How to be a Spy

Are you cut out for 00 status? Improve your combat skills, polish your manners, and become wine, poker and dance floor savvy. It could just save your life

In America, spies in trench coats are usually bugging your office and listening in on your phone calls. In Britain, her majesty’s secret servants are busy codebreaking between rounds of cricket.

In Vienna, instead, you just spend a day at the coffee house and, if you listen carefully, you will soon be up-to-date about the latest rumors of this city that loves secrets – and even more, to gossip about them on the sly.

This secretive lifestyle of course needs a light touch and some special skills which, if you haven’t grown up with the Viennese penchant for decisive vagueness,
sugary phantasmagoria and suggestive prittle-prattle, you may require some additional training.

Luckily, the city offers everything you need to live the high life of a spy.

Manners matter

While it is certainly a good idea to have a packet of delicious Mannerschnitten (traditional Viennese chocolate waffles) with you – anyone can be softened up with a sweet! – the manners we mean here are more traditional. Leaning suavely into the Linkswalzer [or just, “into the waltz”] and holding glances over a glass of sekt at a Viennese ball will do wonders for seducing those secrets from the lips of the great and the good.

A course at Tanzschule Elmayer, the city’s most prestigious dancing school, will give you your essential moves while a seminar at one of Vienna’s Benimmschulen (schools of etiquette) like Knigge2day will remind you that well-mannered Austrians still follow the over 200-year-old rulebook of a Lower Saxony baron.

Sitting down with a good glass of the latest vintage from Vienna’s wineries, you really don’t want to confound a Cabernet with a Blauer Zweigelt. Thus, a pre-emptive sommelier course at Weinakademie Österreich is highly recommended – preferably with residuals to fortify you while you plan your next mission. And lest you should encounter a bloodthirsty villain at the poker table, you may also want to brush up on your bluffing with a seminar at the Austrian Pokersport Association before booking a private table for high stakes at Casinos Austria.


After having polished your presentation, it’s time for action in the field. As an aspiring spy, you may at some point need to jump out of an airplane. But that will only elicit a chuckle once you’ve logged a session at the Windobona Indoor Skydiving tower in the Prater. To train for a joint mission, you can also fly with a squadron of five to ten. Coordinated teamwork and your collective gumption will also come in handy when trying to solve the riddles of the real-life survival game, Exit the Room.

To gear up for electronic tracking, head for one of Maxx Entertainment’s spacious laser tag halls or wrestle down your adversaries with your newly gained Krav Maga melee skills from the Self -Defense and Martial Arts Institute. Then let your pursuers eat dust while zooming away in even the harshest weather conditions after completing one of the ÖAMTC’s very tough safe driving training courses.

Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy

Yet, all that prowess may prove pointless without the right tools. First of all, you should of course be able to handle a gun. For that, head to the Schiesskino (Shooting Cinema), Vienna’s oldest indoor shooting range, founded in the 1830s and located right next to Vienna’s English Theatre in the 8th district. And, of course, every good spy needs the sleekest gadgets. The website is a good place to  start.

But don’t stop there. In reality, the technology that already surrounds us can be your friend in need. Use encrypted messaging apps like Swiss-based Threema to make your secret messages as safe as the Alps and sieve through the soup of social media and online tools available on the web for just what you need – it’s often hidden in plain sight.  Harness the power of Google, with specialized searches such as “filetype:pdf” or “filetype:doc” to access non-public, but poorly hidden, internet files. For instance, you might find a politician’s “secret plan” days before delivery or a programmer’s “back door” to the newest smartphone. Or maybe even the secret formula for Red Bull. By the power of Google, the world can be on your screen.

Relax, take it easy

Finally, don’t forget: The secret of every great spy… be charming! After all that tinkering, training, dancing and diving, it’s important to live the good life. And don’t be too surprised when, after a long day of digging up earth-shattering secrets destined to change the face of European politics, the waiter in your favorite coffee house will probably have heard it all already.

The good news is that he’s ready to serve you the next round of rumors right along with your melange.

Tricks of the Trade

A gentle(wo)man’s school

Tanzschule Elmayer: This has become an institution of Viennese life. Waltz past your adversaries with courses of the entire World Dance Program.

Knigge2day: Whether you are heading to a business lunch, a date or a secret rendezvous with your informant, these seminars help you to behave properly and stay undetected. (In German only.) 

Weinakademie Österreich: From basic seminars to master courses that grant a diploma, the school makes sure no foreign agent ever dupes you again with adulterated wine.

Combat Skills

Self Defense & Martial Arts
SAMI Vienna makes you strong and self-confident in every situation you may encounter, no matter whether your favored martial art is Krav Maga, Panantukan, stick fighting or kickboxing.

Whether you want to go hunting deer or secrets, it’s always a good idea to keep your shooting skills golden.

Maxx Entertainment
Lasertag trains your shooting skills as well as your tactical finesse. Channel your inner strategist and guide your team of agents through a maze of obstacles.

Windobona Indoor Skydiving: Face wind speeds up to 280 km/h (174 m/h) and just fly…

Get your Game On

Casinos Austria: The perfect place to hone your social spy skills. Join Vienna’s glitterati and listen in on the proverbial high rollers.

Austrian Pokersport Association: Learn how to perfect your pokerface and always have the better hand, whether you want to bluff or show your cards.

Exit the Room: The perfect place to test your wits under pressure. Solve a crime, save the world from a zombie apocalypse, or summon your inner Bond to defuse a bomb.

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Benjamin Wolf
Benjamin studied Journalism, History and International Affairs. After stints with Cafébabel in Paris and Arte in Strasbourg, he is now working as managing editor and COO for Metropole in Vienna. Fields of expertise are politics, economics, culture, and history. Photo: Visual Hub

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