Water-skiing, Vienna style

5 May

Look, Ma, no boat!

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May Day 2018

1 May

Many years on I still can’t get over it–public transportation is running today. My first year in Vienna I was invited to lunch by friends. In plenty of time, I went to the bus stop only to find that public transport wasn’t running because it was not only a public holiday, it was the First of May and therefore Labor Day, the day we celebrate by not working. In those days, the Social Democrats had an absolute majority in Vienna (“Red Vienna,” after all). They mainly represent blue-collar workers (“Arbeiter” or laborers) and tram, bus, and train drivers count as blue-collar workers. They were freed from work until 2 p.m. so that they could enjoy the parades and other festivities. On that day I walked to lunch.

How times have changed. The Social Democrats have not had the absolute majority for many years. I know there was a lot of corruption in the party. Some of the most spectacular bankruptcies of the 1990s (I’m thinking particularly of the supermarket chain Konsum) were due to the mismanagement and corruption of people closely tied to the SPÖ (the Austrian Social Democratic Party). At the same time, many of the aspects that year after year take Vienna to the top of quality of life rankings are thanks to the Social Democrats–the great public transportation, amazing cultural life, super public facilities like swimming pools and skating rinks, humane public housing, low crime rate, and perhaps that most fantastic institution, the Vienna Woods. There is little hope that the new “turquoise” and blue government (a coalition of the new branch of the Conservatives and the right-wing nationalist Freedom Party) will carry on those traditions. How times have changed, here as elsewhere.

The University of Vienna

7 Apr

Just last week I found myself wondering how long it had been since the former General Hospital and its grounds had been turned into part of the University. Then yesterday as I walked past I saw this sign:

I must investigate.

https://campus.univie.ac.at/20-jahre-uni-wien-campus/

“First ice cream of the year?”

6 Apr

I was walking home from the supermarket on this Friday evening. In front of me was what I took to be a little family group–mother on the left, a tow-headed boy about six years old in the middle, and father on the right. The boy was licking with great enthusiasm a large and delicious-looking ice cream cone. His mother watched with pride and pleasure and said, “Das erste Eis heuer?” (“First ice cream of the year?”)

The German-language students among you may think “‘Heuer’? What’s ‘heuer’?” “Heuer” is Austrian dialect for “dieses Jahr” or “this year”. That tiny scene made me happy–that I have learned the language to the level where I know that immediately and that I live in a country that still respects the seasons (at least in some things). It is possible to get ice cream at the supermarket in winter, but if you want ice cream parlor ice cream you have to wait. The traditional places are closed from October to March. (They used to be turned into fur coat stores in the winter, but now, it seems, even the Viennese are not buying enough fur coats to keep them in business.)

You can imagine under these circumstances that the first ice cream of the year becomes an event.

St. Patrick’s Day in Vienna

17 Mar

This scene was accompanied by music from a brass band in best Austrian tradition, but I was drawn by the sound of the pipes that preceded it.

The Anschluss – 80 years on | ecbinvienna

12 Mar

10 years ago I wrote the text linked below. Reading it again, I am struck by how quickly we have moved to just such a situation historians and survivors warned about then. Let us remain active and keep lighting those candles, every day.

https://ecbinvienna.com/2013/03/13/the-anschluss-75-years-on/

Heringschmaus

10 Feb

“Heringschmaus” (one contributor to the online dictionary at leo.org suggested “herring delight” as a translation) is a traditional feast on Ash Wednesday. Now, if that sounds contradictory to you, then you are not alone. I come from the Protestant tradition, where there was certainly no feasting on Ash Wednesday. It was a day of great solemnity and deprivation, even though when I was a child we didn’t celebrate anything like Carnival so had nothing to recover from or make up for.

In the Austrian context–one of moderation in all things, even moderation–Heringschmaus makes sense, though. It goes along with the dearly held belief, in the meantime supported in some ways by medical studies, that eating “sour” things like pickles helps alleviate the symptoms of a (Mardi Gras) hangover. (The herring in this case is pickled and is eaten with pickled vegetables like beets and cabbage.) It also complies with the Catholic idea that eating fish is somehow penance (no meat).

What to do this year when Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day? The Kurier is suggesting Heringschmaus by candlelight. Just thought I’d pass that tip along. 😉