Coaching Your Way Out of the Pandemic: Why Now Is the Best Time to Jump-Start Your Life

• The pandemic has had a massive effect on people’s mental health worldwide
• Coaching can help get you back on track and focus on your goals
• Dilek Süzal is ready to help and has a special deal for Metropolitans

If the pandemic has affected your mental health and made you feel helpless, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder have quadrupled in adults over the past year and a half. Symptoms often include difficulty concentrating and making decisions, feelings of numbness and frustration as well as changes in energy, desires and interests. Fortunately, there are trained professionals who can help you out of your pandemic funk.

One such person is Dilek Süzal, a Vienna-based personal and professional development coach from Austria with Turkish roots who’s turned her passion for helping others discover and actualize their potential into a flourishing career. A Metropolitan herself, she turned to Metropole to share how coaching can get you back on track and achieve your goals.

Coaching Vs. Therapy

Unlike therapy, where healthcare professionals analyze a patients’ past in order to understand present behavior and help them recover from trauma, coaches help their clients navigate problem areas in their lives, providing them with the tools to work toward specific goals.

Coaching sessions are judgment-free safe spaces and offer a pathway to achieving future goals by identifying problems, devising solutions and setting achievable targets. The coach follows structured processes to guide clients toward their ultimate goal, like a friendly companion illuminating the path forward.

Meet Dilek Süzal

Over her two-decade long career as an architect, this proud mother of two was committed to helping others build their ideal physical environment. But over time, she began to wonder what was behind the façade and started digging deeper … starting with herself. “I’ve been on both ends of a coaching session,” Süzal shares with us. “I’ve benefitted greatly from coaching and it’s the joy of my life to be able to guide others now.” As a fellow Metropolitan, she knows the hardships connected to relocating and navigating a new city. “I understand Vienna’s international community because I’m a part of it. I’ve been there, I’ve shared the struggles and I’m here to lend a helping hand,” the Turkish native says of her personal journey.

Coaching for Everyone

Whether you feel the need to reinvigorate your personal life or want to kickstart your career, Süzal has the tools to help you. As a life and business coach, her mentoring sessions focus on the following themes:

  • Self-Awareness and Mastery
  • Courage and Strategy for Transformation
  • Adaptation to a New Cultural Environment
  • Professional Development and Career Transition in a New Location
  • Business – Entrepreneurship Coaching and Creating Business Plans
  • Body-Mind-Soul Alignment and Combating Procrastination

Are You Ready?

If you’re not sure if coaching is right for you, ask yourself this: Do you feel that you’re capable of more and you’re not living up to your potential? Do you find yourself spinning in circles? Do you ever question your path and the choices you’ve made? Do you feel like you don’t fully belong? If just one of these questions made you nod, it might be time to hire a coach and get to work.

Setting a goal is easy, but making a structured plan to achieve it takes a little more work – and doing it alone is often nearly impossible. “If you’re stuck in a certain situation, it can be so hard to see the forest for the trees,” says Süzal. “A coach comes into your life with a blank canvas and supports you as you draw up a plan with small, achievable steps, one after the other.”

The pandemic brought on a flurry of social media posts, articles and ideas on how to best use your downtime. After a year, however, people are less self-actualized and more fatigued and unmotivated than ever. “It’s normal to struggle right now, but it’s not necessary. Don’t feel alone, discouraged and down on yourself – book a session with me and get back on track,” encourages Süzal, who shifted her business online last year. “Doing a session via video chat doesn’t take anything away from the experience – on the contrary, being in their own safe space often helps my clients feel more comfortable right away and open up more freely,” she enthuses.

Time to Live Your Best Life

If you’re ready to meet Süzal and take the first step toward a brighter future, connect with her on her website or send her an email. You can find out more about her professional background on her LinkedIn profile and catch a glimpse of her personal life on her Instagram account. Tell her we sent you and get 15% off your first session.

This is a paid article by Dilek Süzal

Austria’s Integration Ministry Takes Down “Islam Map” Amid Public Outcry

Divisive from the start, the so-called Islam Landkarte (Islam map) website is currently offline after barely a week, following a wave of public indignation. Presented by Austria’s Minister for Women and Integration, Susanne Raab, on May 27, this interactive map marked out 623 Muslim organizations and mosques in Austria, displaying addresses, contacts and an estimation of their ideological position. Created by the national documentation service for political Islam, which was established in 2020 and is funded by the Ministry of Integration, it was an immediate target of fervent criticism – and not only from Austria’s Muslim community.

It didn’t take long for things to come to a head: Seven days after launching, the map was taken down June 2, after the right-wing extremist group posted signs reading near organizations listed on the map in Vienna and other Austrian cities. The signs read: “Danger! Political Islam is close by! More information under www.islam-landkarte.at” near the locations that were also pictured on the Identitären movement’s public channels. The initiators of the map denounced the campaign, protesting that their project had been exploited. Others suggested there wasn’t much difference between a digital map and targeting Muslim organizations in the analog world. 

The only information currently available on the page is a statement from Ednan Aslan, a professor for Muslim religious education at the University of Vienna who created the map on behalf of the documentation service: Posted on Jun 3, it states his regret that it came to a political exploitation of the project. 

Map of Discord

The Ministry of Integration emphasized at the map’s launch that it doesn’t signify a general suspicion of the Muslims community. Instead, it is intended to show “strengths and weaknesses,” underlining the integration achievements of certain organizations, Aslan said. The map does not target Islam or Muslims but rather those that seek to undermine Austrian values, Minister Raab stressed. 

After the initial announcement, Raab received threats on social media which prompted a police investigation and put Austria’s counter-terrorism unit (BVT) on alert. She later defended the “Islam map” at a joint press conference with the interior minister Karl Nehammer, who expressed his anger about the normalization of these kind of threats. “There is a need of a better societal discourse in order to have reasonable interactions even when handling controversial topics,” he remarked. Adnan and a colleague who also worked on the map, Mouhanad Khorchide, were also threatened shortly after the announcement. The former is currently under police protection

Nehammer and Raab maintain that the map, which contains all known Islamic institutions and not only extremist groups, should be seen as a resource for Austria’s Muslim community. The integration minister found the outcry incomprehensible and downplayed claims that the map is a security risk, citing that all addresses included were already available to the public. 

A Crisis of Faith

In addition to the majority of the Muslim community, several religious leaders have spoken out against the map. On Monday, the superintendent of the Continental Reformed church in Austria, Thomas Hennefeld, and the Lutheran bishop Michael Chalupka advised Raab to quickly take down the map.

In a column for the daily paper Heute, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn questioned the decision to “single out” one faith and suggested an “Atlas of Religion” as an alternative. 

The mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, has also voiced his disapproval, saying that the map promotes division within society. 

The ÖVP’s junior partner, the Greens, also distanced themselves from the project, stating that they weren’t informed of the map before it went live. They later suggested on ATV that taking down the site would be the proper course of action. According to the party, this “heavily mishandled Project” has led to the stigmatization of Muslim institutions.  

The map is currently still offline due to a change in the hosting company, but this is seemingly just temporary. “We will neither allow right-wing extremists nor Islamic threats to derail our research,” Aslan told ORF defiantly. 

Situation Very Good in Europe, All Eyes on Delta

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer has been writing (bi-)weekly updates in German for family and friends. Metropole was kindly granted the permission to translate and publish these updates.

June 14, 2021

Here again is the bi-weekly COVID-19 update.

Worldwide, about 176 million SARS-CoV-2 infections have been officially registered so far, 3.8 million people have officially died from COVID-19 (estimates suggest the number of unreported cases is 2 to 4 times higher). 2.33 billion doses of vaccine have been administered so far. The number of cases per day is going down globally, but it does not look good everywhere.

Very Good Situation in Europe

In Europe, the situation is very good. With very few exceptions, case numbers are low and stable or falling.

One exception is the UK, where there has been a sharp increase in cases recently, caused by the B.1.617.2 variant from India (which is now called “delta” by the WHO). I hope that this is not a real wave, but rather a brief interlude. More on this below.

Russia is not looking good either, they still have high case numbers that are just rising again and unfortunately also a very low vaccination coverage rate.

Americas: Stable in the North, Difficult in the South

The US and Canada are both doing quite well – few cases and lots of vaccinations. Mexico is also doing well.

In Central and South America, unfortunately, the situation looks less good and is partly dramatic. Some countries are doing OK but many – like Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela – are in the midst of the worst wave since the pandemic began. The situation in Brazil also remains very tense, with case numbers simply not going down.

Relaxation in Asia

The situation in India and Nepal is calming down somewhat, and Malaysia also seems to have passed the peak of the wave. China is struggling with a handful of B.1.617.2 (“delta”) cases.

In some countries that have actually had no cases for a long time – such as Vietnam, Cambodia, and Taiwan – case numbers are rising. In Mongolia, case numbers are also going up. In Thailand, the number of cases also went up (to about 2,000-3,000 per day), but seems to be stagnating at the level. In Japan, cases are declining quite rapidly, and South Korea has been holding steady at about 500-700 cases per day.

Stable Middle East & North Africa

The Middle East and Maghreb are basically stable, with a few exceptions. Case numbers in Israel are extremely low (10-15 per day). Northern Africa also seems OK, but cases are increasing by leaps and bounds in the south.

South Africa is at the beginning of a strong fall wave (largely unvaccinated). There are also increases in Zambia, Namibia, Uganda, Botswana, DRC, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Angola is just coming down from a wave. IÆm starting to worry about Africa now. It basically looked pretty good there with exceptions, but there are now increases and unfortunately little access to vaccines.

The Delta Variant

And that brings me to a couple of points that I would like to address.

The first point is the B.1.617.2/Delta variant. We know that vaccines work well against the variant (88% efficiency for Pfizer, 60% for AstraZeneca, Moderna probably behaves similarly to Pfizer). But we also know that the variant is more infectious. That means it can spread faster.

A few months ago, I think I explained the concept of the reproductive number (R0). R0 is the number that indicates how many unprotected people an infected person will infect. For influenza, R0 is about 1.5, which means that one infected person infects on average 1.5 other people – this is not very infectious. When the number falls below 1, the virus dies out on its own.

For measles, the number is 18, which is very high. Here is a link to a graphic that shows what happens with SARS-CoV-2, especially with B.1.617.2/Delta (Alpha is the B.1.1.7 variant – don’t ask me why the WHO had to rename everything).

That’s why you have to take some of these new variants very seriously and really try to get the vaccination coverage rate as high as possible. B.1.617.2 could cause a wave in the fall if there are still enough people who are not vaccinated.

It’s a good thing that Europe is now moving ahead quickly with vaccinations.

Mixing Vaccines

This brings me to the next topic, namely the question of “vaccinating on top” or mixing different vaccinations (for example, first dose with AstraZeneca and second dose with mRNA). There are now some results on this.

A British study has recently published results on side effects and found slightly increased side effects with AstraZeneca followed by mRNA – but it does not seem to be a real concern. The immunological results of the British study should also be available soon. A study from Germany already has immunological results on this, and as suspected:

The immune response is better when giving AstraZeneca followed by mRNA compared to 2x mRNA.

So, if at some point it becomes necessary to get another dose of vaccine, it doesn’t seem to be a problem if that is a different vaccine than the initial vaccination. By the way, I am pretty sure that a third vaccination in the fall will not be necessary and I don’t understand why this is already seen as a fact by the politicians.

Vaccinating Children

The last topic here is vaccinating children.

The Pfizer vaccine can be used from the age of 12, the one from Moderna probably soon. Vaccines for younger children are currently in clinical trials and are based on lower doses of the vaccine.

The question now is: Should we vaccinate children or not?

Children and adolescents can become infected with SARS-CoV-2 just like adults. In a study we did recently, the infection rates of 10-18-year-olds were identical to adults; those of under-10-year-olds were slightly lower. So children and adolescents do get infected with the virus, but they quite rarely get COVID-19 or have very mild courses, although rare complications like MIS-C can occur. And, of course, children and adolescents can pass on the virus.

But vaccination also brings risks. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about 16 out of every million children and adolescents vaccinated experience (mostly mild) myocarditis. This rate is very low, but you should still know about it. In my opinion, vaccination for children and adolescents makes sense, especially because it prevents the spread of the virus.

That’s it for this week. Stay healthy, enjoy the summer, and get vaccinated!

See you in two weeks.

PS: Congratulations to Austria for the victory against North Macedonia at the European Championship.

Metropole’s Top Five Brunch Spots in Vienna

Breakfast sandwich with avocado and grilled mushrooms/(C) Motto am Fluss

With Vienna’s grand reopening, spending hours on end in cafés just soaking in the atmosphere and catching up with friends is no longer a distant memory. The Viennese know a thing or two about enjoying the slower things in life – famous for its coffeehouse culture, and the local custom of Jause, a fourth meal between breakfast and lunch, it’s no wonder there are no shortages of brunch hotspots. These are just a few of our favorite places to start your weekend right – with plenty of food and a healthy serving of gossip!

Motto am Fluss – Everybody’s Darling

With its relaxed riviera atmosphere and large sun terrace, this popular canalside café right on Schwedenplatz is everybody’s brunch spot of choice during the summer. From early morning to late afternoon, the city’s hip and hungry can be found catching a tan and dishing the latest gossip over live DJ-sets. Expect á la carte breakfast classics with a twist, like Eggs Benedict served with grilled mushrooms, fresh smoothies or their delicious breakfast sandwich with avocado and spicy habanero mayonnaise. Their flaky sourdough croissants and other treats come directly from Motto Brotthe newest addition to Vienna’s ongoing artisanal bakery revival. Reservations are encouraged to keep disappointment at bay. 

Flaky sourdough croissants from Motto Brot/(C) Motto am Fluss

Top pick: fresh Tisane (herbal infusion) with thyme, orange and mint

1., Franz-Josefs-Kai 2 EG

Daily 8:00-0:00

Breakfast served daily from 8:00-16:00

(01) 252 55 11

mottoamfluss.at

Mani im Vierten – Hearty and Nourishing

The wonderfully down-to-earth Mani im Vierten is the perfect spot to grab some sustenance in preparation for a long day of strolling down nearby Naschmarkt. Formerly known as Figar 1040, this modern Mediterranean restaurant offers a hearty breakfast in its Schanigarten on Schleifmühlgasse, replete with delightful savory pallets of breakfast burgers with rocket, avocado, fried egg and tomato-chili-confit; those still nursing a hangover are advised to resuscitate with a “Bloody Shame,” a non-alcoholic Bloody Mary variant. With sourdough bread from Oefferl and a focus on organic ingredients, quality places high on the Mani’s list of priorities, making their food all the more memorable.

Shakshouka/(C) Mani im Vierten

Top pick: hearty Shakshouka, served directly in the pan 

4., Schleifmühlgasse 7

Mon-Thu 8:00-0:00

Fri 8:00-1:00
Sat 9:00-1:00
Sun 9:00-0:00

Breakfast served Mon-Fri, 8:00-16:00, Weekends and Holidays 9:00-16:00

(01) 890 31 60

mani.wien

(C) Labstelle

Labstelle – Experimental Delights

Tried and true breakfast staples indisputably deserve their spot on menus all over the world. But there comes a time when even the most enthusiastic bruncher has exhausted every conceivable variation on eggs. Fortunately, you can expect the unexpected at Labstelle’s Flying Breakfast – and lots of it! The farm-to-table restaurant recommends a 2.5 hour visit, allowing their kitchen to present a cavalcade of delectable bites in rounds. Charmingly unpredictable, previous visitors have enjoyed dishes ranging from homemade boar bratwurst with beans to asparagus with peperonata foam or beef tartar with bacon mayonnaise. Who said breakfast had to be predictable?

(C) Labstelle

Top pick: to be defined by the chef!

1., Lugeck 6

Mon-Fri 11:30-22:00

Sat 10:00-22:00

Breakfast served Sat10:00- 14:30 (last orders 11:30)

(01) 236 21 22

labstelle.at

Turnhalle – Vegatarian Banquet

(C) Turnhalle

Nestled behind the peaceful courtyard of a historical apartment complex in the 15th district, the Turnhalle – as its name would suggest – used to be a gymnasium and Jewish cultural center before World War II. A truly exceptional space with high ceilings and exposed copper piping, it’s a charming café and community space today, well-known for a superlative vegetarian weekend brunch made in collaboration with Café 7Stern: With savory and sweet dishes spread out in abundance, the buffet leans heavily towards seasonal salads, lovingly presented rustic cakes and homemade granola. To top it all off, brunch includes either delicious Hausbrandt coffee or a sparkling mimosa. 

(C) Turnhalle

Top pick: roast beetroot and lentil salad

15., Herklotzgasse 21

Sat & Sun 9:30-15:30

0660 203 64 04 

die-turnhalle.at

DSTRIKT at the Ritz-Carlton – Steak for Breakfast

If you’re looking for a truly epicurean experience, head to the Ritz-Carlton for DSTRIKT’s steak brunch. With fantastic cuts paired with free-flowing champagne, cooked before you on a Josper grill, patrons also have their pick of Austrian charcuterie and cheese specialties, sweet spreads beef tartare or oysters at the buffet, located directly in the stainless steel kitchen. 

Top pick: DSTRKT New York cheesecake 

Brunch served Sundays at 12:30 PM – 15:30 PM

1., Schubertring 5, 1010 Wien (in The Ritz-Carlton)

Mon-Sat 7:00-22:30

Sun 7:00-15:30

Steak Brunch Sundays 12:30-15:30

(01)311 88 616

dstrikt.com

Word of the Week: Holzpyjama [ˈhɔlt͡sˌpiˈd͡ʒaːma]

Noun. A coffin. Lit. “wooden pajamas.” Used in phrases like an Hoizpitschama ågmessn (to get measured for wooden pajamas) or sich ins Holzpyjama haun (to hop into a wooden pajama), it is one of the many, many colorful Viennese euphemisms related to death. While much has been made of the city’s preoccupation with shuffling off this mortal coil, it is not uncommon in other cultures to discuss mortality with humorous idioms that downplay innate fears – Vienna’s wooden sleepwear can thus be considered roughly analogous to English terms like “the big sleep,” “popping one’s clogs,” or “cashing in one’s chips.”

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Vienna Appoints Its First “Scooter Sheriffs”

Scooter scoundrels beware – there’s a new sheriff in town! In an effort to address complaints regarding e-scooters cluttering sidewalks, Vienna’s Wirtschaftskammer (Economic Chamber) has partnered with Lime, a major provider, to find common ground and promote co-existence between residents, pedestrians and e-scooter users. Dubbed “Scooter sheriffs” – a play on Parksheriff, the local nickname for traffic wardens – their responsibilities include moving incorrectly-parked scooters, picking up fallen scooters and cautioning riders caught parking improperly. 

First introduced in the summer of 2018, rentable e-scooters have been a resounding success, quickly altering the cityscape by offering convenient short-range transport on demand. In 2019, there were 10 companies in Vienna who offered the service; and while the pandemic has reduced the number of providers to 5, there are still 6,000 e-scooters on the street. In fact, the decrease in supply has only heightened demand, with Lime reporting over 100,000 more customers compared to before COVID-19.

But despite their popularity, Vienna’s relationship with e-scooters is highly ambivalent. The very convenience that makes them appealing – simply unlock via smartphone app and walk away once you’re done – is a point of contention: Unlike Vienna’s own city bike system, there are no designated scooter stations, meaning that users often leave them whenever their time runs out, with little regard for others. This has led to hundreds of complaints from residents and shop owners about e-scooters lying around curbsides, causing a nuisance and a safety risk. 

In addition, reckless riding has also caused concern: Within the first 9 months of their introduction, rented e-scooters amassed over 1,559 police reports and 1,015 registered reports by civilians, most of them prompted by speeding and running red lights. 

There have been some efforts to address the problem: The city has already passed several regulations, and in 2020, the Bezirksvorsteher (district chairman) of the 7th district, Markus Reiter (Greens), launched three e-scooter racks to help unclutter sidewalks. 

This latest initiative has been in service as of last Friday, with scooter sheriffs patrolling the 1st district on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Currently still in the experimental phase, the initiative will be evaluated in two months; If results are promising, it will expand to other districts. “With this pilot project, Vienna’s Wirtschaftskammer wants to show the people that compromise on the matter is indeed possible,” said Dieter Steup, the Chamber of Commerce’s’ local chairman for the first district. Whether these newly appointed peacemakers can indeed clean up the sidewalks, time will tell.

Syrians in Austria on a Journey to a Better Future

When you think of Syria today, rarely do you think of its history or its culture. You mostly think of the destruction of war and the refugee wave of 2015.

For Syrians, Syria is way more than just the country they left behind; it’s a forever-woven piece of their heart. Choosing to come here was not easy, and as this article will show, Syrians in Austria come from many different backgrounds; they came in different ways and have different lifestyles. And unlike any other expat community, these Syrians are stuck with the term “refugee” for political/humanitarian reasons; but in reality, they’re as diverse as any other migrant community in Austria.

Here these Syrians have a chance to tell us about their journey. Given the changes over the past decade, we will track three different milestones while weaving these stories together. At each milestone, we will see a glimpse of how life was for our six interviewees. Some felt their stories too personal to share under their real names, so their identities were masked, without undermining the authenticity of their stories.

The Comfortable Pre-War Years (2009-2010)

For the first milestone, we will travel back to the summer of 2009, when Syria was still safe, peaceful, and comfortable. Just like anyone in Austria in 2009, people in Syria were going about their lives. Those who worked, went to work, those who studied went to their classes. Just like Austrians, Syrians looked forward to the summer in the country or visiting grandparents, or vacationing on the pebbled beaches of the majestic Syrian coast.

Like Austrians, Syrians are very proud of their rich culture and history. The Damascus Citadel hosted regular live concerts just like the annual Sommernachtskonzert at Schönbrunn. The old city hosted an annual food and culture festival reminiscent of the Viennese Christmas markets. Every large Syrian city had these things in one form or another, and our life before the war wasn’t so different from yours. Damascus may not have been the “world’s most livable city,” but it was a place of culture and charm and Syria was certainly precious.

As late as 2009, many Syrians still flocked to nightly concerts at the Damascus Citadel (left) – not unlike Vienna’s very own annual Summer Night’s Concert at Schönbrunn (right).

But make no mistake, we are not claiming that life was free and fair or that our civil life was even remotely comparable to European standards. But outside of politics, Syrians come from a country with a wealth of natural resources, arid lands, mountains, rivers, coastline, and deserts. The country had good trade relations, a respectable GDP, decent public health care and education, very rich culture, ancient history, ethnic and religious diversity, many talents, and passions.

Our history matters particularly: All our interviewees were in agreement that their favorite places growing up were the older parts of town. There is a special vibe to an old city in Syria, diverse, lively, a feast of eateries and cafés.

Let’s start with Noha Shantous*, now 37. In 2009 she was working for a publishing house, while living in a rented flat with her husband. Her favorite activities: the various workshops she did with UNICEF and the Syrian Red Crescent. “We focused on psychological support of displaced kids, particularly the Iraqi refugee population.” Although her salary wasn’t high, it was livable, and she could afford to go to the coast for two weeks each August.

Soha Al Ali* 46, was living with her husband and 3 children in the Yarmouk Palestinian “Camp,” in the “ghetto” suburbs of Damascus. “I owned my house and paid for everything myself – not my husband, as he was unemployed at the time.” Born in Syria to Palestinian parents who died when she was 15, she and her sister went to live with her aunt who was a cleaning lady and taught her the trade.

At 17, she went to work as a housekeeper for a prominent Christian family where she stayed for 25 years. “They were my family,” she said, describing how they took her in after fights with her husband over money, “until he understood that I was the bread winner and I controlled the money, not him.” Soha worked six days a week for $300 per month. She was keen to teach her children English, she borrowed schoolbooks from the family. “I taught them myself.”

Zeina Khawam, 39, was born in Vienna to Syrian parents, and moved back to Damascus in 2008 to get married and settle there. “Damascus was beautiful,” she said. She had family and friends. “Everything seemed just perfect. I was having the best life; I wasn’t really thinking of ever going back to Vienna.

The Al-Hamidiyah Souq is the largest souk in Syria, located inside the old walled city of Damascus. The souq dates back to the Ottoman era, being built around 1780 during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid I./(C) Depositphotos

The Little Things

Syrians are very social, outgoing, and family oriented, so their lives revolved around friends and relatives. No week would go by without an extended family lunch on Saturday: your aunt brings a dish, your mom makes something else, your grandma brings the appetizers, your uncle brings the dessert. During the week, most Syrians spend their evenings in cafés playing cards and smoking shishas with their friends, different groups on different days.

Jamila Omran*, 35, recalls 2009 with great joy, “I met with my friends many times a week, often at one of our houses. We would meet and plan to go on a trip, go swimming, or to a restaurant and sometimes we met at home to play cards and laugh together. We loved to stay up late singing. My favorite spots were my house and the parks, where the most beautiful memories were.”

Omar Ahmadieh*, 36, fondly remembers the summer of 2009: “Travelling in summer to Hama, my city of origin to meet my cousins and other relatives, and in Damascus where most of the activities revolved around eating outside with friends or playing cards in some cafes”. It was the little things in life that Syrians miss most.

Adam Bakri*, 23, was 11 in 2009, so all he remembers is that he had nothing to worry about, he went to school, played with his friends, went on trips with his family.

The Decisive Years (2014-2016… )

The war years of 2014 to 2016 were hard, and the years when many decided to flee for their safety and the future of their children. In 2014, ISIS was rising; many people died, many were displaced. Some three million people had already fled the country, according to UNHCR, aside from the many whose homes were destroyed leaving them nomads within the country. Over the next couple of years, it only got worse. When war erupted, the differences between Syria and Austria couldn’t have become starker. And many here may not be able to relate.

It was almost impossible for many Syrians to come legally to Austria, even before the war, Throughout the developed world, Syrians had difficulties getting visas and residence permits because the consulates weren’t convinced that these Syrians would ever go back. People tried their best to persevere, but at a certain point, life becomes unbearable. Each of our interviewees had different reasons and ways of coming here. Some were lucky others not so much. Most had to leave family and loved ones behind, some temporarily until they can sort out family reunification, whereas others are entirely uprooted.

… And the Ensuing Journey

For Noha, her husband left for Europe in 2014 hoping to bring her and their son later. In 2015 she was alone, teaching English and taking care of her son. “Although I was really overworked, I loved teaching and we needed the money.” She did sports as an outlet and met often with friends and family. Time seemed precious. “At some point I would only be able to talk them via screens, or worse, from their graves.” It took three years for her husband’s family reunification request to be approved and finally in summer of 2018, she traveled with their son to Vienna.

Soha’s story is the most somber of our interviewees. In 2014, the house that she had poured 25 years of work into was destroyed, and in 2015 the whole area was taken over by ISIS. “My family and I went to live in another suburb that was regime-held,” she told us. “We lived in an unfinished building, and used plastic UNHCR tents as makeshift walls” – a situation she shared with countless other families.

Her husband finally found a job, a miserable one, as a grave digger. She still worked as a housekeeper, but less frequently. The family paid her the same. But they couldn’t put her up because they had taken in another family. “I am generally an optimist,” she said, “and even when everything is miserable, I try to have a glass-half-full perspective.” Her eldest daughter was studying for her Syrian Matura, so she decided to study and do the exam with her. “By some miracle and slick moves, I managed to pass,” she recalled. “Finally, I had a degree with my name on it.”

Early in 2015, Soha’s sister decided to leave Syria for Europe. If she could make it to Western Europe, she had heard, she could get support and start a better life. “So she convinced me to send my 16-year-old daughter with her; given the conditions we were living under, I agreed.”

They traveled first to Turkey then on an overcrowded dingy to Lesbos, where after three months, they managed to get smuggled to Athens, and then onto the infamous Balkan route to Austria. “A year and half later, our family reunification was approved and my husband, two younger children and I got on a plane for the first time, to Istanbul and then to the Vienna.”

In the late summer and fall of 2015, hundred thousands of Syrians made their way from overcrowded refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey to Europe via the Balkans and Hungary to Austria, Germany and Sweden./(C) Wikimedia Commons

Vienna-born Zeina’s time in Damascus lasted only four years; in 2012 as the war became more violent, she and her family moved to Beirut, where their two toddlers could grow up in a safe place, but not be too far from Syria. They didn’t think the war would last long and so weren’t yet ready to move back to Europe. In 2017, that would change.

In late 2015, Jamila was still living in her home in the suburbs of Damascus: “It was one of the worst days – mortar shells were falling on the streets and one of them fell on our house. My son and I were alone and very scared; the sound was deafening and the wall broke. We raced back into an interior room. There was no time to think about happiness; there was no comfort at all.”

Jamila was still working long hours with the Red Crescent, helping the needy – providing shelter, food, first aid and psychological support. In the midst of tragedy, she only saw her coworkers: Her son would stay with his grandparents when she was at work. “My father-in-law kept paying the rent to help us, and we were exposed daily to shells and explosions.” Most activities stopped – “I no longer met my friends” – so the joy and the smiles gradually disappeared. “In that year my husband and I lost a very precious friend to the war, and after that, our life changed irreparably.”

Jamila’s husband went to Turkey to find a way to go to Europe. “My husband arrived in Vienna in early 2016, then my son and I came by plane, via a family reunification visa.” It was still a long journey. The most difficult moments were the farewells, traveling alone with a child and all the luggage, staying up all night. The most beautiful moment was meeting her husband again after a year and a half. “Of course my son had grown up and changed, and in this moment, it was worth the effort. Simply a feeling of happiness.”

Omar’s reasons for leaving were indeed difficult ones and shared by many Syrian men. With another male sibling, he would have to serve in the army for 2 years. This was in 2012 and the war had just started becoming intense. “In Syria, they took me into the military, and I stayed for 6 months (the training phase), where I was shot at twice, although not injured. After that I fled to Turkey. I did not want to be in the military, the thought of confronting protesters was a nightmare.”

Omar’s route to Vienna was tortuous and difficult. “I had a very tough journey, from Syria to Turkey, then to Egypt, then back to Turkey and to Greece then to Macedonia to Serbian to Hungary to Austria. Then I was transferred to different camps, the last one in Carinthia.”

Did anything good happen on his journey? He shook his head. “Starting with the boat from Turkey to Greece, the journey was extremely dangerous; the weather was bad, and the sea stormy (January 2012).” From southern Serbia to the north, he was transported with three other people in the boot of a Renault Megan. “So I arrived unconscious from lack of oxygen.” Through Hungary they went with three masked people with weapons. He finally arrived in Austria on the February 27, 2012. Was the journey worth it? “Yes.”

Adam moved to Egypt in 2012 when he was 14 and stayed there till he was 17. He remembers struggling to adapt to “a new life, a new school. Everything was new and difficult.” At 16 he was working as a delivery driver under the scorching Egyptian sun. Was he happy? “No,” he said “The shock of leaving Syria left us unable to enjoy anything.” For months, they were unable to adapt to the new life. Although he, his brother and his father all had pick-up jobs, it still was difficult to live a decent life in their rented flat. “My father didn’t want to freeze his life savings into a small apartment; we though that the war would end in few months.”

As we know now, the war did not end in a few months, and with time, Adam and his brother found remaining in Egypt difficult. But their parents didn’t want to go to Europe; they didn’t speak any foreign languages and had grown comfortable in Cairo.

But the young brothers felt they had no prospects in either Egypt or Syria. Egypt was just recovering from its second regime change; things were unclear, especially for someone already fleeing a country at war. The smallest thing would trigger a wave of anxiety. The brothers left for Turkey and set their sights on coming to Austria via the Balkan route.

His worst experience on the journey? Not the risk of drowning, nor the walking and getting smuggled. It was feeling his dignity crushed. “I was kicked out of a restaurant in a city along the route because apparently, ‘This is not a refugee camp’ – although I was a paying customer.” Still, it wasn’t all bad: He remembers “people helping with sandwiches, hugs, and tears.” Eventually they arrived in late 2015, during the peak of the refugee wave.

Was the journey worth it? “In retrospect, I believe having the ability to evolve on a personal and an intellectual level is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted,” Adam said. “So yes, the freedom I now have was worth the journey. The situation in Syria only got worse.”

A New Home (2019-2021)

Our final section will discuss how Syrians have been faring in the years since they settled in Austria. Given their diversity, it would be unrealistic to assume that they have a similar lifestyle. In fact, each of our interviewees has again a completely different story.

Most Syrians in Austria are doing their best to build a better life for themselves. They appreciate the safety and ease of life in Vienna, but it is bittersweet to be uprooted, unable to even visit your home or your family. All interviewees agreed that their lives today are far better than they were in 2014, but not everyone agrees that life here is better than it was back home before the war. It was not easy to come here, nor were the first few years effortless. Language and integration were big challenges, topics covered elsewhere in this issue.

Noha, the English teacher, says, life in Austria is beautiful and safe, although her heart aches for friends and family back home. But she immediately started learning German: “I really like languages, so it didn’t feel difficult.” Finally, this year she landed a job with the Covid testing centers, “which I have been doing happily ever since.”

Before the pandemic hit, Soha, the housekeeper, had just finished her B1 German course and started working in the kitchen of a restaurant in the capital while her husband became a public bus driver. Her eldest daughter finished her Matura at 19 and has just started studying pharmacy at the university. “Since the pandemic, in a funny reversal of fate, I became the unemployed one and my husband finally became the sole breadwinner. I have to admit, while it does feel strange not to work, I am enjoying some time off and as soon as things reopen, I will go look for a job.”

When Austrian-born Zeina and her family moved back to Vienna, they bought a house near her parents and she said: “I am so grateful to be able to give my kids the Austrian experience – in all its glory! – that I was lucky to get.”

Jamila and her husband settled in Klagenfurt with their two young children. They often spend sunny days by the shores of Wörthersee, swimming, playing games, eating and enjoying the sun. At the time she was on maternity leave: “We were happy despite the pandemic, but the happiness was incomplete, as we miss our parents and friends.” Her husband’s salary was enough to pay their rent, buy essentials, and go on short holidays. She has many “favorite” places, particularly at a lake or a mountain, that helps keep her sane.

Since his tortuous journey, Omar has found a job working for major tobacco company in Vienna, and gained some valuable experience in an international work environment. He said; “For me happiness is related to the places and people I grew up with. Of course being safe and living in one of the most beautiful cities is a privilege, but I still feel something is missing.” Omar lives with his wife and daughter not too far from his brother, but hasn’t seen the other members of his family since 2012. He is an avid jogger and enjoys swimming in the Danube. In 2019 he bought a small sail boat that he takes out on the river.

Our youngest interviewee, Adam is now at university in Vienna, and living in a WG with friends. He likes to cook and watch a movie or play cards in the park. Until 2019, he had not seen his parents and youngest sister since 2015, but just before the pandemic, they finally managed to visit. His favorite spot in Vienna? “At the top of the stairs of the Albertina museum, facing the Vienna state opera house.”

And Here We Are

Eventually, what seemed to matter most to Syrians is being an active part of the Austrian society. Those who depend on state aid aren’t necessarily happy to have to depend on this help; they want to get to work and become independent, and set a good example for their children. Many had to learn new trades, so that they can get employed faster.

Some had real difficulty learning the language so they switched to construction work and other types of businesses that don’t necessarily require a B1 level in German.

Overall, Syrians are getting by; they persevere regardless of the challenges they faced, or else they wouldn’t have made it here. What is clear is that there is a will to survive; but that isn’t what pushed them to come here. Surviving and living are two different things. Many can survive in camps within Syria or its neighboring country. But that is not really living.

Choosing to cross a sea in a crowded dingy and getting smuggled in the boot of a car isn’t a decision one makes exclusively to survive. Choosing to leave your entire family behind isn’t a choice that’s exclusively about survival. When Syrians risked their lives again to come here, they did it because they had given up on life in the places where they were; it was like being stuck at a bus station waiting for a bus that never comes. You can wait for an hour, maybe two, okay maximum three. But eventually you either walk back to your starting point or you walk on into your future.

Syrians in Austria chose to walk on and risk their lives for their destination and destinies. It was a courageous thing to do. And Austria will be a better and more diverse country because of it.


*Names in this story were changed, the reported experiences are real.

New, Yet Eager

As the newest community to grow in Vienna, we Syrians are eager to prove our place in the diverse society we find here. Somehow, when Syrians started flowing into the country, public perception in Austria was cautious; people were not keen to believe everything politicians and the media told them. They wanted to get to know this community themselves. Many Austrians welcomed Syrians into their homes, some taught us German, other helped by offering jobs. Overall, aside from a few hiccups, Syrians in Austria have felt welcomed and happy to play an active role. You may be surprised to learn that not all of us are actually new here, some were born and grew up here and went on to build careers bridging the two societies.

Most Syrians came out of duress, our journey was difficult but worth it! Not all of us came the same way or at the same time. Moreover, contrary to what may be popular belief, Syrians aren’t one homogenous group that fall under the perceived identity of “refugees.” They are individuals with diverse backgrounds, who first chose to survive and then sought to live.

What is living if one doesn’t dine together with family and friends, eating the food that has defined one’s world? Just ask any Syrian their favorite dish, and they will name at least five. Our cuisine is how we invite you to learn about our culture.

We also want to learn about your culture and we’re sure you know that your language is not an easy one. Integration is a goal for us, but sometimes the road may not seem straightforward or manageable. But we persevere, some of us managed to build tight bonds with Austrians who have become as dear to us as our own flesh and blood, and there is nothing better than when the feeling is mutual.

Growing up in Syria enabled some of us to develop an artistic talent that empower us to portray our diversity, our struggles and hopes, using universal outlets. A young poet wishes he had a tank, but not for the reasons you think. A talented fashion designer succeeds in a competitive business.

But where does this diversity come from? Rest assured, we cannot talk about Syria without talking about its rich and ancient history. Somehow, the sorrows of war cannot erase the fond memories of the two majestic cities of Damascus and Aleppo, that between them are the pillars of Syrian history, dating from before the Old Testament, and one, according to the Bible, the city that launched Christianity abroad to Europe.

Syrians always had a strong bond with Palestinians, whom they shared a history with up until the 20th century. Today as in the past we stand with one another in difficult times, that is why we would like to ask you to donate to UNRWA which is the leading global agency that delivers support and relief to the Palestinian people. Just head to our back cover and scan the QR code to be redirected to their donation page.

Majd Nassan

New Study Finds Stops by Austrian Police Highest in the EU

Ever since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, ethnic profiling has become a contentious issue around the globe. To get a better picture of the status quo, the Vienna-based EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) recently published a new paper comparing rates of police stops across European states, the first at the supranational level.  

Austria was a clear stand-out: 25% of the general population claimed they had been stopped by the police in the 12 months preceding the survey. Similarly high rates were only reported in Estonia (24%) and Ireland (21%); conversely, in France or Germany only 17% of the general population reported being stopped in the past year. 

The study also revealed a grim statistic: individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa experienced almost twice as many police stops as the general Austrian population, with nearly 50% stating that they have been halted by the police in the past 12 months. In contrast, this figure is much lower for Turks, whom the Austrian authorities stopped only 22% of the time on average. 

A similarly large disparity between the general population and ethnic minorities is only discernible in Greece and Croatia, where 33% of Roma, but only 18% or 19% of the general population recounted such experiences with the police. 

Of those stopped among the general population, 87% were using a vehicle. In contrast, 72% of descendants from Sub-Saharan Africa were stopped while on foot. This affects how citizens perceive the police: 76% of the general population felt the authorities treated them appropriately, while only 28% of individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa and 66% of Turks believed the police behaved professionally towards them. 

Tracking Discrimination

Sami Nevala, a policy coordinator in the FRA’s research and data unit and author of this study, attributes the disproportionate number of police stops reported by individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa to the “lack of colonial history” in Austria.  

“In countries with a colonial history, there may have been an earlier pretense of, for example, minority groups, such as people from Sub-Saharan African countries,” Nevala told Metropole. “While in Austria, this is a newer migrant group; therefore, maybe society hasn’t had a long time to get used to their existence as in some other countries in Europe.”

Nevala believes that the longer minorities reside in a country, the less likely authorities are to target members of that group. According to him, this explains why people of Turkish descent experience police stops less frequently: “They have already been present within Austrian society for quite a long time compared to people from Sub-Saharan African countries.” 

Advocates at ZARA (Civil Courage & Anti-Racism-Work) state that these findings reveal how much anti-racism work still needs to be done in the country. “Just like our entire society, the Austrian police still has a racism problem,” managing director Caroline Kerschbaumer said in a written statement. “It is important to take a close look at the police because they are allowed to exercise executive power and therefore also bear a special responsibility.” Kerschbaumer believes that it is “high time” for a national action plan against racism, such as the one proposed by Black Voices, which formed out of the Viennese Black Lives Matter protest last summer. 

The FRA study was released on March 25, the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. According to Nevala, his murder was a key motivator for the production of this paper, as it heightened the relevance of the issue of discriminatory practices.

However, the study had been in the works since 2016. It is part of a larger effort by the European Union to survey discrimination within the bloc, which began with the EU’s adoption of its first anti-racism legislation, the Race Equality Directive, in 2000. Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin, the FRA has been conducting similar surveys documenting the experiences of immigrants and ethnic minorities ever since this legislation was implemented, hoping to raise awareness both within the region and among EU lawmakers. 

Nevala hopes the results of this latest study will help outlaw ethnic profiling and produce more informed training policies. For example, European states could require officers to document each stop and hand individuals notes explaining the reason they are being stopped. Already empolyed in the United Kingdom, this method enables a person to file a complaint if they feel they have been treated unfairly. 

“We call on the member states to take action to ensure that people are treated equally, respectfully, and with dignity by the police,” Nevala told Metropole. “We demand that the police are trained in how to carry out stops.” 

Metropole Joins Sphera

It is time to tell Europe’s stories in many languages. That’s what the Sphera project set out to do.

The initiative gathers 10 partners from 7 countries to produce innovative content in 6 languages (EN, FR, DE, PL, ES, IT).

Metropole is a proud founding member of this initiative, together with independent media and creative organizations all across the continent. Sphera aims to engage Europeans through videos, podcasts, events; on social media on InstagramTwitter and Facebook; as well as via the channels of its member media.

Sphera Reinvents European Media

One goal of the project is to encourage young people to become media creators themselves, so that they can feel connected to current European issues as potential drivers of societal change. Metropole adds the Central and Eastern European perspective to all of that.

The Sphera consortium aims to reinvent the European media space

We bring you a new, authentic social-media-driven narrative that consists of both local and pan-European issues; all tapping into what Europeans really care about today.

Founding Members of Sphera

The 10 founding member media of the Sphera consortium are:

Babel International is a French not-for-profit organisation editing Cafébabel, the first online multilingual European magazine. Since 2001, Cafébabel has been championing the idea of an inclusive Europe, where many voices and realities are represented.

cafebabel.com

The Dutch not-for-profit organisation, Are We Europe, is a pan-European media, focusing on border-breaking stories since 2016. 

areweeurope.com

The only European agency dedicated entirely to podcasting, Bulle Media offers different audio formats that offer the essence of the latest European topics and news. 

bullemedia.eu

Arty Farty is a French not-for-profit organization that has been at the forefront of creative projects since 1999. Focusing on youth and innovation, they are the organisers of European Lab and the music festival Nuit Sonores. 

arty-farty.eu

StreetPress is a French online media about urban culture and social matters. Since 2009, StreetPress has promoted investigative impact journalism that is able to (re)create trust between citizens and the media. 

streetpress.com

Since 2017, El Salto is a Spanish grassroots independent media adopting the cooperative model. Committed and independently-run, El Salto covers topics such as politics, ecofeminism, migration and culture, with a radical perspective. 

elsaltodiario.com

Linkiesta is an Italian online media producing investigative journalism, in-depth analysis and commentary since 2001. In the Italian panorama, Linkiesta chooses to fight counter-current media battles, all the while being anchored in the truth of information. 

linkiesta.it

Outriders is a Polish not-for-profit organization covering global issues for local impact, as well as seeking answers to problems, fears and needs. Outriders believes that journalism can be made both ethically and locally.

outriders.rs

Dinamo is an Italian web agency specialized in video production and social media marketing.

dinamo.io

Metropole is a Viennese media organization running the leading English-language media network in Austria, focusing on news, culture and lifestyle.

metropole.at

Sphera as A Hub For Alternative Media

As the first decentralized hub for alternative media across Europe, the Sphera project received support and funding by the European Commission. Editorial independence is guaranteed within the Grant Agreement.

Follow Metropole on our social media channels to see more of our own weekly Sphera videos as well as selected footage of European partners. And if you can’t get enough, check out our Youtube channel where we publish all videos of the Sphera project in multiple languages.

Tune in and join the pan-European debate.

Sphera is waiting for you!

Syrian Lingo – Monkeys & Gazelles

We compiled some of the basics – and some Syrian (or Levantine) sayings that are lots of fun.

Marhaba

مرحبا

(Hello)

Kifak?

كيفك؟

(How are you)

Ana mneeh wa inta?

انا منيح و انت؟

(I’m good and you?)

Ana kaman mneeh.

انا كمان منيح

(I’m also good)

Ma’aa el salameh

مع السلامة

(Goodbye/ go with safety)

Allah ysalmak

الله يسلمك

(answer to Goodbye/ may God protect (save) you)

Funny Syrian (Levantine) Sayings

“The monkey is a Gazelle in his mom’s eyes.”

Said when a mom always says that her son is the best, even when he’s not.

“Turn the jar on its mouth and the daughter will be like her mama.”

Said when the mom and daughter share a lot of behaviors or looks.

“If your friend is made out of honey, don’t lick all of him.”

Said when a friend is abusing your generosity. 

“Do good and throw it in the sea.”

 Usually said when you do a good deed, but no one gives you credit.

 “Those who have shame have all died.”

 Said when someone does something bad and shows no shame for his actions.

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The Magnificent Tastes of the Syrian Cuisine

Translated by Majd Nassan

The interest and passion Syrians have for their food is second to none. This love stems from their customs and traditions, which are founded on the concepts of generosity and honoring their guests. What better way to honor a guest than by overwhelming them with food?

It is virtually impossible to visit a Syrian household and not get invited for a meal or at least a cup of coffee with Baklava. Syrians are all about hosting and sharing their cultural habits. There’s even a famous Syrian saying that indicates a strong relationship on the basis of shared meals, “We have bread and salt between us.” If you are a tourist walking through the streets of old Damascus, you are bound to get invited for a cup of tea or a home-cooked meal.

As a result of this culturally embedded hospitality, Syrians became accustomed to adding love to their food. Syrians insist that taste has to be perfectly delicious while still healthy and varied.

A large portion of Syrian food contains most nutrients that the metabolism needs. For example, Syrians are used to eating “Fool Mdammas” for breakfast, it’s a form of Fava beans boiled with fresh vegetables, lemon juice, and garlic, commonly eaten with pita bread and Ayran yoghurt. It’s one of the cheapest things to eat available in any district of Syria, a simple meal containing protein, fiber, folic acid, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Syrian dishes are full of nutritional benefits. So now is as good a time as any to invite you to try the Syrian cuisine.

Syrian vs. Lebanese Cuisine

Given the shared history and culture between the two Middle Eastern nations, there’s almost no difference. The regions of the Levant share many dishes. For example, the Syrian and Lebanese cuisine focus on salads, grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, rice, olive oil, fresh lemon and pomegranate juice are essential ingredients in cooking.

It is however visible that in Europe and elsewhere, Lebanese cuisine is the more dominant of the two. This can be traced back to the mass exodus of Lebanese during the Civil War from 1975-1990, which strengthened the reputation of the Lebanese cuisine across the world. Yet, to be honest, the two cuisines are almost identical. So if you are ever invited to a Syrian or Lebanese restaurant, don’t be surprised if the dishes look and taste extremely similar. One can only tell the real difference if you are actually in Lebanon or Syria, because that is where the subtle differences become clear.

Fattet al-Makdous or eggplant fatteh is one of Syria’s signature dishes./(C) Deposit photos

Let’s go back in history; Syrian cuisine has been very rich and varied since ancient times, as it represents the heritage of the many cultures that inhabited its land. Like other former Ottoman nations, Syrians infused Ottoman dishes into their cuisine – things like Turkish kebabs (more like Adana Kebab and not the widely known Doner Kebab) that are available in great variety across all Syrian cities, each adding their own touches and methods. Most Syrians agree that Aleppo’s cuisine is the best and most varied when it comes to kebabs (they have over 15 varieties, some with aubergine, others with sour cherries), while Damascus is famous for its cooked yoghurt dishes, and chickpea fatteh.

Overall, as elsewhere in the Levant, there is a prevalence of lamb and ground beef, and most cities use a similar spice mix based on cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cumin and black pepper.

But the Syrian cuisine also offers delights such as yabra’a rolls with rice, grapeleaves and meat./(C) Thalia Grill

Street Food & Home Food

When friends meet and walk through the narrow lanes and adjacent houses of Damascus, it is very difficult to ignore the inviting smells pouring out of the restaurants and houses. It could be the famous shawarma, which is chicken or lamb meat on a skewer for barbecue, with garlic cream, pickled cucumber and pomegranate molasses, (while it does look similar to Doner Kebab, the taste is entirely different). Another aroma is the smell of falafel, which Syrians eat religiously.

But the main street food Syrians thrive on is a mixed grill of lamb, beef, chicken, onions and tomatoes, however, this is not exclusively a dish you get from a restaurant (like shawarma and falafel which are seldom made at home), more often than not, in spring and summer courtyards across Damascus, at least once a week you would invite friends and family over for a barbecue.

As you can imagine, one cannot just simply eat savory dishes, either on the street or when hosting at home. Syrians have a sweet tooth, so it is almost mandatory to eat kunafa (a cheese-based dessert famous throughout the Levant). Also, while wandering through those narrow alleyways, one will surely encounter a food truck, carrying green almonds and green sour plums (ouja and jarnick) in spring, in summer, grilled and boiled corncobs, in autumn fresh pistachios, and in winter boiled beans with lemon broth, cumin or roasted chestnuts.

Falafel/(C) Unsplash

If you have been out with a Syrian friend, you must have had a struggle when it came to paying the bill at a restaurant. It is a prevalent Syrian (likely Arab too) custom that an individual pays for a group of friends, such that one of them rushes to pay the bill as evidence of their generosity, and another insists on paying for everyone on another day. For Syrians in Austria beautiful memories and laughter are connected directly to their dishes, so, heavy with nostalgia, they come to Vienna from all over Austria to visit Levantine restaurants to recreate the feeling that they are at home. And perhaps not surprisingly, these Levantine restaurants are mostly in the Austrian capital and are almost impossible to find elsewhere in the country.

Despite the magnificence of Syrian street food, it differs greatly from the homemade dishes. Syrian women invest love and passion into their meals, apparent from the famous homemade dishes that require a couple of days to prepare, such as the most popular stuffed dishes, where vegetables are dug out (zucchini and eggplant) on one evening, then stuffed the next morning with rice and seasoned meat before finally simmering them for an hour and sometimes more.

A big challenge facing many Syrians is recreating authentic home dishes in Austria, mostly due to lack of some ingredients or the massive difference in taste of certain vegetables and herbs. For example, Fattoush is one of the most famous Levantine salads and contains cucumber, tomatoes, lemon, salt, sumac, herbs, mint, green thyme, watercress, and an herb that’s identical in shape to Austrian Vogerlsalat (lamb’s lettuce or corn salad) but has a much stronger taste. This Levantine version of Vogerlsalat defines Fattoush for some. So, every time I visit a different European country, my instinct is to immediately buy a pack of Vogerlsalat in hopes that I can finally taste those delicious Levantine greens. So far, I’ve never been successful.

Ramadan Season

Let me tell you a little bit about how Muslim Syrians observe the holy month of Ramadan.

They invite family and loved ones to gather at the Iftar “breakfast” table (after sunset), which must include all kinds of food, beginning with energy-rich dates and thirst-quenching drinks such as (licorice, tamarind, apricot juice, in addition to water). There is an old custom among neighbors, and the reason for Ramadan, exchanging among themselves a plate of food or sweets daily to add more variety to their tables.

A typical Iftar meal starts with a soup, the most important of which is shorabet adas (lentil soup with meat or chicken broth), eastern salads like tabbouleh, or fattoush, and some appetizers like hummus or muttabal. Following this we move to the main dish that may be kibbeh (fried, raw, grilled and with yoghurt) or mahshi (stuffed zucchini, eggplant, and grape leaves) or molokhia (rice, meat, leaves of jute mallow) or one of the yoghurt dishes like shish barak (beef stuffed dough boiled in yogurt) and koussa blaban (zucchini stuffed with minced meat and rice, cooked with yogurt), of some type of fatteh such as makdous fatteh (recipe here). A Syrian Iftar is not complete without ending with fruits and sweets like qatayef asfiri, kunafa, and harissa.

Barazek (a biscuit dipped in roasted sesame)/(C) Unsplash

And then in the late evening (after 21:00) cafes and restaurants overflow with entertainment programs such as competitions and games of backgammon, or listening to the storyteller accompanied by drinking bitter Arabic coffee and black tea with barazek (a biscuit dipped in roasted sesame) and perhaps to smoke a hookah. It all goes on through the night, until we reach the time of Suhur, an hour before sunrise, a second, usually light, meal that the fasting person eats. Most Syrian restaurants are full with groups of friends at 3:00, as if it were midday – the spirit of Damascus that does not sleep.

Christians and Muslims participate together in spreading love during this holy month, helping the needy, doing charitable works, and gathering family and friends at the dinner table. But they differ in the rituals of fasting. Although not obliged, Christians tend to refrain from eating or drinking on the streets during Ramadan out of respect for their Muslim brethren. I remember when I was in school, our Christian friends would go outside the class if they got thirsty so as not to tempt their Muslim friends who were fasting.

There’s indeed a tight bond between the two religions, as Muslims in Syria also celebrate Christmas with their Christian friends and more often than not, Muslims would visit Christians over the Christian holidays and Christians would do the same during Muslim ones. Of course, these visits are never with an empty hand and often contains sweets that are made specially for the occasion.

Protected: Hamed Abboud – Speaking in Tongues

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Maggie Childs Reflects on Language

It’s humbling. At least it was for me, arriving in Vienna at age 11. Almost every kid in my class spoke at least two languages, if not three. As I struggled to get any kind of handle on my first foreign language, German, the kids who tried to talk to me in English were on their 3rd or 4th. Back then, I thought they were nothing short of awesome. 

Today, I see my 2.5 languages as a superpower. It lets me inhabit multiple worlds, multiple schools of thought and traditions. Hundreds of thousands of children in Austria become proficient in German as they attend grade school, and perhaps you can identify with what it’s like to be a student and an Ausländer.

Charlemagne is credited with saying: “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” That second soul creates a new identity and enhances the existing one, as we discussed with Vienna residents hailing from all over the world. In case you’re just as new as some of them are, we’ve also gotten the help of the brain behind the Wiener Alltagspoeten (Vienna Everyday Poets), Andreas Rainer, to teach us How to Master the Art of Viennese Dialect. 

As we emerge from the 4th lockdown (or was it the 5th?) the Metropole team delved into the thing that ties us together: How we speak to each other. We looked into how the Viennese language evolved in our first cover story and you may be surprised about how we examined the challenges and contradictions political correctness and cancel culture have raised, as well as hearing the insights of a non-binary linguist about choosing pronouns and why it’s not an attack on language.

From trash talk to spoken word

For the uninitiated, Austrian German is a lot to take in: The pronunciation and dialect, for one, but, more importantly, the attitude and sense of humor are more of a key to the Austrian soul than any vocabulary list. Who better to teach us about that than one of the country’s poetic sons, the irresistibly irreverent pop artist and wordsmith Paul Pizzera? But language is complex, so we cast a wider net to find the subjects of our profiles: A linguist, a speech therapist, a translator and a spoken word artist who share how they see language color our world. 

Understanding and interpreting a language is a high stress business – particularly in Vienna, where the UN and OSCE require constant simultaneous translating. That profession is dying, you say? Perhaps, but the limits of natural language processing software are just as important to understand as the opportunities, both of which we examine in “Siri You Cunning Linguist.”

The man who said “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” developed his ideas in this very city. Ludwig Wittgenstein had a dramatic life but his contributions changed the way we think about language forever. We’ve put together a selection of books for language-lovers, and spoken with one of the great literary critics and professors of our time, Marjorie Perloff, whom Austria lost during the Anschluss. Don’t miss the tales of the unsung heroes of cultural communication: the publisher and translators making Austrian literature available to English-speaking readers.

Most of all, we hope your curiosity will bring you outside, to an outdoor language café or a new neighborhood; try out new phrases with the “Viennese by District” guide and discover your favorite new outdoor market.

Whether you stay in town this summer or venture beyond the city limits, stay true to Viennese humor – if something goes wrong, take it in stride and whatever you do, 

Don’t be a stranger, 

Maggie Childs

Cover

 This season’s cover seeks to reflect the many topics, questions and debates that arose when we put this issue together. Language is about communication, identity, opinion, emotion, dialogue, expression and so much more. The pen of Berlin-based illustrator Anna Gusella sought to capture Vienna’s daily multilingual reality and how life in the city turns on the sound of an Ahoj, Habibi or Hawara. Look up annagusella.da and IG @anna.gusell for more inspiring design pieces by the illustrator. 

Word of the Week: Schnitzelpracker [ˈʃnɪt͡sl̩pʁakɐ]

Noun. A meat tenderizer. Traditionally a wooden or cast metal mallet with pyramid-shaped steel studs on the face of the head, although dishwasher-friendly plastic versions are increasingly popular. Compound word consisting of Schnitzel (which needs no introduction) and Pracker (whacker), a Viennese noun stemming from the verb pracken (to hit vigorously; source unclear but likely an onomatopoeia). Commonly called a Fleischklopfer in standard German, the Austrian name belies its importance in making Vienna’s signature dish: giving your veal/pork/poultry cutlet a good shellacking before breading and frying not only softens tough meat, it also enlarges and flattens it, making your Schnitzel soft, succulent and pleasantly thin, well done with a crisp crust. Leaving it un-pracked would result in a tough, soggy affair – so put your back into it!

It follows that the Schnitzelpracker is ubiquitous in Austrian kitchens; as a potentially very painful implement, it has also gained a reputation as the weapon of choice of belligerent housewives, filling the role reserved for rolling pins in other lands. Any henpecked Wiener husband even considering coming home drunk will think twice at the prospect of facing an angry matron with one of these culinary warhammers in hand.

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Strangers Who Become Family

Translated by Majd Nassan

When the wave of refugees arrived in Austria in 2015, the couple Grete and Günther Naynar, who were in their late sixties, decided to host a small Syrian family in their home in one of Salzburg’s beautiful mountainous villages. Given that Margarite barely spoke English, unlike her husband Gunther who was fluent, she would mostly communicate with their Syrian guests using signs. Yet, through the magic of eye contact and smiles, the young Syrian couple Rasha and Mohamed Ibrahem managed to build a strong and deep bond with this Austrian couple. Strong enough that six years later, they consider them family.

Before coming here, Rasha and Mohamed had been living in Damascus. As the war became more intense, they decided to flee over the Balkan route until they arrived in Austria. For two months, they had lived in a refugee shelter with other families. But due to the poor conditions, the couple started looking for another place to move to. Which is when they met Grete and Günther.

Initially, Grete was hesitant and told Günther over and over that she disapproved this “experiment.” She knew nothing about these “strange” people or their culture. Unfortunately, given the media attitude, she had only negative views about third-world countries in general and Arabs specifically. She thought that all Arabs traveled by camel, lived in tents in the desert, that all women wore burqas and lives amid a constant state of war and seeking refuge.

It only took a few days to shatter these misconceptions. The two couples started sharing everything about their lives with each other. The Syrians were speaking English and Günther would translate for Grete. Rasha began telling them about Syrian culture and introduced Grete to her new addiction: Arabic (aka Turkish) coffee infused with cardamon. Grete and Günther immediately fell in love with Syrian sweets, so much so, that they now make them during holidays to give to their friends and neighbors. Food, it seems, is often the fastest way to learn about a new culture.

Grete became committed to helping the family learn German and drove them to the German classes every day for a year, as there was no public transport nearby. Learning German became an important part of their shared experience. Rasha believes because of this situation – they needed to be able to communicate with Margarite without always reverting to Günther and signs – learning German was almost an automatic process.

Today the Syrian couple are eternally grateful for all the kindness, help and motivation that the Austrians gave them. They gained a family in this strange new homeland; and without them, Rasha believes, they surely wouldn’t be as well integrated as they are.

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Since social distancing measures went into effect, car sharing has seen an immense boost in popularity. But it’s not without its downsides – you can’t always count on a car to be available when you need it, taking it for longer trips can get expensive, and you often find them dirty, smelly and with trash left behind. Enter vibe, the new fully electric car subscription service that’s bridging the gap between car sharing and ownership.

How vibe works

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Like Netflix for driving – vibe offers all the advantages of owning a car without having to own it

Subscriptions have revolutionized the way we consume things. Like Netflix and Spotify, vibe gives you access to your own car for as long and as much as you need it. The minimum subscription period is six months. After that, you can renew, get a different car, or simply cancel. They offer a wide variety of models for all individual needs, from a practical Smart convertible to a state-of-the-art Tesla. Their five tier model offers all major brands. Plans start at as little as €339 a month, no down payments or hidden fees, and 15,000 km per year are included.

E-mobility: The future of driving

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Join the e-mobility revolution and improve your carbon footprint

One of the most pressing concerns of our time is climate change, with road travel accounting for three quarters of transport emissions. Switching to an electric car is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint as e-mobility doesn’t emit greenhouse gases. While driving an electric car is still foreign to many – only 1 in 250 cars is electric on a global scale – the first e-car goes all the way back to 1832! And witching to e-mobility has never been easier: vibe has all the advantages of owning a car without the hassle that typically comes with ownership and all their cars are fully electric. With their boost charging current flat rate, you can even charge your car for just €55 a month. Not only will you save on gas, you’ll also drive more sustainably with zero-emission technology.

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This article is part of a cooperation with vibe and LOISIUM. General terms and conditions for the giveaway apply. Two-night stay at LOISIUM subject to availability. The winner will be notified on September 1, 2021.

Meet Moulham Obid, the Syrian Prince of Fashion

Artist and fashion designer Moulham Obid was born in 1990 in Masyaf, Syria. He completed his Visual Communication studies at the University of Aleppo and graduated with a degree of Fine Arts in 2012. He moved to Austria in 2014 to attend the Herbststrasse Fashion School in Vienna. He presented his latest collection during the Vienna fashion week on September 8, 2020. Obid’s couture collections are exciting to look at, carefully made with a captivating attention to details, and clear design concepts.

We interviewed Obid about Vienna, his inspiration, and his latest couture collections.

Moulham Obid’s relationship with Austria began in Aleppo, where he was studying at the university, and chose Gustav Klimt and Austrian writer Robert Schneider as the basic components of his graduation project. His obsession with Klimt stayed with him as he journeyed through the UAE and Lebanon before settling down in Austria. Seeing Klimt’s painting in person was like a dream.

As an artist, do you think that Vienna has contributed to your success?

Absolutely. Vienna helped my success by not oppressing me. Even though the “connections” issue is till current in Vienna, when you are presenting good and creative work, it will be appreciated at the end, whoever you are. So, I am thankful for that.

Moulham Obid’s couture collections are defined by detailed creations which are handcrafted over hundreds of hours. With elaborate patterns, artistic draping and pleats, they seek to capture a vision of modern femininity while underlining individuality./(C) Sabine Linemeyr aka éon.noir/Fashion model: Chiara (Instagram: lunacydrop) via Innercircle Management

Your couture collections are striking and exciting to look at. What or who inspires you?

Nature. My first and only inspiration is nature. The natural elements, such as a leaf, and all the details nature presents. That’s why you barely see straight lines in my collections.

Ruffles can be seen in many of your creations, is there a significance behind it to you?

Yes of course. Ruffles are transparent yet strong, they look fragile, but they can be very powerful if you sew them the right way.

In his latest collection, face masks were integrated on the runway:

I made this collection (“Pollution”) in 2017, way before the pandemic. The concept was all about survival, whether you are a man, a woman, covering your face or showing it, survival is what’s important. Unfortunately, the collection was delayed by a different project. But at the end I was able to present it in 2020 during the Vienna fashion week.

How did the pandemic affect your work?

The pandemic is a very sad situation. But to me, it was also a very good chance to take time for myself and my work. It was almost like meditation, because I had a lot of time to finish my collection. I used this time for reflection and inspiration.

The Wiener Zeitung – Born By Decree, Buried By Bureaucrats

The Wiener Zeitung is losing its funding and the government is not inclined to pay.

(C) Wikimedia Commons

It all began with the stroke of a pen, and it may soon end the same way. Austria’s Wiener Zeitung, the world’s oldest newspaper still in print, is likely to cease publishing soon. Emperor Leopold I signed the (then) Wienner Diarium into life in 1703, wishing a journal reporting only the truth and the facts.  Whether he was a rarity in his time, a ruler genuinely nurturing a modern free press, or whether he was creating a house magazine to spin imperial interests, is unclear.  The fact is, the Wiener Zeitung has been a respected and genuinely independent news source, despite being (still) owned by the Austrian state, for now over 300 years.  

The first edition of August 8, 1703 told of French troops taking the Venetian pass of Monte Baldo and pressing on to Insbrugg (Innsbruck) and of local militias outside Vienna pushing back Räuber-Gesindl (marauding mobs) coming out of Hungary. Equally important were deaths and arrivals in the imperial city. Even tradespeople got a mention when they died: Johann Rendt, 35, pastry cook, Aug 4 of Lungensucht (tuberculosis). Arrivals counted only the Great and the Good: Aug 1, Herr General Reventlau from Leipzig. The entry for Aug 7 notes laconically: “No one came.” A slow news day.

“Will the world’s oldest newspaper survive?” asked Profil in April, headlining an interview with its current editor. The Wiener Zeitung is not being closed down for heroically resisting some intolerant autocrat, but rather as collateral damage from well-intended Brussels regulations. EU Guidelines 2017/1132 require all member countries to ensure that official government announcements and mandatory declarations from commercial and other organizations (for example, financial reports of publicly quoted corporations) be freely available on digital platforms. The objectives outlined in well-worn business jargon are all perfectly reasonable: “cost efficient … all inclusive and accessible … effective and functional … optimization of competitive markets … social challenges of globalization and digitalization … job creation … mobilization of investments … etc. etc.”  Who could disagree?

Three Centuries of Independence

The fatal consequences for the Wiener Zeitung are that three-quarters of the newspaper’s revenue has come from just these boring, but legally mandatory, public announcements. If all of this goes online, there is no business plan for survival. Kanzler Kurz has taken a hard line: “It is not the responsibility of the government to finance a newspaper.” Cynics would suggest that control freak Kurz is happy to see any independent voice silenced. The outspoken editor in chief of the weekly Falter, Armin Thurnher, had no doubts: “A declaration of bankruptcy,” he thundered, and went on to point out that the €20 million it would cost to support the condemned paper are nothing beside the €180 million the government spends to keep the mass circulation dailies sweet. But it is always possible that the beleaguered finance minister just welcomed anything that saves him a few million a year.  

Admittedly, the Wiener Zeitung is the circulation midget among the serious dailies, its average print run of about 15,000 feeble beside its principal colleagues, Der Standard and Die Presse, which each count between 70,000-80,000. So, of course, it is sad but a bit like the crocodile tears we weep when the last neighborhood grocer closes, even though we’ve all been shopping at Spar or Billa for years. 

It is doubly sad because only five years ago, Parliament passed a statute, officially sealing the Wiener Zeitung’s complete editorial independence after 300 years. Cynics may say that the three centuries’ delay only confirms Gustav Mahler’s famous dictum that everything happens later in Vienna. But it was worth the wait – the Wiener Zeitung is a state owned paper that is truly independent.  And Putin PR this is not: The wording of the editorial Blattlinie is clear: To be “equidistant from all political parties and social partners.” Simon Rosner of the editorial governing board put it in perspective: “Our ultimate owner is the Republic of Austria, not the government of the day. Our responsibility is to the citizens.” Important for the journalists is the clear right to work unhindered and – if necessary – to outvote management on the appointment of the editor in chief, a privilege shared by very few other publications around the world. 

Outright Censorship or Legal Ambiguity 

Freedom of the media has never been a self-evident certainty, but the paper’s robust independence began early during the (relatively) short period of enlightened liberalism under the Emperor Josef II.  When the US Congress passed the 1st Amendment guaranteeing freedom of the press in 1789, the Wiener Zeitung carried an unequivocal report, albeit discreetly placed towards the back.  Even that was gutsy in an age of generally repressive censorship across Europe.   

After seven years of silence during the Nazi era, the paper was back on the street in the fall of 1945./(C) Wikimedia Commons

After seven years of silence during the Nazi era, the paper was back on the street in the fall of 1945 with a ringing declaration from the Allied Council of the occupying powers: “The freedom of the press is of great significance for the restoration of Austrian democracy.” All well and good until you read the following paragraphs forbidding any reportage which “endangered military security … insulted the occupying forces … disturbed public order.” Similar Gummiparagraphen (elastic ambiguity) are on show in Budapest, Ankara and Warsaw. 

Former editor in chief Reinhard Göwell/(C) Wikimedia Commons

Austria’s national broadcaster ORF suffers periodically from party-political infighting, famously during the brief years of the Black/Blue (ÖVP/FPÖ) coalition 2001-2007. The ORF statute stipulates 15 of the 35 seats on the Stiftungsrat (Board of Trustees) to representatives of the main political parties and another nine are chosen by the government of the day – a pre-programmed journalistic gauntlet, but not a problem the Wiener Zeitung shares. When asked about political pressure, former editor in chief Reinhard Göwell just smiled: “Not the way they do at the Krone.” (Austria’s major tabloid, infamous for bending to fit political whim.)

Today, Austria’s media landscape is generally free from government interference. The Reporteurs sans Frontières Press Freedom Index rates Austria at Nr. 17 in the Good Situation category, behind the Nordics, but close to New Zealand, Canada and Germany (the USA stands at Nr. 44, ahead of Tonga but behind Burkina Faso, the British press at Nr. 33).  Tu felix Austria

Will the Wiener Zeitung survive? The present Chief Editor Walter Hämmerle understands the big picture: “We’re neither heroes nor victims,” he told the weekly Profil. “A great past is not enough for the future, but we produce a good paper, and we just want to keep on doing it.”

New High-Speed Rail Train Connection Between the Austrian and German Capitals

Austria, Czechia, and Germany have agreed to build a high-speed railway connection from Vienna to Berlin, intended to make the trip in four hours and five minutes. With the current travel time being nine hours, the proposed route would halve the journey.   

Going via Dresden and Prague, the new connection would largely use or upgrade pre-existing infrastructure, although the construction of a new tunnel through the Ore Mountains between Saxony and Bohemia would be required. Austria, which only accounts for a small portion of the route, will need to be extend the Nordbahn (northern railway) – first built in the 1830s, it’s the country’s oldest line and currently ends in Břeclav, where it connects to the Czech Railway system. The connection between Berlin and Dresden is expected to be completed by 2025, with the entire route projected to be completed by 2030. 

The new route is part of the so-called Trans-Europ Express TEE 2.0 initiative, which was presented during the German EU Council Presidency in September 2020. It envisions an expansion of high-speed rail lines between major European cities, with increased use of night trains throughout the continent.  

Transcontinental Race

Austrian Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler welcomed the proposed route. “The railway is the backbone of climate-friendly transport,” she told APA. “And fast rail connections bring us all closer together in Europe.” She considers the project a “clear message” that trains are the future of short- and medium-haul routes in Europe.

In a video message, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the importance of the project for achieving the European climate goals. “Our strategy for sustainable and intelligent mobility provides for a 90% reduction in traffic-related emissions by 2050,” she said. This requires doubling high-speed railway traffic by 2030 and tripling it by 2050. Additionally, railway freight traffic must grow at least 50% by 2030 and double by 2050. 

In a similar tone, the EU has recently called on member states to reduce short-distance flights, a move pioneered by French President Emmanuel Macron last month. The commission plans to build new railway links to provide more incentive to travel by train instead of air. New night trains could be especially attractive as alternatives to short-hauls and car traffic.

However, experts have ridiculed these ambitions, pointing to the lack of railway infrastructure in the region. “A French-style TGV could cover such a distance in less than two hours,” EU expert and director of Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Münchnau wrote in an article. “France managed the transition from air to rail a long time ago – and even in France, there are still short-haul flights to connect Paris and Nice. The obstacles to do the same at the European level are bigger, and the legal and political scope small.” 

Yet, von der Leyen has ensured the commission’s commitment to the project, announcing that it would propose an action plan to promote long-distance rail passenger transport later this year. 

Austria’s Grand Reopening Brings a Sigh of Relief

It was a long drought, but the time has finally come: On May 19, large sections of the Austrian economy reopened after almost 7 months. Restaurants, cultural institutions, sports- and recreational facilities are once again available to those carrying a “green pass,” certifying that they are vaccinated, tested or have recovered from Covid. This so-called 3-G-rule (“getestet, geimpft oder genesen”) has become the key to re-entering public life. Additionally, guests eating in need to register on site, providing their contact details via QR-code or paper form.

State authorities ensure that restaurants and cafes adhere to the strict 3-G rule./(C) Rathaus Presse-Service/Gruppe Sofortmaßnahmen

The easing of strict regulations was precipitated by encouraging pandemic developments across the country, with daily cases at their lowest since September 2020. Meanwhile, Austria’s vaccination campaign is in full swing: As of May 26, 45% of the Austrian population had received a first jab, and 17% had been fully vaccinated.

With the situation looking up, opening up the hospitality industry is a big step towards relieving the country’s economy. In Vienna, 90% of gastronomic establishments opened their doors, according to the Chamber of Commerce, which, in turn, was a shot in the arm to their suppliers. And there’s more good news: Shortly after reopening, unemployment in Austria dipped under 400,000 for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

Theory and Practice

While the relief was palpable, the highly anticipated reopening came off to a slow start – possibly due to the highly changeable weather. By the weekend, however, a sort of normalcy had kicked in, and for restaurants all over the country, business was brisk. At Zwettler’s, a traditional Gasthaus in Salzburg’s old town, the landlord was delighted on Saturday: “We’re fully booked during lunchtime and dinner, we can count on our regulars.” Asked about the 3-G rule, he confided he didn’t feel comfortable rigorously checking his customers. “We adhere to the measures” he emphasized, “but I’m not the police.” 

Indeed, entry requirements were monitored more thoroughly by some venues than others, but the majority of businesses complied with regulations. As the Vienna police told Metropole, they inspected around 1,550 establishments in Vienna by Tuesday, resulting in only 32 reported breaches of COVID regulations. Still, high spirits did result in some infractions: Last weekend, violations of the state-mandated curfew were recorded all over Austria. The most prominent cases were in Vienna, where around 1,000 revelers continued celebrating long after bars had closed at 22:00 on Donaukanal and Karlsplatz on Saturday and Sunday night, respectively. The police also had to break up large public gatherings in Klagenfurt and Innsbruck.

Like the First Time

However, most people were cooperative, and on Monday morning, the mood was pleasant at the venerable Café Eiles on Josefstädter Straße. An elderly gentleman sat at a table by the window, enjoying his second Mélange of the day while scanning the QR-code placed in front of him. He showed himself content with the safety measures: “I can very well live with this system. It’s really straightforward – even at my age, I can manage!” he laughed.

The young couple at the next table was equally excited, taking their baby daughter out for the first time: “We’ve been waiting to finally show her our favorite coffeehouse!” Despite the unanimous cheerfulness, the compulsory break for Austrian gastronomy might have left some customers a little rusty: At a nearby table, a middle-aged man took his sweet time deciding on an adequate tip for his waiter, loud enough for everyone in the café to hear. “I’ve almost forgotten how to do this!” he joked.

Schnitzel for the Show

With the nation in a good mood, the government didn’t miss the chance to celebrate their success on Wednesday at popular establishments like the Schweizerhaus in Vienna’s Prater, where Chancellor Kurz and Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger of the ÖVP and the Green  Vice-Chancellor Kogler and State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Andrea Mayer sat down together for lunch.

To celebrate the reopening of the gastronomy on March 19, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (left), Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (second row, left), State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Andrea Mayer and Vice-Chancellor Kogler visited the Schweizerhaus in the Wiener Prater.

As the first week passed without major incidents, the newfound freedom has definitely whetted the public’s appetite for more, and plans for lifting additional restrictions are already in the works: On Monday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) announced on ZIB 2 that outdoor mask requirements as well as distancing rules and closing hours could be eased as early as June 10. Concrete plans will be presented by the government on Friday.

Word of the Week: Bummerl [ˈbʊmɐɺl]

Noun. Bummerl refers to a loss, originally in the central European card game, Schnapsen. Extremely popular in Bavaria, Austria, and former countries of the Austrian Empire, it evolved from earlier trick-taking card games, becoming widespread in the 17th century.

Often played at taverns and inns, the stakes were usually libations like Schnaps – hence the name – to circumvent church and government bans on gambling for money.According to the Viennese playing card manufacturer Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne, Bummerl, is an archaic term for a small wooden keg of beer, which was often the prize the loser had to pay.

Presumably when the barman was out of Schnaps. Like many other games, it eventually became an analogy for life in general, leading to colorful, often wistful expressions like “Ana hat imma das Bummerl.”(Someone always gets the Bummerl, in other words: Someone always has to pay the price).

Interestingly, Austrian Law doesn’t consider Schnapsen a form of gambling but rather a game of skill like chess, bridge and Tarock, another very old trick-taking card game played with tarot cards still highly popular in Austria and the successor states of the Austrian Empire.

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!