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Hiking in the city – Stadtwanderweg Nr. 6

15 Jun

Mylo and I went out to Rodaun today (a holiday, Corpus Christi, and perfect June weather) to hike the municipal hiking trail nr. 6.​

It never fails to amaze me that one can get a real hike in without leaving the city limits (although in this case, I do think we spent a few minutes in Lower Austria). The trail is over 12 kms long, goes up hill and down, through woods and meadows. Amazing. It even allows you to see some flora and fauna.​

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Life Ball

11 Jun

Vienna, as I have mentioned before, has a full ball season. Technically, this starts on November 11 (St. Martin’s Day) and ends on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) although it really gets going on New Year’s Eve.

There are a few balls that take place outside of this season and the Life Ball, started in the 1980s as a way raising awareness for homosexuality and AIDS, is one of these. This extravaganza took place last night, but the related events have been going on for a while.

Last year, for example, the City of Vienna progammed its pedestrian traffic lights not just to show the usual green or red man for go and stop but homosexual couples holding hands. Below is photo of the rainbow flags that adorn the streetcars for the first half of June as a symbol of solidarity and for tolerance: ​

I love Vienna.

The linden trees 2017

30 May

The linden (or lime trees, if you’re British) are in blossom. (Just thought you’d like to know. ;-))

Wow!

18 May

I’m just taking the 13A bus across town from one appointment to another. The weather is gorgeous and we keep passing one park, square, and sidewalk café after the other where people are going about their business in the leisurely and yet purposeful way typical to Vienna. There even was a small farmer’s market. What a city!

Watch “Eurovision Song Contest 1967 – Sandie Shaw – Puppet on a String (WINNER)” on YouTube

8 Apr

Should the question ever come up when you are playing Trivial Pursuit “Who won the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest and in which city?” the answer is: Sandie Shaw in Vienna (captured on film, link below). If you’re thinking “I didn’t even know they had a Eurovision Song Contest in 1967,” I can only say “Neither did I.”

Many thanks to the Saturday Kurier for this indispensable piece of information.

Bärlauch (wild garlic)

30 Mar

Spring arrived in Vienna suddenly the end of last week, after an unusually cold and snowy winter. The sun had barely been out for a day—and the snow was not entirely gone—when my friend Petra started talking about Bärlauch. Petra and I may not be the most skilled or dedicated foragers in the Vienna Woods, but we do like the tender, bright green shoots of this form of wild garlic (botanical name: Allium ursinum) commonly found in and around Vienna.

What is it about Bärlauch that brings out the residents of Vienna in great numbers? It is certainly easy plunder. It grows profusely and the pungent, completely distinctive scent leads you right to it. It is also versatile. Menus in Vienna feature cream of Bärlauch soup, Bärlauch risotto, Bärlauch pesto, Bärlauch sauce, Bärlauch dumplings, and so on. (Imagine Bubba talking about shrimp in “Forrest Gump” and you won’t be far off). And it truly is a sign that spring has arrived. It appears early and grows quickly, and gives an extra purpose—if one needs it—to those early spring walks, preferably in the Pötzleinsdorfer Schlosspark or Lainzer Tiergarten (no dogs). It seems to have an enormous attraction for many demographic groups, but not all.

For older Viennese the gathering of their own food in general and particularly the picking of Bärlauch—the smell is powerfully evocative—has grim associations and they usually don’t participate actively. They remember too vividly the years during and just after the Second World War when Bärlauch and whatever else they could find in the woods was one of the few things standing between them and starvation or, at the very least, scurvy.

On the other end of the scale, some people have bought into the stories in the Austrian press over the last few years that say that Bärlauch is out of culinary fashion. They no longer pick or eat it for that reason.

But for families with small children, for example, hunting for Bärlauch is a pleasant way of tiring out the children in the fresh air that keeps everyone happily occupied and out of each other’s hair. People who have desk jobs get the chance to enjoy the immediate results of their labors for a change. Others use Bärlauch to eke out food budgets—I have seen family groups going home with shopping bags full—as well as to add zing to their suppers. For me, finding, picking, cooking, and eating Bärlauch is an experience I associate exclusively with Vienna and my life here. We took many family walks around Walden Pond when I was growing up. We never went home with anything to eat.

It is also something that anyone who picks it associates with early spring. There is a reason for this beyond the heady days of gathering the first shoots. Bärlauch, once it has flowered, is said to resemble lily of the valley, which, as the German name Maiglöckchen suggests, appears in May—and is poisonous. Reports vary as to how poisonous it is, and a friend of mine is fond of saying that the only people who end up in hospital with lily of the valley poisoning are husbands whose wives picked and prepared the “Bärlauch”. Nonetheless, no one really wants to risk it, and it is relatively easy to forego Bärlauch as it gets older because the scent and flavor get more intense and become almost overwhelming.

For all of us who do pick, it seems to bring a special satisfaction. Yes, we save money on our grocery bills, add spice to our menus, and get some exercise in the fresh spring air into the bargain. But every spring when the season begins I wonder if this foraging isn’t perhaps also about returning to an earlier time when our ancestors worked physically harder with less security than most of us do today but also with less time pressure, without precise targets, and for something they could benefit from immediately. Wandering through the Vienna Woods basket or bag in hand, picking what is available until one has “enough”, then going home and preparing it for supper surely is filling some primal need.

(This piece was originally written in 2010 for submission to the now-defunct Vienna Review.)

The trades

18 Mar

I have reported in the past on how well Austria does in international competitions of apprentices. Today in the Kurier is an article about how the chosen representatives are already intensively (and, according to the vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, “conscientiously”) preparing for the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi in October. As usual the competitors are honing their professional skills as well as preparing mentally. This year, in addition, they are working with top sports trainers to improve their performances. Austria takes this seriously. It seems to be almost as much a part of the national identity as the dominance in skiing. And long may it last. I think it’s great that people who make a point of doing their jobs spectacularly well have the chance to gain national and international recognition, not on the basis of how much they earn but on the basis of what they physically produce.