Ivan X – A Bulgarian on the Street

For some, Vienna is home only part of the year.

It was Saturday afternoon at Yppenplatz, when my friends and me incidentally met Ivan. He heard me and my friends speaking Bulgarian and stopped next to us. He asked us for cigarettes, and we started talking. 

Ivan was 63 years old, a Bulgarian Roma, living partly in Vienna, partly in Pazardjik (Bulgaria) with the rest of his family. For the last 12 years, he had been coming to Vienna every late autumn and stayed until the beginning of the summer. Then he goes back to his little house in the countryside, where he and his wife take care of a little vegetable garden, some chickens and rabbits. At the end of the summer, they conserve the produce from the garden so they can have something easy to cook in the winter. Then Ivan comes back to Vienna, taking a suitcase with jars and cans of homemade preserves, so to not spend a lot of money while he is here. 

Ivan is not alone in Vienna. He stays with two of his younger cousins, who are street musicians. They mostly play Balkan arrangements of well known popular songs from Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Michael Jackson and others, busking for money. 

Ivan is always happy when he is in Vienna, because he earns more money here. “Here people give more tips than in Bulgaria,” he told me. “In Sofia, nobody gives you paper money, only coins. But then, there are no rich people on the streets. They are all in the cars; here is different.” But he couldn’t hide that he missed his wife and his dogs. 

“Isn’t a bad time we are living in, young boy?” he says to me. “Nothing ever really separated me and my wife since when we are 14 years old. But now….”  

Ivan comes to Vienna only for the period of Winter to spring, because that time the city is full with tourists. Well, usually. They play at some Christmas markets on Saturdays, in the 7th district, Naschmarkt, Schönbrunn palace. A few times, they have been invited to play at a Balkan wedding. “People from the Balkans miss our rhythmic music,” he said, laughing. “It looks like they’ve had enough of Mozart.” 

But this year, the winter had no mercy for Ivan and his crew. As the majority of bars, cafes and restaurants have been closed because of COVID-19, they couldn’t earn even the half of the money they usually do. He hopes next year will be better. So where is home? “I am a gipsy,” Ivan said. “I always take my home with me.” 

And with that he showed me a picture of his wife. 

Pavel Naydenov
Pavel is a social designer, artist and choir conductor. He considers the city a playground and he never gets bored from it. He likes to have a close look at marginalized groups and different subcultures. You can see him riding his bike toward third wave coffee houses in Vienna, art galleries, Yppenplatz or Donauinsel.

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