How Austria Plans to Reopen Its Cultural Landscape, Bars and Restaurants

Here is a brief summary of the government’s roadmap to cultural and culinary normalcy.

UPDATE: On May 25, Ulrike Lunacek’s replacement as state secretary for arts and culture, Andrea Mayer, announced that theaters need only leave every second seat empty but audience members would have to wear face masks to compensate. Concerning on-stage action, performers need not maintain the mandatory 1 m distance if “their job requires it.”

UPDATE: The government has clarified several measures and regulations following a popular outcry by the cultural sector: Lunacek clarified the rules for museums on May 12: only 10 square meters per visitor and everyone must wear a mask and keep their distance but guided tours are possible under those circumstances. On May 13,Health minister Rudolf Anschober announced new regulations by May 29 which should make smaller to medium-sized performances possible.

UPDATE: To further boost the restaurant sector, the Stadt Wien will send every Viennese household a “gastro voucher” of €25 per person, €50 for households with more than one person.

As Austria continues to flatten the curve, plans for life after lockdown are slowly taking shape, with the last week seeing announcements regarding the arts and gastronomy. Here is a brief summary of the government’s roadmap to cultural and culinary normalcy.

As a general rule of thumb, current distancing, disinfection and mask-wearing regulations will remain in place at all times, with an average space of 20 m2 for each audience member required – especially during entrance, exiting and even for restrooms. This will make certain types of events that would technically be legal unfeasible – for instance, a single stand-up comedian on stage would be possible this summer, provided the performer and the audience wear face masks and maintain distancing at all times. But as you would require 20 m2 per audience member, that would also mean even a big venue would have a vastly reduced capacity, making profitability difficult. Also, all regulations and reopenings are subject to change if infection rates spike again.

How to enjoy culture while social distancing

Museums: Small galleries are already allowed to open (the usual distancing and hygiene rules apply). Museums can reopen on May 18, provided they follow safety measures and ensure 20 m2 space per visitor. Many Bundesmuseen however have decided to reopen later, as some are using the time for renovations – the KHM is aiming for late May, while the Albertina and the brand-new Albertina modern will open their gates on May 27. The Lower Belvedere is set for May 15, while Belvedere 21 and the Upper Belvedere are scheduled for June 1 and July 1, respectively.

Libraries: open for book lending as of May 18, but NO reading rooms, which affects institutions like the Nationalbibliothek.

Cinemas: have voluntarily chosen to reopen on Sep 1 as summer is usually a slow season. Open-air screenings like Kino Wie Noch Nie to be decided by mid-May.

Theaters: Only possible under social distancing rules. This also applies to onstage action – so no love scenes, stage combat or actors standing closer than 1 meter together, and mandatory face masks.

Music: Could technically happen by early July, but distancing rules apply, so choirs and orchestras are out of luck. Solo performances or quartets could be possible without breaking regulations.

Major Events: any event that makes large standing crowds inevitable (like the Donauinselfest) is definitely cancelled until Aug 31. Smaller events might happen from July 1 onwards; the exact regulations will be clarified by mid-May. Outdoor events may be somewhat easier to approve. Signature events like the Salzburger Festspiele are as of now still undecided, but given the strict rules, are unlikely to go ahead in the usual form, if at all.

Art Schools and conservatories: To be decided; likely on a case by case basis (e.g. an organist who can’t practice from home can come in, violinists stay in quarantine).

Professional creatives

Workshops and ateliers: are already allowed to reopen under small business rules, provided they comply with hygiene and distancing standards.

Rehearsals: artists may start rehearsing again from May 18th onwards, but only alone on stage and with a minimum of others present (e.g. director, conductor or choreographer). Group rehearsals permitted as of June 1st, but artists must keep 1m distance, wear masks etc.

Film production: case by case basis, distancing rules apply.

Amateur creatives remain in lockdown; better luck in the fall!

Restaurants, bars and eateries


Home delivery and picking up takeout: is already possible as long as safety distances are respected

From May 15 onward, eateries will be permitted to reopen with a 23:00 curfew. Masks and gloves will be mandatory for waitstaff, but not for patrons, as the government clarified on April 21 (it is possible that guest will be required to wear masks for entry and exit). Precise distancing guidelines are still being worked out, but it is likely that a minimum distance between tables will be implemented, particularly indoors, thereby limiting capacities. Also possible is that table condiments (salt, pepper, vinegar, etc.) will be temporarily removed.

The government is aware that this hits Austrian culture hard and has promised various financial relief funds, especially for non-profit Kulturvereine– exact numbers still unclear, but stated to be in the “several hundreds of million Euros,” with a final decision scheduled for the end of April.

(Foto: Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash)

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Binu Starnegg
Manila born, Brooklyn bred and a longtime resident of Vienna, Binu Starnegg is currently managing editor for Metropole, where he completes myriad tasks with style and aplomb. Photo: Visual Hub

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