Tag Archives: vienna woods

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.​



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.)

State holiday

26 Oct

Absolutely perfect fall weather (see below) for the Nationalfeiertag today and a record number of people in the Vienna Woods to make the most of it. What does Austria celebrate on its state holiday? Many Austrians themselves are not sure. A quick look at the German-language Wikipedia shows that it is Austria’s return to sovereign state status when the last occupying troops (Brits in the province of Carinthia) left. The Austrian parliament then immediately enacted a law ensuring Austria’s eternal neutrality, a point that is now viewed with some skepticism given Austria’s EU membership. So today Austria celebrates its sovereignty and its neutrality. True to Austrian custom there is no extra day to make up for the holiday even though it falls on the weekend. On Monday we all have to go back to work. In the meantime we get to enjoy this:


Wildlife in Vienna

30 May

That’s “wildlife” consciously written as one word, not “wild life”. (Some people would say there isn’t much of the latter in Vienna–however much there is of the former–although all I can say is that there is a lot more going on than there used to be!)

The Kurier (daily newspaper in Vienna) has a magazine on Saturdays and in that magazine last week they had an article about wildlife in Vienna, accompanied by beautiful photos. The article starts with someone in the 13th district telling about a fox–dubbed Adam–who visits his garden. It goes on to tell about a project “Wiener Wildnis” (www.wiener wildnis.at) that records and protects that wildlife.

Among the other animals mentioned, and pictured, were: stag beetles, ground squirrels (related, visibly, to groundhogs), black-bellied hamsters, seagulls (not bad for a landlocked country!), swans, mallard ducks, grey herons, rabbits, agile frogs (that “agile” is part of the name and the genus is part of the “true frog” family :-)), cormorants, bats, common kestrels, hedgehogs, badgers and beavers.

I was most surprised by the hamsters (I always think of them as pets, only), the badgers, the beavers, and the grey herons. I’ve encountered deer, boar, foxes, squirrels (of course), ducks and so on in the Vienna Woods and sometimes even in the city parks.

The most delightful encounter I had with one of these animals was with a hedgehog. I was at a Heuriger (wine tavern / garden) in Neustift am Walde, felt something run over my foot, looked under the table and almost melted when I saw the most beautiful little hedgehog scuttling away. It made me think of the Beatrix Potter books I grew up on.

Grateful thanks go to Wikipedia for the English names of the animals. My system? I look up the German names in the German-language Wikipedia, get the Latin name, copy that into the English-language Wikipedia and voilá! Then I know that a Turmfalke (Falco tinnunculus), which left to my own devices I probably would have translated as a “tower falcon”, is a Common or Old World Kestrel. 🙂

May Day, a personal memory

1 May

It is many years ago now that I found myself in a sun-flooded, absolutely gorgeous meadow in the Vienna Woods (like the one below) doing the first of what was to become a regular reflection on this May 1st holiday on the state of my life and business.Image

After I had put my notebook away and was simply lying back on my picnic blanket enjoying the warmth and the sweetly scented air I suddenly heard in my head Richard Strauss’s “Morgen” and was overwhelmed with well-being. Something about that experience has never completely left me.


And tomorrow the sun will shine again

And she will reunite us, happy ones,

On the path that I go along

In the middle of this sun-breathing earth …

Onto the wide, wave-blue, shore

We shall quietly and slowly descend

Mute we will gaze into each other’s eyes

And be enveloped in the profound silence of happiness.

– John Henry MacKay

(my translation of what was probably already a German translation of his original)

If you want to hear it, here is a recording of Gundula Janowitz, a member of the famous Mozart ensemble at the Vienna State Opera in the 1950s and 60s and one of my favorite Austrian sopranos, singing with wonderful simplicity:

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.

A good Saturday

16 Mar

For one thing, Vienna awoke today to bright blue skies – chilly still but cheerful. I was inspired to take two bags of books to the Christ Church shop (the thrift shop of the Anglican church in the 3rd district). There I found a good-as-new copy of Frank Tallis’s “Death and the Maiden” for EUR 2. This the fourth book I have read in this series set in Vienna at the time of Freud and uniting two friends, a Catholic police inspector and a Jewish doctor and psychoanalyst, in solving crimes. After taking care of several Saturday chores and errands, Mylo and headed to – where else? – the Vienna Woods where we caught the first whiff of “Baerlauch” (wild garlic) and enjoyed watching the ducks navigating between water and ice.