Tag Archives: out and about

Wien ist ein Dorf (Vienna is a village)

25 Jul

This evening I decided to try out a pizzeria, highly recommended by friends, near Maylo’s vet. The head waiter came to take my order and opened with “Hallo, Nachbarin!” (“Hello, neighbor!”) I looked up and saw the man who was my neighbor for a number of years before moving out a few years ago without a word to me. Vienna is, as people keep telling me, a village.

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NYTimes: Gowns, Wurst and Protesters: It’s Ball Season in Vienna

9 Feb

We made the New York Times! (Doesn’t happen all that often.)

Gowns, Wurst and Protesters: It’s Ball Season in Vienna https://nyti.ms/2GL8Fkl

Visitors

14 May

What a great thing it is to have visitors–nice visitors–in this case, a friend I hadn’t seen in 30 years and her husband. (Sadly they were just in Vienna for the day.) They bravely put themselves in my hands at 10:30 this morning in front of Stephansdom, after saying they wanted to see whatever I recommended.

We started with the climb up the 343 steps to the top of the South Tower of Stephansdom so that we could get the overview of the city. We had great weather for it, which, along with the fact that today is a holiday in Austria (Ascension), perhaps explains why there were so many people up there, some of them rather, shall we say, assertive. Nonetheless, we did get to see out of all the windows, in all directions, and I got to play the game of “Can I orient myself and tell them what is what”.

Then down to the ground again and around to the Graben. We didn’t stop to admire the Plague Pillar but did take note of it and made use of the Art Deco (Jugendstil) toilets under the Graben near St. Peter’s Church. Then up Kohlmarkt to Michaelerplatz where it started to sprinkle, which we considered a good excuse to duck into Café Griensteidl for coffee (and cake, in some cases).

When we came out again it had stopped raining. We marveled at the Roman ruins laid bare on Michaelerplatz and then took Herrengasse north away from the center, turning off to go down to the Freyung. After a quick detour to Am Hof (because of “The Third Man”) we headed out Schottengasse to Schottentor. I pointed out Palais Ephrussi because of our mutual Japanese connection, and because I’m pretty sure “The Hare with Amber Eyes” is a book this friend would appreciate.

There we turned into the Ringstraße (celebrating 150 years this year). We didn’t go in anywhere but admired in passing the University (650 years old this year), the Rathaus all decked out for the Life Ball, Café Landtmann, and the Burgtheater (where reference to Klaus Maria Brandauer was made). Then we came to the Parliament. We walked up the curved approach commenting on the Greek-style statuary and the mosaic on the wall at the top, and I realized I had never walked up there before. I usually simply go by in the tram and look out the window. It may not be all that high–certainly it’s not 343 steps up–but we still had a nice view of the Volksgarten and parts of the former Imperial Palace.

We continued along the Ring to the two museums, and I told the joke of how to tell which one is the Natural History Museum and which the Museum of Art History. Out of the depths of my memory I dredged up what I know about Maria Theresia so that my guests had a sense of who it was sitting between the two buildings looking regal. It’s amazing how easy it is to remember the more prurient details–Marie Antoinette was the youngest of Maria Theresia’s 16 children–and how vague I was on the important reforms, including educational reforms, she pushed through.

Deciding to take a slightly closer look at the former Imperial Palace (Hofburg), we crossed the Ring, went through the triumphal arch, studied the victorious, of course, military gentlemen on horseback (A. Ferkorn’s statues of Prince Eugen and Archduke Charles), pondered the fact that Hitler had stood on the balcony and made his first speech after Austria was annexed in 1938, and then walked through with a quick glance at the chapel where the Vienna Boys’ Choir sings.

Coming out at Michaelerplatz once again we turned right and headed south this time, with only a nod to the Spanish Riding School where you can see the Lipizzaners in their stalls, the National Library, the Augustiner Church, and the Albertina. By this time, those of us who hadn’t had cake earlier were feeling a bit peckish so we turned into the Burggarten and secured a table at the Palmenhaus, one of my favorite restaurants in Vienna even when, as was the case today, it’s a little too chilly to sit outside. (I simply can’t resist a restaurant that has a six-page menu of which one page covers the seasonal dishes they are offering and five pages cover the wines, all good and mostly Austrian.) After a lunch of white asparagus for two of us and Schnitzel for one of us, we continued on to the Ring where I left my visitors to go on to the Secession while I went home to walk the dog.

It strikes me that this was a pretty good tour of the city for five hours or so, and that it was rather special to do it this year with the two anniversaries (Ringstraße and University) and two big events (the Life Ball and the Eurovision Song Contest) happening in the next few days. A great way to spend a holiday.

Customer service

4 May

I’m doing a bit of clearing out this morning and found a file with the beginnings, in some ways, of this blog. I’ve been jotting down bits and pieces from life in Vienna since long before there was even something called the internet. This one is about quite a controversial topic in the U.S. American / Viennese dialogue, customer service.

One topic that comes up again and again among U.S. American expatriates in Vienna is the quality of customer service. The general opinion is that it isn’t very good. My feeling is that it is different from what you get in the U.S.A. but not always worse. Yes, there can be grumpy and / or rude waiters especially in the traditional coffeehouses, who sometimes—but not always—become less grumpy when addressed in good German. On the other end of the spectrum I have stories of customer service I’ve received in Vienna that is so good it is off the scale.

First of all, there is the kind of customer service that the Viennese miss when they go abroad. In the words of a Viennese who has been a professor at a major U.S. university for over 25 years, “I miss sales clerks who know what they are talking about.” He was referring to the system of training people to be specialists that is still common in Vienna.

Shortly after he said this I experienced vividly what he was talking about. I have the kind of engagement calendar which is like a ring binder and for which I need to buy new inserts every year. I bought it because I liked the look of it, never realizing that it is not a common brand and therefore very hard to get inserts for. For a number of years I went to one store on Kärntnerstraße in the First District. Then they fell victim to the general trend of replacing Viennese stores that had been there for generations with the usual chain stores you find in every European capital.

After asking around, I found out that there was another stationery store, Mayr & Fessler, on Kärntnerstraße that might have what I need. I went off to see if they could help me. The young saleswoman I talked to knew exactly what I was referring to but said she feared they were out but that they usually got their weekly deliveries from that distributor on that very day of the week. She would call down to the stock room to see if the inserts I needed had come in that day’s shipment. In under a minute she was able to confirm that they had. In less than three minutes one of her colleagues had brought them up for me. Having worked in retail myself, I was much impressed that she knew that a shipment should have arrived and that she went to the trouble of checking for me. When I thanked her she said it was “selbstverständlich” (approximately in this context “her job”).

This was the same store that, on another occasion, after selling me the leads for my mechanical pencil offered to refill the pencil for me. When I saw that they put the leads in from the top, not shoved up from the bottom as I am wont to do, I asked the saleswoman to show me how she had done it and got a quick lesson in the manufacturer-approved method.

Then there is the customer service in Vienna that allows the customer as much time as he or she wants. (Granted this can backfire—sometimes you are allowed far more time than you want!). The Viennese are used to being allowed to sit for an entire evening in a restaurant and would be shocked to be rushed or even kicked out. You must ask for the check in a Viennese eatery or you will sit there forever. The waiter will never bring the check without being asked.

I know the system in the U.S. is different. Having worked a short stint as a waitress I am perfectly aware that restaurants live from turnover on tables and the wait staff live from their tips. I still had no comfort or explanation to offer one of my Austrian friends who was in Washington, D.C., on business. After a hard day’s work he went out with some other European colleagues (all high-level employees of an EU government body) to a restaurant recommended to them as one of the best in Washington. They enjoyed the meal and were lingering over their coffee. The waitress brought the check. They were in no rush to pay. The waitress made a few subtle attempts to get them to pay. They resisted. She finally asked them outright to pay and leave as she needed the table. At this point they complied, naturally, in their opinion, leaving no tip. As the waitress confronted them about this they explained their position. At this point the manager got involved—on the side of the waitress! Whatever else you may have to put up with in restaurants in Vienna (grumpy waiters, slower service than you are used to, problems paying at the end) I doubt you will find that you are first asked to leave and then expected to tip for the pleasure!

And then there is the extraordinary customer service, the customer service clearly based on the Golden Rule.

For example, there was the time someone called me from the main post office. She had a postcard for me on which there was no family name and no address but my telephone number. It’s a long story how that happened. The short version is that I had met a student from Korea on a coach between Oxford and London. She thought she might be coming to Vienna so I gave her my telephone number and asked her to call me if she came. She sent the postcard to let me know that she wouldn’t be coming after all and, as all she had was my first name and my phone number, she used that. The lady from the post office asked for my address, I gave it to her, and she sent along the card.

There was also the time when I was so impressed by the customer service that I interrupted a busy day to painstakingly write, in German, a letter to the head of the company about the incident. I had paid for a purchase at my local perfume store with my debit card. Then I made a change to my purchases which entitled me to a credit. I was told that only the amount of my final purchases would be charged. Yet when I did my bookkeeping for the month I saw that the credit hadn’t been taken into account. The store owed me a little over EUR 12. With very little hope I went back to the shop, wondering how on earth I would be able to explain what had happened and back up my claim. I had barely launched into my story when the saleswoman said, “We owe you EUR 12.05.” She reached into a drawer, took out an envelope with the money in it, gave it to me, and gave me a small present to make up for the trouble of having to come back. I shall be their loyal customer until they are taken over by the international chains taking over all the small shops in Vienna.

Two exhibition openings in one week

30 Mar

This past week I was at two exhibition openings, in each case at a Bezirksmusem.
Bezirk means “district” and is similar to what the Parisians mean with arrondissement. Therefore the exhibitions were at the small museums that serve each district in Vienna by maintaining and displaying things that are unique to that district. Sometimes these museums are located in the same building as the administrative offices for the district, as in the 18th district where I was on Thursday evening, and sometimes not, as in the 8th district where I was last Sunday. Usually they also house an auditorium that can be rented for different kinds of performances and occasions.
The exhibitions were completely different from each other and yet both fit perfectly the idea of what a Bezirksmuseum is for.
Last Sunday was the Day of District Museums in Vienna. Each district museum (there are 23) was open for most of the day and had its own exhibition on a common topic. In this case, the theme was—not surprisingly—“Vienna 1914: The End of an Era”. (People in other parts of the world may also be aware that this year marks the 100th commemoration of the start of the First World War.)
Each district in Vienna also has a name. For the 8th district this is “Josefstadt,” which explains why the exhibition was entitled “Josefstadt from 1900 to 1914”. If anyone doubts that there was enough going on in those 14 years to warrant an exhibition, allow me to put their minds at rest. It was a time in Viennese history when tremendous expansion was going on. When it seemed clear that the threat of the Turks overrunning Vienna was truly over (around 1858) the city walls were torn down, the famous Ringstraße with its stunning buildings was created, and the satellite towns were incorporated into the city proper. Josefstadt was such a town.
This meant that there was suddenly much demand for housing outside the first district and many of the Baroque houses—too small and too uncomfortable to accommodate the growing and ever more demanding population—were torn down to make room for much larger and, above all, taller buildings. (Sound familiar?)
New streets were created. Several existing streets, like Lange Gasse, were lengthened to open up contact to the—are you ready for this?—9th district. All of this expansion required new transportation and so new streetcar lines and then the Stadtbahn (literally “city railway”, now the U6, running along the old outer line of defense against the Turks) were constructed.
All of this meant that many open spaces, where old maps suggest gardens and orchards that provided food for the district, were built over. The improved transportation no doubt made it possible to bring in what was needed from areas farther out.
The 8th district is considered a very desirable neighborhood, and it was no different back then. The famous painter, Gustav Klimt, had his studio in the courtyard of a house on Josefstädter Straße. He, too, was a victim of the expansion. That house was torn down to make room for a bigger house with no room for artists’ studios, and Klimt had to move to the 13th district (also very desirable so my sympathy is somewhat limited). Apparently, though, he was so attached to his studio in the 8th district that he continued to use the address professionally.
Some of the obvious parallels from that era to this were highlighted by the talk given by the elected administrative head of the district. She mentioned a planned building that will cut off a historic view from the 8th to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. She didn’t mention the building of what has been referred to as the “phantom underground line U5”, but that, too, apparently is on the way. Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose.
On Thursday in the 18th district the exhibition was of ceramic pieces with modest price tags done by two residents of the district. The artists, married to each other, were both self-taught and had earned their livings doing something else. The guests were mainly friends, family, and neighbors, one had the sense. Music was provided by two ladies, one on the violin and the other on the cello and both well over 60 at a guess, playing Haydn(?) with an encouraging blend of skill, musicality, and love—true amateurs, then, who probably also live in the 18th. When one had sufficiently explored the artwork one could wander through the 18th district’s version of “Vienna 1914: The End of an Era,” more rural than in the 8th and as such fitting to the character of the district, which lies farther out. To round off the evening, the artists’ son and his partner danced the Tango Argentino.
So you see that, too, was simply a typical gathering at a Bezirksmuseum

Wine trip – photos

6 Oct

A typical Kamptal inner courtyard Leaves vineyards_01_blue grapes

Skating

10 Feb

For a number of years now the City of Vienna has set up an ice-skating rink in front of City Hall. Friday evening at about 10 p.m. Maylo and I walked by and this is what we saw.

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