An Old Friend Returns

Aside from the proliferation of barber shops, one of the profoundest visual changes to the number one city in the last few years has been the disappearance of parked cars in the suburbs since the introduction of city-wide resident parking permits in March 2022. (In Vienna they call it the Parkpickerl.)

Before this monumental event unfolded, I boldly predicted that at least half of the cars parked on my street in the south of Vienna would disappear. In truth, this assertion didn’t require a level of detective nous worthy of Colombo, although it was based on some serious data obtained in the field, peering through blinds, pencil and notepad primed. Indeed, the evidence was pretty much staring us in the face (through binoculars) all along:

Exhibit 1: every house had/has a driveway or garage (and hence off-street parking) although – and this explains much about the state of the Viennese psyche – often unused. More so because although they are largely left vacant, almost all of them will boast a sign attached to the gate warning of defenestration if the drive is blocked (night and day because Vienna never sleeps … soundly). My point being that to avoid the parking charges it seemed inevitable that some residents would simply elect to use their drive (and some did).

Exhibit 2: until the law was changed, there was an abundance of parked up vehicles with non-Vienna numberplates which would be disqualify a right to a permit because of residency issues (cars registered outside of Vienna usually denote “main” residence in another part of Austria). In Vienna the designation is “W” for Wien although some uncharitable outsiders claim it stands for “Wappla” (idiot). In any case, the “P”s, the “WU”s, the “BN”s, the “MD”s and the “BL”s (the worst by every metric) had to go. And aside from some outliers who bafflingly still try to game the system, they did.

Exhibit 3: almost every weekend and holiday cars would disappear for short periods suggesting the owner only used Vienna as a base for working, commuting, or most likely visiting their second families. It was a precursor to what would happen once the little stickers in the windscreen became mandatory, and it proved remarkably prescient in what prevailed. 

What this all means is that although I plan to turn my deductive experiences into a series of gritty crime novels set in contemporary Vienna, more as proof that if the quite awful Vienna Blood series can reach our TV screens, then anything is possible, I was only partly correct. Cars indeed did disappear, but such was the effect that there are now several roads, boasting fewer houses or flats and the lucky bastards who live there, which seemed to have emptied completely. In fact, the exodus has been such that there are now many streets in my corner of Liesing which seem to have reverted to old photos of the 1970s. It is, quite inescapably, a transformation, although sadly a reminder that much of our open, urban spaces are dedicated to storing what are essentially motorised, air-conditioned couches on wheels.

Parking and the right to do it has been on my mind recently because even before the Christmas tree had been thrown over the fence into the communal gardens behind (deposited at one of the numerous collection points) the local council office were in touch about the renewal of my permit. Now, although people of Vienna are sometimes accused of being (I shall choose my words carefully here to avoid any potential post-Brexit residency issues) lackadaisical, when it comes to collecting revenue, they have the appetite and urgency of Mexican drug cartels. Which is why if I didn’t get my application in at least three weeks before the start of March, then my car would be impounded and crushed. (An apt choice of words as it neatly captures my state of mind driven by ten years of suburban living and an inability to extract myself from the 23rd district that is my open-prison.)

This fervent pre-emption in prepayment in Vienna is – although not exclusive to the number one city – a vexing trend. Wiener Linien (Vienna Transport) wrote to me the week before Christmas to tell me that my yearly travel card would expire in six weeks. I always think it is in the spirit of the season to receive a reminder of a due payment of 365 Euros just as you are about to go Christmas shopping, but that might just be me. In any case, the letter also included one of those old fashioned, pre-completed Erlagschein (a payment slip) in case I hadn’t worked out how to use internet banking in the last twenty years. Unfortunately, the payment-slip is largely obsolete these days because trying to find a physical branch of your bank in which to use it is like trying to find a value-for-money energy supplier in 2023.

But it is not just the state. In February 2021 I registered Austrian domain names for my two sons (der Erbprinz and the Erstazprinz) in case they made it big in Austria (I was thinking, I don’t know, Austrian Schlager music star). Now if you have never heard of Schlager (congratulations, time to break out the Sekt) it is a kind of heinous music than can only be enjoyed after sedation. It can be sung by men or women but the essentials for success are: alpine fashion of the 1970s (especially the hairstyles), a crappy name alluding to some affinity with the Alps (Grössglockner Rowdies or Alpen Bad Boys), and hundreds of different song which all the sound like one song. I have never knowingly liked any form of Schlager but it’s still early days as I enter my 26th year in the Alpine Republic. And one is never knowingly safe.

But we are getting off topic. Renewal for these domains was destined for the end of January but the first invoice arrived by email in late November. My first thought was, somebody is keen, but knowing the renewal was in two months, I ignored it. Some weeks later a stern(ish) reminder informed that payment was still due. So, I emailed the owner asking if it was possible to calm down, drink a glass of milk, do some fucking thing and stop hassling me (with a reassurance I would pay in the middle of January).  Quite quickly he replied with a quite a sarcastic exhortation to not “take the words of the reminder so seriously”. Fine, I replied back, as I flicked through my contacts lists to see if I knew anybody in a Mexican drug cartel, but are these emails automated, I inquired. Yes, came the reply. Ok then, can you un-automate them so we can go back to enjoying Christmas and fretting about a payment of 365 Euro at the end of January?

In my business – self-employed English language influencer – it is rare to invoice in advance for a course or training. Some companies prefer it because it is just easier than receiving a monthly bill, but it seldom happens. In any case, I am not always a fan because it then feels like I am beholden to an organisation (think of it as being “owned” by a, er, Mexican Drug cartel) and that doesn’t make me feel as if I am master of my own incarceration, destiny, destiny! But if I even tried to solicit payment from a company six weeks BEFORE a course had even started, I would be impounded and crushed (or worse, shamed on LinkedIn).

Anyhow, the festive season and New Year came and went but before the Three Kings had had a chance to ring our doorbell and offer absolution (and a donation guaranteeing access to the VIP section in Heaven) another reminder popped in this time threatening the bailiffs if I didn’t cough up in five days (although we are only talking about the princely sum of 36 Euro). It is in moments like this that the abbreviation, FFS, was invented but rather than make a fuss whilst preserving what was left on my ego for another day, I simply transferred the money. Although with typical precision, on the very same day, the paper invoice arrived by post with instructions to pay in 10 days as usual. Yep, you guessed correctly, 2023 was only days old and already our old friend was back: And so, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, esteemed friends, readers, Russians and representatives of the district government for Liesing, please give a big number one city welcome for the return of “IDIOT TAX!!”

© 2023 RJ Barratt – “Idiot Tax” ™ RJ Barratt.