Archive | January, 2012

The BBC visits two Viennese coffeehouses

26 Jan

They even mentioned one of my regular coffeehouses–Café Weimar, which has, in my opinion, the best Apfelstrudel in Vienna (which is saying a lot!).

“Ihre Fahrscheine, bitte” (“Tickets, please”)

24 Jan

The public transportation system in Vienna works, one could say, on the honor system. You do not need to show your ticket when you get on but you do need to have one in case you encounter a Fahrscheinkontrolle (ticket inspection). Surely one of the less popular jobs in Vienna is that of “Kontrolleur” (ticket inspector), mainly because they are subjected to a fair amount of animosity.

Very early on I noticed how the atmosphere in a tram would change for the worse as soon as the (in those days) two middle-aged Austrian men stood up and asked to see tickets. The first time I experienced it I saw how a dog who was peacefully and happily sitting next to his master’s leg slunk under the seat and cowered there as if in fear of great evil. (Yes, dogs are allowed on public transportation in Vienna–but they, too, need to have tickets.)

It doesn’t happen often, but today I heard the dreaded phrase, “Ihre Fahrscheine, bitte”. And immediately noticed something different. The voice that spoke had a distinct foreign accent. Turkish, perhaps. And I thought, “Ah, one more unpleasant job the Viennese have outsourced to the Gastarbeiter.”


For those of you who don’t know, Gastarbeiter was the term used to refer to migrants who came to Austria and Germany, often from Turkey or then Yugoslavia, to work and then return to their countries for their retirement. They usually took over jobs the Austrians and Germans didn’t want to do like sweeping the streets. These days the fastest growing group of Gastarbeiter in Austria–who often work as waiters, for example–is the Germans!


Cell phones ringing in the Musikverein

20 Jan

This kind of interruption seems to be in the news at the moment. Someone’s cell phone brought a New York Philharmonic concert to its knees (so to speak), earned a mention in the International Herald Tribune, and triggered an orgy of angry blogging. The person responsible (in the front row, mind you) was identified and asked not to do it again. He also agreed to an (anonymous) interview in which he detailed the circumstances that led to the incident. I’ve become so cynical I’m not sure I believe him. I was at a song recital in the Brahms-Saal in Vienna’s Musikverein a few months ago when someone’s cell phone rang just as Angelika Kirchschlager was walking onto the stage. The person made no move to tend to the phone, seemingly hoping that it would simply stop ringing, which it did after a while. And then it started again, the caller apparently not willing to give up. Kirchschlager at that point did ask the person to take care of it, and it turned out to be a lady of about 70 in the fourth row, or so.

Now, Kirchschlager belongs to that select group of singers who are up to the Brahms-Saal (which has reduced some like Anne Sophie von Otter and Sylvia McNair to sweating, hand-wringing wrecks) and she has the stage presence to bring the audience back to the present, too. But it still isn’t fair to the performers or your fellow concert-goers.

I do realize it can happen. People can for various reasons forget to turn off their cell phones, or they may think they have and for some reason not succeeded. (I also realize, such are the ways of the universe, that my cell phone will now almost certainly ring when I am at the Mozart-Saal on Thursday evening.) Still, I think the least one can do in this situation is to take responsibility, pull out the phone, and turn it off, even if a few hundred pairs of eyes are watching.

The first story that appeared in the IHT:
And the follow up, with explanation:

Taking care of trash in Vienna

14 Jan

I’m thinking of starting my spring cleaning early this year. Why spend the first beautiful days of spring shoveling out your apartment when you can be out in the Vienna Woods?

With this in mind, I have spent some time online this morning straightening out in my mind what kind of trash goes where and have found that the City of Vienna has a clear and well-organized system of recycling and trash disposal. (No surprise there. From my early days onward I have been impressed with the Viennese awareness of what is environmentally friendly.)

Before we go any further I would just like to clarify for those who don’t speak German that Mist is what informally is called a false friend. It sounds like the English word that means fog but in German means rubbish or trash and also manure or other animal droppings. You’ll see why this is important in a moment.

What I have found out so far is that, on top of the recycling program in Vienna, there is a difference between Restmüll, Problemstoffe, and Sperrmüll and that these go to different places.

Restmüll is your basic household trash after you have separated out paper, glass, and plastic for recycling. This is the stuff you put in your house’s trash container.

Problemstoffe include things like old ink cartridges from your computer printer, old medication, leftover oil and other fats from cooking, and batteries. For this there are fixed spots where you can drop off your problem trash as well as trucks that travel around Vienna on a schedule collecting these items (see for venues and times).

Sperrmüll includes items that are too big or problematic in terms of their materials to go into your household trash or the Problemstoffsammlung. This can include old mattresses, broken furniture, certain kinds of treated wood and so on. I’m assuming that this is where I should be taking my big old suitcase that didn’t survive its most recent trip. These items should be brought to a Mistplatz (for information about Mistplätze see

What I’m planning to try out this year is the 48er-Basar (48 because that is the number of the magistrate’s office responsible for waste disposal), a kind of flea market or bazaar organized by the City of Vienna. You can drop off old but still usable items at any Mistplatz and they will be sold for a minimal amount at the ongoing flea market (current opening hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) in the 22nd district.

The great temptation will probably be to buy some things there myself but that, of course, might defeat the purpose of spring cleaning!

Another reason I live in Vienna – the Austrian mentality

13 Jan

This is perhaps not the most understandable statement for any U.S. American who has spent any time especially in Vienna. The Viennese in particular can be quite grumpy and rather closed. Yet there are parts of the Austrian mentality I treasure and can identify with.

In my early years (about 20 years ago) there was a referendum about (a) should Austria build a hydroelectric plant and (b) should Vienna co-host the World Fair together with Budapest. The Austrians voted yes to the hydroelectric plant (green, modern thinking) and no to the World Fair, which, apparently, they felt would bring too much crime into the country. The money it would have brought wasn’t important enough to them to balance what they saw as the disadvantages. In general, the Austrians are willing to put their money where their mouths are. (Take a look at the tax rate and, on the other hand, the social services some day.)

In a similar vein, I saw today in the free newspaper “Heute” that in an opinion poll 42% of Austrians said yes to the higher taxes and the austerity package the government is proposing. They understand that you can’t go on spending money you don’t have and that you need to get money somewhere (e.g., from taxes) if you have a deficit. I can really respect such pragmatism and only wish my country were willing to let some of this rub off on them.