Archive | May, 2013

Wildlife in Vienna

30 May

That’s “wildlife” consciously written as one word, not “wild life”. (Some people would say there isn’t much of the latter in Vienna–however much there is of the former–although all I can say is that there is a lot more going on than there used to be!)

The Kurier (daily newspaper in Vienna) has a magazine on Saturdays and in that magazine last week they had an article about wildlife in Vienna, accompanied by beautiful photos. The article starts with someone in the 13th district telling about a fox–dubbed Adam–who visits his garden. It goes on to tell about a project “Wiener Wildnis” (www.wiener that records and protects that wildlife.

Among the other animals mentioned, and pictured, were: stag beetles, ground squirrels (related, visibly, to groundhogs), black-bellied hamsters, seagulls (not bad for a landlocked country!), swans, mallard ducks, grey herons, rabbits, agile frogs (that “agile” is part of the name and the genus is part of the “true frog” family :-)), cormorants, bats, common kestrels, hedgehogs, badgers and beavers.

I was most surprised by the hamsters (I always think of them as pets, only), the badgers, the beavers, and the grey herons. I’ve encountered deer, boar, foxes, squirrels (of course), ducks and so on in the Vienna Woods and sometimes even in the city parks.

The most delightful encounter I had with one of these animals was with a hedgehog. I was at a Heuriger (wine tavern / garden) in Neustift am Walde, felt something run over my foot, looked under the table and almost melted when I saw the most beautiful little hedgehog scuttling away. It made me think of the Beatrix Potter books I grew up on.

Grateful thanks go to Wikipedia for the English names of the animals. My system? I look up the German names in the German-language Wikipedia, get the Latin name, copy that into the English-language Wikipedia and voilá! Then I know that a Turmfalke (Falco tinnunculus), which left to my own devices I probably would have translated as a “tower falcon”, is a Common or Old World Kestrel. 🙂


The Ice Saints (Die Eisheiligen)

14 May

The weather is cooler at the moment, even though the sky is bright blue, and that is fully in keeping with the date. We are experiencing the Eisheiligen or ice saints, and it is almost always cooler for the five days they are among us. First comes Mamertus on May 11, then Pankratius, Servatius, Bonifatius and to round it off on May 15th comes Sophie (“die kalte Sophie” or “cold Sophie”).

The German version of Wikipedia gives all kinds of information about the meteorology of the ice saints, and seems to be rather skeptical, drawing, for example, on the implementation of the Gregorian calendar at different times in different regions and saying that we actually should see the ice saints eleven to twelve days later than currently expected (at which point they, of course, would no longer be called Mamertus, Pankratius, Servatius, Bonifatius, and Sophie).

I can only say that this year it truly is cooler than it has been and the forecast is indeed for warmer weather in a day or two. I can also tell a story. I was visiting friends this weekend, and we were all listening to the quiz show that is broadcast every Sunday afternoon by Austrian radio. One contestant had the chance to win a few extra points if he could name one of the ice saints. He paused for a moment and then said, in unison with my friend who was in the kitchen cooking, “Pankratius”. I’m not sure why he would stick out so much. I can be relied on to supply cold Sophie but not any of the others. No matter, the ice saints at least do seem to be alive and well in people’s minds!


9 May

May is the month of many holidays, Austria still being a Catholic country. Today was Ascension, which means we still have Pentecost Monday and Corpus Christi to go. What to do on a holiday in May when the weather is perfect? I opted for lunch at the Palmenhaus in the Burggarten with a friend. A good choice.


May Day, a personal memory

1 May

It is many years ago now that I found myself in a sun-flooded, absolutely gorgeous meadow in the Vienna Woods (like the one below) doing the first of what was to become a regular reflection on this May 1st holiday on the state of my life and business.Image

After I had put my notebook away and was simply lying back on my picnic blanket enjoying the warmth and the sweetly scented air I suddenly heard in my head Richard Strauss’s “Morgen” and was overwhelmed with well-being. Something about that experience has never completely left me.


And tomorrow the sun will shine again

And she will reunite us, happy ones,

On the path that I go along

In the middle of this sun-breathing earth …

Onto the wide, wave-blue, shore

We shall quietly and slowly descend

Mute we will gaze into each other’s eyes

And be enveloped in the profound silence of happiness.

– John Henry MacKay

(my translation of what was probably already a German translation of his original)

If you want to hear it, here is a recording of Gundula Janowitz, a member of the famous Mozart ensemble at the Vienna State Opera in the 1950s and 60s and one of my favorite Austrian sopranos, singing with wonderful simplicity:

May Day or The Band Played in Tune

1 May

Today is May Day, International Workers’ Day, and a public holiday in Austria among other places. One of the many parades has just passed under my window on its way to City Hall, where there are various celebrations. Because this is Vienna the marching was relaxed and not entirely tidy and the band played musically and in tune.

May Day has a lot to do with Vienna, the city government here being predominantly socialist. There is a lot of red around–flags and flowers and so on–and, true to the apparent Viennese belief that even those who earn less well should be able to enjoy the good things in life, the wine served at the City Hall festivities is decent.

Some things are changing, though. The Social Democrats no longer have an absolute majority in Vienna, as they did for decades. They now govern in a coalition with the Green Party. That may help explain why public transport runs on the usual holiday schedule on May Day rather than not starting until about 2 p.m. as used to be the case, something I found out the hard way my first year in Vienna when I was trying to get to lunch at friends’. (I ended up walking. Luckily, it wasn’t far but I felt I had earned my Schnitzel!)

The People’s Party (Volkspartei (VP), essentially the Conservatives) has its own Fest this coming weekend. Like many things in Austria, the system of providing a “red” option and a “black” option (the color of the VP is black) is alive and well, even if the idea of Proporz–divvying up positions on boards in state-owned industries and other bodies according to who came out on top in the last national elections–is dying out with those same state-owned entities.