Our perambulatory jaunt continues from the Neileichgasse. It is an agreeable enough stroll along the path above the stream but there is not much to see unless you like peering into people’s back gardens (I know I do, especially with binoculars). Alternatively, you can cross the bridge and cut down to the left-hand bank via a slipway type thing and get up close to the stream itself.
Assuming there has been no rain, the water in this section of the Liesing is both gentle and narrow and one could almost imagine leaping across to the other bank in a moment of youthful exuberance. However, given the ubiquitous presence of the smartphone and the constant peril of some surreptitious filming, you are more likely to misjudge the distance, stumble back and end up as the star clip on Upps Die Pannen Show. Then again if you look around you should see evidence of flattened vegetation giving you a clear impression of the extent of the water level when it rains. More excitedly, you might even be able to spot a fish and with it – this depends from season to season and how quiet you are – a stately Grey Heron in search of a snack.
After about another fifteen minutes of picking your way through the vegetation, trying to not over-familiarise yourself with cloaked piles of the usual excrement, you will come across the Laxenburgstrasse. Follow this road out of town and it will lead to an admittedly striking palace (a favourite residence of Empress Maria Theresia and honeymoon destination for Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth) and its English inspired parkland gardens which were all the rage in Austria until the Brexit referendum.
Once you cross the street, you are in the optimistically named Blumental (Flower Valley). The path continues along the left side of the river where you once again have to share it with cyclists, many squeezed into some exceptionally dazzling and close-fitting clothing (not so much contenders for the Tour De France rather a beauty pageant for out-of-shape super heroes). The left hand bank consists of nothing more than a welter of light industry but over to the right is the Islamic cemetery of Vienna. Opened in 2008, the cemetery was the first of its kind in Austria has space for about five thousand believers on its eight and a half acre site. For those of you unaccustomed to the complexities of notional measurements of land, this translates into roughly five football pitches or sixteen thousand prayer mats.
A bit further on you will pass under a train track known locally as the Pottendorfer Linie which runs from Meidling in the 12th district through the back villages of Lower Austria on to Wiener Neustadt. Just after the bridge on the left near a sign telling you that the Ringstrasse is 8.6 km north, you should spot one of the original Ferris wheel cabins (number 18) from the famous Riesenrad in the Prater. Today the big wheel only operates fifteen of the original thirty and for some reason one of these is now sitting in a field adjacent to the production site one of the world’s leading manufacturers and suppliers of blood plasma (Octopharma).
If this wasn’t enough, over on the right hand bank of the stream, visible through the trees, is the eco-friendly institution known as the Hashahof (you can get a better look by continuing along the path, crossing the bridge by the sign for Stadtwanderweg 7, and then doubling back a hundred metres or so). For two hundred Euros a season (May to October) you can channel your inner farmer and rent individual plots of land which are pre-sown with 15 different organic vegetables (but no hash) which you nurture and harvest yourself. It is noticeably different to the Schrebergarten (also a kind of “city allotment” mentioned in part two) because, like a spade is a spade, it is what it is: a field and some vegetables.
From here on in to your destination, the last piece of significant asphalt you have to pass under is the Himbergerstrasse (follow it up the hill and you will arrive at the gleaming campus of the University of Applied Sciences in Vienna with its 6,500 Instagram subscribers). More importantly, you are now in Favoriten (the 10th district of the number one city) so caution is advised especially as you may meet someone who speaks a language which will question your fundamental beliefs about what it means to converse in German.
Just along the path you are in for a sporting treat as you come with in touching distance of the hallowed turf of football club A-11 Oberlaa (an amalgamation, in 2003, of SC Rapid Oberlaa and FC Austria 11). Rapid Oberlaa, to take its original name, was founded in 1911 and like their bigger more rowdy namesakes across the city (Rapid Vienna) they play in green and white. Their greatest success came in 1948 with a credible 8th place finish in the old Austrian Staatsliga (essentially the first division of its day) although back then the top division was dominated by Vienna clubs due to the difficulties for other teams from Austria to travel and play (the country was still occupied by the Americans, British and our friends from Moscow).
Seventy years on they play in the heady heights of the second Landesliga which is the fifth tier of Austrian football (trust me, I am more surprised than most people that I know this). For some reason I have yet to attend a game but at the end of August they host the Oberlaa Wiesenfest. This year they are guaranteeing a MEGASTIMMUNG (mega atmosphere) so you have been warned. Unless, of course, you are inexplicably drawn to the contemporary culturally-counterfeit mania in Vienna these days for the massing of brightly coloured checked shirts, some fast-fashion Dirndls and leather shorts from China (also known as Hofer or Aldi) and more alcohol than a Viking victory feast. In which case, I wish you well.
As you pass the ground you can see the change in landscape and with it a definite sense that countryside is not far away. Both banks of the Liesing, much wider now without the shackles of its concrete minders, are flanked by farmland (at this time of year – August – charred by the summer heat). But in the distance is a visual reminder that change is befalling this once sleepy part of the southern most tip of the number one city; the numerous cranes dotting the skyline heralding expansion and the incessant creep of urbanisation.
Standing here it is easy to contemplate how long these fields will survive as farmland given the pressures in Vienna to provide a seemingly never-ending demand for affordable accommodation. As one acquaintance not far from the politics of Vienna recently told me, it is just a question of money and political will (fistfuls of cash and copious amounts of complementary Spritzer). And yet, poignant as it seems, it explains why some citizens of the village just beyond feel their sleepy existence is under threat.
As you approach the heart of the Oberlaa (due to the sulphuric thermal excretions you will smell it before you see it) there is a green painted bridge, one of two. I mention this because this is the second place I have seen a kingfisher along the Liesing although in truth this was in deepest winter (hence the German name Eisvögel or “ice bird”). But by now, after spending more time than is usually deemed necessary in this part of Vienna, you will probably need refreshment. After which it is a short walk up the hill to meet with the underground line number one, find a bus or, if really desperate, hail a Bolt (apparently the bastard cousin of Uber). There are some decent enough places to drink and eat on the Liesingbachstrasse – where you should be standing – including Windisch, the perennial favourite of Dorfwirt and a bit further the more traditional Heuriger of Mannhardt (with Vienna’s most sardonic owner/waiter). Although, just before you do, try and seek out the plaque just before Windsich on the wall of an old house commemorating the Hochwasser (high-water mark) in 1940 before the stream was regulated. If nothing else, it is a sobering reminder that nature, nature even as placid and blameless as the Liesing, has the potential to surprise.
You are now 7km east from Alt Erlaa which is about 6km further than most of the population in Vienna have ever been east from Alt Erlaa. But before you settle down for a grape-juice, it is worth pushing on for another 2km for one final treat: the Johanneskirche (Church of St. John of Malta) in Unterlaa. The reason for this is that most sources on the capital usually cite the Church of St Ruprecht in the first district as Vienna’s oldest. But according to Michaela Lindinger in her book Secret Vienna, recent research suggests this little church tucked away amongst the farmland of the 10th district dates from about the same period (11th century). If you fancy a tour, which must be booked in advance, they run the first Sunday of every month from May to October.
And so in the name of the Father (Alexander Van de Bellen, President of Austria), the Son (Sebastian “replicant” Kurz, recently ousted Chancellor) and the Holy Ghost (Heinz-Ibiza-Strache, purveyor of the immortal “Zack! Zack! Zack” – when trying to enunciate the speed at which he could sell the infrastructure of the Austrian state to the Russians, although they stole it all anyway once before during the departure in 1955), our pilgramistic-trinity-of-tales of the Liesingbach comes to a fitting denouement. Time now to return to the clamour and madness of the school holidays in Austria – just three more weeks – and worse, the impending peril of yet another Austrian general election.
Godspeed fellow parents and educators. The summer slumber* is fast vorbei (nearly over).
*Editors Note: my thanks to the Curmudgeon for introducing me to a new phrase in German: Sommerloch.
© 2019 RJ Barratt