The Barratt Vienna Awards 2019

See the little birdie.

Word – Give the Vienna public transport provider credit, they know how to generate a few column inches. This year there was the banning of food and drinks on the network and then in March a survey of passengers found that 98% were satisfied with the service. This is pretty good but does make you wonder which planet the other two percent live on. In July we learned that trains on the U6 and U1 would be perfumed and again there was mention of deodorant for the less fragrant of passengers. But more lately was the publicity campaign to highlight the tendency of some men to sprawl when sitting on the tube, bus or tram. Hence a new entry into the Vienna lexicon: “manspreading”.

Project – On time and on budget, the 11 million Euro renovation of the Rotenturmstrasse from Stephansplatz to Schwedenplatz in the first district. Bringing to the centre of Vienna another Begegnungszone (somewhere between a pedestrianized area and normal street) where people take priority although cars can still use it at a reduced speed of 20km/h. On a busy day the footfall is apparently sixty thousand people, most of them moving at the pace of Harvey Weinstein with a zimmer-frame. All ready to enjoy the 28 new benches, 16 Japanese pagoda trees, 2 water drinking fountains and the ire of taxi drivers and other car users smarting at the lost of more street space in the heart of the city.

Persistent itch – Heinz Christian Strache, disgraced former leader of the Freedom Party who was forced to step down after a video emerged of him and his sidekick “Glöck, Glöck” Gudenus in an Ibizan villa boasting about this and that and what he could sell to Russian oligarchs. The video brought down the coalition government of which Strache was deputy chancellor triggering an interim government which is still going at the end of 2019. Then came the expenses scandal after the use of party money to pay a few private bills and the salary of Strache’s wife who suddenly became the party spokesperson for animals and their social media guru because she knew how to work Instagram. As the main breadwinner now, Phillipa Strache continued valiantly on as a member of the parliament after the elections but sits alone more or less ignored by the other parties (but especially her former “employers” at the FPÖ). Heinz promised to step back from politics and then there was the spat over who could control his Facebook profile. By the end of the year there was talk of a comeback as an independent, which is good news if only to split the far-right vote.

Crap tourism – a clear winner this year are the clown cars, pissing off the residents of the first district by holding up traffic and pissing off the established Fiaker drivers by parking in their spots and pinching their clients. In any terms they are all that is shit about shit tourism. Turning a beautiful open space into a theme park seemingly to serve the kind of tourist who thinks it is cool to be ferried about in fake vintage car which looks like it has been stolen from the circus.

Eat your Coney Island crap tourism 2 – Finally they did something to regulate the plague of badly attired sellers which used to mass outside the main tourist sights flogging crap Mozart concerts to anyone looking like a tourist (and sometimes even residents who would normally respond using a mix of derision, scorn and contempt but mostly contempt). Evidently there is still some sense to be found in the corridors of the town hall but all they need to do now is outlaw the rickshaws and balance will return to the keenly swept streets of the number one city.

British expat – Speaking of keen. There was at time when the diplomatic corps kept a discreetly low profile. No longer. Current ambassador, Leigh Turner, loves his socials. He may get some gentle ribbing on Twitter for this but he puts himself about speaking mostly about Brexit and the daily functions of the Embassy. He seems a thoroughly likeable chap but his twitter feed would not be complete each year without:

  1. A picture in a kilt.
  2. Riding a bicycle.
  3. A selfie up a mountain.
  4. A picture from the Belvedere – usually a sunset or sunrise
  5. A link to appearing on local television station OE24.
  6. Some reference to being chased by wild boars.

Fond farewell – The closure of toyshop legend Carl Hilpert in the first district behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral which ceased trading after 147 years citing mounting costs and the overreach of online shopping. The premises remain empty (late December) but given the prevailing mood in Vienna to cater for the casual visitor, it is only a matter of time before some replacement shitshow moves in (although hopefully it will spare us the sight of another one of those dreadful souvenir shops as there is already one just up the street). Hope remains, if toys are your thing, in Bannert on the Wedertorgasse (Vienna’s largest toyshop) and recent news that some former employees of Hilpert have opened a new shop in the 4th district specialising in model trains and collectible cars. Well, someone had to.

Company – In the words of P.J. O’Rourke, is there anything that social media hasn’t ruined? I would take it a step further. Is there anything that smartphones haven’t ruined? However, in spite of the iniquitous creep of the tiny televisions, there were three good reasons why I still wanted to carry one in 2019 (and I needed a new one anyway): email (for work); a decent camera (to gather evidence of discarded e-scooters so I could report them to the city government); and podcasts (to block out the inanities of that bastard subset of humanity that think it is a good idea to share their facetime chat with the rest of the bus). That was all, nothing fancy. As such, it made no sense to spend over the odds for an over-priced replacement with questionable features I didn’t need, and so a quick search on Startpage for best budget phone through up a surprising entry: an iPhone 6s. But a new one with a new price tag of more than 300 Euro? This didn’t make any sense. Which led me to the Viennese company Refurbed which sells (through “merchants”) refurbished phones, tablets and laptops at a hefty discount. Good for your pocket. Good for the planet. The phone was perfect, the service and delivery were perfect and they planted a tree for me (one of more than 100 thousand this year alone) in Botswana.

Heurige (wine tavern) – like the Kaffeehaus, or Beisl, choosing the best Heurige in the city is like trying to choose your favourite child (my favourite is me). There are probably many all over Vienna which I will never visit but any favourite is, I would argue, driven mostly by proximity (because I don’t want to spend an hour getting across Vienna just to have a Spritzer). Hidden away on top of a hill near the huge Lainzer Tiergarten and on the edge of the Mauerwald, my vote this year goes to the modern but traditional Wiltschko in the 23rd district. It’s not that easy to reach without a car (bus number 56A which can pick you up at the U4 station Hietzing or the train station Atzgersdorf) but this means it keeps away the tourists. It has a beautiful garden with views over Vienna and is adjacent to the Planetenweg if planets and a walk in our solar system is your thing.

Nod to nature – According to my son’s monthly magazine, Tierfreunde, the Kingfisher is an endangered species. The Royal Society of the Protection of Birds puts it on the amber list due to its “unfavourable conservation status in Europe“. (Although please note this should not be confused with the other RSPB – The Royal Society for the Protection of Brits – which seeks to assist British expats in Austria stranded by Brexit.) However, within 300 metres of the thunderous Triesterstrasse in the south of Vienna, you can find a feeding and hunting ground of this beautiful bird. They fly so quickly over the water that at best all you will see is a streak of blue. So your smartphone is generally useless unless you can get up close, which you can’t. In any case, much like me, you shouldn’t because it upsets their delicate balances. Just before Christmas I observed one with my son in its usual spot for a good twenty minutes as it perched and dived into the genteel moving Liesing Stream. It was captivating and it has become a weekly pilgrimage. I see it. I relax. I forget about Boris. I forget about everything.

Place not to swim in Vienna (but not far from Vienna) – Laxenburg Pond. That’s all I am telling you.

Kicking and screaming into the 21st century – I am not sure if city will regret this but with the newly enacted smoking ban, which finally came into force in 2019 after the fall of the government (the FPÖ were blocking it because they are contrarian bastards), Vienna lost its USP. But now we are confronted by the unfamiliar sight of groups of people huddled around ashtrays outside pubs, bars and restaurants. Apparently special smoking rooms (mostly aimed at the cigar user) in hotels are excluded as long as no food or drink is consumed. Yeah right, because if I have a big Cohiba on the go, I am going to leave my whiskey outside. Verdict: apart from the shisha bars, I have heard not one complaint.

Number – 10. The number of consecutive years Vienna has been recognised as the city on earth with the number one life quality. And that apparently is a world record.

© 2019 RJ Barratt

Ps – That’s me people. My thanks to everyone who takes the time to read, like, follow and comment. Especially to the guys at Vienna Expats (MB) for their much valued and continued plugs around the Interweb, and for letting me fill up their blog forum section with my musings on the number one city. See you in 2020 and einen guten Rutsch!