They Never Learn (aka – it’s the Sharing Economy, Stupid!)
Is it a Bird? Is it a Lime? No, it’s another badly over-hyped sharing scheme to cause vexation to the oppressed people of Vienna. I am not against sharing things: library books, papers in cafes, bar-stools, buses or trains. But this year in Vienna we saw the arrival of the daft e-scooters. If nothing else it shows a degree of tenacity from the acolytes of the sharing economy. Yet after the very recent dismal failure of the free bike schemes – those orange and yellow ones – it will not be long before many end up in the Danube Channel, people get injured and the grievances come zooming along the pavement at high speed without a helmet. Oh. They already are.
Deny the Science
In those first years in the number one city, a time of incessant fascination, excitement and the feeling I was on a permanent holiday, I would often marvel at the summers. As an alpine country I was led to believe that Austria was perpetually frozen so this was a welcome revelation. However, after the summer of 2018, I might be about to change my mind. According to the sexily-sounding Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (or ZAMG) Vienna had the longest, most sweaty summer on record (a record achieved in August as I attempted to escape up a mountain). Indeed, the ZAMG recorded thirty days in succession where the temperature was over thirty degrees (beating the previous record from 2003) and eighteen “tropical” days in a row (the mercury never dropping below twenty degrees). Is this evidence of something more disturbing? Well, the previous hottest summers were in 2003, 2015, 2017 and all of the top eleven have been since 2000. So, deny it if you want to.
Hardhats off to the Asfinag (Austria’s motorway providers) for finishing the eight year project to rebuild a four kilometre stretch of the “Tangente” Autobahn and the intersection and flyover at Inzserdorf in the 23rd district – five months ahead of schedule. The Tangente is arguably a defining motif for the city with its astronomical traffic jams, bumper to bumper motoring and 150 thousand daily users (cars not people). Which is surprising because it is never mentioned in those quality of life surveys. But who cares? The renovation cost a respectable 121 million Euro and includes the planting of 3600 trees and 5,900 bushes, perfect as the final future resting place for energy drink cans, depleted packets of Chesterfield cigarettes and cheeseburger wrappers from the nearby McDonalds.
2018 saw the growth and consolidation of something quite chilling. No, I am not talking about the existential horrors wreaked by Brexit, or the invite to my neighbour this year for a New Year’s Eve drink just before midnight. Instead the proliferation of the “Fest”: wine festivals, “Siedlung” festivals (bit like a street party), beer festivals, food festivals, sport club festivals, festivals-of-fest or indeed the monstrosity that is the over-hyped Kirtag (source: everyone I know who has ever been there). But worst of all, one to out-fest all the other fests, the omnipresent absorption of the Oktoberfest (epitomised most notably by the bogus and culturally counterfeit Wienerwiesen). If I want to stand in a tent on a wooden table in cheap lederhosen from a discount supermarket, reeking of beer and singing along to music composed by someone in tune with the sadistic reaches of the human condition, then I will go to Munich. Which, the last time I checked, is 400 culturally distinct kilometres from Vienna. And in another country.
Gonna Cost Yer, Put the Kettle On
The renovation of the Austrian parliament building is about to enter its second year. Costs for the project were fixed by an act of parliament back in 2014 at 352 million euro with a bit extra for strong cups of tea and some nice biscuits from Leibniz. However, it seems they had the same builders who renovated our house in 2012 because there has been some serious under-estimation of the final bill. More so due to the discovery this summer of some previously unidentified asbestos, which must have come as a shock because I am sure it didn’t exist back in the late 19th century when the neo-classical building was unleashed on the people of Vienna. Anyhow, there is some talk in some quarters that this could be the next “Krankenhaus Nord” (another mega project to build a new hospital complex in Vienna’s 21st district) which is over budget, behind schedule and leaking money faster than a newly crowned lottery winner with a rapacious extended family.
2018 was the year to discover the real mountains near Vienna – the Schneeberg and the Rax. But an equal delight was the Hohe Wand in the Viennese Alps in the southern part of Lower Austria (about 50 minutes by car from Vienna). The plateau is just over 1000 metres above sea level and it is a known for its fabulous views, panoramic treks and distinctive flora and fauna. There is also a mountain road to the summit. It is not very long but it might give you flashbacks to the closing scenes of the original Italian Job. So make sure you pack your Quincy Jones soundtrack, a few gold bars and if you encounter trouble, always have a great idea.
The Otto Wagner exhibition celebrating the life of Vienna’s most famous architect who died in 1918 was terrific. Although his architectural legacy is still found in various parts of the city (and you can actually go and see them) it was the masterfully rendered drawings of the things which he planned but never got to realise which proved the most fascinating. Some of them were monumental. More so because at one point, he had drawn epic plans for what is now the eastern part of the 23rd district (a place close to my heart) which back in the day was mostly farmland. The architectural design included impressive boulevards connected by green spaces and public squares, and row after row of those classic tenement buildings normally found within the inner districts. Instead, many decades later we got light industry, the Tangente (see above) and something called the Fun Palast (note: not the kind for kids).
Weirdest Interaction with Another Brit Award
I was tempted to write the Brexit meeting in the spring with the United Kingdom Citizens in Austria but first place has to go to the homeless man who surprisingly accosted one summer lunchtime on the Dr. Karl Lueger-Platz whilst I ate my sandwich:
Him: “Are you Austrian? Are you Austrian? You are despicable! Despicable!”
Me: “Er …”
Him: “You are despicable!”
Me: “Actually, I’m British, like you.”
(I could tell immediately from the accent.)
Him: “British? You don’t look British!”
(I took it as a complement.)
Him: “Why are you here?”
(It was a fair question, one I had been contemplating more than this chap could have realised in 2018.)
Me: “Well, my family are here.”
Him: “Are you a civil servant?
Me: (thinking carefully about my answer) “No, I suppose I am a businessman.”
Him: “What’s your business?”
Me: “What’s your business?”
This continued for a good few minutes. In truth I was slightly unnerved by the antagonistic tone and I really didn’t fancy getting into any kind of ruckus (I hadn’t finished my lunch). But the fact that I was a fellow Brit probably saved me a lot of hassle and his manner softened as we talked about the UK and where we were from. I never really found out why he was living on the streets in the number one city and all he would tell me was that he was trying to leave (the Brexit effect in reverse perhaps). And then he was gone, to the next person across the square accusing them of being Austrian and, yes, despicable.
Podcast (with a Vienna Link)
From the BBC – Intrigue: The Ratline, a story of “love, denial and a curious death”. Expertly researched and narrated by barrister and academic, Philipe Sands, the podcast is a compelling account about how a high-ranking Viennese Nazi indicted for mass murder – Otto Wachter – evaded capture from the allied powers after the Second World War and escaped to the Vatican. Wachter – voiced in the podcast by Stephen Fry – was a former governor of Kraków and SS Gruppenführer. He also stood next to Hitler on the infamous balcony of the Hofburg next when Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938. And yet he still hot-footed it across the Alps!
Ha, ha. My little Witz.
© 2018 RJ Barratt
Ps – Dear readers, that’s all for another vexatious year. It is with great appreciation that I thank all of you for taking the time to get this far, your comments and words of encouragement. I am especially grateful to people of Vienna for allowing me to showcase some of the more obtuse subjects in the number one city. They have been very kind which is unusual. A special mention also to my neighbour who retains the warmth, charm and poise of a Trump political rally. But mostly my thanks to the leader of the council for reminding me that there are more important things than writing letters to elected officials. For now.
And with that, I wish you, wherever you are, a great 2019.
Robert J. Barratt, Vienna, December 31st, 2018 (not far from the Fun Palast).