sleeveless shirts and moustaches amongst teenage boys still evoke high fashion. They are the scourge of the Viennese driver if you live in the west of the city and proof all you need of what happens when a provincial, sheep-caressing driver with the social skills of a gormless troll is let loose on the streets of a major capital with a complicated road network. The name of the game is a form of doe-eyed motoring that is both reckless, incompetent and with as much panache as a stand up urinal in the old Rapid Vienna stadium. Sadly, they are also always in a hurry. Everywhere must be reached at speed which simply confirms their hatred of driving in the sense they have to get it over with as quickly as possible (like their approach to sex). No other number-plate also epitomises rural “boy-racer” (skills honed on a PlayStation), a nefarious term used to describe young men (rarely women) who also believe that installing a big stereo with some expensive aluminium rims will allow people to truly believe they are sitting next to the stunt driver in the original Italian Job. Important accessory: Red Bull or, when times are hard, which is always, Spar Energy Drink.
Typical cars. Women: Renault Twingo – Men: Seat Leon or 3-door Honda Civic
EU – Greater Eisenstadt
Vienna, like every other city around the world apart from Damascus, is a magnet for commuters. Many of these commuters head from the south each day, encased in their metal and plastic boxes, entertained by Radio Wien or the dirge that is Ö3. Both of which, with a degree of consistency which I find quite breathtaking, manage to play some of the worst popular music ever conceived in the last 50 years of popular music. Many of these hard pressed city intruders come from the federal state of Burgenland and the surrounds of Eisenstadt (E) the provincial capital. I have nothing bad to say about the people of Burgenland. They are polite, well-behaved and obviously worthy of their reputation of being a tiny bit leisurely. Traits which I applaud, especially when you are being tailgated by some social imbecile from the surrounds of Vienna, or worse, a guest worker in a hurry to reach the Hungarian border (in a car that would fall apart if you cleaned it). Aside from their designated classification, they are easy to spot in red Vienna due to a distinct capacity to get lost, drive the wrong way up one-way streets and park erratically, a talent learned after many nights out at the wine tavern where driving home and skewed parking is considered a badge of proficiency.
Typical cars. Women: Peugeot 206 – Men: Ford Mondeo or a Kia Sportage
WD – Vienna Diplomats
Some people will have seen “CD” (Corps diplomatique) on the back of embassy cars, but in Vienna they go for “Wien Diplomat” (WD). Of course, any local taxi driver will tell you the “D” stands for “Depp” (see Mödlinger Depp) although for the average hansom cab exemplar in Vienna, everyone who is not a taxi-driver from the 10th district is a Depp by default. The diplomat is not a menace as such due to a professional driver (and bodyguard and buyer of flowers), reserved parking and a driving style that aims to remain discreet and within the law (of his national homeland). Unless, of course, a diplomat is driving, or worse, his or her spouse. Occasionally you spot an example of a poorer “mission” (ten year old BMW or Merc bought from a Serb or Turk) which also promises a rich interpretation of the Austrian highway code, assuming the driver has a licence and any notion of what it means to be in control of two tonnes of German engineering. But more often it is spanking new Teutonic vehicular masterpiece, as wide as the gaps in the EU migrant policy and as notionally powerful as Merkerl on caffeine. It is difficult to implant yourself into the mind of a diplomat but once in the first district whilst sitting in the car waiting for my wife, a young chap (privately educated, bit short, big buffon hair) rapped on my window and asked if I was staying long. Maybe another ten minutes, I replied. Well, he pointed, see that van over there, it’s parking in the space reserved for the Swiss embassy. When you see the driver can you tell him to move or his van will be towed away? Of course, I will, I said closing my window, of course I will …
Typical car: Audi A6, BMW 7 Series, Mercedes E-Class (The French have to drive Citroen)
W – Wien
Ah, the immortal tag. So momentous in its diversity, so emblematic of civic progress, so evocative of what is all wrong about the number one city. Then again, given Vienna’s rich cultural mix, its many nationalities and its profound shared histories, it would be facile of me to group them together as one homogenous driving nuisance. Nothing can capture the essential melange of people and their foibles, their irascible predilections, and their fatal weaknesses, and to equate this with something as generic as a number plate is an exercise rooted in futility. In short, sweeping generalisations about the archetypal driver in Vienna would be pithy and cynical. So, let’s just call them unreconstructed tossers.
Typical car: There is no typical car. But you must clean it at the “Waschstrasse” and take more care of it than your own family.
© RJ Barratt 2015