Being German in Vienna

I had been in Vienna just seven days. Taking the tram to the 9th district – my new home – a personable young woman of the same age took a seat next to me. We started talking. She laughed a lot, and I thought. “Nice!” So I said, “Hey, I’m brand new in town. Do you want to go for a beer together?” She stared at me in horror. Then without a word, she stood up and got off at the next stop. What the hell had happened?

It was only after several years in Vienna, did I realize what a miracle it was that I had fallen into conversation with a Viennese in the “Bim” at all.

To be completely honest, I came to Austria pretty naive. I only knew the Alpine Republic from holidays in the mountains with Kaiserschmarrn and Sissi films. Nothing about the so-called “Freunderlwirtschaft” (doing business with your buddies), the importance of political party books or the obsession with titles.

But what surprised me the most was the everyday prejudice, just for being German. Partly it’s the clichés – that we’re humorless, hypercritical, those perfect employees who always show up on time. I was once told it was because of the lost war in 1866 (we’re called the “Piefke, after band leader Johann Gottfried Piefke who paraded in with the victorious Prussian army at Marchfeld). Whatever it is, Austrians have very mixed feelings towards Germans.

We’re the largest immigrant group, yes, but we speak the same language – well, almost. So why are we so unpopular?

In the meantime, I have learned to make a joke of it and say: “Everyone has to have one flaw!” Then everyone laughs, realizing you can’t look at nationality so narrowly. And that’s exactly the message that I, as a Rhinelander, want to convey in Vienna: a bid for tolerance and open-mindedness, because that’s how it is in Cologne, where it’s Carnival time (“Fasteloovend”) with lots of music, costumes, tasty beer, with hugs and kisses all around.

In Rhineland you grow up with carnival as a 5th season that begins at 11 minutes past 11:00 (a.m.) on 11.11 and ends up at “Aschermittwoch”, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It’s an honor to dance as a “Funkemariechen” or at the “Garde” – women in 18th century costume who dance with parody French soldiers.

But Vienna is different. “Fasching” here isn’t really like our Carnival, much simpler, only a few costume parties – although, to be fair, it isn’t in Frankfurt or Hamburg either.

Still, all in all, I am totally in love with Vienna, the surrounding greenery, the traditional coffee shops, the food, the culture & arts scene and of course the public transport. It’s so much better then in Germany. So read on, and hopefully, you will come to understand the Germans in Vienna just a little better.

Lots of virtual hugs!,

Vera Gasber

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