Tag Archives: politics

New Mayor

26 May

I just feel I should report that after 23(?) years Vienna has a new mayor. Dr. Michael Häupl departed on Thursday and the new mayor, Dr. Michael Ludwig, has taken up the reins. Just FYI: It’s not a pre-requisite that you be called Michael to be mayor of Vienna. The one before Häupl was named Helmut … However, it does seem to help if you have a PhD.

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“The Third Man”

30 Aug

Do you immediately hear the zither music when you read that title? If so, you can look forward to some interesting trivia (as well as one person’s reminiscences of a long relationship with the film).

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can discover a quintessential film about life in Vienna right after the war (WWII, as one must specify in this city which has so much history).

Ah, “The Third Man”. Black and white. Based on the book (do we really believe it was a novel?) by Graham Greene. Directed by Carol Reed. Produced by David O. Selznick. Starring (a still young and relatively slender) Orson Welles as the elusive Harry Lime. Starring still more the city of Vienna c. 1947–“bombed about a bit,” as the English narrator tells us in the beginning. World premier: 65 years ago, on 31 August 1949.

My mother showed it to me when it was clear that I was moving here. Above all, she wanted me to experience the landlady played by Hedwig Bleibtreu because “you might end up with just such a landlady”. (In broadest Viennese dialect she said things like, “Das ist ein anständiges Haus. Hier hat sogar früher ein Metternich verkehrt” Translation: “This is a respectable house. In the olden days, even a Metternich [member of an old aristocratic family] came to visit.”)

My mother had forgotten, though, a treasured line (one of my favorites) from another great Austrian actor, Paul Hörbinger. He played the concierge in the house where Harry Lime lived.  When tired of and scared by questions about Harry Lime’s death, he says he won’t answer any more and adds very gruffly indeed, “Und jetzt gehen Sie. Sonst verliere ich meinen Wiener Charme.” (“And now leave–otherwise I’ll forget my Viennese charm.”) Even writing it down like this makes me laugh.

There are far too many such moments too relate here, and I don’t want to ruin any surprises for those who haven’t experienced it yet. If you are interested in Vienna, I simply encourage you to see it. If you’re in Vienna, you can catch it in the late show on weekends at the Burg Kino. For the time being, I’ll simply pass on some facts that were printed in today’s Kurier.

Part of what people remember best are the music (by great good fortune done by a zither player, Anton Karas, at the last minute when the budget was more or less exhausted) and the chase scenes through the sewer system of Vienna. To this day, you can take “Third Man” walking tours of Vienna including, indeed, a look underneath the commendably clean streets of the city.

First bit of trivia, over 100,000 people have already taken that tour. I’m assuming the tour does not cover all 2,400 kilometers of that system, especially since only 25 meters were used for filming. This year Tom Cruise, who just finished filming in Vienna, took it.

“The Third Man” won the Academy Award(R) for “Best black-and-white picture” and was nominated for two others. Apparently in 2012, film critics named it the “Best British Film of All Time”.

That may have made worthwhile to Reed and Selznick that they apparently only slept two hours per night for the seven weeks they were filming on location. The Kurier reports that they kept themselves awake by taking a drug called dexedrine, better known as speed(!).

The unfortunate Anna Schmidt (Harry Lime’s paramour) was played by Alida Valli, an actress ironically descended from  an old Austro-Italian aristocratic family, possibly as important as the Metternichs ;-). She died in Rome in 2006 at the age of 84.

Five years ago was the first talk of a re-make, which supposedly would star Leonardo DiCaprio as Harry Lime and Tobey Maguire as Lime’s faithful friend Holly Martins. I’m not a fan of re-makes, but I think those two would be well cast, at least. Don’t know what they’ll do about the City of Vienna, though. Most of the bombed out bits have been re-built in the last 65 years.

The famous music was #1 on the U.S. charts for weeks in 1950. The next Austrian artist to achieve this feat was Falco in 1986 with “Rock Me Amadeus”.

To give you a bit of a taste, here is the opening scene, with fantastic running commentary from Major Calloway, the devastatingly attractive if unattainable British narrator, played by Trevor Howard:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fja9kwTl_jU

For people who have already seen the film, here is the unforgettable cuckoo clock speech:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS-JcaPFzp4

With thanks to Bernhard Praschl of the Kurier, who wrote the article from which most of these tidbits were drawn.

Eurovision song contest 2014

10 May

From today’s International New York Times (the new incarnation of the International Herald Tribune): “Over the years, Eurovision has reflected Europe’s social and political changes, and this one is no exception. Along with the requisite scantily clad women and hunky men, an Austrian transgender singer, Conchita Wurst, advanced to this year’s finals, to the consternation of Eastern European social conservatives who have called Eurovision the epitome of the morally corrupt West.” There was a photo of Conchita on the front page of the print edition of the International New York Times . Fame indeed! The Austrian media I have seen seem to be simply pleased that Conchita made it to the finals, is representing Austria, and has a chance of winning, so don’t seem to share the opinion of the stated “Eastern European social conservatives”.

One point to clarify, though, I’m not sure that Conchita Wurst is transgender, as reported in the article. My source for that statement is German Wikipedia, so I don’t know how reliable or up-to-date the entry is, but there it is stated that Conchita Wurst is the stage name of Thomas Neuwirth, a cross dresser. Apparently as a homosexual from a small town in the province of Styria, he suffered a lot of discrimination and created the figure of Conchita Wurst to make a statement against discrimination of what is different. The first name was given to him as a nickname by a Cuban friend of his. The last name “Wurst” comes from the expression in German “Das ist wurst”–in other words “that doesn’t matter”. He wanted to express with it that it doesn’t matter where one comes from or what one looks like.

The whole INYT article can be found at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/10/arts/television/eurovision-splashes-into-2014-finals-to-rapt-audiences.html?hp&_r=0

Camelot in Vienna

23 Apr

Mind you, no one has established a round table here where knights takes oaths of chastity and so on and vow to protect the weak and needy.  One could almost say quite the opposite as the right-wing student groups grow in strength. Nor do I mean the weather last summer when it was 40°C or so. (I, thank goodness, was not here so only have heard about it.) No, I am referring to the musical “Camelot” and the weather we’ve been having the last month or so, particularly the lines “The rain may never fall till after sundown, By eight the morning fog must disappear … The snow may never slush upon the hillside, By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear.” For a while there it rained–and snowed–so little we getting a bit worried about lack of water. Now we can relax. It has been raining, but mainly after sundown. It has been absolutely amazing (but all that is supposed to change tomorrow). Ah, well. At least we had it.

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.

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The Votivkirche

9 Jan

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The snow is already gone, but I felt it made a nice picture yesterday with the Votivkirche, that neo-Gothic church erected by Emperor Franz Josef’s brother in thanks that the Emperor escaped an assassination attempt, visible here at the end of Frankgasse in the 9th district.

Perhaps I was also drawn to the picture because of the drama that is unfolding in and around the Votivkirche. The end of November, if I remember correctly, tents appeared in Freud-Park, named indeed for Sigmund Freud, and located between the Votivkirche and the Ringstrasse. At some point I walked down to find out what it was about and it turned out to be a protest for overfilled refugee and asylum-seeker camps. Over the weeks that followed the camp didn’t grow, but it didn’t shrink either. At the end of December the police stepped in to clear the camp, which was in violation of several ordnances. A number of inhabitants of the camp fled across the street into the Votivkirche, where the priest decided to let them stay, at least for now.

At the moment there is something of a stalemate. The refugees, asylum-seekers, and organizers of the protest are, of course, reluctant to give up since they have, presumably as intended, received a lot of media attention through their action and gotten the government to discuss their plight. The City of Vienna, and indeed the government of Austria, is reluctant to give in to what has become essentially a form of blackmail and might encourage other groups to follow suit. So, your basic lose-lose situation. In an attempt to up the ante a number of the protestors have now gone on hunger strike. So far it hasn’t made a difference.

What I have further garnered from the free daily newspaper, Heute, and the website of the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF), is that the FPÖ (the Freedom Party of Austria, far right) has responded by saying that the hunger strikers should be forcibly removed and force fed (always makes me think of the scenes about the suffragette movement as shown in “Upstairs, Downstairs”), the Grünen (the Green Party of Austria) has come under attack in Parliament for their relative support of the protestors, the ÖVP (the Austrian People’s Party, right centrist) is against the occupation of the Votivkirche and would probably like more regulation of immigration, and the SPÖ (the Socialist-Democrats in Austria and by far the strongest party in Vienna–not for nothing known as “Red Vienna”) are lamenting that the one federal state in Austria that is actually fulfilling its commitments to refugees is the one with the large-scale protest. Dr. Michael Häupl, mayor of Vienna, has also, legitimately, I think, expressed concern that the refugees and asylum-seekers are being used to political ends. The City of Vienna offered, apparently even before the occupation of Freud-Park, alternative accommodation that was rejected. Add to the mix that the organizers are reportedly from Bavaria (a federal state in Germany) and you have a sense of the complexity of the situation, and the low, low chances of a favorable outcome for anyone.