Meet the Germans Living in Vienna

What does it mean to be German in Austria? A satirist, a local activist, a musician, a community manager, and a TV and radio star share their experiences.

Felix Mitterer

by Eva Goldschald

Here we have to honest: The famed screenwriter of the controversial – and enormously popular – three-part film Piefke-Saga, is actually Austrian. But it is right on our topic of German-Austrian relations, so we’ll include him here. Released on Austrian television in 1990, the pointed satire about German tourists in Tirol was a co-production of NRD-ORF television, and both Germans and Tyroleans got their just deserts. Germans were portrayed as wealthy complainers always threatening to leave, the locals as insidious grovelers, kissing up to Germans and eternally sniping behind their backs. Three years later, a fourth part was released, to less attention. Felix Mitterer was born in Achenkirch, a small town in Tyrol. So an Austrian, not a German, he was nonetheless well placed to understand and satirize both. Alpine Austrian villagers and their German clients had been the background of his childhood.

Raised by his mother’s best friend, a depressive who apparently struck him daily, he retreated into a world of fantasy. From an early age, he knew he wanted to become a writer, losing himself in books and making up stories to entertain his classmates. Afraid to tell his parents of his dream, he stumbled through jobs as a teacher, then as a customs officer, while he wrote novels, short stories and plays in secret and sent them to publishers, who politely turned him down. Finally, he had his first success in 1977 with the stage play Kein Platz für Idioten. (No Room for Idiots)

But it was The Piefke Saga, 13 years later, that made him a star, and not only in Austria. Still, he considers himself lucky, and indeed, his writer’s success story is a kind of fairy tale – but more Cinderella than Scheherazade.

Currently, the 72-year-old Mitterer is working on a fifth episode of The Piefke Saga, using the Ischgl-corona scandal as backdrop and scheduled to be finished in spring 2021. In addition, his first and only novel, Keiner von euch, was published in 2020. As a writer, Felix Mitterer focuses his inner lens on people on the outside, people who swim against the stream. Just like himself.

Mirjam Mischendahl

Mirjam Mieschendahl

by Ingrid Götz

Like many immigrants, Mirjam Mieschendahl came to Vienna for love: At an Austrian company in Berlin she fell for a colleague; so when he was drawn back to his favorite city, she came with him.

In Vienna Mieschendahl was surprised at the number of empty stores. She had an idea, and in 2013, she founded a platform that connects self-employed people all over Vienna, www.imgraetzl.at, with WG-style (flat share or office share) partners to share the rent.

Today, about 7,000 self-employed people, 80% of them women, have taken advantage of the offer. Psychotherapists now share premises with masseuses and energy healers. Tools help identify rent subsidies, and inform members of services and workshops on offer. The main goal is to strengthen the self-employed. In the future, ground floor zones of new buildings may also be added to the offerings.

In Austria, Mieschendahl appreciates a coziness that she has never experienced in Germany. She also loves the slightly grim humor. However, she was surprised by the role of the major
political parties, and recounts an acquaintance becoming a party member as this seemed the only way to make promotion possible. As to dealing with Germans, Mieschendahl has heard many pejorative comments. This is not true the other way around, she says. In Germany, Austrians are treated without prejudices, she feels.

So sometimes, she thinks about going back to Germany, especially during election campaigns, when right-wing parties post slogans like “Ausländer Raus” (“Foreigners out”). Still, she likes Vienna because it is a cosmopolitan and multicultural city. And she has made a life here that matters.

Sascha Madsen/(C) Die Bierpartei

Sascha Madsen 

by Anna-Lisa Stadler

After living in Vienna for 10 years, Sascha Madsen has now stepped into local politics. The drummer of his indie rock band Madsen, he is a member of the Bierpartei and became district councilor of the 22nd district. The party was born out of a riff at first, but Madsen now takes the mandate seriously. Art and culture form the political agenda, he says, especially the promotion of young musicians. For Madsen, Vienna is the right place to make this happen: “Vienna is inspiring,” he says. “Great art in every form can be found here.”

Vienna audiences have high expectations: “Concerts here are special,” he says. “People have a feeling for culture; they respond to music and concerts in a unique way. Goose bumps guaranteed!” During the pandemic, Madsen and his band colleagues used music as a channel for letting out all the accumulated frustrations of the shock-stricken state of the entire music industry. They created “na gut, dann nicht,” a punk album with what he describes as a breakout character. “We canceled everything else! We had to make punk; we had to get it all out.” This is something just as vital for musicians as it is for the audience – something liberating, distracting, unique.

Says Madsen: “Music does something for people.”

(C) Jockel Weichert

Jockel Weichert 

by Anna-Lisa Stadler

In 1999, living in an old boarding house in the 10th district, with a ham sandwich for breakfast and November fog outside, Jockel Weichert could not imagine staying in Vienna. He missed the proximity to the mountains, the Bavarian coziness. Vienna seemed rough and unfriendly, the old buildings not yet renovated, with a ghetto feeling hanging over the outer districts. But in the years that followed, Vienna blossomed and with it, Weichert’s love for the city.

And if he’s honest, his first summer in Vienna was “a blast.” He learned to appreciate the Viennese Heurigen culture and the street festivals; he loved that Vienna was a green city, that seemed to offer everything one might need.

In 2008, he founded the Piefke Connection Austria so he could watch the European Championship with other Germans, to cheer for their own country without anyone looking askance. The result was a network with over 6,500 members today – and not a “Piefke bubble” where they keep to themselves, but a platform for mutual support and joint leisure activities for both an easy start and subsequent life as a Piefke in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Weichert knows that he has come to stay. Vienna is now his town: “Nothing is driving me away from here.”

(C) Dirk Stermann

Dirk Stermann

by Ingrid Götz

Satirist and presenter Dirk Stermann is a legend in Austria. After three decades in Vienna, his partnership with Christoph Grissemann – from radio and cabaret to the weekly late night show “Willkommen Österreich” on ORF 1 – have all achieved cult status, making him probably the most prominent German in Austria. In his first book, Sechs Österreicher unter den ersten fünf (Six Austrians in the First Five, 2010), he reviews his first years in Vienna, in 1990 still a gray and gloomy city. Life was cheap here, he says. Still, it felt like living in the Eastern bloc; there were hardly any tourists, as if forgotten by the world.

When he came, Stermann says, Austrians still met Germans with a mixture of arrogance and inferiority. In the meantime, he thinks things have changed – in part because of the Fall of the Berlin Wall: “After 1989, many East Germans came here to work as waiters, cab drivers and chambermaids. So the Austrians gradually learned to see differences among the Germans.” In addition, Austrians began to have access to German television channels. “When you listen to children today, it’s clear that standard German has also found its way into Austrian German – through television.”

Although, to be honest, some Austrians may not exactly see this as progress.

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