The heinous events of the evening of November 2 in Vienna have claimed the lives of 4 civilians, with 22 others injured to various degrees. Hundreds more were out and about in the inner city at the time and were asked to take shelter indoors for hours to ensure their safety.
Several of Metropole’s writers, contributors and readers have sent us eyewitness reports from that night, some of which we’d like to share with you.
If you want to share your story as well, feel free to send us a message on social media or to [email protected]
Majd Nassan – Eyewitness
Monday, November 2nd, 2020 was one of the scariest days of my life, scarier even than the bit of war I witnessed in Syria or the 2012 explosion in Beirut.
I was out with a Lebanese friend of mine having a few final drinks before the lockdown at Pickwick’s, on the intersection of Marc-Aurel Straße and Salzgries. At first, we heard the noise of gunshots coming from up the street around Hoher Markt. But it was just two or three, and my friend and I ignored them – we even joked that it sounded like the squabbling on Tariq Aljdideh, a street in Beirut where small clashes happen.
Then the noise got louder and seemed to be coming from behind the restaurant and various sides. We later learned the source was from up on the Bastei outside the Ruprechtskirche, just a stone’s throw away. But we didn’t know that then. We were still sitting outside when somehow, our war-torn background hit: We ducked and then rushed inside. Everyone outside followed us.
A funny thing was the waiter, who told us that we were more than 6 people – as if we should worry about social distancing at a time like this! “There’s shooting outside,” I shouted! “We should all go to the basement!” He stared. Then, within seconds, he jumped into action, locking the door; someone else turned off the lights, while we all headed downstairs, to wait below. It was all very disconcerting; the Italians next to us thought it was fireworks, at least at first. They didn’t really grasp the severity of the situation.
Minutes went by, 10, 20… Then we saw the news on twitter. This was serious. I went back upstairs with Matt, the second waiter, and peered out through the darkened windows. There were police everywhere. I had never seen police in Austria with machine guns before. I felt numb. There were several conflicting reports, which made the situation all the more stressful; at one point, we heard someone had been taken hostage.
I thought about what happened in Nice and glanced over at a table of French speakers, they looked stunned, in disbelief.
The bar staff were incredibly supportive, offering us tea and snacks, joking with us, hanging out. Acting as if our comfort and safety was the most important thing in the world.
Over the next few hours, some of us got to know each other: an American waitress named Christina, two Italians, an Austrian. The Italians were students, and hadn’t been in Vienna long. “We wouldn’t have gone in, if you hadn’t warned us,” the woman confided. “We thought it was fireworks.” I nodded. But then, I’d heard gunshots before. “They were celebrating the last night before lockdown,” joked the Austrian.
Most of us weren’t Austrian, though, so we spoke English. My friend and I talked about the war in Syria, my coming to Austria as a refugee, the relief to be away from all that. There was clear disbelief that this is happening in Vienna. Everyone was on their phones, calling and texting people, assuring them we were okay. And swapping chargers.
Then Christina reappeared from the back room: “So you’re in luck,” she announced. “We have board games! Go and pick whatever you want.” One guy came out with Scrabble and started playing with his friend.
Gradually, the fear subsided. Somehow, actually, fear wasn’t really the main emotion, at least not for me. But to be honest, I don’t know what I felt, or how I still feel.
I headed back up every now and then to check on Matt and on what was happening outside. The police was everywhere, going up the street in full gear. Police cars were all around; at one point, about 10 officers were surrounding the entrance of the building facing us. We immediately ducked down.
Other things added to the tension: I’m a smoker, so I must admit, that was on my mind. Continually. I really needed a cigarette. Finally, the manager figured out we could go out through the side exit and stand in the doorway of the building next door. That is when we realized that some guys in suits from the next restaurant were outside, also needing a smoke. We didn’t talk.
Finally, we saw people from the neighboring restaurants starting to leave. I realized I was about to explode. I had to get out of there. But my friend calmed me down; the manager was checking regularly with the police for word that it would be safe to leave. I really wanted to get home.
But now the question was how. There were no cars allowed on Marc-Aurel Straße.
Eventually, we were released at 1:42 in the morning and left. It was then that we saw the massive number of police cars and vans and the many, many armed officers on the 1st district’s side of the canal. They waved us on at the corner; everything to our right was blocked anyway. No one was allowed to get any closer. We couldn’t even see the steps up to the Ruprechtskirche. They told us to walk towards Salztorbrücke, which was fine as I live in the 2nd district. We thanked them and kept going.
On the other side of the bridge, the police cars were replaced by ambulances everywhere, bumper to bumper, dozens of them. We kept walking. For me it was only a short walk, and I arrived home sometime after 2:00 a.m.
Tristan Moher – Eyewitness
by Dardis McNamee
Canadian archeologist Tristan Moher was on his way home from jujitsu at about 19:00, to shower and change before meeting friends at Vulcania by 19:30. He was a little late, so it was about 19:45 when he headed out from his apartment near Karmelitermarkt, toward the canal. He was approaching the Marienbrücke toward Morzinplatz when he heard a “pop, pop pop.”
“I thought it was fireworks, that people were celebrating,” he recalled the next day. There was, oddly, that sort of atmosphere on this last evening before the 2nd wave lockdown-lite that would again close bars, restaurants, theaters and concert halls as well as prohibit public events for at least month in an effort to get a grip on the pandemic. And Monday turned out to be a lovely, balmy evening, with temperatures about 18°. And as all the studies seemed to show, chances were you were probably safe from infection as long as you were sitting outside. So tables were hard to come by in the Schanigärten in and around the Bermuda Triangle above Schwedenplatz, and people found places on the steps and stonewalls nearby.
Walking up to the bridge, Tristan sensed something was wrong: “Every one was coming my way, it seemed strange.” He heard more pops. Later, the one image that stayed in his mind was a woman of about 40 cradling the head of her 12 or 13-year-old and screaming. What was going on?
Once on the bridge, he felt the whistling of bullets over his head. Then more people running, five or six shouting out, “Sie schießen, sie schießen!” They are shooting! Dust shot up randomly, about 5 feet away. It was bullets, ricocheting off the ground. So he hid behind a concrete pillar of the bridge on the 2nd district side, squatting behind it. All the while, gunshots rang out… “I didn’t move for about 10 minutes,” he remembered, although it seemed longer. “Every 30 seconds, more police cars and vans arrived, making a blockade, some of them going into the fray.
This went on for 10 to 15 minutes. All the while, the shooting continued. Every one was running wildly, freaking out.
He called his friend Dom, a bartender at Vulcania, at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle. “Don’t come here,” his friend pleaded. “Someone is shooting!” None of their guests were outside; their Shanigarten was closed. But next door at Philosoph and Morgans, people were sitting out drinking and chatting. Somebody screamed; someone had been shot.
Dom was outside smoking a cigarette when he heard the “pop pop pop.” Someone started screaming beside him; one person had been hit in the arm, another in the lower leg. He reached for them and pulled everyone into the bar, locked the door and turned out the lights, herding everyone into the storage room in the back. The injured were bleeding badly. His friend David took off his T-shirt to wrap around the wounded arm. Someone else did the same for the person with the wounded leg.
Nobody thought about masks or COVID-19 anymore. The pandemic had been all but forgotten.
Bori Csete – Eyewitness
It’s 22:00 in the Burgtheater – the last performance before the November lockdown – Lucy Kirkwood’s Das Himmelzelt – has just ended, and the audience is about to burst into applause. Suddenly from the darkness of the stage, the Burgtheater’s director, Martin Kusej appears. Nobody can leave the building as there was a terrorist attack and the city center is closed – it takes a few seconds for us to realize this announcement is not some epilogue and part of an otherwise pretty violent play. It’s real.
Are we safe here, my husband asks? A police officer comes on stage, joining the director: “There is no reason to panic,” he says. (What else would he say?) We are not in danger, he assures us. The theater is surrounded by police.
The next few hours were surreal. After a short while, all the actors came back on stage in their civilian clothes to chat with the audience, explaining what the play was about, what their various roles meant to them and why they considered this contemporary British play important and relevant. It was all very entertaining, a quite normal after-performance discussion, so we almost forgot the reason we were locked in. In fact, it gave us a new level of connection – something much more sincere was about to be established. One actress admitted she was already drunk, one joked they decided we would spend the lockdown together and they would all continue to perform, developing this play a bit more each evening for us for the whole month of November!
Over time, though, the mood began to sour. The bar didn’t have any more food, only drinks. Some people lubricated their throats liberally, others clung to their phones checking for updates. A few people found quiet corners to lie down. The clock struck midnight; boredom and hunger had visibly overtaken fear. Or was it the excitement from the wine?
After 1:00 in the morning, we were told it was now safe to leave – though in one direction only.
We made our way home through the deserted city. It was quiet, but somehow, everything was different.
We had been watching a play focusing on a murder trial while real murders were taking place just 500 meters away. Murders belong in theaters, not on our streets. In the play, there was a reflection about a comet the women were waiting for, that would change things – whether we belong to a altered future or whether it would be announcing the end of an era.