Half my life in Vienna – a love letter

27 Apr

Today marks the point at which I have lived half my life (so far) in the USA and half in Vienna. From the time I moved here (almost 27 years ago), people have invariably told me, “You’re so lucky to live in Vienna!” And I am. Of course, once you live here you have all the usual everyday concerns most people have (paying the rent or mortgage, what to cook for dinner, doing a good job, why one’s hair is suddenly sticking up at weird angles), but the truth is I am lucky to live in Vienna, for many, many reasons.

For one, I chose it and was able to put that choice into action. My mother asked me what I would do if money were no object and to our surprise the sentence that came out of my mouth was, “I would go to Vienna and study singing.” A year and a half later, with my life savings in my pocket, I was on my way. And I found more or less what I was expecting to find, which is a miracle!

I found a gracious city of great beauty with an unbelievable wealth of cultural offerings, where the inhabitants really do take the time to have coffee with a friend at one of the famous coffeehouses or go out to the Heurigen (wine tavern) for “a’ Glaserl Wein” (or two or three). Where a referendum approved a hydroelectric plant but rejected the opportunity to co-host the World Fair with Budapest (the rationale–yes, it’ll bring in money but it will also bring other things we don’t want, like more crime). Where–especially in the early days–not only did carefully dressed people completely naturally take public transportation to work but in the ball season (ball season!) one regularly saw people in their evening finery in the tram (sometimes in the morning hours, slightly less elegant, on their way home). A city where there were recycling bins on almost every street corner and visiting U.S. American students were asked to keep their showers short “der Umwelt zu Liebe” (for the sake of the environment, as well as for reasons of economy). Where attractive public housing was scattered around the city, sometimes in the best neighborhoods, because even people who don’t earn a lot should have a decent standard of living. Where to take a several-hour walk through woods and meadows, uphill and down, all you need to do is get on a tram (EUR 1 per day, if you have an annual pass) and take it to the last stop. Where, after indulging in such a walk, you almost always find a simple restaurant where in nice weather you can sit outside and you get good food for a fair price. A city where people still know how to revel in the simple pleasures of life while occasionally splashing out on great tickets to a world-class performance or, say, a night at a ball.

You can imagine my friends–especially, for some reason, my Viennese friends–sometimes feel the need to point out that it isn’t all roses, not even in the famous beds of the Volksgarten. And I do know that, but this post is not about those things. This post is a love letter to this city which has given me a home and so many wonderful times throughout the years–and promises, I hope, to go on doing so.

Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume.


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