Everyone has their favourite cliché about Vienna: old ladies in monstrous furs, middle aged ladies with monstrous hair, old and middle-aged ladies with monstrous furs and hair, little old ladies with monstrous furs and little yapping dogs, whinging (the Viennese call it rauzen), the rudeness, empty streets by 9pm, the home of the café – populated by middle aged ladies with big, monstrous hair and furs – the curtness of waiters, thousand calorie cake, classical architecture, classical music, dog shit (true), impatience, the bureaucracy, an inability to queue, driving that drives you crazy, crap customer service, casual racism, smoking, a clinical adherence to rules, but only when it suits them, Vienna Schmäh (humour), a bloke who thinks we all want to sleep with our mothers, The Third Man, Klimt, schnitzel….
Of course, this is if they know Vienna at all. Most people know very little about anywhere unless they have lived in a place for a length of time (my rule-of-thumb is long enough to be a taxi driver without SatNav). What this means, though, is that much is superficial. It is an inevitability of the globalised world we take for granted where instantaneously forgotten quips on Twitter are believed but traditional institutions are scorned and beset by mistrust. So ask someone to tell you what they know about the capital of Austria and there will almost always be some reference to mountains, skiing, The Sound of Music (50 years and still going), lederhosen, Arnold Schwarzenegger and perhaps Jägermeister. At best you might get someone singing the UK’s most popular number 2 – Vienna – at you, which was, I am told, kept off to the top place by Joe Dolce’s Shaddup You Face (this tells you all you need to know about the 1980s).
In any case, I wasn’t much better in the early days with my knowledge stretching to Franz Klammer, Nikki Lauda, Hans Krankl and some dusty historical references from A/Level history. And it took me years to accept that no one in Austria had heard of Eastenders.
What these observations tell you, however, is that apart from the honeyed tones of Midge Ure, they are all mostly associated with Austria and not necessarily the capital of whinge. Of course, I don’t blame people. In spite of living in a world where information is freely abundant, knowledge, like the emotions of a teenage boy, is twisted, kicked and mistreated everyday. I should know, I wrote my CV. But it is because of this that the world continues to revolve on cliché, rumour and jumbled facts. Nowhere is immune which means I cannot say for sure whether Germans really go into the cellar to laugh – as my Viennese brethren are fond of often reminding me – or if all Scots always wear a kilt, or if all Americans think Austria is populated by kangaroos (surely the most hackneyed tourist slogan available on t-shirts today). All I can do is report what I see and hear and what I can filch from the Internet.
So for your delectation here are 16 thoroughly researched, bias free, objective reasons – in no particular order – why Vienna might deserve its high ranking for life quality:
- Low crime rate – lowest for a city of its size anywhere in Europe and possible the world. Homicides are especially low.
- Reliable, safe, super clean drinking water, straight from the Styrian Alps.
- Affordable housing and commitment by the city of Vienna to “social housing” – after Glasgow perhaps the biggest in Europe. In fact, the biggest in Europe.
- Free kindergartens till age 6. Yes, you read it right the first time. Free.
- Access to open spaces (nature). London has much better parks but the Danube Island and Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) are simply amazing. And then there is one hour drive to the Alps if you fancy a Jägermeister and a bit of showing off in your fur-lined boots.
- Public transport. An early Rough Guide to Vienna once wrote that the public transport is the one thing that every visitor would like to take home with them. Comprehensive, reliable, modern and crucially affordable. An annual ticket covering the whole city (perhaps comparable in size to zones 1-3 in London) is 365 Euro. That’s 1 Euro a day. And reduced last year to encourage people to use the network
- Commitment to recycling. They make it so easy. Recycling bins everywhere. Rubbish is used to generate heating. Organic waste is composted and then sold. Old people are collected up and the body parts reused (joke).
- Progressive Red / Green government (for now). Even if you don’t agree with the politics and the smiling face of Michael Häupl, Vienna’s Spritzer loving mayor, it keeps the neo-right out of power.
- Shops closed on Sundays.
- The humour: dark, self-deprecating, moody.
- The unique wine culture within the city itself.
- All the big city amenities in a city of 1.8 million.
- The increasing cultural mix (Eastern Europe, Balkans, Turkey, Russian oligarchs, Asian and the biggest of all, the Germans).
- First-class health and social system. Vienna is a high-end city; the good burghers pay a lot but hey…
- It still lives the season. Advent is big. Fasching (Carnival) is big. Spring and Sumner – Heuriger (wine tavern) and swimming. Autumn – new wine!
- And a late entry, as I have just read the book, I have come to realise that Vienna is the ultimate “Mesh” city as envisaged by Lisa Gansky in her book “The Mesh”. A place where products and services are built around technology, the leveraging of information, and the notions of reduce, recycle and reuse are ubiquitous. (Okay, they haven’t got quite the hang of the customer service angle just yet, but one step at a time.)
(c) 2020 RJ Barratt