This blog began in 2013 and was initially intended as an account of 12 months in Vienna. Nine quite painful years on, and despite my best efforts, Vienna is still ranked as the best in the world for quality of life (sometimes called “liveabilty”). This is not just because I live here, but also the view of the only city life quality rankings that matter: the one from those splendid people at Mercer and, for the first time in 2018, The Economist Intelligence Unit (traitorously downgraded in 2020 due to the slight inconvenience of Covid.) In 2019 Vienna hit the magic ten years in succession, which is a record for those keeping score.
To get any idea of what makes Vienna special (and mundane, and vexatious) you could visit. My top tip is in January when you see the city for what it really is: beautiful, cold and terribly well-organised. Or you could read a guide, although I warn you TripAdvisor will remind you of the perils of letting ordinary people near a WIFI network. Alternatively, there are contributions like this one. A vague attempt to try and see the city for what it really is (a hopeless endeavour). Needless to say you might find some hidden secret about the number one city although I warn you, I will not reveal the best Beisl or café or restaurant unless you contribute to my crowd-funding page (I also accept Bitcoin).
Over the years, although the regularity and tone of the blog has inevitably changed, it remains true to its original ethos: to explore many facets of the Vienna way of living without resorting to inane lists about what’s cool and what’s not, how to know when you are a real Wiener (answer: never if you concoct a list about how to be a real Wiener) and what it really means to have world class life quality. And if nothing else, in that nine years or so, such a classification is still satisfyingly elusive. And with that thought, here is where it all began back in 2013:
Vienna, 2013, the 23rd district
Vienna isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, which is a good thing because the last thing it needs right now are more whingers. This blog is not intended as a travel guide. There are many and well researched available. It is an attempt to get under the skin of the city, to see what makes it really tick, to take a peek under its ballgown and to find out whether it really deserves the accolade as number 1. It is also not a comparison between cities. There is nothing modest in this aim, simply I haven’t visited all the others.
Before we delve deeper, however, a word in mitigation concerning the label of “number 1”. In truth, the whole notion of ranking places based on something quite individual as life-quality is something I buy into as much as local Austrian folk music. Indeed, the very notion of comparing cities or countries based on a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, is, like a plate of Beuschel, difficult to imagine and even harder to digest. (Beuschel has something to do with the parts of an animal that would make a vegetarian faint.) Moreover, all taste, to a lesser or greater extent, is a mix of subjective experiences and the kind of cognitive biases Nobel prize winners describe better than I can. Therefore, we should approach such rankings, any ranking, with a healthy serving of caution and not take too seriously the fact that Vancouver got annoyed it was only number 2 back in the day.
Then again, somewhere has to be Elvis and somewhere has to be Hansi Hinterseer (former Olympic ski champion and now Tyrolean folk-crooner). Yet for some reason, reasons which may or may not be explained over the next few pages and months, someone has deemed consistently, or at least since I arrived, that Vienna is the King.
But just before we get to the Viennese inequivalent of too many hot dogs and misadventures with toilets, a brief interlude and some context. My affair with Austria began in the late 90s, a time when Tony Blair was still popular, nobody had heard of Google and when it was an essential part of the Viennese experience to smoke. Like most English speaking expats before me, I came for love and stayed for the beer, customer service and fantastic summers. The love endured, so much so, that I was persuaded to become a father and now I live a mostly peaceful existence with my Viennese wife and family in the suburbs of Vienna (or would do if our neighbour could control their dog).
My work centres on the lucrative world of TEFL (although I have convinced my children I do important spy work for the highest bidder). Naturally, I didn’t plan it this way but on arriving here qualified as I was with a degree in the social sciences and, with hindsight, a disturbing lack of local language knowledge, it was either that or open a corner shop. (Which would have been impossible back then because Vienna had half-day closing on a Saturday, Sundays were like the UK in the 70s, and any shops open in the evening were selling something you probably wouldn’t give your Mum for Christmas, or almost certainly couldn’t wrap.)
And so, at the start of 2013, a year that promises much for the growth and future of Europe (unless you are from the UK), we embark on whirlwind tour – okay, this is Vienna, so perhaps a more leisurely, complacent amble with a few stops for wine – of the sights, the sounds, the smells, the successes, the failures, the highs, the lows, the issues, the talking points, the faces, the fools, the heroes and the villains of this beautiful, beguiling, frustratingly intractable at times, city utopia. And In doing so we can hopefully reveal once and for all what truth lies in travel writer David Whitley’s perceptive assertion last year (http://natgeotraveller.co.uk/where/austria/vienna/76491/) that “Vienna may be dressed in a ballgown, but she has a G-string and tattoos underneath.”
So with that image in mind, let’s take a peek…
(C) 2013 – 2022 RJ Barratt