April Shower


In the interests of global sanity, it is time to shift our focus from the looney-fest that is the ongoing search for an American leader – viewed with bewilderment in Austria, Europe, the rest of the World and some galaxies yet discovered – and instead settle on the more benign countdown that is the race to the Hofburg in Vienna.

The posters and roadside billboards are up and in a matter of only three weeks we shall have a new president. I am not convinced the strategic positioning of political advertising is really effective. At best they are a constant reminder that an election is coming rather than a tool of communication to sway voters with carefully crafted messages.  Yet the streets and public spaces are once more filled with the filtered faces of the leading candidates. In various states of apparent ecstasy.

In previous installments we have examined the constitutional role of president and the main players (and their chances). But for the newcomer here is a quick one-sentence round-up of the guiding philosophy of each political party. Framed within the current popular topic of the beggar mafias stalking the streets of the Danube metropolis:

  1. SPÖ (Social Democrats) – They are no beggars in Vienna.
  2. ÖVP (Conservative) – What are beggars?
  3. FPÖ (Freedom) – Deportation for all beggars.
  4. Green (Green) – Warm stroke and a cuddle for beggars (and a free council flat).
  5. Irmgard Griss (Indie) – Begging for your vote.
  6. Richard Lugner (indie) – Society beggar.

This being Vienna, most people will feign interest in the presidential process, be non-committal if they vote or not, and will never reveal who they will vote for (this means the Freedom Party). Although one chap I know, more candid than most, summed it up thus:

“The Socialists have done nothing to protect jobs of the working classes, the Conservatives have no idea what a “worker” is, the Greens want to give your job (and a cuddle) to an immigrant, which leaves no option but to vote for the FPÖ.”

As a long-term resident in the home of the bagel, I am still not allowed to vote because I am not an Austrian. This state of affairs, for the time being, is more a democratic inconvenience. But if some Brits get their way in June and do the dirty on their fellow burgher scattered to the four corners of the EU, then I might find myself having to finally get to grips with the dreaded language that is the trademark of Austrian officialdom (cheap stereotype number 1) and apply for citizenship.

But equally I am disenfranchised from voting in the UK and therefore will have no say whether Britain will remain in the sisterhood of the EU. And thus I feel stateless, adrift from the democratic process I cherish almost as much as freedom, the ability to take the piss out of all religious beliefs and, my best-friend, lager. (For more on the impact of Brits abroad with specific reference to the Austrian experience, read this comprehensive blog from Vienna resident Michael Bailey).

In the meantime, spring, once my favourite season now replaced by the soothing darkness of an Austrian winter, has risen. Not that the winter of 2015 – 2016 was much of a challenge, clement to the end with only one day of real snow. But with the rapid onset of warmer climes, the city is bathed in its customary change: the arrival of outdoor furniture whisked from winter incarceration ready for the obligatory Schanigarten and its patrons, more cars (people drive less in winter for some reason) and people, lots of people, hoards of people.

In other news junior Robert Barratt got a place in his local grammar school and the bilingual class. To do so he had to first attend a group interview with three other candidates where they discussed some simple vocabulary, a nursery rhyme and the relationship between security and liberty.

In truth, there was some nervous expectation in the Barratt household that week as we waited to hear if he had been accepted. This I realised was what it meant to be a parent. Incessant worry about education. In any case, our fears were unfounded although I had to chuckle at the wording of the acceptance letter. “Your son appears to be suitable for the Vienna Bilingual Schooling.” Appears to be? Appears to be? Well, what is it? I felt like writing back along the lines of:

“After much consideration, we have decided that the Vienna Bilingual Schooling appears to be suitable for our son and we would like to give your permission to educate him.”

Not that I would want to criticise educational “ink-mountains” which administer schools and their teachers in the week that it was reported a fifth of Austrian children leave primary school and can’t write proper. But of course the answer is iPads. Educational leaders, educational policy makers, dear teachers. I’ll make it easy for you. No, it isn’t.

Up next a look at the best bits from my newest read: Weird Vienna by journalist and writer, Harald Havas.

© RJ Barratt 2016