An Unconscious Network – How Freud’s Disciples and Ideas Conquered the World

An Empire fell. Psychotherapists became divided by borders. Then the turbulent history of 20th century Europe spread them – and their ideas – even further around the world. Without any master plan, psychoanalysis took over the globe. This is how it happened. 

Most of Freud’s famous students were Jews from various corners of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, all key to the development of the movement. This was not what Freud himself had intended: He had imagined it only as a small group of disciples devoted to him and his ideas. 

Taking root in Central Europe

To begin, Freudism quickly spread close to home, within the successor countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Although there were considerable variations in psychoanalytic development from country to country following the breakup of the Empire in 1918, there were common threads. Often there were difficulties establishing or re-establishing psychoanalytic organizations and a lengthy process of integration into the official community, known as the International Psychoanalytic Association. There was also often a powerful retrenchment in the new psychoanalytic generation in each country, as they experienced feelings of loneliness and separation from their former peers. The consequence was a deficit of self-esteem and a painful feeling of being second-class analysts in the international community.

The engine of Freudianism in Central Europe was the Hungarian Sándor Ferenczi, who had joined the psychoanalytical movement in 1908, six years after its foundation. Freud called Ferenczi both a spiritual son and a “great leader” and wanted Ferenczi to be his successor, especially after Jung chose to go his own way in 1910. Ferenczi exchanged more than a thousand letters with Freud – far more than all the other disciples combined. it was Ferenczi who founded both the international and Hungarian psychoanalytical societies in 1910, recognizing that in order for psychoanalysis to take off and gain influence worldwide, it needed its own identity. “Besides the psychological and pathological problems, someone would have to treat the practical experiences to date,” he wrote, “[along with] the most expedient methods of propaganda for our psychological movement.” 

His connection with Freud was special: For twenty-five years they had been friends and companions, sharing ideas and projects, working together in the movement, and discussing their personal lives. Freud hoped that Ferenczi might marry his eldest daughter Mathilda. Later, he was therapist and adviser to Ferenczi himself, his mistress Gizella Palos, and her daughter Elma.

They both wanted to explore the teaching of psychology from a biological point of view, both advocates of Darwin, and trying to reconcile it: What is of animal origin in a person? And what is the result of civilization. Their shared background also contributed greatly to the lightning-like friendship: both came from a Jewish families in Austrian Galicia. Both their fathers wore traditional Jewish garb and headgear and spoke Yiddish. Their sons, by contrast, wanted to integrate into the larger society, which remained a major motivation throughout their life. 

As Jews, they differed from the majority culture, and as atheist Jews, they were also in a minority within a minority. Then again, the interest of assimilated Jews in deep psychological and sociological research may not be a coincidence. It is also worth noting that Freud asked the Swiss protestant Jung to head the newly founded Psychoanalytic Association becoming one of the few non-Jews among his followers, and thus a way to refute the widespread view in Viennese medical circles that psychoanalysis was a specifically Jewish discipline.

In his last letter in 1933, Ferenczi pleaded with Freud to leave Vienna and go to England before it was too late. Freud ascribed Ferenczi’s anxiety to illness. He did not feel that he was in danger, and it was not until 1938, a few months before the Anschluss, that he finally left his homeland. Many Hungarian psychologists, including psychoanalysts, too were forced to emigrate, bringing to an end the most prestigious psychoanalysis society in Europe.

In parallel, psychoanalysis also emerged in Prague and Belgrade in the late 1920s and mid-1930s. In both Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia some were committed to the new view of psychoanalysis, but an organized psychoanalytic community could not be strengthened because of the political and societal turmoil from the 1930s.

Ferenczi would have liked one of his followers, Sándor Lóránd, to become an ambassador to Czechoslovakia for psychoanalysis. However, the plan fell apart as Lóránd, like so many Hungarian psychoanalysts, left the continent in the wave of emigration that swept the 1920s. Similarly, others who tried to set up shop in Prague, including many who fled Berlin in the early 1930s, were forced to move on and psychoanalysis gain a foot hold there until after World War II. 

In spite of the turmoil and emmigration, though, the seeds were sown. The countries of Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia saw a slow rebirth of psychoanalysis, tolerated – but just barely – by the Communist regimes.

Vienna, Berlin, New York, Hollywood

Though Freud turned students away when they challenged him, these psychoanalytical heretics still contributed to the spread of Freudism with theories building on the master’s.

Freud, after all, had not intended to be an autocrat:  In his 1910 proposal for the establishment of a Psycholanalytic Association in Vienna at the 2nd Psychoanalytic Congress, he described an organization as “a family where the Father’s authority is not dogma, but based on his abilities.” It was in fact these conflict-ridden relationships with his disciples that prompted him to begin thinking about the mythical theme of “killing his father” in his major work Totem and Taboo. He found it difficult when his disciples deviated from his views, although it often led to significant contributions to the development and practical application of psychoanalysis. 

These neo-Freudians were the future of psychoanalysis. And while all generally agreed with Freud that childhood experiences matter, most of them de-emphasized sex, focusing more on the social environment and effects of culture on personality.  And it was these who ended up taking the movement’s ideas to the United States.

Alfred Adler was born in what is today’s Burgenland, but was instrumental in bringing Freudian thought into the U.S. He was the first president of the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society (Freud’s inner circle of colleagues), and was the first major theorist to break away from Freud. He founded a school of psychology called individual psychology, which focuses on the drive to compensate for feelings of inferiority. Freud believed that we are motivated by sexual and aggressive urges, but Adler hypothesized that feelings of inferiority in childhood are what drive people to attempt to gain superiority, and that this was the driving force behind progress. By the mid 1920s he was already lecturing in the U.S. and settled there in 1934. 

Erik Erikson, originally from Frankfurt, was another disciple instrumental in taking Freud’s ideas to the United States. He received his diploma from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute in 1933, but as Nazism spread across Europe, he emigrated to the U.S.. Erikson, like Adler, emphasized that social relationships are important at each stage of personality development, and saw the later years of childhood as decisive in personality development.

The Swiss Carl Jung also had major disagreements with Freud: He did not accept that sexual drive was the primary motivator in personality development. And, although Jung agreed with Freud’s concept of the unconscious, he thought it incomplete, to be nuanced by a “collective unconscious,” which he called “archetypes”. He founded a competing but also complementary school of psychology and can claim much credit for the proliferation of Freud’s ideas.

Karen Horney, the only woman in the group, is best known for a single bon mot: Life itself is a very effective therapist. She believed that people were able to act as their own therapists, emphasizing the individual role each person has in their own mental health and encouraging self-analysis and self-help. She rejected Freud’s concept of penis envy, declaring it to be both inaccurate and demeaning to women and countered with a concept of womb envy, by which men experience feelings of inferiority because they cannot give birth. Equally importantly, she took Freud’s ideas to Berlin, at the time the intellectual capital of Germany. Moving to the U.S. in the early 1930s, she was also instrumental in exporting psychoanalysis to the U.S.  

Not all was lost with emigration. It was thanks to the remarkable influence of the new generation of psychoanalysts who emerged to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s that Freudianism and psychoanalysis become mainstream, even infiltrating popular culture. Among the most well-known examples are the psychological thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, including Spellbound (1945), or the Oscar-winning 1960 thriller Psycho, both of which deal with the way the childhood trauma becomes a driving force later in life. 

Fast forward 50 years, and today know Vienna as much for Freuc as for Sissy or Johann Strauss. The color and style of the psychologist’s couch may have changed – but it all originated right here.

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

Children Uprooted: “Kindertransporte aus Wien”

November 12, 2021: The opening day for the Christkindlmarkt dawned mild and hazy.  At a table by the window at Café Landtmann, my 4-year-old daughter and I were having breakfast, and looking out onto the grey, rainy mist. Over our 14 years in Vienna, opening day at the Landtmann had become a family tradition. This time, gazing out at the Christmas lights flickering in the foggy air, the tranquil familiarity of the scene was revitalizing, especially with the probability of yet another lockdown. 

I allowed myself to savor the moment – an expat mother with a quadri-lingual daughter born in Vienna, enjoying our little ritual in one of the city’s legendary coffee houses. At home.

The feeling of fulfillment lingered as we stepped out in the grey damp on the Ringstrasse, when a splash of red on one of the poster-covered Litfaßsäule caught my eye. A new exhibition:  Jugend ohne Heimat. Kindertransporte aus Wien. I knew little about the Kindertransporte. But the phrase “Jugend ohne Heimat” (children without a homeland) struck a chord, as a chill rippled across the back of my neck. I shrugged it off; after all, this was all so long ago.  Still, by the time we reached the U-Bahn, I had decided to visit the exhibition.

Then the lockdown came; so it was exactly one month later, on a Sunday, that I headed out to the museum. The weather had become wintry, the atmosphere festive. I was grateful for the exciting snap in the air as I rushed across the cobblestones to Judenplatz and blended with the first few visitors that morning. 

The silence of the square translated well to the muted museum interior, where rooms to the left and right of the entrance were hung with black and white photos, powerful portraits of children climbing on trains, waving from the railing of a boat. Between December 1938 and when war was declared the following September, over 12,000 children, among them 3,200 from Austria, were shepherded off to other countries. Many never saw their parents again. I felt the chill again, of a place I did not want to be, a place best seen from the distance of history. 

The exhibition began with a story of organized hope, outlining the logistics involved in putting together the Kindertransporte, launched following the Anschluss. It was an organizational miracle, requiring host families and sponsors for every child. And for the applicants, many criteria, including financial and health requirements. For the lucky ones, hope and excitement filled the faces on the shaky film footage taken on a Channel ferry, and soon enough, the desperation and despondency that followed.  Many of the props were there: the supplies a mother put together for a daughter’s travels; diary pages of children uprooted, separated from their relatives, and thrown into the unknown. The knowledge of everything that came after. There were also stories of some who did not make the cut, and some who did and were deported anyway.

One arresting panel captured the mood: “Travels to the end of childhood.” A feeling of unbearable, absurd loss swept over me as I left the room and crossed over to the second part of the exhibition. 

Here, two adjoining rooms traced individual stories of children who made the trip, outlining the infinite nuances of their experiences: the good, the bad, the very bad, and the ugly. Among the footage and photos, memoirs, books, and exhibits, their collective trauma became the unifying theme. It was only as their own children and grandchildren asked about the past, that many of them finally talked about their suffering and the abrupt end of innocence. Finally, in 1989 a half a century later, the former children of the Kindertransporte gathered from all over the world for a first-ever reunion in London.

As I left, a quote hung in the air, in a sense answering a question I had dared not ask. 

“I am Viennese. I was born in Vienna and went to school there. I spent my childhood in Vienna, I had happy and unhappy times there. I’m Viennese, it’s as simple as that. I lived in this city until a man ordered me to leave. That man was Herr Hitler.” 

I don’t remember the name of the author, but it stayed with me that cold December morning as I rejoined my family to celebrate Advent in Vienna, the city that has become our home. 

As I write, the innocent childhoods of tens of thousands of Ukrainian children too are coming to an end as they flood across borders towards safety. The stuff of history has become an unbearable, absurd, reality once again, one that we all have to face. We are again in a place we do not want to be – at best, a reminder of the past that will help us, collectively, see hope first. 

David Edmonds’ The Murder of Professor Schlick Recounts the Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle

The ground-breaking achievements of the Vienna Circle of philosophers in the first decades of the 20th century, like those of Sigmund Freud, had been common knowledge in the West long before it occurred to anyone in Austria that they merited public recognition. So we have good reason to welcome David Edmonds’ articulate, popular account of the development of scientific philosophy in Vienna, from its beginnings after 1900 through the 1930s, when its colossal impact on philosophy and the social sciences burst full force onto the Anglo-Saxon intellectual world.

The bitter irony was that by the time Moritz Schlick was assassinated in June 1936, logical empiricism was already becoming established in international philosophical discourse. So when he was shot at point-blank range by a deranged former student on the steps of the university, his murder was just further proof of what had become crystal-clear: that there was no place for such “progressive” thinking in Austrian universities.

In The Murder of Professor Schlick: The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle, Edmonds has laudably summarized those complex philosophical developments and controversies with the very lucidity that was the Vienna Circle’s ideal. He has articulated the nature of the disputes within the group about, say, verificationism, protocol sentences, probability, the unity of science, the struggle against metaphysics, and the like. At the same time, he sets the time and place, grippingly dramatizing the socio-politics in which the Circle developed. To have fused these two related but divergent stories into a single coherent narrative is a feat; to have done so eloquently is extraordinary, even if there are snags in his work.

Today, a plaque marks the spot where Schlick was assassinated on the steps of the University of Vienna./(C) Wikimedia Commons/Guentherz

A Philosophical Polygon

He rightly emphasizes that the “circle” metaphor only described the view from without, as the logical empiricists faced strong opposition. From within, they were closer to an irregular polygon, as a lively forum should, than the proverbial circle. All that makes The Murder of Professor Schlick an excellent introduction to the high drama that unfolded first in Vienna, and then in the wider philosophical world as logical empiricism came to set the tone for the development of rigorous, scientific philosophy after World War II. He ends with the movement’s dissolution in the face of powerful criticism of its central claims arising, to a great extent, from among its members.

For the reader, Edmond’s book is packed with vibrant portraits of his huge cast of characters: Schlick himself, a kindly German, generous with students and gifted with an unsurpassed sense for what is essential in philosophy; the irrepressible Otto Neurath, committed Socialist and one-time minister, originator of the call to unify the sciences and inventor of the pictorial language (the Vienna isotypes); Rudolf Carnap, the Circle’s standard-bearer; Ludwig Wittgenstein, its unwilling ideal, Bertrand Russell, its inspiration; the eccentric genius logician Kurt Gödel; the rabbi Josef Schächter, the clever Englishman A.J Ayer; America’s rising star W.V.O. Quine; the perennial contrarian Karl Popper; the unfortunate Friedrich Waismann; the tragic Edgar Zilsel and a host of others – including several frequently neglected women such as Rose Rand, Olga Hahn, Marie Reidemeister and Olga Taussky. In addition, the strong Jewish presence in the Circle amid the surrounding anti-Semitism that was a continuing stumbling block is clearly and powerfully described. Yet, for all the fullness and reflection that has gone into it, The Murder of Professor Schlick is not without its problems.

Gaps in the Logic

To begin with, Edmonds does not seem to be fluent in German. That leaves him prone to inaccuracies and infelicities that sneak into the translations. But even worse, enlightening research on the philosophical and the political background of the theme long available in English have been ignored. In Edmonds’ bibliography, for example, the names of the Graz philosopher Rudolf Haller and the Chicago historian John Boyer, two crucial authorities on the development of the Vienna Circle and the society in which it was embedded, are not even mentioned. Normally, it is less than fair to criticize an author for something he has not written, but in precisely this kind of narrative, a nod in the direction of these scholars would be more than in order. What might he have learned from them?

Prof. Boyer, the doyen of American historians of Austria, has written a highly nuanced, 1,000-page account of Vienna Mayor Karl Lueger and his movement that is essential for setting the stage for Red Vienna. It is not accidental that, after coming to power, his Socialist enemies erected a magnificent statue to him on the Ring by the University.

Rudolf Haller’s contribution to the history of philosophy in Austria has been enormous, reviving the idea that there was a distinctively Austrian philosophy flourishing from the late 19th century, committed to natural science and empiricism, a focus upon language and distaste for metaphysics. There was most definitely scientific philosophy in Vienna before the Vienna Circle, however with two champions, not one: The more widely known, Ernst Mach, is adequately discussed by Edmonds, but the very different Franz Brentano, who was institutionally more significant, goes unmentioned. Brentano’s followers dominated philosophy in all of the universities across the Habsburg monarchy except in Vienna in 1900. That was the lacuna that the Circle set out to fill. However, it was not the only game in town.

As regrettable as the lacunae may be, Edmonds’ snappy presentation of the rise and fall of the Vienna Circle, replete with vivid portraits of its protagonists, will assuredly raise the curiosity of the general reader that should be warmly welcomed in a world in which egocentric hedonism and fake news set the tone. Everybody interested in philosophy and its social relevance has to be grateful for that.

(C) Wikimedia Commons

David Edmonds

The Murder of Professor Schlick: The Rise and Fall of the Vienna Circle

Princeton University Press 2020

pp. 256


Omicron: The Most Contagious Virus in History

First detected in November 2021, within just three months, the Omicron variant has invaded almost every country in the world. This variant differs from the others: It is usually milder, causing cold-like symptoms with a runny nose, sneezing and a sore throat, rather than the coughing, fever and loss of taste and smell of the earlier variants. But Omicron is far more contagious, And it can still kill.

How Omicron works

Omicron spreads quickly. The earliest coronavirus variants had an average incubation period of roughly five days. The Delta variant moved faster at four days, and for Omicron, it’s about three. For a virus, this is lightning speed even compared to the highly contagious measles virus, where one person can infect 15 other people in 12 days. Omicron doubles every 2-3 days, with one case spreading to six people in four days, 36 people in eight days, and a hefty 216 people after 12 days.

Omicron already has about 50 mutations. The BA.1 and BA.2 Omicron variants have 13 mutations on their spike protein rarely seen in other variants that boost the virus’ ability to enter the body and alter our immune system’s response to it. Additionally, BA.2 has about 28 different mutations than BA.1, though they seem to behave similarly. However, BA.2 lacks a mutation that makes it harder to detect with PCR tests. NOT CLEAR: WOULD THAT MUTATION MAKE IT EASIER TO DETECT, OR THE OPPOSITE?

ACE2 receptor and Omicron

To enter our bodies, the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein binds to a protein receptor on our cells called Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2). The antibodies created by COVID-19 vaccines and natural infections block this binding and inhibit the virus from entering our cells. However Omicron has mutations of the spike protein that allow it to hide from our immune system. In fact, there are at least 15 mutations our antibodies don’t recognize, which means they can no longer block the virus from entering our cells. That’s why we see breakthrough cases.

And to make matters worse, Omicron has mutations that stabilize the spike protein and enhance its ability to bind to ACE2. So while vaccines remain effective – they still ward off serious illness, especially after having booster shots – the protection is less complete.

TMPRSS2 and Omicron

The previous SARS-CoV-2 virus variants use a special protein – the trans-membrane serine protease 2 (TMPRSS2) – to facilitate getting into the cells. But Omicron has found another way: Our cells actually engulf Omicron and allow it to enter.  

Biologically, this is a significant advantage because the TMPRSS2 protein is not on all cells. Because Omicron doesn’t need it, it can infect any cell.  The Delta variant, in contrast, targets TMPRSS2 expressing cells – lung cells among them, which is why the lungs are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus infection and damage.

So Omicron can infect all cells, and because it replicates so quickly, it tends to infect the first cells it finds, usually in the nose and trachea, and doesn’t reach the lungs. The lack of lung cell involvement explains why Omicron causes fewer hospitalizations, the need for intensive care and mechanical ventilation. On the downside, with higher numbers of the Omicron variant invading and replicating in the nose, there’s more spread when infected people cough and sneeze.

In addition, the Omicron variant, unlike the earlier COVID variants, is more vulnerable to “interferons”, the small proteins, plentiful in the lungs, that are part of our general viral immune response.

Less able to get around the interferons, Omicron takes hold instead in the nose and upper airways, yet causes milder disease.  

Tips for Omicron

Remember, Omicron’s mutations cause mild disease in many but still can cause severe illness in unvaccinated or immunosuppressed people and even others without risk factors. So, it’s best to avoid getting it in the first place.

Here are some crucial tips for this stage of the pandemic:.

  • Avoid catching COVID-19 because while the Omicron variant dominates, the more severe disease-causing Delta variant is still around.
  • Get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines and boosters protect against hospitalization with Omicron. (
  • Get tested regularly. The testing strategy in Vienna is excellent – even the Germans think that we’re doing a great job. Take advantage of the testing even when you don’t have symptoms, but especially if you had contact with someone who had COVID-19 or has symptoms. You need to register with “Alles Gurgelt”, and you can pick up eight tests per month.
  • Treat your ‘Schnupfen’ – sniffles or sore throat – as if they’re COVID-19, and stay home.
  • If you’re sick with COVID-19, isolate. The isolation time with Omicron is a bit reduced, because you’re infectious a couple of days before symptoms begin and about three days after symptoms disappear. Still, it’s best to have a negative COVID-19 test before leaving isolation.
  • Continue physical distancing (at least 1 meter) and avoid poorly ventilated and crowded spaces. Open windows to improve ventilation indoors.
  • Wear an N95 mask over your mouth and nose, where Omicron is abundant. In Austria, we are exceptionally fortunate because there is a sufficient supply of these masks. Use clean hands to put on and remove your mask carefully.
  • Wash your hands regularly and, as always, don’t touch your face.

Russia-Ukraine War:  A Former Diplomat Explains

The Russian invasion of Ukraine that began on 24 February is the worst-case scenario.  President Putin launched a major, unprovoked war against a peaceful neighbor to re-draw the borders of Europe in the 21stcentury – a clear breach of international law.

It is hard to assess the significance of statements by the Russian leadership because misleading people about what you are doing, or “maskirovka”, is part of Russian military tactics. But to look at a few:

– President Putin says Ukraine is a hostile country. Ukraine was never hostile to Russia before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. Russian-speakers in the east of the country lived in peace and stability before Russia invaded. Since then, they have faced eight years of conflict. At no point before or since 2014 has Ukraine posed a military threat to Russia.

– Russia is responding to a fascist or “Nazi” threat from Ukraine. A nonsense claim repeating the propaganda playbook from 2014 – when Russia claimed a fascist threat from Ukraine to justify its invasion – and 1961, when builders of the Berlin Wall, designed to stop East Germans leaving for the West, called it an “anti-fascist protection wall”. 

An essay by top international lawyer Elizabeth Wilmshurst – who resigned from the British Foreign Office over the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – explains the illegality of Russia’s invasion. (Ukraine: Debunking Russia’s legal justifications | Chatham House – International Affairs Think Tank

Russia is in a perilous cycle of self-harm, with potential long-term damage to itself from invasion of Ukraine – just as in 2014. From 2013-2020 Russian GDP per capita fell 37%. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 boosted approval figures for President Putin; since 2015 they have fallen.

What next? Maximum sanctions will now be triggered. The next hours and days will show the military situation. Like the Russian invasion of 2014, long-term this new invasion is a lose-lose for Russia and its people as well as a catastrophe for the people of Ukraine and a grave threat to European and even world security over the months and years ahead.

Russia-Ukraine war: origins of the crisis

The origins of the crisis lie not in Ukraine but in Moscow. This war is all about keeping Vladimir Putin in power. He fears an invasion of democracy – coming over the border from Ukraine – which could threaten his position. The recent trial of Alexei Navalny, in a prison in Siberia, shows how frightened President Putin is of democracy and accusations of corruption against him. The only threat to Russia is that which a democratic, successful Ukraine would pose to the grip of the Russian leadership on power (see “Why did Russia change its mind?” below).

President Putin may have a secondary, related aim – to secure himself a place in history as the leader who restored Russian “greatness” and to increase what he perceives as Russian security. He may have convinced himself this is what he is doing. In fact, all Russian’s interventions in Ukraine since 2013 have been counter-productive, slowing Russian economic growth and encouraging suspicion of Russian territorial intentions in Ukraine and elsewhere in eastern Europe.

Back in 2014, many Russia experts could not believe that an actual Russia-Ukraine war could break out, on the grounds that Russia would never attack a friendly neighbour and could achieve nothing except to impoverish itself. But Russia did invade. It has now done so again.

The propaganda war

Allegations of “genocide” and “fascism” in Ukraine and supposed threats to Russia are aimed at Russian audiences. The aim is to paint a picture of a supposed military threat, and humanitarian crisis, to justify the Russian invasion.

The Russian people do not generally feel enmity towards Ukraine – on the contrary, most see them as fraternal neighbors. They are skeptical about the case for war and will not want to see major Russian casualties. This is why President Zelenskyy of Ukraine spoke in Russian in his statement on 24 February appealing to them to oppose the war. But the state-controlled Russian media have been beating the war drums for years. If the war is over quickly without major Russian losses, Russians will be unlikely to mount large-scale protests. (Comment: since I wrote this on 24 February I have been surprised by the bravery of many Russians mounting anti-war protests in Russian cities despite the risk of immediate arrest.)

Atrocities of modern wars, such as the missile strike on an apartment block in Kyiv on the morning of 26 February, become instantly visible to people across the world via social media. This may help generate opposition to the war in Ukraine. But the confusion caused by the proliferation of fake images also complicates the picture.

Who really threatens the people of eastern Ukraine?

President Putin’s talk of protecting “Russians” in eastern Ukraine is disingenuous. Before Russian forces entered the region in 2014, there was no separatist movement there. The only reason Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east are not enjoying a normal life is the occupation of these regions by Russian military forces eight years ago and the subsequent conflict.

Before, that they were living in peace and security. It is President Putin who has brought chaos and insecurity into their lives.

A history Lesson

Nationalists of all kinds tend to say “X territory is the ancient home of our people”. For Ukraine and Russia, the key date is 1991.

On 1 December 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence from the Soviet Union. 84% of the electorate took part, of whom 92.3% voted for independence. Both Luhansk and Donetsk, the two regions partly occupied by Russia since 2014, voted 83.9% in favor of Ukrainian independence. In Crimea the figure was 54.2%.

One week later, on 8 December 1991, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belovezh Accords, declaring that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. On 21 December, 11 of the 12 remaining Soviet republics – all except Georgia, and the Baltic states, whose independence the Soviet Union had recognised on 6 September 1991 – signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, reiterating the end of the Soviet Union and the creation of a “Confederation of Independent States”. On 25 December Soviet President Gorbachev resigned. The flag of the Soviet Union was lowered at the Kremlin and the flag of Russia hoisted.

Nuclear missiles, the Black Sea Fleet – and economics

The 1991 Belovezh Accords left plenty of loose ends. They included the presence on Ukrainian territory of the world’s third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile – leftover Soviet weapons – and the presence in Sevastopol, Crimea, of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet. The former Soviet republics also shared a currency.

In July 1993, Russia withdrew the Soviet rouble and introduced a new, Russian rouble. This forced the other republics of the former Soviet Union to introduce their own currencies and become economically sovereign. The move echoed the introduction of the Deutschmark in the US, British and French occupation zones of Germany in June 1948: in response, the Soviet Union introduced the Ostmark, creating East Germany as an independent economic entity. It was Russia itself that destroyed the Soviet Union.

To sort out the nuclear weapons, in December 1994, Russia, the US and the UK signed the Budapest Memorandum. In exchange for Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan giving up nuclear weapons on their territory, the signatories promised they would respect those countries’ independence and sovereignty within existing borders; refrain from the threat or the use of force against them; and refrain from using economic pressure on them to influence their policies. Russia, the US and UK did not, however, commit themselves to offering military support to defend against any threat to the sovereignty of Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

To sort out the Black Sea Fleet, on 28 May 1997, Ukraine and Russia signed “The Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet”, dividing the fleet and its armaments between them. Ukraine also agreed to lease naval facilities in Sevastopol, Crimea, to Russia for 20 years until 2017 (extended by President Yanukovych in 2010 to 2042) and allowed Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops and related weaponry in Crimea.

On 31 May 1997, Ukraine and Russia signed “The Treaty on Friendship, Co-operation and Partnership”, also known as “The Big Treaty”. The treaty promised the inviolability of existing borders; respect for territorial integrity. It committed each side not to invade the other’s country. Ukraine allowed the Treaty to expire in 2019 after Russian forces had annexed Crimea and intervened in the Donbass. Russia had already abrogated both treaties on 31 March 2014, after annexing Crimea.

Ukraine and NATO

Ukraine began to talk about joining NATO in 2005, and applied to join in 2008. Some NATO member states, including the US and the UK and some Eastern European countries, favoured Ukrainian membership. Russia opposed it. Other NATO members, notably France and Germany, feared that offering Ukraine NATO membership, or a path towards it, might provoke Russia. At the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, NATO put Ukraine’s application on ice, where it has stayed.

In 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support of insurgents in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine renounced its non-aligned status and expressed renewed interest in joining NATO.

Has there been a shift in Ukraine’s closeness to NATO since the Bucharest Summit of 2008. Or since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014? No. The only change is one brought about by Moscow: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 made people across Eastern Europe, especially Ukrainians, more concerned about Russian aggression.

As a Ukrainian commentator wrote in 2014: “Russia, you may have won Crimea. But you have lost Ukraine”.

NATO, for its part, says that decisions to apply for NATO membership are a matter for individual sovereign states and that third countries cannot have a veto on that.

Ukraine and the European Union

Ukraine signed a “Partnership and Co-operation Agreement” with the EU in 1994, designed to boost economic integration. Over the following decade, some EU member states such as Poland and the UK supported granting Ukraine a “European Perspective” – ie acknowledging that Ukraine would one day join the EU. Others, notably Germany and France, did not. But the EU and Ukraine agreed many practical steps that deepened integration without offering a membership perspective.

Later discussion focused on a potential Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine, including a “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement” (DCFTA). This would have integrated Ukraine closely into the EU, giving access to the EU’s “Four Freedoms” – goods, services, capital and people, including visa-free travel. Progress remained stalled over questions about the rule of law in Ukraine; but by November 2013 the EU was ready to sign the DCFTA. So, initially, was Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Yanukovych. But following a U-turn in Russian policy, Moscow pressured Yanukovych not to sign and he backed away from the DCFTA.

Why did Russia change its mind?

The Russian leadership has argued that Ukraine’s EU DCFTA was in some way a surprise, and that it was not properly consulted. In fact, the EU held regular summits with Russia from 1991 onwards, including detailed briefings on Ukraine’s EU integration efforts.

I myself visited Moscow, as British Ambassador to Kyiv, in 2009. Why, I wondered, was Russia so relaxed about Ukraine’s relationship with the EU, which ran contrary to Russia’s efforts to build its own Moscow-dominated “Customs Union” with other former Soviet states? I called on the head of Russia’s Ukraine department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and asked him if Russia minded Ukraine getting closer to the EU.

‘Not at all,’ he told me. ‘Of course we would rather they joined our Customs Union, but it’s up to them.’

What changed everything were events in Russia itself. In 2011-2013, large-scale pro-democracy demonstrations took place in Moscow and other cities: the so-called “Bolotnaya protests”. It was these protests that convinced President Putin he faced a real threat from democracy washing over from a successful, democratic Ukraine. Russia has since 2000 become an increasingly autocratic state, with increasing pressure on opposition parties – effectively, none now exist – and control of the media. If democracy were to develop in Russia and genuinely free and fair elections were to take place, Putin would face an uncertain future.

The Bolotnaya protests led to a U-turn in Russia’s policy on Ukraine’s approach to the EU, with Moscow forbidding Ukraine’s President Yanukovych to sign the DCFTA in 2013. That in turn precipitated the “Maidan” protests in Kyiv and the ejection of President Yanukovych from power. In practice, Russia’s policy of 2013 backfired, creating a more, rather than less, pro-European Ukraine.

As the Maidan protests created chaos in Kyiv, the Russian leadership saw an opportunity to take back Crimea, and seized it. It also attempted to foment uprisings in various Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine including Odessa. These failed completely in some cities. Even with support from regular Russian troops, by the end of 2014 Russia controlled only half of the two most easterly regions of Ukraine and Crimea – about 7% of the country.

Russian security concerns: a red herring

Russia, like any country, has genuine security concerns. The country was invaded by Napoleon in 1812 and, as the Soviet Union, by Nazi Germany in 1941. Since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, numerous countries in the east of Europe have joined NATO – including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in 1999, and the Baltic states in 2004. Russia opposed all these expansions. Given that NATO was originally established as a defensive alliance against the Soviet Union, it is understandable that Russia is neuralgic about its expansion; and about the disappearance of the security belt of Warsaw Pact countries that used to shield it to the west. While NATO may argue that it is defensive, its engagement in the Balkans and the Middle East is hard to describe as such. But the notion that NATO countries would actually attack Russia militarily is far-fetched.

None of Russia’s NATO-related concerns have changed since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014. The only countries that have joined NATO since then are Montenegro (2017) and North Macedonia (2020).

More to the point, NATO never promised not to expand eastwards.

The “Two Plus Four” negotiations of 1990, which included the Soviet Union, led to the “Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany”, signed in Moscow on 12 September 1990. This led to Germany becoming fully sovereign on 15 March 1991.

As part of these negotiations, including those to obtain Soviet agreement to a united Germany remaining in NATO, it was agreed that foreign troops and nuclear weapons would not be stationed in the former East Germany. The agreement does not mention NATO expansion.

It is a matter of dispute whether Hans-Dietrich Genscher or James Baker informally said NATO would not enlarge east of East Germany during these negotiations. In a 2007 speech, Russian President Putin cited a 1990 quote from NATO Secretary General Manfred Wörner to imply that guarantees about enlargement were made. Putin said “I would like to quote the speech of NATO General Secretary Mr Woerner in Brussels on 17 May 1990. He said at the time that: “the fact that we are ready not to place a NATO army outside of German territory gives the Soviet Union a firm security guarantee.”

Where are those guarantees?

In fact, Wörner was referring to the non-deployment of NATO forces to the territory of the former East Germany after unification. Wörner said: “This will also be true of a united Germany in NATO. The very fact that we are ready not to deploy NATO troops beyond the territory of the Federal Republic gives the Soviet Union firm security guarantees. Moreover we could conceive of a transitional period during which a reduced number of Soviet forces could remain stationed in the present-day GDR. This will meet Soviet concerns about not changing the overall East-West strategic balance.”

The fact is, no-one on the western side made any written or formal guarantees about NATO expansion in 1991. But the debate about whether the Soviet Union could reasonably have inferred from what was said a promise not to expand is a red herring.

The Russian leadership of 2022 has built its own version of history, including a perceived threat from NATO, to justify its actions.

24.2.22 (updated 26.2.22)

You can also listen to an updated version of this post as a podcast.

How You Can Support Ukraine from Vienna

Below you will find ways you can help Ukraine, from offering accommodation to dropping off relief supplies or learning more about what you can do that helps Ukrainians most. We will update this list as soon as we receive more information.

*for people providing immediate support and for Ukrainians leaving the country: Resources for Ukrainian Refugees and Supporters is constantly updated informational resources for Ukrainians and people eager to provide support, including news from current humanitarian corridors and open borders, current updates on attacks, medical assistance in Kyiv, how to leave Ukraine by car, and more.

Caritas Wir Helfen is now providing guidance for anyone arriving in Vienna from Ukraine in Ukrainian, English, German languages:

Donations and relief supplies:

Every day from 17:00-20:00, the Greek-Catholic parish of St. Barbara at Postgasse 8, 1010 Vienna is collecting donations and relief supplies (read more in German here). The materials will be brought directly to the Slovak-Ukrainian border. They are looking for the following supplies and more:

  • medication
  • operating lamps
  • microsurgical instruments
  • tools for spinal surgery 
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • walkie-talkies 
  • night vision devices
  • knee pads
  • thermal imagers
  • gloves
  • yoga mats

For ongoing updates on initiatives protests and directions for donating at Postgasse 8, see the stories in this account on Instagram: @cyberb3bi

Footage of Vienna’s evening protest on February 27, 2022. Credit: @cyberb3bi

Starting Monday, February 28, the University of Applied Arts Vienna is accepting donations, and you can drop off your bags at the front door between 10:00-19:00.
Supplies they are interested in include:

  • phone chargers
  • power banks
  • pain killers
  • blood pressure pills
  • camping tents
  • insulin
  • sleeping bags

Buses are leaving to different borders on a daily basis to bring donations to Ukraine and bring people back on busses to Vienna. You can find more information on the Applied Arts university instagram page. Please make drop-offs at this entrance at Oskar-Kokoschka-Platz 3

🇺🇦 ❤️ Support Ukrainians with accommodation in Vienna 🇺🇦 ❤️

Ukraine now created a database on which Vienna residents can offer a place to stay to Ukrainians by adding your name and email address and subsequently filling out a form you receive by email.

Ukrainians can also use War Help to find information and willing people can offer their volunteer services.

Austria’s Federal Agency for Care and Support Services for Limited Liability Companies (Bundesagentur für Betreuungs- und Unterstützungsleistungen Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung) is coordinating neighborhood assistance in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, federal states and civil society to create emergency response for people from Ukraine. If you have a vacant property or premises that you would like to make available at short notice for people fleeing Ukraine, please contact: [email protected]

IMMO HILFT is an initiative for companies and private people to provide housing for refugees without all the paperwork.

Members of the Austrian real estate industry have called for quick help for refugees coming from Ukraine, by either providing living space or making monetary donations. They currently plan to offer refuge for up to 5000 families. Companies or individuals interested in providing an apartment or empty room can find information here.

Independent Media in Ukraine

Independent media coverage from a wide variety of sources is critical to shedding light on what is both a physical and information war in Ukraine. Please find the GoFundMe campaign led by a consortium including Are We Europe and The Fix, to support independent Ukrainian media.

To find independent coverage of developments in Ukraine, you can follow and support The Kyiv Independent. The Kyiv Independent is an online news website in English, founded by the former editorial team of the Kyiv Post — 30 journalists fired for defending the paper’s editorial independence. They could really use your support on Patreon.  

General support of Ukraine

The Global Shapers Hubs, with support of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, is updating the ways you can help in Ukraine, from donations and humanitarian assistance to joining a protest and hosting Ukrainians.

Follow this link to find contact details for the following Ukraine-based projects that are in need of support, including the following:

  • An international fund КОЖЕН МОЖЕ: helping children with disabilities affected by the war. 
  • Ukrainian foundation ЕРИТОРІЯ ДОБРА: helping Ukraine’s army and children living in the war zones Donetsk and Luhansk.
  • United Help Ukraine: Receive and distribute donations, food and medical supplies for Ukrainian refugees, people affected in Ukraine’s ongoing war and for families of wounded or killed soldiers in the war for freedom and independence.
  • Return Alive Foundation: a large charity organization helping on the Ukrainian front 
  • Ukrainian Humanitarian Fund: A UN country-based pooled fund supporting partner organizations on the front lines of response.
  • Territory of Kindness: a fund to support children and the Ukrainian military in the Donestsk and Luhansk regions.
  • Armed Forces of Ukraine
  • Caritas

How to support marginalized communities in Ukraine: 

  • Ukrainepride and Ukrainian LGBTQ Military: both organizations have joined and remained in Ukraine to join military operations and volunteer.
  • Ukrainian Women’s Guard: prepares women in Ukraine for extreme situations, especially when in a context of war and in need of training and legal aid.
  • Everyone Can Foundation: supplies medical and social help, charity and volunteering for disabled children and elderly persons and assistance to hospitals.
  • Voices of Children: providing psychological and psychosocial support to children affected by war in eastern Ukraine

For all web developers, UX/UI designers and digital security experts in Vienna, sign Tech To The Rescue’s petition #TechForUkraine and get involved!

Europe-wide resources

Emergency Temporary Relocation Resources for artists and cultural workers in Europe: a list with links to resources available by-country for academics, artists and more. It will be regularly updated.

Freefilmers Mariupol: A call for donations to a Ukrainian collective of filmmakers and artists. They are looking for relocation to safer places, medical help and support for basic needs.

If you have any information you would like to add, please contact Metropole at [email protected]

The Way the World Works: Economics vs. Reality

Here: A cost-of-living-crisis in England, the US, some parts of Europe, because energy prices have risen by around 50% and cost-of-living index by around 5% in just a few months; multiple warnings by certain economists that we are at the cusp of a – horribile dictu – “wage-price-spiral”, with the governor of the Bank of England pleading with workers not to increase their wage demands (!).

There: “Super profits” by energy companies (e.g. Mobil $26b, Shell $20b, OMV $6b), financial reversing back into companies, where only a few months ago portfolios were being purged of fossil assets. Shell was reprimanded by investors that its carbon-neutrality strategy was not ambitious enough.

The policy response: To dish out heating subsidies to poor households, always too little; to put pressure on Central Banks to raise interest rates, in spite of the consensus that inflation in large part is due to supply-side constraints that no interest rate hikes will solve; to overlook the super profits of energy and financial companies. Otherwise, silence, partly excused by the Covid crisis.

A bad case of political failure

Two issues come to mind: yes, energy prices have spiked considerably, but much less than in 1974 and 1981. But policy hysteria today is ten times that of decades ago – why?

And, two months ago, there was consensus that carbon must finally be priced “to the market”, that higher fossil prices are the only way to wean our economies of excessive carbon emissions. Now, as soon as supply restrictions occur and prices go up, caused by geopolitical uncertainties and unwillingness of OPEC countries to increase supply, the lamentations set in: We are impoverishing households, the poor freezing to death, the economy in danger of collapse.

Our leaders have been unable to prepare us for the realities of climate change; the price increases have caught them off guard. In contrast to the Covid crisis – which was and is a novel one that came upon us suddenly (even if predicted by scientists) – the climate crisis has been in the public consciousness at least since the Paris Accords of 2015, and for many, far longer. And the social crises – the ever-increasing income and wealth inequality, the pressure on wages, the precariousness of work, and now the political disregard for “system-essential” workers in health, care, infrastructure and retail trade, who have kept things going during the crisis – has been building for decades.

Is it incompetence? Or the final capture of policy-making by vested profit interests?

A traditional wage-price spiral? Or something else?

The traditional economic discussion about the wage-price spiral runs as follows: Given the scarcity of labor in certain sectors – in spite of still high unemployment rates (Europe) and unprecedented withdrawals from the labor market (USA) – workers manage to obtain wages beyond their productivity increase; employers shift these cost increases onto prices, which in turn triggers the demand for higher wages, and so on, and so forth. The traditional narrative mistakes the sequence for cause: higher wages – higher prices – still higher wages – higher prices. Only a brutal hike in interest rates, which would cause a deep recession, will “right the wrongs”, i.e. put labor in its place, break the demand pull, and restore so-called “balance”.

An alternative narrative is much more probable: The ever increasing political power of financial markets and business leads investors, frequently speculators, to demand excessively high returns. Let us remember former Deutsche Bank boss Ackermann’s dictum that 15% is a “fair return”. If we assume that profit rates must be earned by the “real” economy (roughly in line with real GDP growth), we see that 15% can be earned only by exploiting the real economy, i.e. workers. And in our Western economies, with a few exceptions, real wages have barely risen over the past 30 years. It seems that today businesses have to earn a double-digit profits, and count their capital market financing as a fixed cost as much as labor, raw materials including energy and semi-manufactured goods.

In the good old days (i.e., before the 1980s), profit was the residual, once these costs were deducted from revenue. Today, profits are a cost factor with Ackermann’s “fair return” built in. Prices are maxed out to deliver to investors, and labor costs, as the major variable, are squeezed. For consumers this means higher prices.

What I am trying to say is this: Given the extra-ordinary increases in profits both in the financial sector and from selling goods and services, and given the increasing buy-backs of shares (i.e. returning profit to shareholders/investors), why don’t policy makers induce, or even force, these companies to pass along some of these profits to their customers? And why don’t companies willingly pay fair wages to their most valuable asset, i.e. their workers? What about “stakeholder value,” which supposedly drives company behavior today far more than Milton Friedman’s shareholder value of the 1980s?

Why must we have excessive price increases (in energy, freight rates, semi-conductors, etc.) which governments then have to compensate with taxpayer money, when these companies frequently manage to evade taxes altogether? Every day we read how wealth inequality has increased, how the rich (both individuals and companies) have increased their wealth even during the Covid crisis. But no policy maker on either side of the Atlantic dares to challenge what has become a perverted economic system that does not provide for the many, but only enriches the few.  And forces populist policymakers to spread around a bit of (taxpayer-funded) largesse, in order to partially compensate for the enrichment of the few.

A wake-up call for a new model

Policy debates today happen only at the margin, with a bit of tweaking here and there. These debates do not call the whole system into doubt. We increasingly talk about our “Western liberal order”, as if competition kept prices down, as if workers received a fair, more-than living wage, as if income distributions had not deteriorated, as if the lobbying power of business were non-existent, as if labor unions (weak as they have become) were pursuing “special interests”.

We ignore these crises at our peril – the climate crisis, the fractioning of social cohesion, the capturing of the state by profit interests, all of it. So far, only a few academics and activists point to these systemic failures and their possible effects. Instead, the arguments are about “party-gate”, and prime ministers’ hairstyles, about office romances. What we hear far too little about are appropriate policies that go beyond Sunday speeches and contain hard implementation milestones.

The recipes of the 20th century no longer suffice: A mountain of financial, climate and social debt has been built up, and we are in danger of being flooded by it.  While politics remains asleep, beholden to vested interests.

No Omicron parties, please

Many people ask me whether they should intentionally get COVID-19’s Omicron variant and just get it over with. Their reasoning – it’s spreading like wildfire, it’s mild, some people don’t even know that they have it, and it’s only a matter of time until we all catch it.

So, why not have ‘Omicron parties’?

Decades ago, parents would expose their kids to children infected with chickenpox, reasoning that the disease was less severe for the young.  So isn’t this the same thing?

Well, yes and no.  Those exposures were actually riskier that we knew, and these are, if anything, only more so.

You could have a severe case

Here’s why: Even though illness from Omicron is milder than other variants in most people, and even asymptomatic in some, for the moment, there’s no way to predict how severe a case will be. If you’re unvaccinated, the risk of being hospitalized increases, putting you in the ICU on a ventilator, with a real risk of not surviving.

But even if you are vaccinated, deliberate exposure means a higher chance of getting a severe or fatal case. Being healthy and having antibodies from natural infection or vaccination does not mean that you won’t get sick.

And the risk increases greatly when you’re 65 or older, have a weak immune system, diabetes, chronic kidney, heart, lung, and liver disease. And even a mild case can still be rough, with a high fever, sore throat, heavy nasal congestion, aches and pains, and swollen lymph nodes.

Whatever people may have told you, This is not a bad cold; it’s a life-threatening disease.

You could get long COVID

And while it’s too early to be sure, long COVID could also follow Omicron infections. Long COVID sufferers complain of shortness of breath, severe fatigue, fever, dizziness, brain fog, diarrhea, heart palpitations, muscle and abdominal pain, mood changes, and sleep difficulties. And while these symptoms can be debilitating, the more severe type of long COVID can damage the lungs, heart, and kidneys.

The good news is that vaccination reduces the risk of getting long COVID, but it’s not clear yet following a breakthrough case. Other long-term effects include persistent loss of smell or taste after six months or more, autoimmune antibodies, and lower sperm counts.

Vaccination delivers better immunity

You might think that natural infection with Omicron will induce a lasting and robust immune response, but it’s actually the opposite. COVID-19 vaccines and boosters provide better and longer-lasting protection. Vaccines work. The current vaccines protect against the Delta variant and reduce the risk of getting the severe disease with Omicron. In addition, a natural Omicron infection will probably not protect you from future variants.

And Omicron is not the only one. So there’s no way to know if you’re exposing yourself to the Omicron variant or the more-severe Delta variant. Or something else.

And although you may get a mild case, you could pass the virus to someone else at risk for severe illness.

System stress means less access to treatment

More infections and severe diseases significantly burden hospitals and intensive care units, with more hospital staff getting sick, leading to staffing shortages and reduced elective surgeries and care for other illnesses.

Too many sick patients also limit the supply of the latest treatments like monoclonal antibody therapy (e.g., sotrovimab) and antiviral pills like paxlovid. Also, as the pandemic continues, we anticipate better new vaccines and therapies which will only be available in the future.  

You could also be prolonging the pandemic. The more infections we have, the greater the chances of new variants. Omicron may mutate, and the next one be even more aggressive.

It is not time to be complacent

High case numbers mean more severe disease, and even if you contract the disease later, that is always better than now, as we’ll know more, and have better treatments.

Remember, the simplest measures work – wash your hands, keep your hands off your face, social distance, wear a protective face mask over your mouth and nose, and get vaccinated.

And spend your time with others who are.

Russian Roulette – the Kremlin’s Game in Ukraine

Back in the 1990s, debates were impassioned on the so-called “right to intervention”, loudly advocated by Bernard Kouchner during the Yugoslav conflicts and Rwandan genocide. Such a “right” was roundly critiqued by sovereigntists, and in due course, turned around into the notion of a “right to protection” of those at-risk. This in turn morphed into the “responsibility to protect” (R2P) to be taken on by the international community to prevent genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.  Endorsed by all member states of the UN at the World Summit of 2005, R2P established, in part, that If any state is “manifestly failing” in its protection responsibilities, then states should take collective action to protect the population.

A major problem with the Russian “intervention” in Ukraine in 2014, was that it was unilateral. Its initial “plausible deniability” long since evaporated, it also caused immense harm on multiple levels, leaving 14,000 dead.  Rather than a victim, Russia was the aggressor, hiding behind a veneer of alleged grievances that it never took up multilaterally, neither in the UN, the Council of Europe, nor the relevant OSCE.  Its actions then and since have violated core norms of international law, including the UN Charter, of which it was a founding signatory, as well as being a permanent Security Council veto-holder, and the Budapest Memorandum of 1994,  for which guarantees Ukraine yielded its nuclear arsenal. Not that some of Russia’s tangential grievances were not without cause, in particular NATO’s bombing of Belgrade in 1999, not sanctioned by the UN and thus perceived by some as illegal.

Other grievances are harder to defend: The canard of NATO expansion ignores its voluntary nature and the fact that those neutral countries on Russia’s periphery – Georgia and Ukraine in particular – have had their sovereignty repeatedly violated. Even Moldova which has no common border with it: the languishing Russian troops that I came across in Moldova’s occupied Transnistria over a decade ago were still sporting Soviet uniforms and insignia, serving to fragment its territorial integrity just as in Georgia and subsequently in Ukraine.

The EU is not NATO

Today, Ukraine had been neutral for the better part of thirty years, and its EU accession aspirations have never posed a strategic threat to Russia. As I and others had pointed out in Belgrade and Kyiv, drawing on the examples of Austria, Finland, Ireland and Sweden, you don’t have to be a member of NATO to join the EU. Lately, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has again reiterated that NATO has never obliged any country to join, and has expressed strong support and respect for Serbia’s desire to remain neutral and not join the alliance. As for NATO’s Partnership-for-Peace (PfP), even Russia joined in 1994.

Few could have foreseen then that Russia would attack, invade and annex a part of Ukraine twenty years later.  Since 2014, Russia has paid a heavy price, including a degree of international isolation.  And each year, Vladimir Putin’s touted ‘reforms’ resemble Matryoshka dolls: more of the same old lace and lacquer, just smaller and smaller.  But for some of his close associates, the writing is on the wall, and the Emperor has no clothes.  In their appeals against a new invasion, his regime was described on 30 January by over 2,000 of Russia’s top intellectuals, and the hardline warrior, Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, chairman of the All-Russian Officers’ Assembly, as a criminal enterprise.

Yet, Putin has laid out repeatedly – since at least 2008 and again in a lengthy essay last year – his vision of neo-imperial domination of the former Soviet space, denying the right of true sovereignty to its various nations.  Ukraine he describes as an “artificial state”, and all the other non-Russian FSU countries as “failed states”.  His latest demands stipulate that not only should Ukraine not join NATO (with has  had widespread popular support since the Russian invasion), but that NATO itself should withdraw from all former East Bloc countries, in the interests of “indivisibility of security” – which ramps up the adversarial rhetoric, and is generally unhelpful, even as a bargaining chip.

Putin’s distortion of Russian greatness into aggressive bullying of his neighbors has continuously backfired. His foreign policy, pursued doggedly by the clever Sergei Lavrov, has floundered repeatedly, undermining what should, one would think, be the strategic objectives of Russian society: larger freedoms and guaranteed human rights, energized civil society, greater peace and prosperity, rising living standards, and progressively greater integration and resilience of a diversifying economy into global partnerships. If Russia now claims, as a result of the recent flurry of shuttle diplomacy, that it is at the table again as an equal partner, this is a Potemkin achievement, unworthy of its legacy, resulting merely from brinksmanship and threat. Western references to appeasement are not without parallel to Chamberlain in 1938 and the Anschluss, and embarrassing comparisons for the Kremlin.

Resurgent military prowess is no substitute for its underperforming economy, comparable to Italy’s. But Italy does not need nuclear missiles. Russia has not only the largest territory, but the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, more than half the total. 

Yet, Russians see their freedoms restricted more and more, human rights trampled on by a growing autocracy, civil society activities curtailed, endemic corruption, falling living standards, and sanctions with the threat of even more.  A growing number of Russia’s best and brightest, if not falling out of windows, now live in exile.

Putin’s Crimean gambit, annexation and Donbass invasion of Ukraine cost Russia its exclusion from the G8, and sanctions that cost the country at least 100 billion US$, as well as a decline in GDP estimated variously between 4 and 8 per cent.

Unintended ‘accomplishments’

But there have been some accomplishments he decidedly did NOT intend: he can rightly claim that by invading Ukraine, he has made the single greatest contribution this century to a more robust Ukrainian national identity and determination to defend its sovereignty.

And his recent build-up of offensive Russian military capabilities on Ukraine’s international borders – in sharp violation of his own pandered insistence of European “indivisibility of security” – has mobilized an otherwise-less-relevant NATO to be re-invigorated.

Not only that, but a majority of Europe’s principal neutral countries, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland, are now re-thinking that putative neutrality. The recent fiasco of Russia’s planned missile tests, intended for Ireland’s EEZ but now planned elsewhere (over the most intensive trans-Atlantic cables), has exposed the soft underbelly of Ireland’s dilapidated and under-funded defence forces, and deprived Cork & Kerry’s fishermen of the chance to tangle Russian periscopes in their trawlers’ nets!

He can also claim to have united the EU behind a common cause in defence of democracy, human rights, and self-determination, perhaps more effectively than any recent EU statesperson, Angela Merkel included. Add to that he has provoked a renaissance of the West as a voluntary polity and indeed of multilateralism in general.

Rebirth of shuttle diplomacy

And lest we forget, thanks to his dangerous brinksmanship, Ukraine has made the headlines repeatedly in recent weeks, and hosted a bevy of visiting presidents, prime ministers, and other senior officials from friendly states, along with a significant increase in defence materials, fiscal support, and new bilateral trade deals – unfortunately none of which come from its largest neighbor and former friend, Russia.

The vigorous rebirth of shuttle diplomacy by Western leaders may yet lead to some Kissingerian ‘realpolitik’, but the jury is still out on the fruits of the Macron, Scholz, Duda and others’ efforts – the absence of any significant UN leadership role in this remains lamentable. With Russia chairing the UN Security Council this month, we can expect little traction and a stormy debate on the Minsk Accords scheduled for 17 February, but the revival of the Normandy format may prove more hopeful in that it now has the attention and resurgent commitment of world leaders at the highest levels.

The Kremlin’s rigid ‘red lines’ and stubborn narrative don’t help de-escalate tensions. Putin has also conveniently forgotten that Ukraine did not gain its statehood with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but was indeed a founding and continuing member of the United Nations, albeit under the Kremlin’s thumb.

If Russia was genuinely concerned about NATO “expansion” and wanted Ukraine to commit to neutrality – whether “Finlandization” or some other kind – its first serious confidence-building measure should be to scale back its military exercises on Ukraine’s borders.  It must also commit to an OSCE-monitored timetable for early and complete withdrawal from Donbass within less than 12 months, if necessary in tandem with deployment of an OSCE or UN interposition security force under UN Security Council mandate. As for Crimea, its annexation can never be legitimate in international law given how it happened, and a resolution has to be a matter either of bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine, or submitted to international arbitration under UN auspices.

But now, new thinking is needed in the Kremlin: at least to the level of matching the commitment to the rule of international law, sustainable peace, and prospects for collaboration that the renewed diplomatic engagement and energy of the West’s leaders have exhibited. New thinking, good faith, and confidence-building measures that will revitalize Russia’s underplayed potential for a more positive role in the world, and re-build Ukraine’s battered eastern regions. New thinking that will nurture peace and prosperity for its people and neighbors – not aggression, war, death, and deprivation.

At the least, Moscow should heed the wise advice coming individually and collectively from the plethora of world leaders who have its best interests at heart in our ever-more interdependent world. We need to work peacefully together to solve common challenges and save our planet from catastrophe, not compound things with a major and unpredictable war that violates ever decent norm of that “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…” (as the preamble of the UN Charter reads)

Food News: January 2022

Recently Opened


Modern Vietnamese cuisine meets local ingredients at this hidden gem out in Atzgersdorf, with fresh and aromatic dishes like “Lachs on Fire” and “Spicy Nectarine and Coriander Salad” telling compelling and flavorful stories. Owner Socheata Scheidel and Vannary Hour’s father emigrated from China to Kampot, Cambodia’s legendary pepper trading point, while their mother’s ancestors are from the Philippines and Phnom Penh, adding to their culinary influences.

23., Scherbangasse 9

Mon-Fri 11:30-15:00

Sun 12:00-20:00

0680 158 91 79


Tucked away in a historic Palais on Hillerstraße, Zazatam offers respite in their secret garden hideaway until the early hours – even in winter! Transported away from the daily grind, patrons can enjoy an internationally-inspired casual fine dining menu that includes vegan dishes and hand-made pasta, excellently complemented by their creative in-house drinks and spirits. A dynamic and stylish experience.

2., Hillerstraße 11

Thu-Sat 17:00-02:00

0670 602 29 97


A cozy, yet upmarket, restaurant emanating mountain chic, Christian and Simone Schadl’s latest project brings a touch of Arlberg to Erdberg. Named after the former’s childhood moniker, Schakko builds upon the reputation for fine wine the Schadls built at the venerable Hospiz-Alm in St. Christoph, with an entire shrine of choice Bordeaux vintages taking center stage. The menu is classic Austrian with a twist, evoking the Alps along with the pine furniture and floral decor.

3. Schnirchgasse 11

Mon-Fri 11:00-23:00

Sat-Sun 9:00-23:00

0664 157 91 00

Trattoria Officina

A brief culinary escape to bella Italia must at the very least cover: amazing ingredients, homemade pasta fit for a real Nonna and a healthy dose of vino della casa to make the sun of southern Italy shine from within. The team behind Trattoria Officina offers all three, and is slowly evolving from an insider tip into a veritable hotspot for authentic Italian cuisine. If you yearn for the Mediterranean, you no longer have to pack your bags and set off on a trip down south.

4., Neumanngasse 4

Mon-Fri 12:00-14:30, 18:00-22:30

Sat 18:00-22:30

(01) 353 40 50

Right Side


Moët & Chandon Imperial Igloos

For the 5th consecutive year, renowned champagne house Moët & Chandon has teamed up with the Barbaro family’s restaurant empire to support the charity Licht ins Dunkel by offering fine dining al fresco this holiday season. Their so-called “Imperial Igloos” in the courtyard of Trattoria Martinelli offer a truly stunning dining experience for up to 10 people, with the glass constructions offering privacy and an unobstructed view of the winter sky while sheltering patrons in a cozy, warm atmosphere. Reservations required.

Through Jan 10

Trattoria Martinelli

1., Freyung 3

Dinner Service

Mon-Sun 18:00-

Lunch Igloos

Mon-Sun 12:00-16:00

(01) 532 15 18 50


My Poppies

Proving that Mohn (poppyseed) is not just for Strudel, the young team behind My Poppiesseeks to reintroduce regional blue, white and grey poppy varieties by presenting delicious, contemporary recipes on their website, with the seeds purchasable ready-to-eat in funky jars. Whether spicy, savory or sweet, taste for yourself and experience the subtle flavor and versatility of a previously overlooked delicacy.

available at and


Happy Plates 

A promising new addition to the booming food-tech start-up scene in Vienna, Happy Plates is a platform and marketplace that bridges the gap from desktop to dinner table: Users can browse a wealth of recipes from local chefs, food experts and influencers, then directly add the pre-measured ingredients to their online shopping basket with the click of a button. Happy Plates then generates a custom shopping list or redirects you to one of their online retail partners. Keep an eye out for recipes by Mochi’s Eddi Dimant or Karma Food’s Simone and Adi Raihmann!

Concept Eatery

Foodie Fridge

Automat-style restaurants are nothing new: in Holland, FEBO-branded windowed cells selling hot burgers and croquettes have been feeding tourists and locals-on-the-go for over a century. Which makes it all the more surprising that Foodie Fridge, Vienna’s very own 24-hour self-service restaurant, is such a novelty. Inspired by his own busy lifestyle, founder Alexander Billasch provides over 300 high-quality products inspired by Thai, Spanish, Italian and Austrian cuisine, all cooked, cooled and packaged sustainably and purchasable from one of the nine machines on location by pandemic-friendly, contactless payment. No service needed!

2., Taborstraße 9-11

Open 24 hours daily

The Flavor Fraternity

“If there’s anything indispensable in this kitchen, it’s butter”, insists a tracksuit-wearing Lucas Steindorfer, chef de cuisine of the celebrated bar and bistro Bruder. Whether emulsified with acid to make a delicious sauce or added at the last minute to coat pasta with an irresistible gloss, it’s a critical component of countless dishes, reliably carrying entire menus for centuries. Beloved celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain even went so far as to argue that, no matter what you’re eating at your favorite restaurant, “chances are, you’re eating a ton of butter.”

But here at Bruder, the iconic ingredient works just a little bit harder. Take, for example, their deceptively simple starter of butter from mountain hay-fed cattle, bread from Joseph Brot and mountain hay salt: the dairy fat conveys the essence of the alpine hay, giving an earthy, herbal aftertaste that defies expectations. To top it off, it’s paired with mountain hay liqueur crafted by chef de bar Hubert Peter, who also serves whiskey infused with brown butter that carries a distinctive nutty taste. The mountain butter is supplied by none other than Peter’s father’s farm in Vorarlberg.

Indeed, family matters at Bruder, even though Steindorfer and Peter are not, as the name would suggest, related – at least not by blood. Rather, the “Trinkbruder” and “Essbruder” are, as they jokingly tell, “unified in spirit.” The two first met at Marktwirtschaft, a former indoor market in Siebensterngasse.While Peter mixed drinks at Barrikade, Steindorfer was cooking hearty meals across the room at Liebe, and so the brotherly love story began.

Specializing in nouveau Viennese cuisine, the cook with Carinthian roots earned his stripes during an apprenticeship with one of the great innovators of the local tradition – Christian Petz, who is best known for breathing new life into offal cuisine by eschewing the fashionable frills, foams and spherifications often attached to such a legacy over the years.

Meanwhile, Bregenzerwälder Peter mixed up the local bar scene with a DIY-approach to ingredients at Kussmaul, a Michelin-starred restaurant formerly located in Spittelberg, before opening his first bar, Barrikade, in 2016. The dedicated forager’s flavors are inspired by the forest’s bounty: He pickles, distills and preserves rosehips, blackberry leaves and pinecones with a passion. All the while, small bites and experimental drink toppings reveal Peter’s culinary roots, having apprenticed in the kitchen of Hotel Post in Bezau.

Buttering Up the Clientele

Finding a way to start their own project came with its challenges. After searching near and far for two years, “asking everyone and hoping for the best,” they finally stumbled upon the former premises of neo-Heuriger Zum G’Schupftn Ferdlcompletely by chance. A charming and approachable venue with high ceilings, arched windows and long, rustic wooden tables marked by celebrations past, it was a perfect fit for the generous hospitality Bruder practices, where food and drink share are served with ample Schmäh, as evidenced in the humorous names they give their creations, like Elefant im Porzellanladen (Elephant in a China Shop) or  Rüttel am Watschenbaum (Shake the Slapping Tree – beetroot, raspberry, fir and horseradish).

Looking like artefacts from an oceanographic expedition, countless liquid-filled vessels of different shapes and sizes line the windowsills and wall behind the bar, decorating the otherwise minimalistic space. These various essences, infusions and ferments form Peter’s arsenal: Bruder bottles ingredients and drinks throughout the year, allowing patrons to enjoy “the food we love, which is usually more abundant when our visitors are less hungry,” explains Peter.

But don’t get too attached to your favorites: Bruder is constantly reinventing their repertoire. “It’s important to us to be in a constant process of development,” says Peter. Indeed, Steindorfer has never added a dish to the menu twice – with two exceptions: the aforementioned bread and butter and Ernst sei Dank, a bratwurstmade after a recipe by Steindorfer’s uncle, Ernst, and served with mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and the cheeky addition of a sardine. “Best served with Hubert’s home brewed beer!” notes Steindorfer.

His freshly developed Veal Tongue with Lentils and Cod Liver Mayonnaise is a reinterpretation of the classic Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna sauce). In a nod to his mentor, Steindorfer honors “less noble parts” like veal tongue and cod liver, adding that “so many products are not getting the appreciation they deserve.” What unites Peter and Steindorfer beyond their youthful humor and laid-back attitude is their deep appreciation for great ingredients, often hidden in plain sight – whether floating in a giant teardrop-shaped glass vessel or amply doused in butter.


Veal Tongue with Lentils and Cod Liver Mayonnaise

Veal tongue and broth

  • 1 veal tongue
  • a bundle of soup vegetables (carrot, yellow turnip, leek, celeriac, parsley)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 juniper berries
  • A pinch of coriander seeds

Lentil Salad

  • 200-300g green lentils
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large yellow turnip
  • celeriac root
  • bunch of parsley leaves
  • bunch of chives


  • mustard
  • neutral sunflower oil
  • apple cider vinegar


  • 115 mlparsley oil
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tin of smoked cod liver

To serve

  • lentil poppadum
  • sliced gherkin
  • Bruder’s homemade brew
  1. Place the veal tongue, soup vegetables, coriander, juniper and bay leaves into a saucepan. Season and cover lightly with water. With the lid on, let the broth simmer until the tongue is soft. Set aside to cool, then peel the tongue and refrigerate it. Slice the cold tongue thinly.
  2. After rinsing the lentils, boil them with 700ml of unsalted water until al dente. Strain. Cut a brunoise (small cubes) of carrot, yellow turnip and celeriac root, then blanch in the simmering veal broth until al dente. Rinse briefly with cold water, set aside. Make a dressing with a little veal broth, mustard, salt and pepper and neutral sunflower oil, then toss the blanched vegetables and lentils with it. Garnish with chives and plenty of chopped parsley, season to taste and let the mixture marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Whisk the egg yolk and vinegar in a bowl. Slowly pour the oil in, whisking constantly to make sure the mayonnaise emulsifies entirely. Mix in some cod liver and a healthy pinch of salt once stable.
  4. Place the slices of veal tongue onto a bed of lentil salad, top with some gherkin and mayonnaise. Serve with a lentil poppadum and some cold beer from Bruder.


6., Windmühlgasse 20

Wed-Sat 17:00-1:00

0664 135 13 20

Books – Angus Robertson Explores Diplomatic History in Vienna: The International Capital

To say that Angus Robertson knows Vienna well would be an understatement. Bilingual thanks to his German mother and Scottish father, he moved to Vienna in 1991 as a journalist for the Austrian public broadcaster, ORF, and returned as Austrian correspondent for the BBC, before spending two decades as a British MP for the Scottish National Party, chairing the Austrian All-Party Group in the British Parliament.

So he comes exceptionally well prepared for his new book, Vienna: The International Capital, an in-depth look at the city’s critical and changing role at the forefront of Western politics over the last two millennia.

Robertson takes the reader from its beginnings as a Roman settlement, Vindobona and nearby Carnuntum as the aging Marcus Aurelius worked on his Meditations, to the present day as a diplomatic hub, marveling at the capital’s ability to remain central in world-shaping events.

While Vienna’s proud cultural legacy is well-known, Robertson’s history focuses instead on the works and words of leaders, diplomats and ambassadors and the military strategies of their eras. Robertson’s lens is a wide one, often taking in the changing politics across Europe, and Austria’s influence in the world – all part of the story of how the city came to be what it is.

In this history, the cultural and political intersect, each a backdrop for the other, well illustrated in his detailing of the 20 years of war with Napoleon, whose capture of Vienna in 1805 saw him interrupt the opening performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio. Or later, with Admiral Nelson’s return through Vienna from his victory against Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile, in time to attend a performance of the Te Deum of Haydn’s Mass for Troubled Times. But in Robertson’s telling, it is the political that takes center stage.

Dances and entertainments were an integral part of the political machinations during the 1815 Congress of Vienna, which established the city’s reputation as a diplomatic hub. (c)Wikicommons

Diplomacy Between Dances

There is much on the diplomatic relations between nations and empires that held the intricate balances of power across Europe and beyond, and Vienna’s key position within that, giving it center stage for the Congress in 1815. A fascinating microcosm of diplomatic and haute bourgeois social life, Robertson deems the congress central to the development of Vienna as we know it today. “At the heart of the book is the idea that Vienna is home to modern diplomacy,” he said in a recent interview, “— its rules first codified and agreed at the Congress of Vienna.”

Robertson has drawn from a vast array of sources, ranging from Count August de La Garde-Chambonas to Austrian writer and painter Ludovika Gräfin Thürheim, detailing everything from the delegates’ accommodations to the banquet menu. Painting the picture of what he calls ‘The Glorious Moment,’ Robertson notes that “the perception of diplomacy to this day invokes dances, ballrooms and high society celebrations, images which all stem from the Vienna Congress.”

The Metternich System

With so many nations in close quarters, espionage was rife, and it’s within this environment that Klemens von Metternich emerges. One of the key diplomatic figures in the book, Metternich “plays an oversized role in both domestic Austrian and international European affairs,” from the Congress to the revolutions of 1848. Rising from foreign minister to chancellor, Metternich administered an era of extreme surveillance, wrote contemporary Irish diarist Martha Wilmot. “I suppose we never cough, sneeze, nor turn a child into the nursery to blow its nose without the events being reported to the government!”

With a firm lid on opposition at home, Robertson shows Metternich’s expertise in foreign affairs, securing Vienna’s status as an international capital throughout the 19th Century. In regular gatherings that became known as ‘The Metternich System,’ the prince “aimed at maintaining the balance of power” and resolving disputes between European nations, resulting in a century of stability that continued until shortly before the First World War.

Anti-Semitism is a recurring theme: Robertson cites mid-17th Century accounts by William Crowne and Johann Sebastian Müller of Jewish ghettos outside the city walls on the far side of the Danube (now the Danube Canal), the site where only a decade later, Leopold I would expel the Jews from Vienna, renaming the area Leopoldstadt.

Later, during the co-regency in her waning years of Empress Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II, Robertson notes the conflict between Joseph’s “religious toleration,” and the traditional Habsburg role as defender of Catholicism, exacerbated by the Empress’s marked “intolerance towards Protestants and Jews in particular.”

Anti-Semitism continues in the chapter on fin de siècle Vienna, in particular its spread “by two of the leading politicians of the age: Georg Schönerer and Karl Lueger.” He cites Frederic Morton’s late 19th Century history A Nervous Splendor, which ends ominously with the birth of Adolf Hitler in Upper Austria – set amongst the pivotal political decisions in Eastern European territories and the growing power of Prussia.

Rebuilding With Bridges

After regaining full sovereignty in 1955, Austria set about rebuilding, gradually emerging as the international capital Robertson views it as today. As part of the negotiating team for the State Treaty, later chancellor Bruno Kreisky is credited as one of its central architects, “pursuing an ambitious foreign policy agenda for Austria as a bridge-builder between East and West, and Vienna as the preeminent location for international organizations. His impact is still felt today.”

It’s a feature of the book that shows Austria and Vienna flourishing best through peaceful means, arguing the Habsburg Empire grew largely thanks to marriages rather than battles: “Let others wage war, but thou, O happy Austria, marry; for those kingdoms which Mars gives to others, Venus gives to thee.” Later, Robertson quotes English traveler John Morritt’s observations at the time of the Congress, illustrating Vienna’s enduring tendency to diversity, saying: “There is no town where languages are so much understood.”

Clearly a great admirer of Vienna, Robertson has recently cited Austria in his campaigns for an independent Scotland, saying that the nation should follow its lead, and also become “a bridge-builder for Europe,” echoing the words of the now-disgraced former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose quote heads up the book’s final chapter, ‘Diplomatic Capital.’

Robertson’s enthusiasm for his subject carries across in the breadth of accounts and the fine detail throughout. An impressive work of research, the book is a comprehensive history that in its best moments, manages to find fresh nuance in an already storied city.

Angus Robertson, Vienna: The International Capital, Birlinn General, October 2021, pp 464, €30.83

The Schindlers of Maria-Theresien-Strasse

One of my favorite places to have lunch with a touch of elegance is Das Schindler. It is a low-keyed, modern restaurant bar, roomy and inviting with spiffy 1930s décor, on the first floor overlooking St. Anna’s Column in the middle of Maria Theresian Strasse – which is to say in the middle of Innsbruck where I’ve lived for about forty years. Like many of its guests, I am vaguely aware that something more grand was once here and I sometimes wonder what that might have been.

Now, Meriel Schindler’s eminently readable narrative has provided an answer, including everything day-dreamers like me and serious historians curious about this city’s long history.

Schindler’s point of departure is existential and, on the surface, more a matter of pathology than the cultural history it becomes.  It begins with her father and her childhood in England hiding and running from his creditors, as one failed business venture after another drove him further and further into debt.

What caused Kurt Schindler to be so cavalier about money? Success in business was part of his illustrious family heritage, he told his daughter, relating the trauma of watching Nazi thugs beat his father, Hugo Schindler, nearly to death on Kristallnacht. This event became the point of departure for Meriel’s research. What were the achievements Kurt Schindler was so keen to imitate? Exactly what got lost when the family was dispossessed? Readers find them in “lost” Café Schindler, on the site of the current Lokal, one of the fullest embodiments of a lost world skillfully called back to life in the author’s search for his, and her own, identity.

The story of Café Schindler on the first two floors of the house where the restaurant bar stands today, is a tale that spans generations. It was a classical Viennese Kaffeehaus, like Café Central a block away, that preceded it, only more modern, offering all the accompanying delights: food, above all delicious pastries, cards and billiards as well as being Innsbruck’s first dance café with a trio providing the music. But his was only the centerpiece of the numerous jeweled properties of the Schindlers’ Innsbruck cityscape.

Stemming from a Bohemian family of Schnappsbrenner (a typical Jewish enterprise in the period when the options for Jewish entrepreneurs was limited) who found their way to Linz and Innsbruck after the Ausgleich of 1867 opened the professions to Jews. The Schindler-Dubsky cousinhood, which originated with the union of Samuel Schindler with the formidable Sophie Dubsky, formed a large, prosperous family  “vernetzt” throughout what is today Austria. Other parts of the cousin-hood were the Kafkas (but not the writer to the disappointment of Meriel’s father Kurt) and the Blochs in Linz and the Salzers in Innsbruck. Whatever relationship might have existed between these Schindler’s and the now famous Oscar Schindler of “Schindler’s List” is remote.

Perhaps the most remarkable personage in that cousinhood was Dr. Eduard Bloch, the husband of Meriel’s great aunt Lilli Kafka. He was a young and idealistic medical practitioner who treated with out charge a poor woman by the name of Klara Hitler, terminally ill with cancer. This gained the praise of her devoted young son, Adolf, who is said to have remarked that there would be no anti-Semitism, if all Jews were like him. Later, the full blown anti-Semitic German Führer would intervene on behalf of his esteemed Dr. Bloch, who would escape the Holocaust only to die in abject poverty in New York, where he was not allowed to practice. He too is part of the Schindler story.

Be that as it may, it was typical of Schnappsbrenner that they would open Kaffeehäuser to purvey their wares, expanding into the production of jam, another fruit-product. Thus the successes that Samuel Schindler was able to pass on to his sons Erich (1887) and Hugo (1888), were a café, followed by a second one, several retail stores and a jam factory.  Both young men served with distinction with the 1stTiroler Kaiserjäger in World War I. They were without question K.u.K. patriots.

The Schindlers were also part of a bourgeoisie for whom “conspicuous consumption” was part of the modus vivendi.  So the brothers Erich and Hugo purchased adjoining plots of land on the southern bank of the Inn abutting on the Imperial Gardens. The house that Hugo built there, the Villa Schindler, was the most splendid dwelling in the most elegant residential district in the city. Such grand dwellings, of course, were to become fatal to the Jewish entrepreneurs as the Nazis came to power. The magnificence of the Villa Schindler was coveted by Franz Hofer the Gauleiter of Tyrol and Vorarlberg, who “ayrianized” it at the first opportunity.

The ultimate opportunist, Hofer would negotiate free passage for himself to Germany from an American spy Fred Meyer, whom his thugs had beaten half to death, in exchange for surrendering Innsbruck without a battle – allowing him to live out his days in comfortable seclusion in Bavaria, in the story that formed the basis for the hit film Inglorious Basterds.

Perhaps the most bizarre element in Ms. Schindler’s story comes towards the end of the book when she relates the story of how her perennially penniless father visited Franz Hofer in his Bavarian hideaway in the hope of collecting the back rent he was owedfor the seven years that he lived in the Villa Schindler. Thus result was a kind of friendship that would have him travelling to Bavaria from time to time to enjoy fine Austrian food and wine with Hofer.

But while the story-line of The Lost Café Schindler is fascinating enough, the way of telling it are no less interesting. The Schindlers returned to Austria to reclaim stolen property (mostly unsuccessfully) but also because, in spite it all, they loved the country and were really only at home there.  So Meriel would spend the last five years of her school life in Innsbruck, making possible rich, well-illustrated descriptions of the town, especially the Wilten district where I spent more than a decade. It also gave her the language skills, further refined by her training as a solicitor, guiding her through the challenge of the often-impenetrable Amtsdeutschof the official record. There are even a half-dozen recipes for Schindler’s celebrated pastries.

And along the way, Meriel Schindler meticulously describes step for step her reconstruction of a complex family history from records, pictures, letters and stories, visits to military and civil archives, combing through boxes of old photographs as she works at reasonable reconstructions of the various elements in detail. In the end, we learn things that not even the family knew, for example, that her strange father had lied his whole life about seeing his father beaten by Nazi thugs on Kristallnacht, when in fact he was not even in the country.

Another fascinating twist is her discovery that the current owner of Das Schindler gave the restaurant its name out of respect for her grandfather’s legacy. Since then, the two have struck up a friendship and Meriel’s family have become (like the Janiks!) regulars at Das Schindler.

So when you’re next in Innsbruck….

The Lost Cafè Schindler:
One Family, Two Wars and the Search for Truth
By Meriel Schindler.
Hodder& Stoughton, 2021.

Mapping Austria’s Media Landscape

By Florian Kappelsberger

In a country of 8.9 million, Austria’s media landscape is naturally smaller than its counterparts in Germany or the United States. But it is dense for its size and quite complex – a labyrinth of political trenches, personal allegiances and the pitfalls of public funding. In the last few years alone, Austrian media found themselves again and again at the centre of nation-wide scandals and international attention, from the Ibiza tapes to ongoing investigations surrounding former chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP).

For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to grasp the variety of newspapers, magazines and online outlets, as well as the outsized role of the Boulevardpresse. Is the Alpine republic really a “tabloid democracy”, as one pundit quipped? What drives the government-sponsored advertising? And how are the country’s media evolving right now?

Austria’s press is commonly divided into two categories: Qualitätsmedien (i.e. quality media) and the tabloids. Among the former, the most widely read national dailies are Kurier, the centre-right Die Presse and the liberal Der Standard, immediately recognisable by its salmon-coloured paper. Furthermore, both the Viennese weekly Falter and the news magazine Profil are known for their investigative research revealing political misconduct and corruption, most recently in the Wolf/Schmid affair.

Looking at the numbers, however, the media landscape is dominated by the tabloid press. The Kronen Zeitung remains the country’s most popular newspaper with a print circulation of 696,947 copies – roughly five times as much as the most widely read quality paper, Kurier. According to a recent study, Krone even reaches 25% of Austria’s population in total. It is rivalled by the free daily Heute, which has a larger circulation in Vienna, as well as the tabloid Österreich. These papers have considerable influence on public opinion, leading Innsbruck political scientist Fritz Plasser to describe the Second Republic as a “tabloid democracy“.

The economic dominance of these few heavyweights makes it nearly impossible for smaller publications to establish themselves in Austria. Nonetheless, recent years have seen the emergence of young and dynamic media outlets such as the magazine biber, the investigative platform Dossier or – not to forget – Metropole.

A complex system of media funding

Another peculiarity of Austrian media is its reliance on public funding, in the form of either general subsidies or sponsored ads. While the former is tightly regulated, the latter remains largely obscure. This has sometimes resulted in a tacit quid pro quo: The government books advertisements with selected newspapers, expecting benevolent press coverage in return. The Presseclub Concordia, an independent association of Austrian journalists, has criticised this practice as “non-transparent, hostile to quality [journalism] and susceptible to corruption”.

Developed by chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ), this system was perfected under Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP): While subsidies to the press were cut to €8.7 million, government spending on advertisements has reached an all-time high of €47.3 million. In an ongoing investigation, Kurz’s circle is suspected of funnelling tax payers’ money to the tabloid Österreich in exchange for rigged polls and glowing coverage. These revelations saw public trust plummet in the past months, with 57% percent of respondents thinking that most or all private media are venal.

Meanwhile, the entire industry is reeling under the impact of the pandemic. Independent outlets have been hit particularly hard, losing crucial advertising revenues from businesses under pressure from successive lockdowns. The government crisis support has largely favoured tabloids such as Krone or Heute based on pre-pandemic circulation, to the disadvantage of the quality press… Meanwhile, magazines and online media have been by-passed altogether.

Partisan media

At the same time, Austria is witnessing a revival of openly partisan media. In February, the ÖVP’s parliamentary group launched the online outlet Zur Sache, combining positive coverage of the turquoise-led coalition with harsh criticism of the opposition. This model of owned media has been pioneered by the SPÖ since 2016 with its blog Kontrast as well as by the FPÖ site Unzensuriert. In all of these cases, the immediate party affiliation remains unmentioned on the website or social media presence, at least at first sight.

In a similar vein, a new brand of online tabloid media with clear political allegiances has developed. In the summer of 2020, former deputy Peter Pilz presented his platform ZackZack, conceived as a leftist response to the right-wing populism of Krone. Even more recently, Richard Schmitt and Eva Schütz introduced the digital outlet exxpress – a blend of conservative columns, outraged headlines and scathing attacks on the (supposed) woke zeitgeist.

The founders assert neutrality, but their personal ties leave room for doubt: Schütz herself was a middle level civil servant in the ÖVP-led Ministry of Finances, while her husband is a major donor to the Volkspartei. Chief editor Schmitt, on the other hand, is known for his cordial ties to HC Strache and the far-right FPÖ, which caused him to lose his position at Krone

Amidst growing polarisation, economic fragility and the fallout of several scandals, opposition parties are increasingly vocal in calling for a radical reform of the public funding process. Fritz Hausjell, professor of media history at the University of Vienna, argues in favour of limiting public advertisements to €10 million per year while drastically increasing subsidies. If this were done, he told der Standard, “[the issue of] illegitimate control over politically motivated press coverage will practically resolve itself.”

As the turquoise-green coalition has yet to respond to these urgent questions, it remains to be seen how Austria’s media system will emerge from the unprecedented crisis of the pandemic.

Logos: © Kurier, Die Presse, der Standard, Falter, profil, Heute, Kronen Zeitung, Österreich; biber, Dossier, Metropole, Datum; ZackZack, Kontrast, zur Sache, exxpress, unzensuriert

The Frozen Few: Ice Swimming in Vienna

Late last fall, as Vienna emerged from the throes of one lockdown, only to be confronted with the looming prospect of another, a curious occurrence could be witnessed along the banks of the Alte Donau. A throng of people plunged gleefully into the increasingly frigid waters, as if the summer had never gone away: this is ice swimming in Vienna.  

So it is each October, when a band of intrepid swimming enthusiasts gather every Sunday at 14:00 by the Kagraner Brücke on the Alte Donau to prolong the pleasures of swimming past summer’s end, even when the waters freeze over. Hence the term “ice swimming,” which usually refers to swimming in waters below 5 degrees Celsius.

But due to the many curfews and restrictions – where permitted outdoor activities had shrunk to the occasional stroll – what had been a niche pastime suddenly became commonplace. Most winter weekends bore witness to swimmers of all ages and backgrounds along the banks of the Alte and Neue Donau. Even the tabloids got in on the act, doing features on local celebrities flaunting their cold resistance.

However, ice swimming is by no means a new phenomenon – the Nordic regions have long been known for mid-winter saunas immediately followed by invigorating outdoor dips, and the Epiphany festivities of the Orthodox Church often involve submersion in icy waters. Even here in Vienna, the interwar period saw the “Verkühle dich täglich!” (Catch a cold daily!) swim club, which gained notoriety for their escapades in 1929, when the city was in the throes of an especially intense cold snap. Most recently, this activity has seen a large surge in popularity thanks to Wim Hof (“The Iceman”) and his eponymous method, which has its own share of fervent enthusiasts.

Propelled by curiosity and a desire to experience the pleasures of winter swimming, I decided to give it a go. Together with some friends, we headed down in early November, when the water was still relatively balmy, at least 10-11 degrees Celsius. 

With the first dip, the shock was immediate and harsh – my feet, hands, and forearms burned with cold, and it took all of my concentration to acclimatize to the piercing chill. But as I climbed out, a sense of exhilaration coursed through me, my shivering body working overtime to keep me warm. It was a reawakening. Still, you may be rightly wondering: Who would voluntarily subject themselves to this? 

Icy Thrills

Those who regularly indulge report glowingly of its invigorating nature and positive effects (myself included). The touted health benefits – such as mental well-being, reduced inflammation, a strengthened immune system – are largely anecdotal, and have yet to be empirically proven. And as Dr. Heather Massey points out in an article for the Outdoor Swimming Society: “The body does have some limited capacity to adapt to the cold. But we must warn about becoming too cold in pursuit of cold adaptation.” A researcher at the Extreme Environments Laboratory at the University of Portsmouth and co-author of the 2017 paper “Cold Water Immersion: Kill or Cure?”, she warns that exhilarating though it may be, ice swimming must also be approached with an abundance of respect and caution. 

But if you haven’t been put off just yet, you should join those taking the plunge, like the calm, bearded man with a shaved head standing chest-deep in the frigid waters, all the while chatting away to all comers, dispensing advice and encouragement as needed. 

Josef Koberl in the Donaukanal, (C) Barbara Anderl

This remarkable figure is Josef Köberl, initiator of these Sunday gatherings. While his day job is at the Transport Ministry, he also holds all sorts of cold-related records: spending over two hours fully immersed in a vat of ice, or swimming a mile in an ice cave within a glacier, along with other nigh-on unbelievable feats of extreme endurance. Curious as to what is humanly possible, he has approached these ventures with a refreshingly matter-of-fact approach: “To try it out and see what happens.”

Over the next months, I did just that – while the thermometer steadily dropped, each weekly dip decreased the shock as the thrill of immersion increased, and I came to savor the joys of an outdoor swimming season that need never end. Curiously enough, once summer had rolled around again with its perfectly refreshing waters, I’d occasionally catch myself actually missing the tingling thrill of those midwinter dips. 

Indeed, ice swimming is wrought with mental and physical obstacles to overcome, but your reward is year-round aquatic delights, and a mid-winter bodily experience unlike any other.

Advice for Interested Beginners

Köberl has invaluable advice for interested beginners – which one would do well to heed, given the borderline nature of this activity. And while none can – nor should – be considered as medical advice, it draws on his ample personal experience with ice swimming:

  • If you have any form of respiratory or heart problems, high blood pressure, or circulatory issues, be exceedingly cautious, and consult a doctor first. In general, seeking the advice of a doctor familiar with your medical history is always recommended before ice-swimming.
  • Never go in alone, especially not at the beginning. Preferably go with someone experienced, who’ll also be joining and can help out if anything goes awry.
  • When entering, go slowly, breathe deeply, and listen to your body. Take a step into the water and get used to the temperature, taking deep, slow breaths all the while; when you’re ready, take a further step in, and repeat the process. If it’s too much to bear, take a step backwards. Your body will naturally dictate the pace at which you can immerse yourself.
  • Never let yourself get drawn into comparison and competition; we each have highly individual tolerances for cold water and how our bodies react, especially at the beginning.
  • What to wear: 
    • Earplugs to and prevent inflammation of the inner ear by keeping cold water out.
    • A swim cap if you’re planning to dip your head. 
    • Neoprene shoes and gloves for those who feel the cold in their extremities. 
    • A woolly hat, which makes for an absurd picture but a warm head.
  • If you’re far enough along to consider swimming, use a swimming buoy and stay close to the shore 
  • For afterwards: bring warm tea and extra layers of clothing to put on immediately; warm yourself up gradually. Shivering is part of this process; do not jump straight into your car and turn the heat up.

Of course, all this helpful guidance is best absorbed in person at the Sunday swim-meets, which are free of charge and open to all.

Not So Silent Night for ÖVP, Engulfed in Another Corruption Scandal

By Florian Kappelsberger

Another week, another scandal in Austrian politics. On Monday, Vienna’s Public Prosecutor for Corruption and Financial Affairs (WKStA) raided three houses in yet another suspected case involving Thomas Schmid, former general secretary in the ÖVP-led Ministry of Finances, and the prominent manager Siegfried Wolf. As Falter reported, Schmid is under investigation for supposedly using his influence to waive almost €630,000 of tax liabilities in Wolf’s favour.

But let’s start at the very beginning. In 2016, the Viennese tax authorities informed manager and investor Siegfried Wolf that he was to pay seven million euros in tax arrears as well as €629,941 in penalty interest. Apparently, he had not paid appropriate taxes on some income from a position in Switzerland. Wolf, known for having close ties to Sebastian Kurz’ inner circle, protested and demanded a deferral of the penalty interest payment. The technical supervision of the Ministry of Finances, however, refused categorically.

Incriminating chat messages, once again

As documented by chat messages that have been analysed by the news magazine profil, Wolf now contacted prominent figures of the ÖVP-led Ministry of Finances. Among them: Thomas Schmid, a close associate of Sebastian Kurz and the ministry’s general secretary at the time. (Schmid is also under investigation for corruption because of his alleged role in the recent tabloid scandal, and happens to find himself at the centre of another affair surrounding his later appointment as director of the state-owned holding company ÖBAG.)

In this particular case, Schmid instructed an employee to intervene in Wolf’s favour, texting: “Don’t forget – you are working in an ÖVP cabinet!! You are a whore for the rich!”

Afterwards, Schmid supposedly instructed an official at the Viennese tax authority to accept a debt remission; in exchange, she would be rewarded with a promotion. As evidenced by various chat messages, said official even exchanged cordial messages with Siegfried Wolf and met the investor at one point to negotiate her reward…while entrusted with his pending case.

Thus, in July 2018, the Viennese tax office reduced Wolf’s debt by €629,941 – explicitly overriding the authority of the technical supervision. These irregularities were rediscovered during a routine audit at the Viennese tax office in the spring of 2019, which ultimately led to the investigations and the raids conducted by the WKStA on Monday.

An embattled Volkspartei

After being reported by Falter on Monday, this affair has once again caused widespread outrage. Christian Deutsch, federal chairman of the SPÖ, accused the governing ÖVP of corruptability and called upon the chancellor to break his silence: “Nehammer must take an unequivocal stand on the newly emerged chat messages and ensure full transparency as well as consequences,” Deutsch told ORF. Thomas Schmid has refused to comment until now, while Siegfried Wolf denied all allegations.

Arriving just before the holidays, this is only another straw in a series of scandals that have shaken the ÖVP within the past weeks – the dizzying corruption affair surrounding former chancellor Kurz, a national controversy over the party’s stance on Austrofascism and accusations of antisemitism against the newly sworn-in Minister of the Interior.

All of this has inevitably taken a political toll: Compared to their phenomenal result of 37% in the election of 2019, the People’s Party has lost more than 10 percent in recent polls. While the ÖVP has dominated Austria’s political landscape in the past four years, a central-left coalition between SPÖ, Greens and the liberal Neos is currently the most popular option among voters.

More importantly, the seemingly endless line of corruption cases involving prominent politicians gravely endangers Austrian democracy. As a survey has shown, these have had a considerable impact in undermining public trust in politics and the state.

But in the long term, this discontent might have the potential to bring about lasting change: Exasperated by these troubling revelations about Austria’s political culture, more than 80,000 people have signed a public petition calling for stricter laws in the fight against corruption. What a Christmas present that would be.

Stefan Zweig, A Global Phenomenon

His work was prolific, comprising hundreds of texts translated into more than sixty languages, with millions of copies sold all over the globe. These numbers alone illustrate the sheer force of the literary phenomenon that is Stefan Zweig, who for a century has remained one of the most widely read German-language authors. But how did this Viennese wordsmith become a best-selling writer and citizen of the world? Why are his stories still read and reworked across oceans and continents, almost eighty years after his death? These questions are at the heart of the thrilling exhibition “Stefan Zweig. World Author“, displayed at the Literaturmuseum in Vienna’s first district.

Exploring original manuscripts, letters and photographs, we discover how both Stefan Zweig and his stories have come to travel the world. Born in 1881 into a family of the Viennese bourgeoisie, Zweig rose to literary fame in the 1920s with novellas such as Amok and his historical biographies of Joseph Fouché or Marie Antoinette. His works were soon translated not only into English, Italian and French, but also Russian, Yiddish and Japanese.

Stefan Zweig translated world author
Zweig’s works continue to be translated into numerous languages (© FK)

Just like his writings, the author himself also set out to travel the globe, as illustrated by the numerous postcards that Zweig sent his friends. While he began with European explorations as a young man, his trips soon took him way beyond the Old World’s borders – to Algeria, India, the United States and many other destinations. This sense of journey has, in turn, found its way into Zweig’s texts: While Amok is set in the Dutch East Indies, for instance, the novel Magellan follows the eponymous Portuguese navigator in his expedition across the oceans.

This story of travel and restlessness, however, is also one of loss and exile. Fearing persecution by the Austrofascist regime, Zweig emigrated to London in 1934. With Austria’s Anschluss in 1938, an eventual return to his home country became unthinkable. After the outbreak of World War II, he moved on to New York and later to the Brazilian town of Petrópolis. These painful experiences are reflected in his later works, particularly in the novella The Royal Game and his memoir The World of Yesterday. Disillusioned and despairing at the future of Europe, Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte Altmann both committed suicide on February 23, 1942.

I grew up in Vienna, the two-thousand-year-old supernational metropolis, and was forced to leave it like a criminal before it was degraded to a German provincial city. My literary work, in the language in which I wrote it, was burned to ashes in the same land where my books made friends of millions of readers. And so I belong nowhere, and everywhere am a stranger, a guest at best.

The World of Yesterday (1942)
Stefan Zweig postcards world author
Postcards sent by Stefan Zweig from destinations all over the world (© FK)

Zweig continues to inspire artists everywhere; his writings have spawned countless adaptations in film, theatre or even music. In 2005, for instance, the Chinese director Xu Jinglei creatively retold Letters from an Unknown Woman, moving the story to 1940s Beijing. More recently, the author himself has become the subject of artworks: Both Maria Schrader’s biopic Farewell to Europe and the French graphic novel Les derniers jours de Stefan Zweig portray his exile and final days in Brazil. Furthermore, Zweig’s nostalgia for the lost world of interwar Europe is beautifully captured in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The unbroken spell of Zweig’s stories lies not only in their empathy and universal themes, but even more so in the author’s humanist commitment. Having witnessed the horrors of World War I during his his civilian mission to the Galician front, Zweig became an unwavering champion of pacifism. In his eyes, literature and art could serve as a means to transcend national borders and unify the world.

This philosophy was, of course, tragically contradicted by the events that ensued and the horrors of the 20th century. Furthermore, when examined today, some aspects of Zweig’s perspective can (and must) be criticized as Eurocentric and condescending towards the inhabitants of the so-called Third World. Nonetheless, as the exhibit makes clear, it remains up to us to rethink and renew this cosmopolitan project. At a time where violent nationalism is on the rise across the globe, Zweig’s vision still speaks to us and has lost nothing of its urgency.

The richly illustrated exhibition is fully bilingual (© FK)

As our Metropolitans will be delighted to hear, the special exhibition on Stefan Zweig is fully bilingual, with English translations provided to all texts. On the occasion of your visit, you can also discover the museum’s permanent exhibition, tracing Austria’s rich literary history from the Enlightenment through the present day. (Please note, the latter is in German only.) Both can be visited from Tuesday to Sunday, between 10 AM and 6 PM – further details here.

Family Honor in the Balkans | A Tale of Self-Love and Emancipation

Growing up in Balkan society means putting family honor first. Many of us are taught from an early age to live according to the will of our parents. No consideration is given to us as independent people with needs, desires and longings of our own. No. 

Mostly your longing has to look like this: Having a partner (of the opposite sex!), at least two children (if not more) and a house with a white fence. And preferably, you should have already accomplished that in your early twenties. Otherwise, Aunt Branka will be deeply saddened that you are not living the life that was laid out for you. And you don’t want to hurt anyone, right? 

Thus, many grow up thinking that what others think about you is the most important thing. Not playing by the rules could tarnish the family honor. Which after all, is more important than one’s own well-being. 

One could argue that almost all people in the Balkans experience something like a collective trauma, passed on from generation to generation, that leads to unhappy relationships because we have not learned to disclose our feelings. Conservative ways of thinking just stubbornly persist, and they send out waves far beyond that, bringing consequences for society as a whole. 

And now imagine, in such conservative circles, where some of us are required not to be ourselves, to feel attracted to the same sex, in complete contrast to what family honor demands. To be gay like Roland P. (27), who has his roots in Croatia and now lives in Vienna. His life motto was: Blood is thicker than water. That’s a nice thought, per se: You’re there for each other, no matter what. But what happens when it’s your own family that crushes you and leaves deep scars in your soul? 

Coming out of the closet

Having had a happy childhood, the big shock came during Roland’s adolescent years, when he realized he was a homosexual! Knowing very well that he would not fulfill the expectations of his parents of what it means to be a man, he initially kept this to himself. But like a volcano about to erupt, Roland soon could no longer live with the lie. There seemed to be only one way out: suicide. “In my adolescent despair, I wanted to take my own life, because I was so unhappy in my situation,” Roland recalls. 

After a failed attempt, his parents approached him. He finally decided to come out when he was 15. A big step, because after all, one thing remained uncertain: How would his family take it? This was basically, the wrong way to think. But we are, after all, children from the Balkans and have to please others before we please ourselves. 

In any case, many of Roland’s relatives took it quite well, except for his parents. Deeply offended, his father and mother sent him son to see several doctors and therapists. All of them approached the parents with the same diagnosis: homosexuality. Their son simply didn’t need help. 

“I was finally able to breathe!” says Roland. He finally had it in cold print that everything was fine. 

But what was a relief for him was shocking for his mother and father, who were still deeply convinced that their son needed therapy. Knowing very well what the consequences of publicly expressing his sexuality would be for him, he put his needs behind. For the sake of the family, of course. 

It didn’t help that the nine siblings on his father’s side and six siblings on his mother’s had their antennae out everywhere, also a threat to Roland’s well-being – the classic image of village grannies eagerly awaiting the latest gossip to avoid confronting their own problems. That’s how it felt to him. To avoid becoming the talk of the town, he did not live out his sexuality publicly.

Fake it till you make it

In order to restore the family honor, Roland decided at the age of 16 to take a drastic step or as he would call it the “classic Croatian way.” He asked a good friend to play his girlfriend, and for two and a half years, they pretended to be in a happy relationship. They even lived under the same roof as his parents. It’s hard to imagine this kind of pressure on a person growing up, not being able to be yourself just to please your family. Often, if you are a person from the Balkans, you pay a great price for the sake of the family. Even if in the end you have to reckon with the loss of your own identity. 

Breaking free

When the supposed relationship came to an end, and at the age of 19, with his apprenticeship in hand, Roland left for Germany, and contact with his parents was cut off. This gave him the opportunity to fully live out his homosexuality: 

“I cuddled and partied like never before,” he remembered. “Being away from my parents was a release for me,” from patterns of thought instilled over decades. A love of life spread throughout his entire body like a big bang. 

All that was abruptly put to an end when his cell phone rang at 6:30 A.M. on Sept. 18, 2017. 

A ray of hope

The death of a close family member led his parents to set aside all their pride for a brief moment and check in with their son after a four-year hiatus. “Hope arose in me that they had come to their senses,” Roland recalls. When he returned to Vienna from Germany, contact with his mother and father also became more regular. Eventually, his parents took him in and the family was reunited under one roof. As if nothing had ever happened. All the issues surrounding his homosexuality, all his struggles for existence were swept under the rug. And once again Roland put his needs behind. 

Until he came out for the second time, because he had fallen in love with a man.

Offended, his mother resorted to drastic measures, in a phone call to Roland that will remain deeply engraved in his memory. “May all the roses of life bloom for you, but never contact us again,” she told him. It felt like a Bible thrown at his forehead. He did not fit the model of a man from the Balkans. And he felt that with full force.

The full vigor was by no means like a simple slap in the face that many Balkan children grow up with. It was quite the contrary. Having had to go through this, he asked himself what the meaning of life really was. Eventually, Roland came to the conclusion that everything that happened to him taught him to cut toxic people out of his life and to respect himself even more. 

Did he pay a high price? It may seem so at first, but the lessons he gained were far more than he was even aware of. When he reflected on his story, he now saw his mental health as a top priority. 

It’s true what people say, he told me. After every rain comes a rainbow. 

Croatian Business Minds

The Budims – Your Denimdealer No.1

If you are looking for the perfect fit you might want to visit Markus and Magdalena Budim – a Viennese couple with Croatian roots – at their denim store in the Raimundhof on Mariahilferstraße 45. Founded three years ago, the Budims is “a fancy place of denim, quality and customer service,” say the owners. This is what it looks like when you turn your passion into your profession. 

Honest advice and a cozy ambience are guaranteed, say devotees of the shop they rank as “denim dealer No.1”. Adopting the American motto that the “customer is king/queen” they have added a book-your-own shopping appointment, at no charge, when one of the shop owners will offer a private consultation for you and you alone. 

But the Budim’s principle goal is to bring quality denim back into the well-deserved limelight. Their shelves are filled with jeans in various fits, washes, sizes and lengths from the global denim brands Denham (premium jeans), G-Star Raw (an innovation expert) and Kings of Indigo (pioneers in sustainability). New to the Budim family is a Croatian brand called Evio Denim with a focus on raw denim and even more brands are to follow. 

Honored internationally, “The Budims” made it among the TOP 100 most influential companies in the denim industry world wide over the last 15 years by the prestigious WeAr magazine. 


Instagram: thebudims

Das Vivet – a coffee bar and eatery that time forgot 

What better than to feel at home while not actually being at home!  That’s the vision behind Das Vivet, an idea two restauranteurs with Croatian roots cooked up one tipsy night in Berlin. A month later Nikola Senjić and Blazenko Jurković – two seasoned gastronomes living in Vienna – found just the place to realize their concept: At Westbahnstraße 21 in the 7th district. And while their idea for “Das Vivet” might have been spontaneous, within a year, they had proven that nothing about their work is left to chance. 

Starting with the name – which means “he/she/it shall live” – this is a place where the name reflects the aim. In Das Vivet you can live your best life around the vision of a cozy living room, and forget time! 

Nikola Senjić and Blazenko Jurković

For one thing, there is no clock in the interior the duo designed themselves. It’s all good vibes and great music. And then there’s the menu – a variation of delicious and exceptional cuisine and drinks, not only the best ingredients, but also vegan and gluten free foods, and a phenomenal breakfast, which means they are usually booked for brunch. 

Still to come: International live acts.  So stay tuned…


Instagram: dasvivet

Delikroat – A little Croatia in the heart of Vienna 

When your next vacation is too far away and you miss the tastes and smells of mediterranean delicacies, visit Mario Harapin’s Delikroat, a food emporium full of Croatian specialties at Neubaugasse 60. 

Arriving in Vienna seven years ago, Harapin immediately recognized the lack of quality food from home. He saw an opportunity, at first through a market stand, and since 2016 inside the walls of his own shop. 

After working in Croatian food service for 15 years, he works to guarantee the best selection the country has to offer. From olive oil and top wines to cheese, truffles, or prosciutto, each product is carefully selected from Croatian producers that Mario knows personally and whose methods he knows first hand.  Most products are handmade in small quantities by regional producers and without preservatives or additives. 

Mario Harapin’s Delikroat, a food emporium full of Croatian specialties at Neubaugasse 60.

The most beautiful thing about his job, he says, is that he never loses the connection to his homeland – Something you feel from the moment you enter Delikroat.  This is how Croatia really tastes. 


Instagram: delikroat

Three Croatian Talents on the Austrian Arts Scene



When asked what song would best describe Mario Skakalo’s parents’ journey to Vienna, he answered with: “Super(wo)men!”. He was a teenager, when his mother came to Austria from Kiseljak (BiH), and his father from Nova Gradiška. Love resulted in the birth of three boys, one of whom is Mario, now a successful hip-hop music producer.

Growing up in the 15th district, he was inspired by German rap goading him to produce his own beats. His first release was in 2008 on the album Gastarbeiterhilfe, by Croatian-Austrian hip hop musician Kid Pex. After that he worked with the German rapper Kollegah on the mixtape “Hoodtape Volume 1”. A few years later, he had gold and platinum in his collection and works with other big rap names like Farid Bang, Kontra K, Chakuza, Dame or Jala Brat. 

Mario – aka Freshmaker – lived surrounded by a mix of cultures, and celebrated all of Croatia’s important sport events in Vienna: “I’m speechless every time I see which legends come from this beautiful little country”. Nevertheless, he is not that much into traditional Croatian music. “But even that can be felt after a few Rakijas,” he jokes. 

The founder of NXT LVL Studios Vienna is proud of his origins and highlights a difference to the Austrians: “With the Balkans, everything is a little more relaxed, whether it’s a dismissal at work or a parking ticket, according to the principle: ‘Idemo dalje!’ ” –  “Keep going!” 

Equipped with such a fighting spirit the four albums “Checkpoint”, “Kodeks”, “Fusion” and “No Limit” are just the beginning of what we will hear from this talented musician. 



For ten years, David Slomo tried to gain a foothold in the Austrian music scene. His songs got unprecidented negative responses; he wanted to quit music. One radio station had told him that they had never received such bad feedback on a song as on one of his. Then came Mathea in 2018 and his life changed completely.

With the singer from Salzburg (Song “2x”), he reached number one in the Austrian charts as well as gold and platinum. Since then, he has had a total of seven gold records to his name. In addition to Mathea, the 29-year-old now also works with German Singer Mark Forster and the  up and coming Austrian artist “Ness”, among others.

Born in Zagreb towards the end of the Yugoslav war, Slomo’s father left the family before he was born and his mother decided to move to Vienna after giving birth to her son, leaving him with his grandparents. Even though it was anything but easy, he now says, he was given everything by his family,.

At the age of six he left his Croatian home from one day to the next and found a new one with Vienna. Soon after, he had to start school. The early days were not easy: “No friends, you don’t know the language – it was very hard for me. I was really ostracized.“

In the meantime, the Donaustadt native feels like a son of Vienna, although he has also studied the Croatian language: “At every European Championship or World Cup I wear the red-and-white-chequered jersey, but in fact I am Viennese. This is where I had my school years, my first friendships, my first love, heartbreak – …my first problem with the law,” he jokes.

When not writing songs Slomo does interviews for the daily mass-market tabloid Heute in the Balkan blog “Hajde!”, which helps give the Balkans in Vienna a face: “I wanted to show that we belong to Austria, to give us a voice and make us visible.“



Marianne Pušić is a multi talent among the young Croatians living in the Austrian capital. Not only a trained actress, she is also a presenter and a speaker. Moreover, she can sing chansons, knows Bollywood dance and even does stunt fighting.

Born in Vienna in 1996, her father’s family came here from Croatia in the early 1980s. On a tripi home, he met her mother by chance in Ladimirevci, a place close to Osijek, and a few years later she came to Austria out of love. The artist is as proud of her family, who didn’t have it easy either.

But though born here, Pušić had quite a strong Croatian accent until well into her teens. So she had to practise a lot and decided on drama school at the age of 19. She played different roles, among others in the Austrian classic Jedermann. Pušić worked at the Viennese theatres “MoKi” and “Theater im Paradiesgarten” too. 

Today she is also a presenter at YUPLANET, an up-and-coming Balkan TV station in Vienna. The moderation business was something she “slipped into” during the pandemic, she says, when the theatres were closed.  

Today, she visits Croatia two or three times a year, even though she has lost some of her connection to the Croatian community in the last few years. Still  Pušić has a special place in her heart for Croatia, and hopes one day to act in a Croatian film. 

Maybe there are one or two directors who will read this…

Iran Allows Reinstatement of IAEA Surveillance Cameras

“This whole operation was conceived as a bridge towards something.” With these words, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced a partial agreement struck with the Islamic Republic of Iran that will allow the agency to reinstall surveillance cameras at the Karaj facility. Whether the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 can be salvaged overall remains up in the air.

Before the end of this year, the IAEA will be able to replace the monitoring cameras that had mysteriously been removed from a centrifuge-parts workshop in the Iranian city of Karaj in February. Iran had framed this as an act of sabotage perpetrated by Israeli intelligence, while the IAEA was since unable to access the site. After recent negotiations ended without result, the facility has remained without international supervision for more than ten months.

As the UK-based Guardian reported, “Some Israeli defence and intelligence officials have alleged that Iran has used the period of shutting out the IAEA since June to smuggle portions of its 60%-enriched uranium to clandestine sites either to proceed covertly toward a nuclear weapon or to preserve the option to do so.”

The IAEA is the world’s largest nuclear watchdog, founded in 1957 and based in Vienna. As a branch of the United Nations, its assists member states all over the globe in developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes and upholding safety standards. At the same time, the agency has the diplomatic mission of verifying that this technology is not diverted for military ends.

After a nuclear deal was reached between Iran and the P5+1 (i.e. the US, Russia, China, France, the UK and Germany) in 2015, the IAEA was tasked with monitoring Iran’s compliance. In 2018, however, US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal and issued sanctions against Iran, to which the latter responded by further enriching uranium – in violation of the the deal’s boundaries. Ongoing negotiations in Vienna to revive the deal were unsuccessful until now.

Many open questions remain

The new partial agreement has some caveats and potential pitfalls: While the IAEA is allowed to reinstall the cameras, they will not have access to the footage until the nuclear deal is restored. According to Grossi, this compromise was struck in the assumption that a larger agreement would soon be found, allowing the agency to fully resume its monitoring operations in Iran. The Islamic Republic, however, has declared that it will only agree to such a revival once the economic sanctions against the country are lifted.

Grossi himself refrained from commenting on the thorny question of sanctions, emphasising the political neutrality of the IAEA. “I’m not a friend or a foe – I’m an inspector,” he asserted. Regarding the Karaj incident, however, he expressed doubts that the camera footage had simply vanished, as Iran claims. This issue remains unaddressed in the partial agreement, as Grossi emphasised the immediate urgency of restoring visual monitoring of the Iranian facilities.

© Fiorda Llukmani / IAEA

Affirming the agency’s neutrality

It was also the first time that the IAEA presented a sample of the camera type used to supervise nuclear sites all over the world. Grossi emphasised that the cameras were both physically sealed and digitally encrypted, making any tampering impossible. This was seemingly aimed at countering recent insinuations by Iran that the IAEA cameras could have been hacked to spy on the facilities or even to cause the incident at Karaj. Upon questioning, Grossi qualified the claims as “absurd” and affirmed the agency’s neutrality.

While the partial agreement may not be the last word in this matter, it may be a step toward restoring diplomatic trust and, ultimately, reviving the nuclear deal. “I sincerely hope,” director Grossi said, “that we can continue our constructive discussions to also address and resolve all outstanding safeguards issues in Iran.”

5 Unique Austrian TV Shows to Discover During the Holidays

Tis the season to laze about with loved ones, perhaps in front of the Flimmerkiste (flicker box, i.e. TV). While some may indulge in Hallmark mush, nostalgic tales of love and redemption, or that one classic featuring an abandoned child who booby-traps his parents’ home, the ambitious Metropolitan might do more. Those looking to improve their German and learn more about their new home need look no further: Here are five Austrian TV shows that will provide an instant deep-dive into local culture (and dialect). Good luck!



This series, written and produced by David Schalko, takes you to the (fictional) village of Braunschlag in the countryside of Lower Austria. Mayor Gerri Tschach, having bankrupted the municipality with his shady business projects, finds himself in hot water. Together with his childhood friend Pfeisinger, a washed-up nightclub owner, he comes up with a brilliant idea to save the day: They orchestrate a fake apparition of the Virgin Mary, attracting pious tourists from all over the world to their sleepy village. But this miracle – both spiritual and economic – soon turns into a nightmare, as Braunschlag is shaken by a series of uncanny events…

With a phenomenal ensemble cast, the show perfectly captures life on the countryside: the entrenched routine of family life and extramarital adventures, the dubious horse-trading of local politics, and a general ennui that covers the entire village like a blanket, both detested and cherished by its inhabitants. Since its debut in 2012 Braunschlag has spawned a considerable cult following, and the American broadcaster ABC even has a remake in the works.

The six episodes are available on Netflix, but there is no English dubbing – so plunge yourself into the dialect and snappy Schmäh of rural Austria! (The German subtitles might help a bit.)

Am Schauplatz

How can pets provide comfort and emotional support in dealing with loneliness during lockdown? Why is the contested field of alternative medicine experiencing such a boom at the time of a pandemic? These are questions pursued in the latest episodes of Am Schauplatz, a documentary series produced by public broadcaster ORF. The show delves into unusual phenomena and curious court cases, but also larger trends and developments in our society.

Every week, they offer an intimate glimpse into the everyday lives of people from Vienna and all over the country. Recent episodes are available in the ORF media library – and you could also take a look at the similar format Die Reportage by ATV. These are both in German only.

© ORF / MR Film / Endor Productions / Petro Domenigg

Vienna Blood

Our next series takes you back to the late 19th century, plunging you into the sombre beauty of the moribund empire’s capital. Vienna Blood follows Max Liebermann, a doctor and disciple of Freud, as he teams up with detective Oskar Rheinhardt to investigate bizarre crimes. In this psychological thriller reminiscent of Sherlock, we discover a portrait of Vienna at the and of an era: torn between the golden decor and the intellectual grandeur of its coffee houses, and an increasingly violent current of antisemitism and xenophobia.

And if you cannot get enough of bloody crimes set in fin-de-siècle Vienna, you might want to check out Netflix’s Freud, which follows a young and cocaine-driven Sigmund investigating a series of supernatural murders. Although criticised for the liberties it takes with regards to historical accuracy, the show is surely entertaining as we encounter famous figures such as the novelist Arthur Schnitzler, emperor Franz Joseph and his troubled son Rudolf.

While the show is currently not available in the ORF media library, it can be found on its BBC and ZDF counterparts (although regional restrictions may apply). Since Vienna Blood is a British-Austrian co-production, you can choose between the English original and the German sync. Freud, on the other hand, can be watched on Netflix and has been dubbed in English.

Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter

If you want to discover a true milestone of Austrian TV history, look no further than Ein echter Wiener geht nicht unter (“a real Viennese does not give up”). Running from 1975 to 1979, it follows the choleric electrician Edmund “Mundl” Sackbauer who lives in a Gemeindebau in the working-class district of Favoriten with his family. The show illustrates the local mentality (including the famous dialect and Schmäh) as the protagonists confront the challenges of everyday life – from family quarrels and marital crises to class issues and problems with debt.

While this ORF production caused a national controversy at the time of its release and was criticised for its (supposed) stereotypical portrayal of the working class, it has since become a beloved cult series for many. It is not available via Netflix and co., but you can watch this show (and many other Austrian classics) on the Viennese VOD platform Flimmit. Furthermore, true aficionados can also find a number of DVDs and anniversary box sets.

Since the adventures of “Mundl” are only available in their original synchronisation, you are guaranteed to learn a lot about the Viennese dialect while watching – including an enormous variety of insults and swear words…

© Sky Deutschland / W&B Television / epo film / Petro Domenigg

Die Ibiza Affäre

This recent miniseries portrays an event that has profoundly shaken Austrian politics: the Ibiza affair. We discover the story behind the infamous video of far-right politician Heinz-Christian Strache (FPÖ) meeting with a (supposed) Russian oligarch to discuss, among other things, a ruthless quid pro quo – exchanging positive press coverage for government contracts. This corruption scandal ultimately led to the collapse of the turquoise-blue coalition in May 2019.

Masterfully, the four episodes recount the affair in all of its complexity: the unlikely couple of a Viennese lawyer and a shady private detective who set up the trap, the mechanisms behind the video’s publication and its dramatic fallout. A gripping watch that reveals a lot about Austria’s political culture which, as even more recent events have shown, remains unchanged.

As the show was produced by Sky, you can watch it via the company’s services. Again, there is only the Austrian original available (with German subtitles, optionally). Viel Spaß!

Egon Schiele and the Cult of the Self

Entering through a glass door at the foot of the stairs, the visitor is surrounded by a sea of self-portraits by Egon Schiele. Dated from 1910 to 1916, these studies opening Schiele and His Legacy at the Albertina Modern are witness to his relentless exploration of his raw inner world and the tormented times of his generation in pencil, watercolor and charcoal. Without any central piece, the visitor may choose where to begin – most likely with one of the well-known works or perhaps the provocative right orange coat in Self-Portrait in Orange Jacket (1913).

After having turned his back on what he saw as the corset of academic training, Schiele created an uncontested style at a very young age. And while certainly not the first to paint unforgiving self-portraits, or nudes or the mentally ill, nor the first to use the doppelgänger motif, his unique style has earned him a place among the Olympians of modern art history.

Egon Schiele, Selbstbildnis mit herabgezogenem Augenlid. Albertina Modern.

One outstanding example, Seated Couple (1915), shows the half-naked Schiele sitting between the legs of his clothed wife Edith, leaning back against her. She is holding him, trying to comfort him. This impression is intensified by her green coat and grey stockings which frame and stabilize the scene. Schiele, on the other hand, seems to explode from within. With his upper body drowning in an oversized shirt, his arms and legs unnaturally and painfully twisted, the scene can be read as a battlefield of the mind, his targeted use of chalk and watercolors serving as a magnifying glass.

Schiele’s art at its best is theatrical. Here, the two are hopelessly and desperately lost in each other’s arms, with eyes deadened through suffering, already anticipating what is to come. They both died of the Spanish flu in 1918. Schiele was 28 years old.

In his often-startling self-portraits, Schiele captures the mental state of an entire generation, like a seismograph staring down the abyss of a post-Habsburg future. In fact, his larger-than-life self-portraits excavate and capture his inner demons and alienation better than any photograph. Like an intimidated observer, a small photograph of Schiele was discretely positioned in a silent corner of the room.

The tradition of self-portraiture

Most historians trace the tradition to the 16th century and Albrecht Dürer, who is widely considered the first self-portraitist in European art history. Strictly speaking, unsigned self-portraits existed earlier, but Dürer was among the first Renaissance artists to rise above the status of craftsman, bringing new-found self-confidence to his work. He and Rembrandt a century later, who alone, according to the exhibit, also produced self-portraits that could be seen as “statements about an artist’s innermost nature, character, and state of mind.”

And in fact, one weakness of the exhibition is the exclusion of other legends such as Caravaggio, Velasquez, Goya or Rubens, whose explorations of self-portraiture also opened bolted doors for future generations.

To contradict another wall text, Schiele was not the first artist to “radically annul the canon” of the academy. Among others, Vincent van Gogh and Edvard Munch had broken away from tradition decades earlier. Why the omissions? Far more interesting, surely, to look beyond the Austrian view of art history and put Schiele’s achievements in context.

Color storms, bananas and guns

The next three rooms accommodate the works of 12 later artists. In addition to Austrians Günther Brus, Valie Export, Elke Silvia Krystufek, Maria Lassnig, Karin Mack, Arnulf Rainer, Eva Schlegl and Erwin Wurm, the show included works by Americans Jim Dine and Cindy Sherman, Bulgarian Adriana Czernin and German Georg Baselitz.

Maria Lassnig, Camera Cannibale, 1998. Albertina Wien, Essl Collection.

While the second room is dedicated to Arnulf Rainer’s over-paintings, face farces and body poses, the third and fourth rooms are crowded with works by the others, hung in  seemingly random order, with some of Rainer’s works interrupting the presentation of the other artists.

Erwin Wurm’s Artist of the year 2007 shows him in street clothes with bananas in his mouth, between his legs and under his armpits – a decision hard to justify. Given the strength of other works, it is questionable whether it deserves this central position.

On the back of the same wall is Valie Export’s iconic black and white photograph Action Pants: Genital Panic (1969). Here, the feminist icon sits self-confidently on a chair legs apart wearing trousers that expose her crotch and holding a gun in her hands – a classic male power pose that intends to unmask the male perspective on female sexuality.

The wall texts tell a fuller story, but apart from introductory texts, the further explanations are in German only, leaving foreign visitors struggling with Google translator as they tried to make sense of the show.

High time for new shores

In the last room, the work Flying (2003) by multimedia artist Elke Silvia Krystufek stands out. A mixture of painting, collage and montage, the right side of the canvas is dominated by a bare-breasted self-portrait, while on the left, a cut-out photograph of her head in an afro-wig with her face painted black and her body completely disguised by a green tunic – a combination posing pressing questions of (gender) identity, cultural appropriation and racism. One of the most powerful pieces in the show, it unmasks what – despite various announcements and promises – is painfully missing, namely diversity and new perspectives.

Georg Baselitz, Ohne Titel 16. 2016. Albertina Wien.

Last but not least, Georg Baselitz also stands out with his claim that all art is a form of self-portrait because “everything you perceive is a reflection of yourself.”  The artist, who made art history by turning his motifs upside down, exposes the limited perception of self-portraiture as shown in this exhibition.  

After walking the rooms multiple times, the question of what Schiele’s legacy exactly is remains unanswered. Limited as it was, however, to the Albertina’s collection, it could have also started off with any modern self-portraitist. In the centuries of self-portraiture, Schiele is only one of many groundbreaking artists.

In addition, the spatial division and placement inhibits dialogue. The result is a collection of islands of self-portraiture.

In the history of art, self-portraits have long revealed the artists’ darkest hours and grandest victories. With hindsight, they also serve as rearview mirrors on their times, opening doors to the past while also teaching the viewer to shift perspectives in the present. For this alone, they deserve a front seat in art history.

Through Jan 23, Albertina Modern. 1., Karlsplatz 5.

Government Passes Eco-Social Tax Reform

On Wednesday, the council of ministers passed the long-anticipated eco-social tax reform, a flagship project of the turquoise-green coalition. “The environment will benefit from this reform,” Chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) congratulated his colleagues, while Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) called it the “largest transformation of the tax system in the Second Republic”.

This reform, which aims to drive economic growth while protecting the environment, has been a central point in the coalition agreement signed by the conservative ÖVP and the Green Party in January 2020. At its heart: an additional tax on CO2 emissions with €30 per ton, starting in July 2022 and raised progressively to reach €55 by 2025. In return, Austrians will receive a regional climate bonus ranging up to 200 euros per year. (Incidentally, Vienna finds itself at the bottom end of this chart with only €100.)

Tax reliefs for lower and middle incomes

The final law includes some changes from an earlier draft: While the government had planned to reduce health insurance contributions for people with low income, this idea has been dropped after protests from insurance agencies. Instead, the social security bonus will be raised from €400 to up to €650 per year, with special provisions for retirees. At the same time, wage taxes will be lowered for low and middle incomes.

The reform is projected to create overall tax relief of 18 billion euros by 2025. Chancellor Nehammer asserted that 3.8 million tax payers in Austria will profit from it. His party colleague Magnus Brunner, who serves as finance minister after a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month, rejected any criticism of the CO2 pricing as too low; while he admitted that the prices were not overly high, he presented them as “perfectly reasonable”.

Criticism from environmentalist NGOs

The Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), an economic think tank based in Vienna, has predicted that the reform will further stimulate private consumption, making Austria one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. The Federal Economic Chamber, a trade association representing businesses from all over the country, has also approved of the reform while demanding further tax reliefs for domestic companies.

Environmentalist activists and NGOs, however, have criticised the reform in advance. Fridays For Future attacked the projected CO2 pricing as “purely cosmetic”, while the WWF as well as the Austrian Traffic Club (VCOe) similarly demanded a steeper pricing path. The latter recalled that according to the state’s Environment Agency, every 1,000 kilograms of CO2 emitted are responsible for €201 worth of climate damages. In view of this, the government’s price of 30 euros per ton may appear too insufficient to have a real and lasting impact.

BOOKS: The Lessons of History in Snow Country

“Is he going to survive?” asks the nurse caring for Anton Heideck, an Austrian soldier injured in battle during the First World War. His body lies in a field hospital tent where, by the light of a kerosene lamp, the surgeon opens Anton up and removes the shrapnel lodged in his chest. “Of course he is,” the doctor responds as they close him up: “Poor soul” – portentous words that open Snow Country, Sebastian Faulks’s ambitious new novel about love and consciousness in an age of uncertainty and clashing historical forces.

In spite of its bloody battlefield opening, Snow Country owes less to Faulks’s acclaimed and widely-read war novel Birdsong than it does to the Englishman’s 2005 work, Human Traces. In this novel of ideas, psychiatrists Jacques Rebière and Thomas Midwinter found a sanatorium at Schloss Seeblick, in Carinthia. Their evolving, divergent approaches to mental illness track the arguments taking place within the worlds of psychiatry and psychoanalysis at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.

“I have always wanted to return to this territory, and Snow Country revisits the sanatorium that Thomas and Jacques set up in the high days of hope,” Faulks wrote in the Guardian following the novel’s publication. “But now it is 1934 and the world faces fresh challenges. There are new characters and different stories to tell.”

Winds of Change

Those stories include that of Anton, the son of a butcher from Styria who, in the autumn of 1906, moves to Vienna where he hopes to become a journalist. Teaching to make ends meet, he encounters and falls in love with the enchanting Delphine, whom he loses again as the war looms: “He had reconciled himself, he thought, to the fact that she was dead. Nothing else could explain her vanishing.”

Meanwhile, in Carinthia, Lena is born to a poor single mother living from drink to drink, reliant on the church’s benevolence. Years later, after breaking off her education, Lena moves to Vienna. Initially, she finds shop work, but sent spinning by a failed romantic relationship, she too falls to drink, and then prostitution. She retreats to Carinthia, where she takes up a post at the sanatorium Schloss Seeblick. In 1933, Anton shows up at the Schloss, tasked to write about the institution and why doctors once used Freud’s short stories to treat the mentally ill. To himself and his readers, Anton poses the question: “What on earth could have possessed them to believe that?”

Faulks paints upon an enormous canvas. Anton is in Panama for the opening of the Canal, Paris in the autumn of 1914, and Vienna as civil war breaks out in 1934. His visit to Schloss Seeblick reveals Austrian psychiatry at a crossroads with less certainty in the old ways that ruled the sanatorium in the time of founders Rebière and Midwinter. Anton is “seduced” by the Schloss and its “possibilities for change,” but at the same time sees its history and methods as an overreach, “a doomed attempt to see into the mind of God.” It is to Faulks’s credit that the novel does not feel didactic. The episodic format and formality of his prose suits the historical novel and creates a juxtaposition with the age of chaos he brings to life.

Snow Country is about how human bonds are shaped by historical forces. But it is also about how individuals react to those forces. When confronted with the enormity of the Panama Canal, of this feat of industrialization and man reshaping nature, Anton recognizes his own smallness, while Lena’s first love, Rudolf, throws himself into history, meeting his end under fire in the Karl-Marx-Hof. “It can take you all your life to see yourself as what you are,” says Lena. Snow Country asks  – and at least partly answers – what history shows us about ourselves.

Sebastian Faulks, Snow Country, Hutchinson, September 2021, pp 368, €23.58

The Ongoing Controversy Over Austrofascism, Explained

Not long after designated chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) presented a reshuffle of his cabinet on December 3, a national controversy broke loose. At the heart of the outrage: a small museum dedicated to Engelbert Dollfuß in Texingtal, Lower Austria. Gerhard Karner (ÖVP), who succeeds Nehammer as Minister of the Interior, is under fire for not distancing himself from this project although he is (also) mayor of the town. This quarrel has, in turn, led to a larger debate on public memory, partisan historiography and the legacy of Austrofascism.

Especially for internationals and those who are not versed in Austria’s complex history, the issues at stake in this debate may be difficult to grasp at first. Who is Dollfuß, and why is his memory still so contentious?

The museum dedicated to Engelbert Dollfuß in his native town of Texingtal, recorded in 2009 (CC).

The forgotten history of a rival fascism

Engelbert Dollfuß was born in 1892 to a peasant family near Texingtal. Promoted from a simple volunteer to lieutenant during World War I, he rose through the ranks of the Peasants’ Union as well as the Christian Social Party after the war. In May 1932, he was appointed chancellor of a right-wing government composed of the of Catholic CS, the agrarian Landbund and the nationalist Heimwehr paramilitary.

As the young republic was in crisis, Dollfuß violently dissolved the parliament to create an authoritarian Ständestaat (“corporate state”), inspired by the fascist and corporatist systems in Italy, Portual and Germany. Socialist resistance to this coup was brutally repressed by the regime; political opponents were placed in internment camps or summarily executed.

At the same time, this state found itself threatened by the expansionism of Hitler’s Germany as well as by the ambitions of the National-Socialist movement within Austria. Dollfuß reacted by accentuating its authoritarian character and sought an alliance with Mussolini; historians today qualify this phenomenon as a Konkurrenzfaschismus (“competing fascism”). In July 1934, Dollfuß was shot during a failed coup by the Austrian Nazi Party. He was succeeded by Kurt Schuschnigg, who upheld the regime until Austria’s Anschluss in 1938.

After 1945, Dollfuß was widely rehabilitated as a martyr. While post-war Austria refused to confront its implication in the crimes of the Reich, the assassinated chancellor served as a consensual symbol of national resistance to Nazism. The brutal and authoritarian nature of the Ständestaat was largely ignored. Simultaneously, conservative politicians and intellectuals took great pains to differentiate this regime from its Italian and German counterparts, refusing the label ‘Austrofascism’ as partisan and ideologically charged.

A tenacious personality cult

In 1998, the town of Texingtal inaugurated a museum in the house where Dollfuß had been born, presenting a collection of photos, busts and other memorabilia. The historian Lucile Dreidemy asserted that the exposition paints Dollfuß as a patriotic martyr. Gerhard Karner, in turn, who has served as mayor of Texingtal since 2015, defended the museum as offering a neutral assessment. Yet, a stone plaque displayed at its entry proclaims a less-than-critical perspective: “Dedicated to the great chancellor and renewer of Austria”.

This is not the only example of a certain personality cult enduring well into the 21st century. Since 1945, the assassinated dictator had been commemorated every year with a service celebrated in the chapel of Austria’s chancellery. This tradition was upheld by politicians of all parties since the end of the war – until chancellor Werner Faymann (SPÖ) put an end to it in 2010, drawing sharp criticism from his coalition partners in the ÖVP. In 2016, presidential candidate Andreas Khol (ÖVP) praised Dollfuß as a great patriot while conceding that he was not much of a democrat and had come to power via a coup. (His successor Sebastian Kurz, by contrast, had earlier pronounced himself rather agnostic on this issue.)

Furthermore, the ÖVP honoured the authoritarian chancellor for decades with a portrait displayed at its headquarters in Vienna. After repeated criticism, the party finally removed the painting in 2017 and lent it to a museum. This act, however, was not necessarily symbolic of a critical confrontation with the authoritarian chancellor’s legacy; instead, the party’s executive committee attributed it to a shortage of space during the renovation of the parliament building. The portrait remains in the museum depot until today – an awkward compromise of silence and a textbook example of an österreichische Lösung (“Austrian solution”).

The portrait of Engelbert Dollfuß by the painter Tom von Dreger was displayed at the ÖVP party headquarters until 2017 (CC).

Criticism from all sides

With Karner’s presentation as minister the debate has once again flared up, focusing on the dubious museum in his home district. While the SPÖ and the liberal NEOS as well as the Austrian association of resistance fighters and victims of fascism protested his nomination, even the co-governing Green Party expressed concern. Their human rights spokesperson Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic demanded a statement from Karner: “The position on Austrofascism must always be clear, especially in the case of the Minister of the Interior,” she said via Twitter.

In his first official press conference on December 7, the newly confirmed chancellor Karl Nehammer intervened to assert that the ÖVP had an unequivocal stance regarding the Dollfuß regime which he called a “Kanzlerdiktatur” (chancellor’s dictatorship) – a recent term coined by conservative historians, carefully avoiding the putrid word fascism.

As the controversy refused to die down, Nehammer saw himself compelled to clarify his position: During a TV interview on Sunday, December 12, he condemned the anti-democratic character of the regime and its judicial murders as “intolerable” while also recalling Dollfuß’ assassination at the hands of Nazi putschists in July 1934. Upon questioning, he accepted qualifying Dollfuß as an Austrofascist, making him the first ÖVP party leader to do so. In the same breath, however, Nehammer referred to the historical context, notably emphasising the “great threat” of Austromarxism. Thus, in his words, Austrofascism and Austromarxism merely appear as two sides of the same coin, emanations of a violent and divided society.

The symptom of a larger issue

While Karner himself has not yet reacted to the controversy, the Ministry of the Interior has announced that the exposition will be revised in 2022. In the meantime, the debate has moved on, as Karner now finds himself accused of having used coded anti-semitic speech in the regional election campaign of 2008. Ultimately, it appears that the Texingtal museum is only one symptom of a larger issue – a widespread refusal to confront the country’s dark past.

Nehammer’s acceptance of the term “Austrofascism” is a considerable step, but it will (and can) not be the last word in this matter. To quote the chancellor, it is up to us to learn from history: “Democracy is stronger than any form of dictatorship.” In this spirit, all democratic parties – including, but not limited to the ÖVP – need to achieve something that goes well beyond lip service, whataboutism and other intellectual smoke grenades: a clear, unequivocal condemnation of those who, 87 years ago, drowned Austria’s first republic in blood.

Vienna-Based IPI’s Barbara Trionfi Addresses Nobel Press Freedom Celebrations

The 2021 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday, Dec. 10, in Oslo Norway to journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, for their “tireless defense of freedom of expression” in the Philippines and Russia.  It was the first Nobel awarded in journalism since 1935. In honor of the event, Executive Director Barbara Trionfi, of the Vienna-based International Press Institute (IPI) joined the Norwegian Press House (Pressens hus) for a “Nobel Week” Dec. 6 to 11, to celebrate press freedom and journalism, and “join a conversation” on promoting press freedom worldwide.

Trionfi was also among the speakers at the traditional torchlight procession through the center of Oslo Friday evening. The promotion of peace has been at the core of the IPI mission, since its founding in 1950, she told the listeners: “World peace depends on understanding between peoples and peoples. If peoples are to understand one another, it is essential that they have good information.”

Trionfi’s remarks in full are included below.

At the awards ceremony, the Nobel committee praised Ressa, a co-founder of the news site Rappler, for exposing “the abuse of power and growing authoritarianism in the Philippines,” and Muratov, the co-founder and editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, for long defending freedom of speech in Russia “under increasingly challenging conditions.”

Admired for relentless investigations challenging oppressive regimes and leading to ongoing threats and repression, the two were described as “representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal”.

“Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda,” the Nobel committee said.  “Without freedom of expression and freedom of the press, it will be difficult to successfully promote fraternity between nations, disarmament and a better world order to succeed in our time.” 


Remarks by IPI Excutive Director Barbara Trionfi,
Oslo Norway, Dec. 10 2021

“World peace depends on understanding between peoples. If peoples are to understand one another, it is essential that they have good information.”

With these words, in 1950, in the shadow of the Second World War, the founders of the International Press Institute (IPI) announced the creation of a global network dedicated to promoting press freedom, quality journalism and the free flow of news and information.

Today, over seventy years later, free and independent journalism remains a force for democracy, peace and mutual understanding, within and across national borders. Because it is only when propaganda is unmasked, when political manipulation is exposed, and facts emerge, that the absurdity of conflict becomes evident, and peace has a chance.

With this in mind, IPI commends the decision of the Norwegian Nobel Committee to award Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov one of the world’s highest honours, the Nobel Peace Prize, and so offer the world the opportunity not only to celebrate press freedom and journalism, but also to reflect on the risks that editors and journalists around the world face in order to deliver independent, accurate news; the harassment they meet, and the courage they need simply to carry out their jobs.

Every day journalists are attacked – and in some cases killed – simply because in many places this is an easy way to silence them; they are thrown into prison for crimes they never committed; they are insulted and threatened on social media; they are treated like traitors, terrorists, and criminals just because they dare to shed light on corruption and abuse of power or to question the government line.

Today, as the world is facing a global health crisis that is testing our ability to find common ground, and is testing the resilience of our fundamental rights, including press freedom, the recognition of Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov is a reminder to all of us that independent journalism is what gives us access to accurate information, what empowers us to participate in decision-making processes, and what allows us to hold our governments and institutions accountable. It’s what helps us to understand the opinions of our fellow world citizens, their fears, their aspirations, and their suffering and so develop compassion, empathy, and understanding. And it is – in digging for the truth – what helps us to overcome the challenges that we as a planet face.

As the societies we live in are more divided than ever before, as people are more and more singled out for their ethnicity, ideology, gender, race, or religion, as disinformation drives a wedge between us – it is accurate information that will bring us closer together. And that means that journalism, if allowed to flourish, to be free and independent, will bring us closer together.

In honoring Dmitry and Maria, we also honor the many other journalists around the world like them, who continue to do their jobs in the face of harassment and abuse, with courage, dedication, and a commitment to promoting the public interest of the societies they serve.

Like Maria and Dimitry, they deserve our support, our acknowledgment that press freedom is not a given, that quality journalism is achieved through hard work and often at great risk. They deserve our commitment that protecting the rights and safety of journalists is our priority.

Barbara Trionfi is executive director of the International Press Institute in Vienna. She joined the organization in 2000, as a press freedom adviser for the Asia-Pacific region, where she had studied and worked for over four years, carrying out research in the field of human rights and freedom of expression. Later, as press freedom manager, she oversaw IPI’s global press freedom monitoring and coordinated IPI’s global advocacy. With degrees in international relations and human rights, she has taught Media Ethics, Media Literacy and Cultural Diversity and the Media at Webster University, Vienna.

Dental Tourism From Vienna To Hungary

Have you noticed your Austrian friends heading over the border for a root canal? Dental tourism is well-established among the Viennese and others in this part of Austria because health insurance doesn’t cover many of the services people these days consider essential. For instance, the Austrian health insurance company for employees ÖGK doesn’t contribute to fixed dentures, oral hygiene, cosmetic services, and fixed braces for adults at all.

Although procedures such as dental treatment, removable dentures, and removable braces are covered, in 2018 citizens had to pay more than half of the dental treatments privately. The extent of dental care coverage was agreed on in 1956; though minor updates happened in 1972 and 1992, basic rules have remained largely the same. Advice and prevention consultations are minimal, and some technical developments in the dental industry have not been incorporated. Despite recommendations from the World Health Organization and other health reforms, health goals for the dental sector are still largely lacking. In 2012, when the health reform was negotiated, instead of a comprehensive reorganization, politicians decided to employ a “policy of small steps” regarding dental care.

Thus, the not-so-secret tip for dental treatments is to cross the borders.

Dental destinations in Hungary

According to the tourism department of the Hungarian government, 80,000 Austrians visit the country per year for medical treatments, mostly dental care.

One main reason is price. Dental care can cost up to 70% less in Hungary. For someone living on the edge of Austria, choosing a Hungarian dentist – many of whose practices are strategically located near the border – is a no-brainer.

Although price and location are important factors to consider quality is also a concern. Based on their ratings, Hungarian dentists can show off big white smiles – and the availability of a doctor’s Google ratings makes life easier.

An extra plus is that many clinics offer free-of-charge shuttle services. Among others, 5Dent, a clinic in Mosonmagyarvár, picks up people from the central train station of Vienna, Preßburg, Hegyeshalom, or Mosonmagyaróvár, or also at the airport and takes them directly to the clinic. That clinic has partnered with a local hotel to offer clients wellness while they’re waiting for their dental appointments. Indeed, Hungarian clinics usually help their foreign clients when it comes to hotel reservations, 5dent confirmed. People from abroad can also enjoy a wellness weekend in thermal spas where they can relax or sign up for beauty and wellness treatments.

Görgényi Szilvia, clinic manager at 5dent told Metropole that, during the pandemic, some 60-70% of their clients came from Austria. Although their target audience has always been foreigners, this percentage was still exceptional.

And until the Austrian government is able to rethink what health insurance can and should cover when it comes to dental care, Hungarian dentists in the border areas are sure to continue to thrive.

5 European Christmas Traditions To Discover in Vienna

By Florian Kappelsberger

As snowflakes are dancing outside our windows and slowly covering Vienna’s roofs in white, it is really beginning to look a lot like Christmas… Last year, we presented you five Austrian traditions that add charm to the holiday season. This time, we want to flip the perspective: Here are five European Christmas traditions from all over the continent waiting to be discovered by you!

© Steph Gray / Flickr

Crown a king or queen with the French galette des rois

Who will be king or queen of the new year? There is one way to find out that is both exciting and delicious: the French tradition of the galette des rois. In this ritual associated with the holiday of Epiphany, a small porcelain figurine called fève is baked into a cake. Whoever finds it in their slice will be ceremoniously crowned – although, in most cases, with a relatively unceremonious paper couronne. Following the original recipe, the cake is made of puffed pastry and filled with almond-flavoured frangipane, but there are countless regional variations.

This tradition has been celebrated for centuries and remains enormously popular until today. While Epiphany does not arrive until January 6, the galettes are sold in France starting mid-December. If you want to discover this tradition for yourself, you can also find these cakes in Vienna’s numerous boulangeries, such as Parémi and L’Amour du Pain. Otherwise, why not try your luck and bake a galette des rois yourself? In any case: bonne chance et bon appétit!

Sharing a Serbian česnica with your family

There is a tradition in Serbia that is, in a way, analogous to the French cake ritual: the česnica. This round loaf of bread, whose name derives from the Serbian word čest (“share”), is divided among the family on Christmas Eve. Sometimes, a coin is put into the dough before baking; according to the lore, the person who finds it will have great luck in the year to follow!

There are many other rules and rituals associated with the preparation process: The water for the dough is traditionally collected from springs or wells, the surface of the loaf is inscribed with symbols such as the Christogram, and the bread should be rotated counterclockwise three times at the beginning of the dinner.

© Michał Józefaciuk / CC

Breaking a Polish Christmas wafer and speaking with animals

When the entire family is gathered at the table on Christmas eve, it is an important custom in Poland to share the opłatek, a thin white wafer made only of flour and water. Traditionally, the eldest family member will break off a piece and pass the remaining wafer on to the next person with a blessing. This not only replays the Eucharistic ritual from Catholic liturgy, it also symbolises unity and reconciliation within the family. The traditional wafers, often bearing beautiful Christian imagery, are sold in stores for Polish cuisine and delicatessen, for example Wilder Osten in Vienna’s second district.

Another Polish tradition is to speak to your pets on Christmas eve – hoping that they will respond! According to popular lore, animals magically gain the gift of language on this special night. So why not try to strike a conversation with your beloved dog or pampered house cat around the Christmas tree? You never know what they might have to say to you!

© Nicola / Flickr

Panettone, cavallucci and the Italian Christmas witch

While Americans address their letters to Santa Claus and Austrians wait for the Christkind to arrive, there is an altogether different figure delivering gifts for Christmas in Italy: the benevolent witch Befana. She is said to visit children on the eve of Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they behaved well in the past year. Otherwise, they will wake up in the morning to discover a lump of coal in their sock…

As in many other countries, Christmas is a culinary feast in Italy. The traditional panettone, a Milanese sweet bread containing candied orange, raisins or chocolate, is surely well-known and cherished way beyond the country’s borders – but have you heard of cavallucci, as well? This rich Christmas pastry, originating in the city of Siena, is prepared with honey, anise, almonds and candied fruit… Need I say more? You can discover many different festive dolci with L’angolo di Michel in Josefstadt.

Danish risalamande: a delicious almond lottery

This Danish tradition is reminiscent of the French galette des rois, but quite a bit simpler. On Christmas Eve, the family gathers around a steaming pot of rice pudding and throws in a whole almond before distributing. Whoever finds the nut in his dessert wins a small prize called mandelgave (‘almond present’), often a marzipan pig.

Usually, the winners will even wait to reveal their victory until all of the pudding has been eaten, making the others guess who has won. Although the rice pudding dish is not everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak, this beloved holiday tradition is associated with a lot of laughter, stories and fond memories. It is also celebrated in Finland, Norway and Sweden.

The Bright Stillness of Salzburg Under Lockdown

Austria is living under its fourth national lockdown in less than two years. Restaurants, retail shops, hotels and Christmas markets are all closed, in scenes reminiscent of last year’s late-Nov. lockdown. Salzburg—a city that would normally be chock-full of travelers sipping mugs of spiced Glühwein or hunting for gifts in the windows of its iconic shopping district—has been left to the locals. The city’s sidewalks and trails are busy, as residents leave their homes for fresh air, while downtown, streets and plazas sit mostly quiet under the glow of Christmas lights.

Over the course of a typical year, tourists outnumber Salzburg locals 58 to 1. Businesses may be scrambling in their absence, but the emptiness leaves room to examine the city in a new light. Without the commercialization fostered by the tourism industry, Salzburg starts to look closer to the way many locals perceive their home: a place of warmth, natural beauty and a slower pace of life.

City dwellers cross the street at Mirabellplatz, in downtown Salzburg.

Salzburg’s famous Mirabell Gardens are closed off due to snowy conditions.

Holiday lights hang above Linzer Gasse Platzl, a small square in Salzburg’s historic center. With shops closed, a few passersby walk through what is normally a bustling avenue.

The city’s most popular Christmas market, the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, is held in the old town outside Salzburg Cathedral every year. City-goers pass by closed stalls.

The lockdown has hurt Christmas market vendors, who in some cases had already paid for their stall spaces, Christmas goods and staff. According to reporting by Der Standard, sales figures this season are forecasted to be 70% less than in pre-pandemic years.

Afternoon sunlight falls over Salzburg’s southeast end. On the hill to the right sits the Hohensalzburg Fortress.

The Hohensalzburg Fortress is reflected in a pool of snowmelt.

Lights snake along Salzburg’s iconic shopping district on Getreidegasse.

City dwellers turn away from a jewelry shop window. Next door, a chocolate shop advertises Mozartkugel, a sweet dedicated to composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was born in Salzburg.

The sun sets behind the Untersberg, a mountain just south of the city.

As someone who moved to Salzburg within the last year, I’ve only known the city a short while. But in that brief period, I’ve learned to see another side of it—the one that lies beneath the gaudy souvenirs, the Sound of Music tours or the grandiosity of the Salzburger Festspiele.

I’m not sure that would have been possible without these lockdowns. Despite their many downsides, they have slowed us down and given us a fresh perspective.

Karl Nehammer Presents Himself as Reliable Chancellor

The new chancellor Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) positioned himself as a new kind of head of government in his first press conference on Tuesday. In a friendly and measured tone, he emphasized the importance of dialogue and approaching opponents of the government and the corona measures.

“Dialogue must never end. The offer to talk must always be available,” he said.

 “The coronavirus has imposed a lot on all of us (…) some already feel overwhelmed”, he said. It was necessary to change the language and move from being against each other to being together, said the new chancellor. “We are a society”. The virus was the enemy, the virus was what was limiting freedom and killing people, said Nehammer, using very different wording than before. As interior minister, Nehammer was often exceedingly harsh about people who opposed the virus prevention measures. At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, he said that those who stuck to the rules were “lifesavers” and those who did not “endangered lives”. As chancellor, Nehammer appears to be showing a different face.

The thousands of people who took to the streets to protest against the government and its corona restrictions were not all of the same opinions, he said. Many of them had “fears and concerns,” and he wanted to react to these as head of government. “The virus should not be the millstone around the neck of the Republic”.

The new chancellor Karl Nehammer has affirmed that the coronavirus lockdown will end on the coming weekend for people who are vaccinated. “The opening will take place”. It was only a question of how.

Aside from shops, Nehammer also confirmed that bars and restaurants, hotels, and other sectors would reopen. The only thing that was still unclear was what kind of security measures were needed.

Nehammer said that the provincial governors agreed to a three-week lockdown ahead of time. Now there was a positive tendency, with declining infection numbers, which the government wanted to make into a positive trend. They would proceed as cautiously as possible, said Nehammer.

He repeated previous comments from Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens), who said that the state would continue to distinguish between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. The lockdown was due to continue for the unvaccinated.

About the mandatory vaccine, Nehammer said it was a “shame” that it was necessary. “If we were like other European countries, with vaccination rates of 90 percent, we would not have to think about it”, he said. “Unfortunately,” it was necessary for Austria.

Reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.

Frustrations Explode Over COVID Measures

By Florian Kappelsberger

“Ich bin ungeimpft, ungeimpft, ungeimpft…” Some protestors joyously sang along to a current upbeat pop song by Björn Banane, blasting out from mobile speakers as they slowly marched down the Ringstraße. Known for Mallorca-style party anthems like Biergit or Bärbels Busen, the singer from Berlin is symptomatic of a curious musical niche that has emerged almost instantaneously around the heterogenous Covid protest movement, which has recently seen frustrations explode. On this Saturday, his aptly titled song Ungeimpft – “unvaccinated” – provided the soundtrack to the demonstration that crossed Vienna’s inner city, floating above a sea of red-white-red Austrian flags, conspiracy-theorist placards and wafts of incense.

More than 40,000 people from all over the country as well as abroad came together in the Austrian capital on Saturday, December 4, to protest the ongoing lockdown and the vaccine mandate planned for February. Thus, for the third successive weekend, Vienna witnessed a curious mélange in the crowds gathering on Heldenplatz and parading on the Ringstraße. The police, too, turned out in large numbers, in the end some 1,200 strong from the city and surrounding provinces.

The march was led by high-ranking members of the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), who had called for the demonstration. Party leader Herbert Kickl was, however, unable to attend, as he was in quarantine since testing positive for Covid-19. Thus it was that FPÖ deputy Dagmar Belakowitsch took the stage. The hospital intensive care units were overflowing, she admitted, but not with unvaccinated persons who had become seriously ill with Covid, as the government claimed, but with people suffering from “vaccine damage”. Upon questioning, Both Belakowitsch and the FPÖ refused to elaborate, provoking outrage in all other major parties. “This is not even fake news, those are straight-up lies,” SPÖ deputy Jörg Leichtfried commented in ORF2’s talkshow Im Zentrum.

Other notorious figures of the extreme right had also joined the march, figures such as the neo-Nazi Gottfried Küssel and Martin Sellner, leader of the Austrian Identitäre Bewegung. Their followers brandished Austrian flags (sometimes upside-down), placards denouncing an imagined ‘great replacement’ or symbols of the QAnon movement.

Violence and tear gas

But among the 40,000, there were many who offered a striking contrast to the militant nationalist minority: parents concerned for their children, fervent Christians, and esoteric believers, carrying drums and waving incense while calling for purity of mind and body. Some said they feared negative consequences of the vaccine, citing the absence of long-term studies. “For me, the risks of the side-effects are simply not worth taking,” one participant told the national broadcaster ORF. Fears, however, that have repeatedly been refuted by doctors and vaccine experts.

At the same time, a loose association of left-wing groups were on the march with a counter-protest titled “Against Nazis, the State and Capitalism”. Starting out at the Stephansplatz, the participants moved on to Schwedenplatz, setting up a stage and blocking traffic. There, speakers demanded unity and international cooperation in the struggle against what they branded as a fascist, anti-Semitic threat. “We are here to show: We want to fight this pandemic together, but with solidarity,” one participant told ORF. The police took great pains to keep right-wing activists separate from the counter-protesters, whose number was estimated by police at 1,500.

While the demonstration remained peaceful through the afternoon, towards the evening, the atmosphere became more tense. Protestors threw bottles and flares at the police, bathing the 19th century Gründerzeit façades in bright red light. Some broke through the barriers and clashed violently with law enforcement, that responded with tear gas.

At the end of the day, 621 demonstrators were charged, five arrested and two police officers wounded. Austria’s new chancellor, former interior minister Karl Nehammer, criticized the behaviour of certain demonstrators as “anti-democratic and lacking in solidarity“.

The spectre of a radicalized protest movement

It remains to be seen how this situation will evolve over the coming weeks. With only 67% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID, Austria has one of the lowest rates in all of western Europe. Although case numbers have fallen significantly since the imposition of a strict lockdown for all citizens on November 22, the incidence remains at the alarmingly high level of 535 with 5,663 new infections daily. Meanwhile, intensive care units in heavily hit regions such as Upper Austria and Salzburg are reaching the limits of their capacity, as ORF reported.

Chancellor Nehammer has confirmed that the nation-wide lockdown will end on December 12 for vaccinated people, but the restrictions will remain in place for the unvaccinated. At the same time, the government is preparing a vaccine mandate in force as of February 2022. A preliminary draft, analysed by ORF’s Zeit im Bild, proposes a fine of up to 600 euros every three months for people who refuse the vaccination.

It seems unlikely that either of these measures will smooth the waters among the heterogeneous group of roughly two million unvaccinated people in Austria, as the FPÖ and other far-right activists continue to exploit the growing tensions to undermine the turquoise-green coalition.

Word of the Week: Marie [maˈʁiː]

Noun. A popular Viennese slang term for cash, similar to the English “bread” or “dough.” It was famously used in the title of the 2018 episode Her mit der Marie! (Hand Over the Cash!) of the long-running German-Swiss-Austrian police procedural Tatort, which led many of our neighbors to wonder just who this “Marie” is.

In fact, the term derives from the iconic Maria-Theresien-Taler, a silver bullion coin first struck in 1741, bearing the portrait of its namesake, Empress Maria Theresia. Due to its purity and stringent quality control, it quickly became a preferred currency for international trade, circulating far beyond Habsburg lands; alongside the Spanish Dólar (whose name also derives from “Taler”) its popularity made it synonymous with money in many parts of the world, even influencing a young United States to take the name for its own currency.

The coin continued as a standard currency long after Maria Theresia’s reign and is still punched out by the Austrian mint today – with the date frozen at 1780, the year of her death. With over 380 million minted since it was first introduced, the face of the Empress could be found in wide circulation within Africa and the Middle East well after WWII. Benito Mussolini even demanded (and received) the original casts from Austria to bankroll his conquest of Ethiopia, as the locals didn’t trust Italian money.

The British Empire also acknowledged its popularity by striking their own Maria-Theresia-Talers in 1935, minting 18 million pieces in Mumbai alone to support their colonial economies in Africa and East Asia; the coin remains protected under the British Forgery and Counterfeiting Act to this day.

So wherever you are, dear readers, Marie (or the lack of her) matters.  Which gives a whole new slant on the old vocative, “Cherchez la femme!”

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!

Citizen of the World | Is National Identity Obsolete?

I was born in Vienna to Croatian parents who came from Bosnia. So, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when people had trouble placing me. “You can’t be Croatian, you’re Austrian!” says one. “But you’re not Croatian, because you come from Bosnia,” says another. And a third, “You’re certainly not Austrian with that name!” 

In my nearly three decades of existence, I have frequently been confronted with statements like these. So which nationality am I? How should I identify myself? Or rather, what is the correct term for people with a history like mine? 

Rewind to 1992, when my mother and father had their first – and only – child in Wien-Favoriten. Both had come from a village that today belongs to the so-called Brcko district in the northeast of Bosnia, as part of a Croatian Catholic community there. For this reason, they are often referred to as Croats or Bosnian Croats. I grew up bilingually in Vienna and have always been able to speak German and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. And while it’s not fashionable to say this, I consider these languages the same. 

As a child, I thought of myself as Austrian. And although I had never been a victim of discrimination, per se, my Austrian friends categorized me as a foreigner, even though I didn’t see it that way myself. Later, in my teenage years, I became increasingly aware of my Balkan roots. I found friends from the Balkans, and it wasn’t long before I started going out to bars and pubs that played rock music and so-called “turbofolk” from Bosnia, Serbia, or Croatia. I tried to find a new identity. 

Neither here nor there

I discovered the switch had already taken place: I abruptly identified myself as a foreigner and was proud of it. 

But the next debacle was not long in coming: Was I Bosnian or Croatian? Whenever non-Yugoslavs asked where I was from, a convoluted explanation always followed, such as, “I am Austrian with Croatian roots from Bosnia.” Then came the puzzled looks. Soon, I noticed that all the “Yugo” kids born in Vienna faced similar experiences. And no matter how much they identified with their Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian roots, they remained, whether they liked it or not, children who grew up and went to school in Austria. 

The same was true in reverse – native Austrians often did not feel that the first generation born in Austria could call themselves “nationals.” So, we – the “nationality nomads” as I like to say – share the same fate. Faced with the Austrian and international community in the outside world, our Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian families were waiting for us at home, along with their cuisine and traditions. I realized that we represented a separate social group. 

On the one hand, we enjoyed the progressive and individualistic values of “Western” society in Austria, and on the other, we lived in a parallel world, where tradition, patriarchal family values, and to some extend religion, often played an essential role in many areas of life. These circumstances significantly influenced our character – at least in my environment. As a result, there are many in Vienna who dare a kind of spiritual balancing act, incorporating attributes from both cultures into their world view. 

Why do former guest worker or refugee children choose only one of the two mindsets? Why is it an either/or between their parents’ homeland or the country where they currently live? 

In my opinion, we are both; we are “hybrids” who are not subordinated to one or the other, to “here” or “there”. We are a mixture. In addition, increasingly global networking has brought influences from other parts of the world, which also shape our daily existence, and which make it even more difficult to place us into a single category. 

Citizen of the world

Does that mean that the classic image of national identity is over? 

For me, probably. I have learned that I cannot, and will not, identify myself with one nationality. Of course, I have characteristics from each of the Bosnian, Croatian and Austrian cultures. Nevertheless, I think it inadvisable to label myself with my countries of origin, because today people from all over the world consume the same media, enjoy similar leisure activities and work in the same professions. 

Likewise, people who share the same ethnic roots can have different interests, pursue opposite careers, or have contrasting approaches to family planning. 

For this reason, I have decided to identify myself as a so-called “citizen of the world” and to choose my affiliations based on character, sense of humour, and life goals. This has made it easier for me to take risks, because as soon as I stopped identifying with my nation of origin – when I chose different parameters for making connections – friendships quickly formed with like-minded people from all over the world. 

This has resulted in valuable bonds with fantastic individuals based not merely on the same country name, but primarily on compatible values and personality traits. 

Today, I am someone who no longer cares about country of origin. To me, the construct of nationality as an identity is outdated, inappropriate for the dynamics of today’s world.

Croatian Slang

Croatian is often described as harsh, serious sounding and difficult to learn. Nonetheless, it is also immensely colorful and creative, with words like rakija and propuh. Rakija is the legendary Croatian Schnaps, familiar even to many non-Croatian speakers. The answer to everything, it is even considered a medicine. Propuh on the other hand could be called the dark side of Croatian. It’s the word for the draught from your leaky doors and windows, and has been killing more people in the Balkans than all other diseases put together. 

Another essential part of a Croatian’s everyday language are the swear words, as common as dobar dan we say, like wishing someone a “good day.” For many Croats it is considered funny to teach these strong words to toddlers who then pronounce them in their own way and make it all sound cute and funny. 

Getting used to swearing at a very young age probably explains why saying things that might be offensive in other languages is relatively harmless in Croatian, like jebi ga (“f*ck it”), or sereš, literally “you are shitting,” but colloquially used for “you’re kidding.” Or jebeno which literally means “f*cked,” but actually means “cool” when used by Croats, or pas mater meaning “a dog f* your mother,” often just used to express surprise or disbelief. 

More so, the parts under the belt are commonly used in everyday expressions as much as in swearing, especially your mother’s vagina (“u pičku materinu”), or the male genitals, as in “kurčiti se,” which simply means to brag.

Apart from swearing, the Croatian language has other creative expressions, often layered with irony, like “tko ga šiša?” literally, Who is cutting his hair?, but commonly used to mean “I don’t care about him or his opinion.” 

In short, it’s probably best not to take what Croatians say too seriously, as in the helpful reply malo sutra, which literally suggests, “We’ll help you tomorrow,” but actually means “no way!” 

Austrian-Croatian Sports Legends

It all started with the national basketball team, which was always among the top three in the years after independence – whether at the World Cup, the European Championships, or the Olympic Games. By 1998 at the latest, the sporting world began to hear about Croatia when the legendary eleven players of the “coach of the century,” Miroslav Ćiro Blažević, won a bronze medal at the World Cup in France. Not everyone could have named Croatia’s capital, but the whole world knew its best player Davor Šuker. 

Then came the handball players, who have been on the podium almost every year out of the last two decades. And then the skiing siblings Janica and Ivica Kostelić, who have managed to become two of the world’s best ski racers, even though the country has hardly any mountains. Nor should Goran Ivanišević’s victory as a qualifier at Wimbledon 2001 be forgotten either. And then in 2018, a true football fairytale happened, when Croatia became runners-up in the World Cup. That year, Real Madrid midfielder Luka Modrić was named the best player of the World.

But the history of Austrian sport too has been written by some top athletes of Croatian origin. Integrated through sport, they and thousands of other children who came to Austria with their parents during the war, became part of Austrian society. 

Of these, the two best known athletes are Mirna Jukić-Berger and Ivica Vastić.

Mirna Jukić-Berger

Swimmer and multiple European champion

Now part of the Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture, Public Service and Sport

Austria is not traditionally a great swimming nation, yet Mirna Jukić-Berger decided to move to Vienna to pursue a great career. Starting to swim at the age of seven, the Vukovar native had to leave her home club Borovo because of the war and move to Zagreb.

At a competition in Vienna, the president of the swimming club Austria Wien contacted her and, after hearing her parents’ story, he suggested they come to Vienna and find their fortune there. Now 13, Mirna knew she wanted to get to the Olympics at some point: The options were Austria, Australia or South Africa. The Alpine Republic won because it wasn’t so far from home.

After that, as they say, it was history: Jukić-Berger became European champion several times (the 100 and 200 meter breast stroke and on the short course over 200 meters). The highlight of her extraordinary career was a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In total, she holds twelve Austrian swimming records; she received the Golden Decoration of Merit of the Republic of Austria in 2003 and was Sportswoman of the Year three times (2002, 2008 and 2009).

Austrian swimmer Mirna Jukic with the bronze medal she won at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

After her career, she supported many integration projects. “I personally think that sport is the easiest way to integrate. No one asks you what your name is or where you come from,” says Jukić-Berger, now 35. Since 2020, she has been working at the Federal Ministry of Sport (BMKÖS), in the Department of Sport Strategy, Sport and Society and Sport Report, focusing on sustainability and integration.

She thinks Austrian sport can also learn from the Croatian: “Cohesion, joy and the euphoria among athletes in all sports is something that Austrians can learn from us,” she says. “Sport in Croatia has a much higher status. In Austria, we as a society still have potential to work on that.” You can read her story in detail in her book Under Water, Over Life.

The former swimmer sees herself as both Austrian and Croatian and is at home in both countries: “I am proud that it is like that,” she confirms. She goes to Croatia several times a year, especially in the summer, as her whole family is there. In Vienna, she reports being well connected with the Croatian community and wants only to get more and more involved.

Ivica Vastić

Former football player

Today: Coach of the under-18 team FK Austria Vienna

At 38 years and 257 days, Ivica Vastić is to this day the oldest goal scorer at a European Championship. And back in Austria, Vastić is an idol of countless boys with a migration background who dream of celebrating their own success one day.

Vastić was born and raised in the Croatian city of Split, where he learned the craft of shipbuilding. But what he wanted to do was to play football and began his career with RNK Split just before the outbreak of the Yugoslav war. Through family contacts he left for Vienna and played there – first for the legendary club First Vienna. A year later, he scored 18 goals for VSE St. Pölten, which is why Admira Wacker, a top club at the time, lured him to join. 

In 1994 he joined Sturm Graz, where he enjoyed great success over the next eight years. Under Bosnian coach Ivica Osim, he became captain, playmaker and goal-scorer, but also twice champion and three times cup and Super Cup winner each. He was Austria’s Footballer of the Year several times and was the league’s top scorer in 1996 and 2000.

In 1996, Vastić was granted Austrian citizenship and was able to make his debut against Switzerland in March. At the 1998 World Cup, he scored against Chile to make it 1-1 in the second preliminary round match. After that he was a regular in the national team until 2002. After an episode in Japan, he came back to Austria in 2003 and played two seasons with FK Austria Wien, winning the cup in 2005.

After the cup win, he moved to LASK Linz in the second division and led the team to second place in the table with 19 goals. A year later he became top scorer again with 23 goals and shot them into the 1st Bundesliga. In 2008, he was called up to the national team squad again, this time for the European Championship at home. In the match against Poland (1:1) he scored the only Austrian goal and became the oldest European Championship goal scorer ever at almost 39 years of age.

In May 2009, Ivo ended his professional career after 286 goals in 662 games. He had won the Austrian league twice and the Cup four times and was four times Footballer of the Year.

Only a few months after his professional retirement, he began his coaching career with a regional league club. His greatest success came in 2015 in the second division, when he was promoted with SV Mattersburg. Since 2018, he has been a coach in the youth section of FK Austria Wien.

Still, one of his strangest hours in football was a goal against Croatia in Vienna in 2000. Closely followed by a game against his other home country at the 2008 European Championship, which left him “quite queasy.”  

Who was he, in the end? Who is any of us?

GUEST ANALYSIS: What Sebastian Kurz Did – And Didn’t – Do For The ÖVP

In the decade before young Sebastian Kurz’s takeover of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), it appeared to be little more than a holding company for a fractious coalition of regional interests, the lowest common denominator of which was desire for power. Kurz’s genius was the professionalized marketing of the party (turquoise!) around his person: the well-spoken, perfect son-in-law. But with Kurz now gone, it has become clear that his sound and fury ultimately leaves very little for the future ÖVP to build on.

Kurz’s electoral success was so unprecedented that, just recently, the party appeared inseparable from him. He threw out the stale messaging of an earlier generation, and regional barons subordinated their voices so long as the Wunderkind delivered votes. Yet as his fortunes faded, undone by corruption investigations first, and then finally by mismanagement of the pandemic, it became clear that the regional leaders had no compunction about cutting the albatross from their collective neck.

Matthias Strolz, the former leader of the NEOS, said in an October panel discussion on ORF that it would take some weeks before the ÖVP processed the resignation of Kurz as chancellor. And indeed, regional barons soon realized there was no future in a vengeful, comeback-plotting leader trying to evade and ignore the Damoclean sword of Lady Justice – all to the detriment of the ÖVP-led government. Furthermore, Kurz’s association with the deadliest policy failure in the history of the Second Republic would not be soon forgotten.

Rearranging the deckchairs

With Kurz gone, it has become clear how negligibly he changed party structures and ideologies. The reshuffled cabinet, led by Karl Nehammer, is a mosaic of “System Kurz” remnants and regional party interests, with the Lower Austrian branch of the party (NO-ÖVP) commanding supremacy.

The original NÖ-ÖVP patrons of Kurz, such as Erwin Pröll, Michael Spindelegger, Wolfgang Sobotka and the incumbent governor of Lower Austria, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, were all regional heavyweights. Some of Kurz’s closest associates, such as Stefan Steiner, Gerald Fleischmann and Bernhard Bonelli, first earned their stripes in the NÖ-ÖVP orbit. Without regional support, Kurz’s party takeover would not have been possible.

The NÖ-ÖVP was a similarly necessary actor in Kurz’s undoing, and the new cabinet shows it remains the boss. Karl Nehammer was a Kurz stalwart but equally close to the NÖ-ÖVP. His successor as interior minister, Gerhard Karner, is an old hand from the NÖ-ÖVP and an experienced guardian of the party-linked networks in the security and intelligence services.

Meanwhile, Nehammer has thrown out close allies of Kurz, such as Gernot Blümel and Bernhard Bonelli. The rest of the Kurz faction is weak and likely to either be subsumed or phased out by the new party coalition. Elisabeth Köstinger only remains as agriculture and tourism minister because of support from the farming lobby. Alexander Schallenberg was a close Kurz ally, but is first and foremost a career diplomat, enabling his return to the foreign ministry.

Yet the power centre now emerging within the ÖVP is driven primarily by the need to stop the descent into directionless chaos. Nehammer is a placeholder, whose task is to steady the ship and steam further losses. Ideally, he could even win back support from disaffected voters, preventing the potential formation of a left-liberal majority in new elections.

Après moi

For now, the ÖVP finds itself where it was five years ago. Kurz was not a political visionary, but a figurehead whose primary service was to centralize communications and borrow anti-immigrant messaging from the far-right while trading horses with whichever interests would keep the party – and therefore him – in power. In the end, he had few partners or horses left, rendering him a liability.

Kurz has often been compared with the “illiberal democrats” of Central Europe. There is a lot to support this theory: the majoritarian conduct; prickly relationship with the courts; cozy relationship with key media; populist discourse. Yet a neglected comparison is with a politician once held to be the polar opposite of the charismatic young man, a veteran who outlasted the Wunderwuzzi onceso admired by factions of her own party: Angela Merkel.

Merkel is far from the image-fixated populism of Kurz. But like him, her party’s success became entirely dependent on her person. She also had no particular strategic vision; few reforms were enacted under her 16-year tenure. The policies she oversaw were either the domain of her coalition partners or reactions to cataclysmic events. She was a political loner, grooming no successors even if she opened the CDU to the youth.

Merkel and Kurz often seemed to represent the two different directions that European centre-right parties could take. But the irony is that, as both leaders retire from politics under very different circumstances, they leave their respective parties in a very similar place: paralytic chaos, with little sense of strategic as well as ideological direction. Strong leadership, whether imagined or real, does not necessarily prevent the flood after.

Corruption Allegations Against EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn

The French newspaper Liberation has raised serious allegations against Austria’s EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). Hahn is said to have allowed lobbyists to invite him on hunting trips and to expensive meals without his adequately reporting them, Austrian broadcaster ORF and daily newspaper Der Standard reported on Thursday evening. Hahn denies the allegations.

Hahn is said to have taken part in a hunting party in December 2015 that was paid for by the Belgian Landowners Lobby (ELO). According to Liberation, he would have been obliged to register his participation in the Commission under its code of conduct.

A spokesman for Hahn said, according to ORF and Der Standard, the invitation from the EU Commissioner was “purely of a private nature”. He took part in the company of his partner at the time, who had a hunting license. It was therefore not necessary to enter this in the transparency register.

According to Der Standard, Johannes Hahn is also involved in another conflict of interest: In June 2021, he met three times for dinner with the Austrian representative at the Court of Auditors, Helga Berger, once accompanied by his current partner, Susanne Riess-Passer, the previous one Vice-Chancellor. Berger charged the tabs to the audit office.

Hahn’s office explains, according to Der Standard, that these meetings are “part of the regular exchange that the Commissioner has with representatives of institutions/ organizations that are related to activities in the context of his portfolio”. Representatives from other institutions also took part. An entry in the transparency register, his team said, was not necessary.

Reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.

Government Reshuffle: Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) to Become Austria’s Next Chancellor

By Florian Kappelsberger

The carousel keeps on turning as a government reshuffle is announced: After a dramatic week that saw former chancellor Sebastian Kurz officially withdraw from political life and current chancellor Alexander Schallenberg (both ÖVP) tender his resignation, the executive committee of the center-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) unanimously designated current Interior Minister Karl Nehammer as the party’s future federal chairman. He is also tapped to succeed Kurz and Schallenberg as Austria’s next chancellor, as confirmed in an impromptu press conference today, December 3. Nehammer will be Austria’s third chancellor within a year, and the fourth within the last three years, including the interim “expert” government of Brigitte Bierlein.

“This is a great honour for me, personally,” Nehammer said today. The incumbent chancellor emphasised the significance of the ÖVP in both local and national politics, announcing that his political course will be both “driven by values” and “looking towards the future.” At the same time, Nehammer clarified that the government would continue its hard line on asylum and migration.

Born in 1972 in Vienna, Karl Nehammer is a lieutenant in Austria’s Federal Army and worked several years as communication coach for army officers and at a number of education institutions. Later, he studied political science in Krems. Nehammer has been active in politics on a national level since 2015 and became minister in 2020.

Government Reshuffle

The designated chancellor presented a reshuffle of ÖVP-held cabinet positions:

  • Short-term chancellor Alexander Schallenberg will return to his former post as Foreign Minister.
  • Magnus Brunner, currently state secretary in the Ministry for Climate Action, will succeed Gernot Blümel as Minister of Finance after the latter announced his withdrawal from politics on December 2.
  • Gerhard Karner will assume Nehammer’s current position as Minister of the Interior.
  • Martin Polaschek, director of the University of Graz, is set to become Minister of Education; current Education Minister Heinz Faßmann will step down.
  • Claudia Plakolm will ascend to the post of State Secretary in the Federal Chancellery.
  • Additionally, Bernhard Bonelli, who is known as a close confidant of former chancellor Kurz and was also named in several of the text messages published during the Beinschab affair, will no longer serve as head of the cabinet; his successor, however, has yet to be named.

Rule of Law

In his first press conference as designated chancellor, Nehammer emphasized the principle of Rechtsstaatlichkeit (rule of law) several times, yet did not mention the successive scandals and criminal investigations that have shaken the government in the last months. Instead, he thanked former chancellor Kurz for his cooperation in the transition of power as well as for what he has achieved for the ÖVP: “I have great respect for the decision of Sebastian Kurz.” He equally extended his thanks to Alexander Schallenberg, who had served as interim chancellor for roughly two months after Kurz’s withdrawal.

Nehammer also said he hopes to consult with Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen as soon as possible so that the new cabinet can start to work. He named the immediate fight against the resurgent COVID pandemic as the number one priority of the incoming government, invoking the principles of solidarity and civic duty in these times of crisis. This, according to him, is “the only way to get the pandemic under control” and to “regain the freedoms that have been curtailed by the ongoing national lockdown.”

In reaction to the government reshuffle, opposition parties have called for snap elections. Yet Nehammer showed himself determined to continue the current chancellorship and government coalition: “It’s a great, tough challenge that I am looking forward to.”

Croatian Food in Vienna | The Great Gastro-guide

Nowhere in Austria is the fact that food unites, more evident than in Vienna, where the doors to a half a dozen different cultures will open just a few steps from your own front door.

Here are a few of Vienna’s best Croatian restaurants. 


From a town called Benkovac in Dalmatia (Croatia) comes Ante Paić, the owner of the Briuni restaurant, which he opened 14 years ago. The fun-loving restaurateur defies the challenges of life with the attitude that has already proven itself: to look at everything positively. Which is why his large extended family all find time to help in this contagiously happy enterprise.

In his Restaurant Briuni he offers dishes of Dalmatian Mediterranean cuisine, such as fish, pasta, but also pizza.

Must try:

The octopus, believe it or not, is the most popular dish on the menu.

His plans for the future are to stay healthy, to get through the pandemic in one piece and to be able to enjoy his retirement, which he will start in a year. The question of which of those relatives will take over remains open. 

2., Blumauergasse 2

IG: @restaurant_briuni


Six years ago, Vedran Markić came from Karlovac (Croatia) to Vienna to take over the restaurant Lubin, which has now been in his family for 18 years. 

His biggest challenge, it turned out, was learning German. But in the meantime, Markić has settled in very well. His philosophy of life is korak po korak (“step by step”) which often gave him the strength and hope he needed during Corona-times. His plans for the future, which will hopefully be Covid-free, are to maintain the Lubin quality and to continue to satisfy his guests. But the restaurateur could well imagine more restaurants like this one, too, so maybe he’ll expand…

The Lubin offers variations of Dalmatian cuisine, mainly fish, but occasionally also meat.

Must try:

The “wolf of the sea,” the Wolfbarsch, or sea bass, for two or more, is a big hit at the classic Croatian fish restaurant.

3., Hainburgerstraße 48 

IG: @restaurant.lubin


by Romana Jarić

Spomenka Selmanović comes from Varaždin, Croatia, and has been in Vienna since she was 14 years old. At 24, she opened her first restaurant before taking over Kulinarium six years ago. At that time Selmanović decided to turn the Kulinarium from its menu of international dishes into a fish restaurant with Dalmatian Mediterranean cuisine and add number seven  to its name. Twice a week Selmanović gets her fresh fish from Croatia. 

Must try:

The fish soup: “You won’t get fish soup like this anywhere in Austria,” says Selmanović.

Selmanović says she has overcome life’s hurdles with her love for people, for food, for gastronomy. 

The entrepreneur has many plans for the future. She has also organized culinary trips to Istria with great success and is planning on continuing with boat trips to islands with wineries as well as opening a restaurant in a boutique hotel on the peninsula, Pelješac.  And all the while, she will be  finishing the latest reconstruction of the vaulted cellar in Kulinarium 7, where she plans to build a wine bar in the space below the restaurant. 

7., Sigmundsgasse 1


Forgotten Scenes of Austrian-Croatian History

The seed for the Austro-Croatian cooperation was planted centuries ago. When the last king of the independent kingdom of Croatia Stephen II died without a heir in 1091, it was decided by the Realm’s nobles to join the kingdom of Hungary. Hungary was a major power at that time, the bulwark against the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans had set out to expand westward into the heart of Christendom. As they subjugated one Christian realm after the other, they closed in on the Hungarians. Until 1526 as their armies finally met at Mohacs.

But by then, the once so formidable kingdom of Hungary was in turmoil, following the sudden death of King Vladislav II left the leadership to his inexperienced son Louis II. The battle was a disaster, leaving the new king and key members of the nobility dead, thrusting the kingdom into chaos. 

The remaining nobles elected Ferdinand of the house of Habsburg to be their new king and so it was that the kingdoms of Hungary and Croatia joined the Austrians.

Already devastated from war, the two kingdoms were now an all-too-fragile frontier against the Turks. In 1529, the Ottomans under Suleiman the Magnificent, one of the greatest leaders in history, whose vast realm stretched from Egypt to Serbia, finally broke through to arrive at the Habsburg capital of Vienna, the heart of the Holy Roman Empire. They laid siege to the city and after a month of bloody fighting they were finally stopped by a “miracle” snowstorm at the beginning of October, saving the city at the last moment.

The Forgotten Siege

Basically, everybody knows about the first siege of Vienna, but far fewer people are aware that Suleiman returned…

Over three decades after the first siege of Vienna, in 1566, Sultan Suleiman again set out from Constantinople to finally bring Vienna to its knees. As the massive army closed in on the city, the sultan received reports that a smaller detachment making its way up from the south had been intercepted and destroyed, and the Ottoman commander, a favorite, executed on the spot. Enraged the mighty sultan, turned south again to deal with this threat – which in truth had been only a small force composed of mostly Croatian riders.

This intrepid band was led by Nikola Šubić Zrinski, a Croatian nobleman who held command over a small force of 3,000 composed of Croatians and Hungarians as well as a rather insignificant fortress at Szigetvár in southern Hungary.

But Zrinski was anything but insignificant. As an accomplished general and former Ban (viceroy) of Croatia, he had served with distinction at the first siege of Vienna. He knew firsthand how devastating the might of the Turks could be and set out to again protect Vienna, but this time on his own terms.

Suleiman arrived at Szigetvár on the August 5, 1566, leading an army of over one hundred thousand soldiers. Immediately it was clear that this was not going to be an ordinary siege. The fortress was split into three sections, the new town, the old town, and the citadel, each surrounded by water and only connected by narrow bridges. 

As the attackers approached the walls, decorated with colorful banners as if in celebration., they were greeted by cannon fire. The Ottomans dug in and prepared to storm the fortress. Then as the Turkish cannons hammered the walls and wave after wave of attackers stormed the narrow bridges, they repulsed by the disciplined defense, suffering heavy losses with each attack. 

After three days, the defense of the new town became untenable. So the defenders calmly retreated into the old town suffering only miner casualties, while the Ottomans had lost over 3,000 soldiers. The old town proved an even more difficult price, as it was well defended and only approachable from a single bridge. For 10 days the enraged sultan threw his troops at the defenders, suffering horrendous casualties in men, supplies and morale. 

By this time news from the north reached the attackers, not only were the Austrians successfully preparing the defense of Vienna, but they even managed to retake some Hungarian cities under Ottoman control. When the Turks finally broke through to the old town only to witness the Croatians retreating in good order to the citadel, the sultan finally lost his patience. Enraged though he was, he also admired the valiant struggle of Zrinski and his men. He sent an envoy with an offer: if Zrinski would surrender the fortress to the Sultan, not only would he and his men be spared, he would be made ruler of all of Croatia. The sultan received no reply.

The citadel was the final line of defense, the last stand. Again, it was only approachable from a single bridge, flanked by high towers. The Turks brought their cannons into the old town to directly fire upon the walls of the citadel, while their men tangled in vicious hand-to-hand combat at the end of the narrow bridge. 

But the defenders still held their ground, while the Ottomans set to work constructing two additional bridges to create more points of attack. After a month of relentless attacks, the fighting suddenly stopped. Zrinski’s exhausted soldiers wondered if this was the day they were going to die. Four days went by without attack, when suddenly a giant explosion tore a huge hole in the citadel´s walls. The ottoman miners had detonated a black powder charge right underneath it.

Even though the citadel was breached, the buildings where on fire and the defenders could immediately be surrounded, another two days went by without an attack. Why the delay? Only the Ottoman inner circle knew that Sultan Suleiman the magnificent had died. Aged 72, exhausted from a life of conquest and the stresses of the siege of Szigetvár, he died of a stroke or possibly a heart attack. Afraid his death could dissolve the army, his inner circle had his personal physician strangled to prevent him giving away the secret.

After Suleiman’s lieutenants overtook leadership, they rallied their forces for the final attack to crush the remaining defenders and bring the siege to an end. Zrinski, witnessing the massing of attackers, refused to fight the final battle on Ottoman terms. With a stirring call to arms, he had the citadels gate thrown open, revealing a large cannon firing right into the mass of attackers. Hundreds were killed on the spot, throwing the Ottomans into panic. At this moment Zrinski and his remaining men charged out of the burning citadel, cutting their way across the bridge and pushing the Ottomans all the way back into the old town. After inflicting massive casualties, they were finally surrounded by the thousands of attackers. When the fighting finally stopped Zrinski and every single one of his men laid dead at the feet of the Turks. 

With the defenders gone, the Ottomans rushed to take the battered citadel. But they had not seen the last of Zrinski’s resistance. Right before their final charge, the defenders lit a fuse connected to a massive powder magazine. As the attackers poured into the fortress, they received Zrinskis´s parting gift. The magazine, killing an additional 3,000 Ottomans.

It was over: Zrinski and his men were dead, Szigetvár was taken. But the cost had been monstrous. The Ottomans lost between, 20,000 and 30,000 soldiers, untold masses of provisions and munitions, winter was fast approaching and their great leader, was gone. All for a strategically insignificant ruin. After that, the planned attack on Vienna was no longer an option and the Ottomans retreated. It would take them more than a century to threaten Central Europe again.

The story of the siege at Szigetvár reverberated through Europe, with the clergy declaring it “the battle that saved civilization.” Zrinski and his men where immortalized in song and poem, and they were celebrated as an example for heroism and untrembling resistance in the face of certain death.

Maria Theresa and her Croats

As time went on, destiny again called upon the Croatians to help Austria. When Emperor Karl VI, too, had no male heirs to ensure a stable succession, he dictated a revolutionary document known as the Pragmatic Sanction. It declared, among other things, that a woman would be able to ascend to the Habsburg throne. 

All that was needed was the official support of the various kingdoms of the Empire. At first, the nobles hesitated. And it was the Croatians who took the first step, signing the Pragmatic Sanction. Nonetheless as Maria Theresa claimed the throne, many of the other rulers were appalled by the idea of a woman as the head of a mayor European power and a war of succession followed. 

In the end, Maria Theresa turned out to be one of Austria’s great leaders, enacting many reforms in legislation, administration and education, she was also patron to many building projects and the expansion of infrastructure, specifically in Croatia, where her rule is considered a little golden age in the region. According to contemporary accounts, she never forgot that first signature, and held a special place in her heart for her Croats.

A quiet legacy

As years past, the impact of the Croats on the empire was more subtle, serving the Habsburgs as obedient and resilient subjects. After the first siege of Vienna, the rampaging Ottoman armies had left large parts of south-eastern Austria depopulated, and royal decree summoned the Croatians to fill the void. Conscientiously, they rebuilt the desolated countryside and establishing thriving new communities. Today, many towns in the Marchfeld, east of Vienna, can trace their roots back to those settlers, whose inhabitants are often unaware of their Croatian descent.

In contrast with their southern brethren in glorious Burgenland, where Croatian communities have stood the test of time. To this day, you can wander into one of many little villages and hear people casually chatting in a Croatian dialect centuries old.

To me, the idea that these people were never forced to assimilate, or “Germanize,” stands as a beautiful example that in Austria, diversity may not be such a new idea after all.

Croatians in Austria | Vienna With Croatian Flair

Cro Vienna – A Viennese-Croatian Football Club 

It’s summer, 2018. Croatia had once again been embossed in gold letters into the annals of football history. Winning the silver medal at the World Cup catapulted Croatia back to the very top of world football.  And it was celebrated in Vienna, where many Croats had come to live. Furthermore it’s no secret that a lot of Croatian national team members have come from the diaspora. For Croats, at home and abroad, football and the national team are sacred.

This is a story about football and Croats, about Austria, Vienna and in particular, one football club. But, first, you need to know that a large number of young Croats, or Austrians of Croatian origin, live in and grow up in Vienna. Many were born with an innate talent for football – or at least that’s what we like to believe (maybe to harsh?). They all dream of donning checkered jerseys and playing for the national team. But the road is long and difficult – and reserved for only a few.

For many Croatian-Viennese children, the journey begins at Cro-Vienna, a football club with a Croatian insignia, but more importantly, Croatian flair. Still, the club welcomes children of all nationalities and backgrounds, making the club even bigger.

The story of Cro Vienna dates back to 2004. The Austrian-Croatian Association for Culture and Sports sent a group of Croatian-Viennese boys under the age of 14 to a tournament in Vukovar (Croatia). They were from various Austrian clubs. And on their return, they were asked to write down their impressions. The young athletes, almost to a person, said they wanted to play for a Croatian club in Austria. Two years later, Cro Vienna was created. 

Today, it is a well-established football club known in Austrian football circles as a nursery for talent. Players who today defend the colors of Austrian and other European clubs took their first football steps in Cro Vienna.  One of those is David Durić, an extremely talented young member of the Croatian national team and a member of Vienna Rapid. Cro Vienna is also successful in senior football and competes in the Vienna Oberliga A. 

In launching the club, the founders were guided by one thought: Football is not just a purpose, but a means for a purpose, i.e. the purpose of socializing, making friends, learning the Croatian language, while nurturing the country’s tradition, culture and customs. 

Today, more than 200 players in those famous jerseys train on Cro Vienna football fields, says Ruža Stjepanović, the ‘good spirit’ of Cro Vienna, with 33 in the first team. The story of Cro Vienna is, in a sense, the personification of the story of the Croats and their success and progress in Austria. After 15 years, Cro Vienna has become a respected football club, with a clear vision and a bright future. 

In addition, the club is a true representative of Croats in Austria, and a tough but fair opponent on the field. There is no doubt that a lot will be heard about them in the future.  Who knows? The next Luka Modrić may be already out there training on a Cro Vienna pitch.

Vienna’s Hrvatski dom – Where Croats Meet

Beyond football, it is the sheer wealth of Croatian clubs, associations and other gathering places that make possible the rich social life of the Croatian diaspora in Austria. One of these is the Hrvatski dom (Croatian Home), which organizes cultural and social events.

Founded by a team of experts to ease integration through joint projects with Austrian institutions, it has been for many a game changer. Association president and entrepreneur Andrej Lucić, moved quickly to launch Hrvatski dom, making possible a series of projects for the preservation of Croatian identity, language, culture, and tradition. 

“We want to strengthen the [sense of] unity in the Croatian community in Austria and its interconnection to our homelands of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Lucić said. “Connecting emigrants with their homeland, and using the potential of Croats across the world – these values are what we emphasize.”

He is particularly proud of their newly equipped library, where you can find well-known Croatian literary works, as well as valuable professional literature.

Like other organizations, they have been severely disrupted by the pandemic. Nevertheless, they are working hard on new projects for Croats in Austria, and all interested in Croatian culture. – The Favorite Information Portal of Croats in Austria, a bilingual, independent information portal in Croatian and German at the Hrvatski dom is especially popular, following events in the Croatian community in Austria and the diaspora. Kroativ also offers current information from Croatia and Austria, and is considered as a key source for all interested.

Founded in 2013, Kroativ came under new ownership just over a year ago, intensifying its work and expanding its reach. “So without any false modesty,” says Željko Batarilo, editor-in-chief of Kroativ, “it became the most influential and most visited Croatian-Austrian medium, with about 35,000 visitors a day and about 1,5 million per month.” 

As a bilingual portal, they try to offer readers interesting and informative content about politics, business, and culture, to be further extended by its own Kroativ TV in the future, in a TV-studio they have already built.  

The Latest News from Austria & Vienna: GDP in Austria Above Pre-crisis Level


We bring you all the latest scoops and news from Austria & Vienna, so can shine with your insider knowledge at your next dinner invitation in Vienna.

We introduce this new format based on positive feedback on our coverage of the coronavirus in Austria and Vienna. This regularly updates static article is your go-to address for the latest news and developments.

December 2021

02.12.2021 – GDP in Austria Above Pre-crisis Level

The catch-up process of the Austrian economy continued in the third quarter of 2021 after the third lockdown. The GDP (gross domestic product) increased by 3.8 percent compared to the second quarter. Compared to the third quarter 2020 it increased by 5.7 percent. This stated Statistics Austria on Thursday. For the first time, the economic output was higher than
before the corona crisis, by 1.1 percent in relation to the third quarter of 2019.

Several economic sectors have left the crisis behind them, said Statistics Austria director Tobias Thomas. Even in the sectors accommodation and gastronomy, which were hit hard by the crisis, 88.5 percent of the pre-crisis level was generated.

The current, fourth lockdown is an endurance test, said Thomas. However, there is nothing stopping a continuation of the economic recovery course with a sustainable containment of the pandemic.

The latest news from Austria & Vienna is reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.

02.12.2021 – Possible Movement in Nuclear Talks With Iran

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani © APA/AFP/VLADIMIR SIMICEK

There might be movement in the Iranian nuclear talks in Vienna. The government in Teheran made two proposals on Thursday. The proposals are now to be checked. “We are in Vienna to continue the negotiations”, said Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani. This was according to the news agency Reuters. The two proposals focus on lifting sanctions and on obligations in the nuclear deal (JCPOA), the news agency Irna reported.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Premier Minister Naftali Bennet demanded the immediate discontinuation of the nuclear talks with Iran.

On Monday the talks to save the Iran nuclear deal resumed. The talks are the first diplomatic rapprochement after a month-long break and a change of president in Tehran.

Reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.

01.12.2021 – Stationary Retail Opens on Sunday, December 19

The economic output increased in the third quarter © APA (Themenbild)/BARBARA GINDL

Stationary retail will be open on Sunday, December 19 this year. Due to the current lockdown three pre-Christmas shopping, Saturdays, and the traditionally lucrative holiday on December 8 are missed out. Opening stationary trade on Sunday before Christmas should make up for at least some of the sales. The prerequisite is that the coronavirus pandemic situation in Austria allows an opening.

 “The possibility of the one-time opening affects only those branches that are closed during the lockdown,” the union clarified. Supermarkets remain closed on December 19. Fashion retailers, electronics stores, toy stores, bookstores, and others are expected to benefit from the agreement the social partners agreed on Tuesday evening.

Employees who offer to work on December 19 will earn double and get an extra day off.

The latest news from Austria & Vienna is reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.

Sebastian Kurz Announces His Retreat From Political Life

Today, former chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced his withdrawal from political life at a press conference in which he reviewed the successes and challenges of his ten-year, meteoric career at the top of Austrian politics, thanked his team, supporters and former coalition partners, and explained why he is stepping back.

Controversy has swirled around former Kurz of late, a man who once seemed to never make a political miscalculation and whose party, the center-right ÖVP, had unequivocally supported his leadership. Now, debate has ensued around who will lead the party – with Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (ÖVP) reportedly tapped to become head of the party, and possibly the next federal chancellor, replacing Alexander Schallenberg.

He hoped that he had helped “move our beautiful Austria a little bit in the right direction,” said Kurz in a press conference. He said he continues to believe that people in Austria should work, should be able to live from that work, that migration should not be allowed to continue “unsteered,” and that the country needs a strong economy to keep delivering prosperity.

Emotional roller coaster

Kurz said he has gone through a “Wechselbad an Gefühlen” (an emotional roller coaster) of late: On the one hand, it’s great to feel that you are doing the right thing, he said. On the other hand, as Chancellor, each day one has to make so many decisions that you know some will be wrong. The media pressure has been intense, he said, and he and his team felt “hunted” at times.

He said that he and his team worked around the clock for the last ten years, which hadn’t left time for “beautiful and important” aspects of life, such as family. “I’m convinced that investing 100 percent of your time is necessary in that kind of role,” he said, “and that one also needs 100% enthusiasm and joy.” In the last few weeks, this appeal changed for him. He said he used to think that politics was a “competition of the best ideas,” but that lately it had become a battle of accusations and counter-accusations, and that even though this was to be expected in a top position, it had been draining and had dampened, to some extent, the “flame” of his enthusiasm.

In reference to recent scandals and allegations of corruption and lying to investigators, Kurz said he wanted to clearly state that he is “neither a saint nor a criminal, but a person.” He added: “I’m looking forward to the day when I can prove in court that the accusations against me are simply false.”

What comes next

Kurz said that the future of the ÖVP will be secured by the country’s young, motivated citizens, and that the party will continue to stand for “hard work, personal responsibility and solidarity.”

In his speech, he listed the incredible moments in his career as minister and then chancellor that he was grateful for, but said all of it was topped by the birth of his son, “a little baby I could look at for hours.” He said he is looking forward to the next chapter of his life and would be spending time with his child and family until revisiting his next professional steps in the new year.

Reactions from other political parties have started coming in on Twitter and on TV, with the far-right FPÖ’s Herbert Kickl celebrating the end of Kurz, the NEOS Beate Meinl-Reisinger wishing Kurz well and others expressing their understanding and support. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens) said he had “huge respect” for Kurz’s decision, and that they had worked well together delivering pandemic relief and initiating the eco-social tax reform, that put a price on CO2 for the first time. Kogler wished “the young family” well.

As Kurier reported, Kurz’s resignation from politics will likely lead to a reshuffle within the ÖVP that could see Interior Minister Karl Nehammer become head of party and federal chancellor, and Economics Minister Margarete Schramböck step away from her job. The only certain thing for now is that this story and its fallout promises to dominate local news in the coming days.

Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler Cancels Lobau Tunnel Construction Project

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) announced the cancellation of the highly-contested Lobau Tunnel Construction Project, part of a planned extension to Vienna’s outer ring expressway (S1) that would have passed through the protected Lobau floodplain. The S1 extension aimed to improve traffic flow between parts of the 22nd District and central Vienna—plans which stretch back nearly twenty years and would have cost billions.

The plan was scrapped as a result of a months-long climate impact assessment called for by Gewessler in early July and officially released on Wednesday. The assessment looked into a slew of major road-building projects by highway construction corporation ASFINAG in order to determine their future viability in the face of a changing climate.

The groundbreaking decision marks a win for environmental activists who have been fighting the project for years on the grounds that the project would encourage more people to drive, increasing greenhouse gas emissions, and that it would degrade the Lobau wildlife reserve in Danube-Auen National Park. Activists in the “LobauBleibt” movement have been occupying construction sites in Hirschstetten since late August in an effort to halt progress—a tactic that was used to resist the same project back in 2006.

Planned sections of the S1 extension are shown in pink (c) APA, labels translated by METROPOLE

“Twenty or thirty years from now, our children will ask us: What have you done to save the climate?” said Gewessler at the press conference. “I want to be able to say—we made brave decisions. That’s exactly what the climate check does for the ASFINAG construction program,” she said, noting that the S1 extension would have crossed through a “one-of-a-kind nature reserve” and would have consumed more land than any other project surveyed.

Danube-Auen National Park is home to more than 800 species of plants, 33 mammals, around 100 breeding bird species, 8 reptile and 13 amphibian species, and 67 species of fish. The Lobau Tunnel would have been built 60 meters underneath the floodplain. While ASFINAG environmental assessments argued this would be deep enough to avoid damaging protected areas, twelve members of the group Scientists for Future argued in an August statement that construction could lower the water table in the area, destabilizing the entire ecosystem, destroying protected natural habitats and negatively affecting Vienna’s water supply.

Floodplain landscape in the Danube-Auen National Park (c) F. Kovacs/ÖBf archive

No longer approved

The impact assessment released by Gewessler on Wednesday detailed nearly twenty ASFINAG road construction projects that are planned or underway around the country and reviewed them in light of Austria’s latest climate goals and obligations. New considerations include the protection of “valuable soils, natural spaces and biological diversity,” alongside pre-existing criteria, such as traffic safety, transport network planning, costs, and economic development.

Austria is committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit global heating to +1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels—and the country says it will achieve climate neutrality across all sectors by 2040. According to the impact assessment report, these climate targets can only be reached “if there is a radical turnaround of greenhouse gas emissions in the mobility sector.”

The report states that due to the incredibly long planning time for the S1 extension and Lobau Tunnel, which began in 2003, some of the environmental impact assessments were outdated. The project, they said, had been green-lit based on outdated assumptions. For example, the project was justified using some figures and projections from 2011—specifically, public transit fares and Vienna car ownership (both of which have decreased since then), and parking management (parking is more regulated now).

While the S1 extension was meant to relieve traffic congestion and shorten travel time in northeast Vienna, one major finding by traffic experts at TU Wien showed that the Lobau crossing would increase traffic in the long run by encouraging more drivers to use it. According to the report, most traffic relief in the future will result from planned expansions to public transit and better parking space management in the city.

The report also found that past assessments ranked the “con” of increased greenhouse gas emissions as less important than the “pro” of economic growth in the region. According to a 2017 assessment quoted in the report, “No expansion of high-level road traffic infrastructure can have direct positive effects on climate protection.”

In addition to the S1 extension, the planned S34 Traisental expressway and S8 Marchfeld expressway have also been canceled, due to similar concerns of soil loss, land consumption and disturbance of natural areas. The search for alternatives to all three projects has begun, according to the Ministry for Climate Protection. From now on, all major road-building projects will be developed in partnership with the ministry.

Mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig (c) Stadt Wien, C. Jobst/PID

Criticism from Mayor Ludwig

Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ) expressed sharp criticism of Gewessler’s decision during a press conference on Wednesday, saying: “The last word has not yet been spoken” on the Lobau Tunnel project.

“It’s an attack on the quality of life of the Viennese and people in the general eastern region when road projects that have been developed over many years—with the involvement of many experts—are canceled without justification and without a transparent process,” said Ludwig. 

Ludwig expressed concern about heavier traffic, more traffic jams and higher emissions from idling cars if the project doesn’t go through—though findings that the S1 extension wouldn’t ultimately reduce traffic are included in the official impact assessment.

Ludwig said the decision would diminish the quality of life in the city and surrounding region, and hinted that legal action from the city may be forthcoming, as lawyers work through the documents and examine next steps. 

According to ORF, he also asked what would happen with the planned Stadtstraße extension—the short section of planned highway meant to connect central Vienna to the outer ring. That section of the extension was tied up with housing construction for some 60,000 people. The Stadtstraße extension can still be built as planned, according to the impact report, but Ludwig emphasized that without the Lobau Tunnel, building it no longer makes sense.

A view of the Danube River in Vienna—the Lobau floodplain is located left of the river in the distance (c) Arno Senoner/Unsplash

Further reactions

As reported by ORF, both the NEOS and Greens political parties in Vienna were pleased about the canceled Lobau Tunnel Construction Project. NEOS representative Bettina Emmerling said in a broadcast: “The most important thing is: now we have clarity. We NEOS welcome the decision, and call on all those involved to act quickly instead of delaying sustainable solutions for years through legal disputes.”

Both the ÖVP and the FPÖ harshly criticized the move, according to ORF. “Today’s decision by Transport Minister Gewessler is absolutely incomprehensible, shows complete irresponsibility and is downright a slap in the face to the Viennese. The decision must be resolutely opposed,” said ÖVP representatives Markus Wölbitsch and Wolfgang Kieslich in a broadcast.

Walter Ruck, President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce fears billions in damage to the economy, according to ORF. “The Lobau Tunnel is of essential importance for business in Vienna and the eastern region,” said Ruck, pointing to business relocation and new jobs associated with the project’s completion. “No infrastructure project in Austria has been examined so intensively as this tunnel.”

A slate of environmental advocates, by contrast, cheered the project’s end, including Greenpeace, the Austrian Transport Club, activists from the Jugendrat, Fridays For Future, System Change not Climate Change, and Extinction Rebellion, along with environmental organizations Virus, Alliance for Nature, Südwind, WWF, and the Naturschutzbund, reported ORF. Global 2000 stated in a broadcast, “The Lobau expressway is an ancient project from the Stone Age of transport policy. Now, the City of Vienna has the chance to develop future-oriented and climate-friendly solutions.”

Activists from the “LobauBleibt” movement did not let up on the pressure the day of the announcement, demonstrating against the construction of the Stadtstraße extension in front of Vienna City Hall on Wednesday evening.

Austria (and Vienna) Have High Quality of Life But Unfriendly Locals: Expat Insider Survey

Every year, the InterNations’ Expat Insider surveys thousands of expats all over the world, who score their new home countries across several categories. This year, Taiwan is expats’ favorite country, while Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, is the top city. And how did our fair alpine home do?  Overall, Austria ranks 23rd out of 59 countries, and Vienna 14th out of 57 expat cities – in other words, the overall expat experience here is decidedly average. How did this come to be? While Austria and Vienna both scored high in the “Quality of Life” and “Working Abroad” indices, they tanked when it came to “ease of settling in” – as it turns out, most expats think Austrians are downright unfriendly.

Here, we put together some stats from this year’s Expat Insider 2021 survey.

Vienna: Great environment, grumpy people

Overall, Vienna is a pretty great city for expats to live in – but many find the locals grumpy. Perhaps the grumpiest…in the world?

Overall, Vienna is a pretty good place to life.
In fact, Vienna ranks #1 in overall quality of urban living – with top scores for health and environment, as well as for transportation.
But Vienna comes in dead last for local friendliness, and not much better for “getting settled” overall.
Fairly good scores when it comes to finance and housing.
When it comes to the urban work life index, Vienna ranks fairly high. For the full report, see

Austria: Nice place, but making friends is hard

Expats find Austria truly excellent when it comes to quality of life, especially travel and transportation. But settling in, they say, is hard – and find the Österreicher:innen pretty darn unfriendly.

Austria comes in 23rd place in an InterNations expat survey.
Expats find Austria decidedly medium when it comes to personal finance and cost of living.
While expats enjoy good a good work-life balance and stability, its harder to find career prospects.
This is where it gets ugly – expats struggle to feel at home or make friends in Austria.
But on the plus side, expats rank Austria as having the second-highest quality of life around the world. The full report is here:

Over at Metropole, we know that settling in can be hard. Chin up, expats – let it be sausage to you, as they say, if your neighbors are unfriendly. And remember, if you love Vienna, it just might love you back.

To read the full InterNations Expat Insider 2021 report about cities, go here. For countries, go here.

Word of the Week: Brillenschlange [ˈbʁɪlənˌʃlaŋə]

Noun. 1. The German term for the Indian cobra (naja naja); lit.  “snake with spectacles.” The name derives from the fact that the rear of its hood sports a pattern that (vaguely) resembles a pince-nez, a doughty ancestor of modern eyeglasses now rarely seen outside of period dramas and the steampunk community.

However, as the somewhat whimsical name belies the lethal impact of this venomous creature, the more generic term, Kobra, is more commonly used today.

2. An unflattering expression for someone who wears corrective lenses; the German equivalent of “four-eyes.”  Now, it stands to reason that designating someone a dangerous snake, a salute usually saved for sports cars, special forces and ’80s action heroes, might be considered excessive, even flattering.  But alas! It is merely a not-so-clever pun used to further humiliate those nerdy, bespectacled book worms who already clearly have their doubts about the future of civilization.

Rarely uttered outside of schoolyards and playgrounds, the term has nonetheless left a trail of former and current Brillenschlangen who harbor deep emotional scars from childhood teasing – further fueling the lucrative contact lens industry and leading to long lines outside laser surgery clinics.

The result:  The species is now increasingly rare outside of the Schönbrunn zoo.

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!

Mirabell Mozartkugel Manufacturer Begins Insolvency Proceedings

As many a tourist to Austria can tell you, Mirabell Mozartkugel are round, layered chocolate pralines with a pistachio marzipan center, wrapped in gold foil with Mozart’s face on it, and presented in burgundy boxes. Now the chocolates, famously sold at souvenir shops and in supermarkets around the country or served up at balls, weddings and other events, may be melting down. Salzburg Schokolade, the Grödig-based confectioners who make Mozartkugel (Mozart balls), are set to enter insolvency proceedings at the regional court in Salzburg today, reports say.

(There are two companies that make a product called “Mozartkugel” in Salzburg, both beloved of tourists – the other brand, “Original Salzburger Mozartkugel”, are made by the company Fürst and feature blue lettering on a silver package.)

Some 140 Salzburg Schokolade employees and a three-figure number of creditors are affected. A letter from CEO Christian Schügerl to employees and partners, APA reported, indicated that they hope to be able to continue operations. Although the company was able to generate profit in previous years, Der Standard reported, the company was hit hard by the pandemic in 2020.

As tourists, events and parties fell away, the demand for confections declined and revenue dropped, an effect worsened by the shuttering of candy shops in Vienna and Salzburg. Though business briefly look set to recover in 2021, with new export customers abroad, it wasn’t enough, Der Standard quoted Salzburg Schokolade CEO Christian Schügerl as saying. He ascribed the insolvency decision to the new lockdown along with the rising cost of raw materials, energy, salaries, logistics and packaging – and filed for insolvency on Monday.

 The company was unable to pay November salaries – including the additional Christmas payouts – and referred staff to the Arbeiterkammer (Chamber of Labor), which supports unpaid employees at insolvent companies with obtaining payment through a state-secured insolvency fund. The head of the Chamber in Salzburg, Peter Eder, announced his support for those employees on Monday evening, and said they would launch the necessary paperwork processes as soon as a liquidator is named. Their goal was for staff to make it through the Christmas season “without financial worries”.

Salzburg Schokolade is known for several retail confection brands, and exclusively produces “Echte Salzburger Mozartkugel” (Genuine Salzburg Mozartkugel) for the U.S. American corporation Mondelez, under the brand name Mirabell. The company is also a wholeseller of semifinished confectionary products such as nougat, marzipan, glazes or couverture. Founded in 1897 under the name Rajsigel in Salzburg, the company moved to Grödig in 1956.

Haircut on a Sunday? Shopping Across The Austrian Border Offers Flexibility and Discounts

Vienna residents needn’t be shopaholics to urgently require a new pair of shoes, business
casual clothing, or goods and services besides food and pharmaceuticals on a Sunday. A not-so-secret tip for newcomers to Eastern Austria: Shopping across the Austrian border in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary mean you scratch that consumer itch any day of the week – and often on days that, in Austria, are public holidays.

Ride The Rails to Bratislava

If you need to go shopping across the Austrian border, the Eurovea Shopping Centre is a good option. It is open until 21:00 every day, and visitors can choose from 181 shops. ©

A quick tour over the border to Slovakia lands you in a Sunday-shopping world.

In Bratislava, three major shopping malls and a central market are open on Sundays. A solid bet in the Slovakian capital is the Eurovea Shopping Centre. It is open until 21:00 every day, and visitors can choose from 181 shops. In Eurovea, there’s enough to keep even die-hard shopaholics busy for many hours. After shopping, 39 restaurants overlooking the River Danube will feed you, too.

Travel time by train from Vienna Hauptbahnhof to Bratislava Hlavna station is just over an hour, so spare the environment and ride the rails.

Shop Sopron

Just over the Hungarian border is a small town offering Sunday shopping and beauty treatments.

The malls in Sopron are smaller than those in Bratislava, but a quaint downtown shopping experience offers its own pleasures. There are professional beauty services on offer, for instance at the Sopron Plaza. Shopping, manicures, and a quick visit to the hairdresser can
be combined in Hungary while those facilities are closed in Vienna.

Sopron Plaza has 42 shops (open 9:00-20:00 daily) and a cinema – although unless you speak Hungarian, the cinema might not be an entertaining option for you.

Czech it out!


The Freeport Fashion Outlet is open every day until 21:00, even on bank holidays. The outlet mall lies in the no-man’s-land between the Czech and Austrian borders, approximately 77 km
north of Vienna, about an hour’s drive. With 225 brands in 75 shops, the outlet also serves customers looking for niche products, such as skiing equipment. 

The mall describes itself as a “shopping paradise for the whole family”. Besides the favorable prices and wide selection of goods, you can also find a professional hairdressing salon there and some cafes and restaurants. 

Many Austrians (and Metropolitans) find the lack of Sunday bustle here soothing; a respite
from commercial pressure to buy for work and work to buy. But those aching for a Sunday shopathlon (or just in dire need of a haircut) may well find all they need just across the

Energy Prices Shoot Up in Austria


Consumers are seeing their heating and petrol bills jump and, as energy costs spread across the economy, the prices of other goods and services are rising too. In October, these increases drove inflation to a high of 3.7%, which hasn’t been recorded in years, according to a statement by the Austrian Energy Agency on Monday. Overall, energy prices are 22.8% higher than in October 2020.

Diesel prices increased by 34.8% over the last year, super petrol by 29.4%, gas by 15.6% and electricity by 9.6%. Most astonishing is the 60.8.% price increase for heating oil – which jumped 12.3% between September and October 2021 alone.

No end in sight

An end to price hikes, the Austrian Energy Agency said, is not in sight. “A comprehensive assessment of developments in the coming months has been complicated by a flood of complaints in response to existing price increases, as well as due to premature contract cancellations,” they said.

They say consumers lack information about gas heating in particular. “People frequently assert that gas heating can be provided with green gas (e.g. biomethane),” but in reality, according to scientific head Herbert Lechner, there is only enough green gas available “for a couple thousand of the 900,000 gas-heated households. Moreover, green gas is indispensable for the decarbonization of industry, while there are other available solutions for heating.”

Subsidies for green heating

The switch to other green heating solutions is federally subsidized under the environmental program “Holt die Leichen aus dem Keller”, which translates literally to “Get the corpses out of the basement,” and metaphorically to “Get the skeletons out of your closet.” This will support Austria’s climate goals in the wake of the UN Climate Summit, COP26.

Private households can receive up to 7,500 euros in funding for switching to renewable heating sources, while building owners can receive up to 10,000. “Highly efficient, renewable” energy sources include the Fernwärmenetz, which uses heat from garbage incineration; thermal heating pumps; and biomass heating systems. (Those interested should check out this website; also, some federal states have additional funding programs.)

The Austrian Energy Agency called the program sensible, and not just for climate reasons: “Expenditures for oil and gas imports will cost us 6 billion euros more this year, moving from 4 billion in 2020 to a forecasted 10 billion. Given the extremely tight economic situation caused by corona, a 6-billion-euro loss of purchasing and investment power is particularly painful.”