Austria’s Integration Ministry Takes Down “Islam Map” Amid Public Outcry

Divisive from the start, the so-called Islam Landkarte (Islam map) website is currently offline after barely a week, following a wave of public indignation. Presented by Austria’s Minister for Women and Integration, Susanne Raab, on May 27, this interactive map marked out 623 Muslim organizations and mosques in Austria, displaying addresses, contacts and an estimation of their ideological position. Created by the national documentation service for political Islam, which was established in 2020 and is funded by the Ministry of Integration, it was an immediate target of fervent criticism – and not only from Austria’s Muslim community.

It didn’t take long for things to come to a head: Seven days after launching, the map was taken down June 2, after the right-wing extremist group posted signs reading near organizations listed on the map in Vienna and other Austrian cities. The signs read: “Danger! Political Islam is close by! More information under www.islam-landkarte.at” near the locations that were also pictured on the Identitären movement’s public channels. The initiators of the map denounced the campaign, protesting that their project had been exploited. Others suggested there wasn’t much difference between a digital map and targeting Muslim organizations in the analog world. 

The only information currently available on the page is a statement from Ednan Aslan, a professor for Muslim religious education at the University of Vienna who created the map on behalf of the documentation service: Posted on Jun 3, it states his regret that it came to a political exploitation of the project. 

Map of Discord

The Ministry of Integration emphasized at the map’s launch that it doesn’t signify a general suspicion of the Muslims community. Instead, it is intended to show “strengths and weaknesses,” underlining the integration achievements of certain organizations, Aslan said. The map does not target Islam or Muslims but rather those that seek to undermine Austrian values, Minister Raab stressed. 

After the initial announcement, Raab received threats on social media which prompted a police investigation and put Austria’s counter-terrorism unit (BVT) on alert. She later defended the “Islam map” at a joint press conference with the interior minister Karl Nehammer, who expressed his anger about the normalization of these kind of threats. “There is a need of a better societal discourse in order to have reasonable interactions even when handling controversial topics,” he remarked. Adnan and a colleague who also worked on the map, Mouhanad Khorchide, were also threatened shortly after the announcement. The former is currently under police protection

Nehammer and Raab maintain that the map, which contains all known Islamic institutions and not only extremist groups, should be seen as a resource for Austria’s Muslim community. The integration minister found the outcry incomprehensible and downplayed claims that the map is a security risk, citing that all addresses included were already available to the public. 

A Crisis of Faith

In addition to the majority of the Muslim community, several religious leaders have spoken out against the map. On Monday, the superintendent of the Continental Reformed church in Austria, Thomas Hennefeld, and the Lutheran bishop Michael Chalupka advised Raab to quickly take down the map.

In a column for the daily paper Heute, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn questioned the decision to “single out” one faith and suggested an “Atlas of Religion” as an alternative. 

The mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, has also voiced his disapproval, saying that the map promotes division within society. 

The ÖVP’s junior partner, the Greens, also distanced themselves from the project, stating that they weren’t informed of the map before it went live. They later suggested on ATV that taking down the site would be the proper course of action. According to the party, this “heavily mishandled Project” has led to the stigmatization of Muslim institutions.  

The map is currently still offline due to a change in the hosting company, but this is seemingly just temporary. “We will neither allow right-wing extremists nor Islamic threats to derail our research,” Aslan told ORF defiantly. 

Metropole’s Top Five Brunch Spots in Vienna

Breakfast sandwich with avocado and grilled mushrooms/(C) Motto am Fluss

With Vienna’s grand reopening, spending hours on end in cafés just soaking in the atmosphere and catching up with friends is no longer a distant memory. The Viennese know a thing or two about enjoying the slower things in life – famous for its coffeehouse culture, and the local custom of Jause, a fourth meal between breakfast and lunch, it’s no wonder there are no shortages of brunch hotspots. These are just a few of our favorite places to start your weekend right – with plenty of food and a healthy serving of gossip!

Motto am Fluss – Everybody’s Darling

With its relaxed riviera atmosphere and large sun terrace, this popular canalside café right on Schwedenplatz is everybody’s brunch spot of choice during the summer. From early morning to late afternoon, the city’s hip and hungry can be found catching a tan and dishing the latest gossip over live DJ-sets. Expect á la carte breakfast classics with a twist, like Eggs Benedict served with grilled mushrooms, fresh smoothies or their delicious breakfast sandwich with avocado and spicy habanero mayonnaise. Their flaky sourdough croissants and other treats come directly from Motto Brotthe newest addition to Vienna’s ongoing artisanal bakery revival. Reservations are encouraged to keep disappointment at bay. 

Flaky sourdough croissants from Motto Brot/(C) Motto am Fluss

Top pick: fresh Tisane (herbal infusion) with thyme, orange and mint

1., Franz-Josefs-Kai 2 EG

Daily 8:00-0:00

Breakfast served daily from 8:00-16:00

(01) 252 55 11

mottoamfluss.at

Mani im Vierten – Hearty and Nourishing

The wonderfully down-to-earth Mani im Vierten is the perfect spot to grab some sustenance in preparation for a long day of strolling down nearby Naschmarkt. Formerly known as Figar 1040, this modern Mediterranean restaurant offers a hearty breakfast in its Schanigarten on Schleifmühlgasse, replete with delightful savory pallets of breakfast burgers with rocket, avocado, fried egg and tomato-chili-confit; those still nursing a hangover are advised to resuscitate with a “Bloody Shame,” a non-alcoholic Bloody Mary variant. With sourdough bread from Oefferl and a focus on organic ingredients, quality places high on the Mani’s list of priorities, making their food all the more memorable.

Shakshouka/(C) Mani im Vierten

Top pick: hearty Shakshouka, served directly in the pan 

4., Schleifmühlgasse 7

Mon-Thu 8:00-0:00

Fri 8:00-1:00
Sat 9:00-1:00
Sun 9:00-0:00

Breakfast served Mon-Fri, 8:00-16:00, Weekends and Holidays 9:00-16:00

(01) 890 31 60

mani.wien

(C) Labstelle

Labstelle – Experimental Delights

Tried and true breakfast staples indisputably deserve their spot on menus all over the world. But there comes a time when even the most enthusiastic bruncher has exhausted every conceivable variation on eggs. Fortunately, you can expect the unexpected at Labstelle’s Flying Breakfast – and lots of it! The farm-to-table restaurant recommends a 2.5 hour visit, allowing their kitchen to present a cavalcade of delectable bites in rounds. Charmingly unpredictable, previous visitors have enjoyed dishes ranging from homemade boar bratwurst with beans to asparagus with peperonata foam or beef tartar with bacon mayonnaise. Who said breakfast had to be predictable?

(C) Labstelle

Top pick: to be defined by the chef!

1., Lugeck 6

Mon-Fri 11:30-22:00

Sat 10:00-22:00

Breakfast served Sat10:00- 14:30 (last orders 11:30)

(01) 236 21 22

labstelle.at

Turnhalle – Vegatarian Banquet

(C) Turnhalle

Nestled behind the peaceful courtyard of a historical apartment complex in the 15th district, the Turnhalle – as its name would suggest – used to be a gymnasium and Jewish cultural center before World War II. A truly exceptional space with high ceilings and exposed copper piping, it’s a charming café and community space today, well-known for a superlative vegetarian weekend brunch made in collaboration with Café 7Stern: With savory and sweet dishes spread out in abundance, the buffet leans heavily towards seasonal salads, lovingly presented rustic cakes and homemade granola. To top it all off, brunch includes either delicious Hausbrandt coffee or a sparkling mimosa. 

(C) Turnhalle

Top pick: roast beetroot and lentil salad

15., Herklotzgasse 21

Sat & Sun 9:30-15:30

0660 203 64 04 

die-turnhalle.at

DSTRIKT at the Ritz-Carlton – Steak for Breakfast

If you’re looking for a truly epicurean experience, head to the Ritz-Carlton for DSTRIKT’s steak brunch. With fantastic cuts paired with free-flowing champagne, cooked before you on a Josper grill, patrons also have their pick of Austrian charcuterie and cheese specialties, sweet spreads beef tartare or oysters at the buffet, located directly in the stainless steel kitchen. 

Top pick: DSTRKT New York cheesecake 

Brunch served Sundays at 12:30 PM – 15:30 PM

1., Schubertring 5, 1010 Wien (in The Ritz-Carlton)

Mon-Sat 7:00-22:30

Sun 7:00-15:30

Steak Brunch Sundays 12:30-15:30

(01)311 88 616

dstrikt.com

Word of the Week: Holzpyjama [ˈhɔlt͡sˌpiˈd͡ʒaːma]

Noun. A coffin. Lit. “wooden pajamas.” Used in phrases like an Hoizpitschama ågmessn (to get measured for wooden pajamas) or sich ins Holzpyjama haun (to hop into a wooden pajama), it is one of the many, many colorful Viennese euphemisms related to death. While much has been made of the city’s preoccupation with shuffling off this mortal coil, it is not uncommon in other cultures to discuss mortality with humorous idioms that downplay innate fears – Vienna’s wooden sleepwear can thus be considered roughly analogous to English terms like “the big sleep,” “popping one’s clogs,” or “cashing in one’s chips.”

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Vienna Appoints Its First “Scooter Sheriffs”

Scooter scoundrels beware – there’s a new sheriff in town! In an effort to address complaints regarding e-scooters cluttering sidewalks, Vienna’s Wirtschaftskammer (Economic Chamber) has partnered with Lime, a major provider, to find common ground and promote co-existence between residents, pedestrians and e-scooter users. Dubbed “Scooter sheriffs” – a play on Parksheriff, the local nickname for traffic wardens – their responsibilities include moving incorrectly-parked scooters, picking up fallen scooters and cautioning riders caught parking improperly. 

First introduced in the summer of 2018, rentable e-scooters have been a resounding success, quickly altering the cityscape by offering convenient short-range transport on demand. In 2019, there were 10 companies in Vienna who offered the service; and while the pandemic has reduced the number of providers to 5, there are still 6,000 e-scooters on the street. In fact, the decrease in supply has only heightened demand, with Lime reporting over 100,000 more customers compared to before COVID-19.

But despite their popularity, Vienna’s relationship with e-scooters is highly ambivalent. The very convenience that makes them appealing – simply unlock via smartphone app and walk away once you’re done – is a point of contention: Unlike Vienna’s own city bike system, there are no designated scooter stations, meaning that users often leave them whenever their time runs out, with little regard for others. This has led to hundreds of complaints from residents and shop owners about e-scooters lying around curbsides, causing a nuisance and a safety risk. 

In addition, reckless riding has also caused concern: Within the first 9 months of their introduction, rented e-scooters amassed over 1,559 police reports and 1,015 registered reports by civilians, most of them prompted by speeding and running red lights. 

There have been some efforts to address the problem: The city has already passed several regulations, and in 2020, the Bezirksvorsteher (district chairman) of the 7th district, Markus Reiter (Greens), launched three e-scooter racks to help unclutter sidewalks. 

This latest initiative has been in service as of last Friday, with scooter sheriffs patrolling the 1st district on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Currently still in the experimental phase, the initiative will be evaluated in two months; If results are promising, it will expand to other districts. “With this pilot project, Vienna’s Wirtschaftskammer wants to show the people that compromise on the matter is indeed possible,” said Dieter Steup, the Chamber of Commerce’s’ local chairman for the first district. Whether these newly appointed peacemakers can indeed clean up the sidewalks, time will tell.

Syrians in Austria on a Journey to a Better Future

When you think of Syria today, rarely do you think of its history or its culture. You mostly think of the destruction of war and the refugee wave of 2015.

For Syrians, Syria is way more than just the country they left behind; it’s a forever-woven piece of their heart. Choosing to come here was not easy, and as this article will show, Syrians in Austria come from many different backgrounds; they came in different ways and have different lifestyles. And unlike any other expat community, these Syrians are stuck with the term “refugee” for political/humanitarian reasons; but in reality, they’re as diverse as any other migrant community in Austria.

Here these Syrians have a chance to tell us about their journey. Given the changes over the past decade, we will track three different milestones while weaving these stories together. At each milestone, we will see a glimpse of how life was for our six interviewees. Some felt their stories too personal to share under their real names, so their identities were masked, without undermining the authenticity of their stories.

The Comfortable Pre-War Years (2009-2010)

For the first milestone, we will travel back to the summer of 2009, when Syria was still safe, peaceful, and comfortable. Just like anyone in Austria in 2009, people in Syria were going about their lives. Those who worked, went to work, those who studied went to their classes. Just like Austrians, Syrians looked forward to the summer in the country or visiting grandparents, or vacationing on the pebbled beaches of the majestic Syrian coast.

Like Austrians, Syrians are very proud of their rich culture and history. The Damascus Citadel hosted regular live concerts just like the annual Sommernachtskonzert at Schönbrunn. The old city hosted an annual food and culture festival reminiscent of the Viennese Christmas markets. Every large Syrian city had these things in one form or another, and our life before the war wasn’t so different from yours. Damascus may not have been the “world’s most livable city,” but it was a place of culture and charm and Syria was certainly precious.

As late as 2009, many Syrians still flocked to nightly concerts at the Damascus Citadel (left) – not unlike Vienna’s very own annual Summer Night’s Concert at Schönbrunn (right).

But make no mistake, we are not claiming that life was free and fair or that our civil life was even remotely comparable to European standards. But outside of politics, Syrians come from a country with a wealth of natural resources, arid lands, mountains, rivers, coastline, and deserts. The country had good trade relations, a respectable GDP, decent public health care and education, very rich culture, ancient history, ethnic and religious diversity, many talents, and passions.

Our history matters particularly: All our interviewees were in agreement that their favorite places growing up were the older parts of town. There is a special vibe to an old city in Syria, diverse, lively, a feast of eateries and cafés.

Let’s start with Noha Shantous*, now 37. In 2009 she was working for a publishing house, while living in a rented flat with her husband. Her favorite activities: the various workshops she did with UNICEF and the Syrian Red Crescent. “We focused on psychological support of displaced kids, particularly the Iraqi refugee population.” Although her salary wasn’t high, it was livable, and she could afford to go to the coast for two weeks each August.

Soha Al Ali* 46, was living with her husband and 3 children in the Yarmouk Palestinian “Camp,” in the “ghetto” suburbs of Damascus. “I owned my house and paid for everything myself – not my husband, as he was unemployed at the time.” Born in Syria to Palestinian parents who died when she was 15, she and her sister went to live with her aunt who was a cleaning lady and taught her the trade.

At 17, she went to work as a housekeeper for a prominent Christian family where she stayed for 25 years. “They were my family,” she said, describing how they took her in after fights with her husband over money, “until he understood that I was the bread winner and I controlled the money, not him.” Soha worked six days a week for $300 per month. She was keen to teach her children English, she borrowed schoolbooks from the family. “I taught them myself.”

Zeina Khawam, 39, was born in Vienna to Syrian parents, and moved back to Damascus in 2008 to get married and settle there. “Damascus was beautiful,” she said. She had family and friends. “Everything seemed just perfect. I was having the best life; I wasn’t really thinking of ever going back to Vienna.

The Al-Hamidiyah Souq is the largest souk in Syria, located inside the old walled city of Damascus. The souq dates back to the Ottoman era, being built around 1780 during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid I./(C) Depositphotos

The Little Things

Syrians are very social, outgoing, and family oriented, so their lives revolved around friends and relatives. No week would go by without an extended family lunch on Saturday: your aunt brings a dish, your mom makes something else, your grandma brings the appetizers, your uncle brings the dessert. During the week, most Syrians spend their evenings in cafés playing cards and smoking shishas with their friends, different groups on different days.

Jamila Omran*, 35, recalls 2009 with great joy, “I met with my friends many times a week, often at one of our houses. We would meet and plan to go on a trip, go swimming, or to a restaurant and sometimes we met at home to play cards and laugh together. We loved to stay up late singing. My favorite spots were my house and the parks, where the most beautiful memories were.”

Omar Ahmadieh*, 36, fondly remembers the summer of 2009: “Travelling in summer to Hama, my city of origin to meet my cousins and other relatives, and in Damascus where most of the activities revolved around eating outside with friends or playing cards in some cafes”. It was the little things in life that Syrians miss most.

Adam Bakri*, 23, was 11 in 2009, so all he remembers is that he had nothing to worry about, he went to school, played with his friends, went on trips with his family.

The Decisive Years (2014-2016… )

The war years of 2014 to 2016 were hard, and the years when many decided to flee for their safety and the future of their children. In 2014, ISIS was rising; many people died, many were displaced. Some three million people had already fled the country, according to UNHCR, aside from the many whose homes were destroyed leaving them nomads within the country. Over the next couple of years, it only got worse. When war erupted, the differences between Syria and Austria couldn’t have become starker. And many here may not be able to relate.

It was almost impossible for many Syrians to come legally to Austria, even before the war, Throughout the developed world, Syrians had difficulties getting visas and residence permits because the consulates weren’t convinced that these Syrians would ever go back. People tried their best to persevere, but at a certain point, life becomes unbearable. Each of our interviewees had different reasons and ways of coming here. Some were lucky others not so much. Most had to leave family and loved ones behind, some temporarily until they can sort out family reunification, whereas others are entirely uprooted.

… And the Ensuing Journey

For Noha, her husband left for Europe in 2014 hoping to bring her and their son later. In 2015 she was alone, teaching English and taking care of her son. “Although I was really overworked, I loved teaching and we needed the money.” She did sports as an outlet and met often with friends and family. Time seemed precious. “At some point I would only be able to talk them via screens, or worse, from their graves.” It took three years for her husband’s family reunification request to be approved and finally in summer of 2018, she traveled with their son to Vienna.

Soha’s story is the most somber of our interviewees. In 2014, the house that she had poured 25 years of work into was destroyed, and in 2015 the whole area was taken over by ISIS. “My family and I went to live in another suburb that was regime-held,” she told us. “We lived in an unfinished building, and used plastic UNHCR tents as makeshift walls” – a situation she shared with countless other families.

Her husband finally found a job, a miserable one, as a grave digger. She still worked as a housekeeper, but less frequently. The family paid her the same. But they couldn’t put her up because they had taken in another family. “I am generally an optimist,” she said, “and even when everything is miserable, I try to have a glass-half-full perspective.” Her eldest daughter was studying for her Syrian Matura, so she decided to study and do the exam with her. “By some miracle and slick moves, I managed to pass,” she recalled. “Finally, I had a degree with my name on it.”

Early in 2015, Soha’s sister decided to leave Syria for Europe. If she could make it to Western Europe, she had heard, she could get support and start a better life. “So she convinced me to send my 16-year-old daughter with her; given the conditions we were living under, I agreed.”

They traveled first to Turkey then on an overcrowded dingy to Lesbos, where after three months, they managed to get smuggled to Athens, and then onto the infamous Balkan route to Austria. “A year and half later, our family reunification was approved and my husband, two younger children and I got on a plane for the first time, to Istanbul and then to the Vienna.”

In the late summer and fall of 2015, hundred thousands of Syrians made their way from overcrowded refugee camps in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey to Europe via the Balkans and Hungary to Austria, Germany and Sweden./(C) Wikimedia Commons

Vienna-born Zeina’s time in Damascus lasted only four years; in 2012 as the war became more violent, she and her family moved to Beirut, where their two toddlers could grow up in a safe place, but not be too far from Syria. They didn’t think the war would last long and so weren’t yet ready to move back to Europe. In 2017, that would change.

In late 2015, Jamila was still living in her home in the suburbs of Damascus: “It was one of the worst days – mortar shells were falling on the streets and one of them fell on our house. My son and I were alone and very scared; the sound was deafening and the wall broke. We raced back into an interior room. There was no time to think about happiness; there was no comfort at all.”

Jamila was still working long hours with the Red Crescent, helping the needy – providing shelter, food, first aid and psychological support. In the midst of tragedy, she only saw her coworkers: Her son would stay with his grandparents when she was at work. “My father-in-law kept paying the rent to help us, and we were exposed daily to shells and explosions.” Most activities stopped – “I no longer met my friends” – so the joy and the smiles gradually disappeared. “In that year my husband and I lost a very precious friend to the war, and after that, our life changed irreparably.”

Jamila’s husband went to Turkey to find a way to go to Europe. “My husband arrived in Vienna in early 2016, then my son and I came by plane, via a family reunification visa.” It was still a long journey. The most difficult moments were the farewells, traveling alone with a child and all the luggage, staying up all night. The most beautiful moment was meeting her husband again after a year and a half. “Of course my son had grown up and changed, and in this moment, it was worth the effort. Simply a feeling of happiness.”

Omar’s reasons for leaving were indeed difficult ones and shared by many Syrian men. With another male sibling, he would have to serve in the army for 2 years. This was in 2012 and the war had just started becoming intense. “In Syria, they took me into the military, and I stayed for 6 months (the training phase), where I was shot at twice, although not injured. After that I fled to Turkey. I did not want to be in the military, the thought of confronting protesters was a nightmare.”

Omar’s route to Vienna was tortuous and difficult. “I had a very tough journey, from Syria to Turkey, then to Egypt, then back to Turkey and to Greece then to Macedonia to Serbian to Hungary to Austria. Then I was transferred to different camps, the last one in Carinthia.”

Did anything good happen on his journey? He shook his head. “Starting with the boat from Turkey to Greece, the journey was extremely dangerous; the weather was bad, and the sea stormy (January 2012).” From southern Serbia to the north, he was transported with three other people in the boot of a Renault Megan. “So I arrived unconscious from lack of oxygen.” Through Hungary they went with three masked people with weapons. He finally arrived in Austria on the February 27, 2012. Was the journey worth it? “Yes.”

Adam moved to Egypt in 2012 when he was 14 and stayed there till he was 17. He remembers struggling to adapt to “a new life, a new school. Everything was new and difficult.” At 16 he was working as a delivery driver under the scorching Egyptian sun. Was he happy? “No,” he said “The shock of leaving Syria left us unable to enjoy anything.” For months, they were unable to adapt to the new life. Although he, his brother and his father all had pick-up jobs, it still was difficult to live a decent life in their rented flat. “My father didn’t want to freeze his life savings into a small apartment; we though that the war would end in few months.”

As we know now, the war did not end in a few months, and with time, Adam and his brother found remaining in Egypt difficult. But their parents didn’t want to go to Europe; they didn’t speak any foreign languages and had grown comfortable in Cairo.

But the young brothers felt they had no prospects in either Egypt or Syria. Egypt was just recovering from its second regime change; things were unclear, especially for someone already fleeing a country at war. The smallest thing would trigger a wave of anxiety. The brothers left for Turkey and set their sights on coming to Austria via the Balkan route.

His worst experience on the journey? Not the risk of drowning, nor the walking and getting smuggled. It was feeling his dignity crushed. “I was kicked out of a restaurant in a city along the route because apparently, ‘This is not a refugee camp’ – although I was a paying customer.” Still, it wasn’t all bad: He remembers “people helping with sandwiches, hugs, and tears.” Eventually they arrived in late 2015, during the peak of the refugee wave.

Was the journey worth it? “In retrospect, I believe having the ability to evolve on a personal and an intellectual level is a privilege that shouldn’t be taken for granted,” Adam said. “So yes, the freedom I now have was worth the journey. The situation in Syria only got worse.”

A New Home (2019-2021)

Our final section will discuss how Syrians have been faring in the years since they settled in Austria. Given their diversity, it would be unrealistic to assume that they have a similar lifestyle. In fact, each of our interviewees has again a completely different story.

Most Syrians in Austria are doing their best to build a better life for themselves. They appreciate the safety and ease of life in Vienna, but it is bittersweet to be uprooted, unable to even visit your home or your family. All interviewees agreed that their lives today are far better than they were in 2014, but not everyone agrees that life here is better than it was back home before the war. It was not easy to come here, nor were the first few years effortless. Language and integration were big challenges, topics covered elsewhere in this issue.

Noha, the English teacher, says, life in Austria is beautiful and safe, although her heart aches for friends and family back home. But she immediately started learning German: “I really like languages, so it didn’t feel difficult.” Finally, this year she landed a job with the Covid testing centers, “which I have been doing happily ever since.”

Before the pandemic hit, Soha, the housekeeper, had just finished her B1 German course and started working in the kitchen of a restaurant in the capital while her husband became a public bus driver. Her eldest daughter finished her Matura at 19 and has just started studying pharmacy at the university. “Since the pandemic, in a funny reversal of fate, I became the unemployed one and my husband finally became the sole breadwinner. I have to admit, while it does feel strange not to work, I am enjoying some time off and as soon as things reopen, I will go look for a job.”

When Austrian-born Zeina and her family moved back to Vienna, they bought a house near her parents and she said: “I am so grateful to be able to give my kids the Austrian experience – in all its glory! – that I was lucky to get.”

Jamila and her husband settled in Klagenfurt with their two young children. They often spend sunny days by the shores of Wörthersee, swimming, playing games, eating and enjoying the sun. At the time she was on maternity leave: “We were happy despite the pandemic, but the happiness was incomplete, as we miss our parents and friends.” Her husband’s salary was enough to pay their rent, buy essentials, and go on short holidays. She has many “favorite” places, particularly at a lake or a mountain, that helps keep her sane.

Since his tortuous journey, Omar has found a job working for major tobacco company in Vienna, and gained some valuable experience in an international work environment. He said; “For me happiness is related to the places and people I grew up with. Of course being safe and living in one of the most beautiful cities is a privilege, but I still feel something is missing.” Omar lives with his wife and daughter not too far from his brother, but hasn’t seen the other members of his family since 2012. He is an avid jogger and enjoys swimming in the Danube. In 2019 he bought a small sail boat that he takes out on the river.

Our youngest interviewee, Adam is now at university in Vienna, and living in a WG with friends. He likes to cook and watch a movie or play cards in the park. Until 2019, he had not seen his parents and youngest sister since 2015, but just before the pandemic, they finally managed to visit. His favorite spot in Vienna? “At the top of the stairs of the Albertina museum, facing the Vienna state opera house.”

And Here We Are

Eventually, what seemed to matter most to Syrians is being an active part of the Austrian society. Those who depend on state aid aren’t necessarily happy to have to depend on this help; they want to get to work and become independent, and set a good example for their children. Many had to learn new trades, so that they can get employed faster.

Some had real difficulty learning the language so they switched to construction work and other types of businesses that don’t necessarily require a B1 level in German.

Overall, Syrians are getting by; they persevere regardless of the challenges they faced, or else they wouldn’t have made it here. What is clear is that there is a will to survive; but that isn’t what pushed them to come here. Surviving and living are two different things. Many can survive in camps within Syria or its neighboring country. But that is not really living.

Choosing to cross a sea in a crowded dingy and getting smuggled in the boot of a car isn’t a decision one makes exclusively to survive. Choosing to leave your entire family behind isn’t a choice that’s exclusively about survival. When Syrians risked their lives again to come here, they did it because they had given up on life in the places where they were; it was like being stuck at a bus station waiting for a bus that never comes. You can wait for an hour, maybe two, okay maximum three. But eventually you either walk back to your starting point or you walk on into your future.

Syrians in Austria chose to walk on and risk their lives for their destination and destinies. It was a courageous thing to do. And Austria will be a better and more diverse country because of it.


*Names in this story were changed, the reported experiences are real.

New, Yet Eager

As the newest community to grow in Vienna, we Syrians are eager to prove our place in the diverse society we find here. Somehow, when Syrians started flowing into the country, public perception in Austria was cautious; people were not keen to believe everything politicians and the media told them. They wanted to get to know this community themselves. Many Austrians welcomed Syrians into their homes, some taught us German, other helped by offering jobs. Overall, aside from a few hiccups, Syrians in Austria have felt welcomed and happy to play an active role. You may be surprised to learn that not all of us are actually new here, some were born and grew up here and went on to build careers bridging the two societies.

Most Syrians came out of duress, our journey was difficult but worth it! Not all of us came the same way or at the same time. Moreover, contrary to what may be popular belief, Syrians aren’t one homogenous group that fall under the perceived identity of “refugees.” They are individuals with diverse backgrounds, who first chose to survive and then sought to live.

What is living if one doesn’t dine together with family and friends, eating the food that has defined one’s world? Just ask any Syrian their favorite dish, and they will name at least five. Our cuisine is how we invite you to learn about our culture.

We also want to learn about your culture and we’re sure you know that your language is not an easy one. Integration is a goal for us, but sometimes the road may not seem straightforward or manageable. But we persevere, some of us managed to build tight bonds with Austrians who have become as dear to us as our own flesh and blood, and there is nothing better than when the feeling is mutual.

Growing up in Syria enabled some of us to develop an artistic talent that empower us to portray our diversity, our struggles and hopes, using universal outlets. A young poet wishes he had a tank, but not for the reasons you think. A talented fashion designer succeeds in a competitive business.

But where does this diversity come from? Rest assured, we cannot talk about Syria without talking about its rich and ancient history. Somehow, the sorrows of war cannot erase the fond memories of the two majestic cities of Damascus and Aleppo, that between them are the pillars of Syrian history, dating from before the Old Testament, and one, according to the Bible, the city that launched Christianity abroad to Europe.

Syrians always had a strong bond with Palestinians, whom they shared a history with up until the 20th century. Today as in the past we stand with one another in difficult times, that is why we would like to ask you to donate to UNRWA which is the leading global agency that delivers support and relief to the Palestinian people. Just head to our back cover and scan the QR code to be redirected to their donation page.

Majd Nassan

New Study Finds Stops by Austrian Police Highest in the EU

Ever since the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department, ethnic profiling has become a contentious issue around the globe. To get a better picture of the status quo, the Vienna-based EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) recently published a new paper comparing rates of police stops across European states, the first at the supranational level.  

Austria was a clear stand-out: 25% of the general population claimed they had been stopped by the police in the 12 months preceding the survey. Similarly high rates were only reported in Estonia (24%) and Ireland (21%); conversely, in France or Germany only 17% of the general population reported being stopped in the past year. 

The study also revealed a grim statistic: individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa experienced almost twice as many police stops as the general Austrian population, with nearly 50% stating that they have been halted by the police in the past 12 months. In contrast, this figure is much lower for Turks, whom the Austrian authorities stopped only 22% of the time on average. 

A similarly large disparity between the general population and ethnic minorities is only discernible in Greece and Croatia, where 33% of Roma, but only 18% or 19% of the general population recounted such experiences with the police. 

Of those stopped among the general population, 87% were using a vehicle. In contrast, 72% of descendants from Sub-Saharan Africa were stopped while on foot. This affects how citizens perceive the police: 76% of the general population felt the authorities treated them appropriately, while only 28% of individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa and 66% of Turks believed the police behaved professionally towards them. 

Tracking Discrimination

Sami Nevala, a policy coordinator in the FRA’s research and data unit and author of this study, attributes the disproportionate number of police stops reported by individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa to the “lack of colonial history” in Austria.  

“In countries with a colonial history, there may have been an earlier pretense of, for example, minority groups, such as people from Sub-Saharan African countries,” Nevala told Metropole. “While in Austria, this is a newer migrant group; therefore, maybe society hasn’t had a long time to get used to their existence as in some other countries in Europe.”

Nevala believes that the longer minorities reside in a country, the less likely authorities are to target members of that group. According to him, this explains why people of Turkish descent experience police stops less frequently: “They have already been present within Austrian society for quite a long time compared to people from Sub-Saharan African countries.” 

Advocates at ZARA (Civil Courage & Anti-Racism-Work) state that these findings reveal how much anti-racism work still needs to be done in the country. “Just like our entire society, the Austrian police still has a racism problem,” managing director Caroline Kerschbaumer said in a written statement. “It is important to take a close look at the police because they are allowed to exercise executive power and therefore also bear a special responsibility.” Kerschbaumer believes that it is “high time” for a national action plan against racism, such as the one proposed by Black Voices, which formed out of the Viennese Black Lives Matter protest last summer. 

The FRA study was released on March 25, the anniversary of George Floyd’s death. According to Nevala, his murder was a key motivator for the production of this paper, as it heightened the relevance of the issue of discriminatory practices.

However, the study had been in the works since 2016. It is part of a larger effort by the European Union to survey discrimination within the bloc, which began with the EU’s adoption of its first anti-racism legislation, the Race Equality Directive, in 2000. Prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race and ethnic origin, the FRA has been conducting similar surveys documenting the experiences of immigrants and ethnic minorities ever since this legislation was implemented, hoping to raise awareness both within the region and among EU lawmakers. 

Nevala hopes the results of this latest study will help outlaw ethnic profiling and produce more informed training policies. For example, European states could require officers to document each stop and hand individuals notes explaining the reason they are being stopped. Already empolyed in the United Kingdom, this method enables a person to file a complaint if they feel they have been treated unfairly. 

“We call on the member states to take action to ensure that people are treated equally, respectfully, and with dignity by the police,” Nevala told Metropole. “We demand that the police are trained in how to carry out stops.” 

Metropole Joins Sphera

It is time to tell Europe’s stories in many languages. That’s what the Sphera project set out to do.

The initiative gathers 10 partners from 7 countries to produce innovative content in 6 languages (EN, FR, DE, PL, ES, IT).

Metropole is a proud founding member of this initiative, together with independent media and creative organizations all across the continent. Sphera aims to engage Europeans through videos, podcasts, events; on social media on InstagramTwitter and Facebook; as well as via the channels of its member media.

Sphera Reinvents European Media

One goal of the project is to encourage young people to become media creators themselves, so that they can feel connected to current European issues as potential drivers of societal change. Metropole adds the Central and Eastern European perspective to all of that.

The Sphera consortium aims to reinvent the European media space

We bring you a new, authentic social-media-driven narrative that consists of both local and pan-European issues; all tapping into what Europeans really care about today.

Founding Members of Sphera

The 10 founding member media of the Sphera consortium are:

Babel International is a French not-for-profit organisation editing Cafébabel, the first online multilingual European magazine. Since 2001, Cafébabel has been championing the idea of an inclusive Europe, where many voices and realities are represented.

cafebabel.com

The Dutch not-for-profit organisation, Are We Europe, is a pan-European media, focusing on border-breaking stories since 2016. 

areweeurope.com

The only European agency dedicated entirely to podcasting, Bulle Media offers different audio formats that offer the essence of the latest European topics and news. 

bullemedia.eu

Arty Farty is a French not-for-profit organization that has been at the forefront of creative projects since 1999. Focusing on youth and innovation, they are the organisers of European Lab and the music festival Nuit Sonores. 

arty-farty.eu

StreetPress is a French online media about urban culture and social matters. Since 2009, StreetPress has promoted investigative impact journalism that is able to (re)create trust between citizens and the media. 

streetpress.com

Since 2017, El Salto is a Spanish grassroots independent media adopting the cooperative model. Committed and independently-run, El Salto covers topics such as politics, ecofeminism, migration and culture, with a radical perspective. 

elsaltodiario.com

Linkiesta is an Italian online media producing investigative journalism, in-depth analysis and commentary since 2001. In the Italian panorama, Linkiesta chooses to fight counter-current media battles, all the while being anchored in the truth of information. 

linkiesta.it

Outriders is a Polish not-for-profit organization covering global issues for local impact, as well as seeking answers to problems, fears and needs. Outriders believes that journalism can be made both ethically and locally.

outriders.rs

Dinamo is an Italian web agency specialized in video production and social media marketing.

dinamo.io

Metropole is a Viennese media organization running the leading English-language media network in Austria, focusing on news, culture and lifestyle.

metropole.at

Sphera as A Hub For Alternative Media

As the first decentralized hub for alternative media across Europe, the Sphera project received support and funding by the European Commission. Editorial independence is guaranteed within the Grant Agreement.

Follow Metropole on our social media channels to see more of our own weekly Sphera videos as well as selected footage of European partners. And if you can’t get enough, check out our Youtube channel where we publish all videos of the Sphera project in multiple languages.

Tune in and join the pan-European debate.

Sphera is waiting for you!

Syrian Lingo – Monkeys & Gazelles

We compiled some of the basics – and some Syrian (or Levantine) sayings that are lots of fun.

Marhaba

مرحبا

(Hello)

Kifak?

كيفك؟

(How are you)

Ana mneeh wa inta?

انا منيح و انت؟

(I’m good and you?)

Ana kaman mneeh.

انا كمان منيح

(I’m also good)

Ma’aa el salameh

مع السلامة

(Goodbye/ go with safety)

Allah ysalmak

الله يسلمك

(answer to Goodbye/ may God protect (save) you)

Funny Syrian (Levantine) Sayings

“The monkey is a Gazelle in his mom’s eyes.”

Said when a mom always says that her son is the best, even when he’s not.

“Turn the jar on its mouth and the daughter will be like her mama.”

Said when the mom and daughter share a lot of behaviors or looks.

“If your friend is made out of honey, don’t lick all of him.”

Said when a friend is abusing your generosity. 

“Do good and throw it in the sea.”

 Usually said when you do a good deed, but no one gives you credit.

 “Those who have shame have all died.”

 Said when someone does something bad and shows no shame for his actions.

Hamed Abboud – Speaking in Tongues

Hamed Abboud is Syrian poet born in northern Syria in the city of Deir Ez-Zor in 1987. Like millions of Syrians, Abboud left Syria in 2012 and lived in Egypt, UAE, and Turkey before settling in Austria in 2014. His first poetry collection Der Regen der ersten Wolke (The rain of the first cloud) was published in Arabic in 2012.

Since then, Abboud has published two poetry collections; Der Tod backt einen Geburtstagskuchen (Death Bakes a Birthday Cake) and his latest book In meinem Bart versteckte Geschichten (Stories Hidden in my Beard) both of which are published in Arabic and German. Abboud got the Jean-Jacques-Rousseau scholarship in 2015 and ws nominated for the International Literature Prize.

Below, we share Abboud’s poem “I want to drive a tank” from the book Death Bakes a Birthday Cake and translated into English by Marian Kamal.

I Want to Drive a Tank

If I only knew how to drive a tank

I would have borrowed one from an enemy or a friend

Everyone owns a tank but me

I would have taken you onboard
In a drive fit for this war
For you to see life as soldiers do
Through a rectangular opening in a door

Then you might find them an excuse for destroying your favorite church

Just before you denounced their God

They never saw God over that church

Through that rectangular hole in the door
Nor did they see him in the confession stand

Behind a wall adorned with vines and sins
But they heard of Him whenever someone shouted

His name
“….”
They forced Him into their hearts and He forced

Himself out
I would have taken you for a stroll over that minaret tossed aside in the street
Without it being a miracle
The minaret puts its ear against the street

Like a red Indian listening to the footsteps of those approaching and those departing
from far away to further still

If I knew how to drive a tank
My brothers would argue who would ride next to me

I’ve known
Since we lost the roof of our country
All tanks will also be convertible
We bared our heads
Our chests
And waited for the heavy echo of the prayers

Like a man obsessed with cleanliness and prestige I would have polished my tank
Even if its borrowed
And wiped the glass of the rectangular window For a better view
A cleaner war
And for martyrs dying with all their birthmarks and in their real skin
After giving it back
I don’t want a fair martyr to die because he looked darker in that window

We want our murders clear and pure
In three dimensions and intentionsim
Like a maniac
I would have pulled the shroud through the barrel back and forth

Maggie Childs Reflects on Language

It’s humbling. At least it was for me, arriving in Vienna at age 11. Almost every kid in my class spoke at least two languages, if not three. As I struggled to get any kind of handle on my first foreign language, German, the kids who tried to talk to me in English were on their 3rd or 4th. Back then, I thought they were nothing short of awesome. 

Today, I see my 2.5 languages as a superpower. It lets me inhabit multiple worlds, multiple schools of thought and traditions. Hundreds of thousands of children in Austria become proficient in German as they attend grade school, and perhaps you can identify with what it’s like to be a student and an Ausländer.

Charlemagne is credited with saying: “To have another language is to possess a second soul.” That second soul creates a new identity and enhances the existing one, as we discussed with Vienna residents hailing from all over the world. In case you’re just as new as some of them are, we’ve also gotten the help of the brain behind the Wiener Alltagspoeten (Vienna Everyday Poets), Andreas Rainer, to teach us How to Master the Art of Viennese Dialect. 

As we emerge from the 4th lockdown (or was it the 5th?) the Metropole team delved into the thing that ties us together: How we speak to each other. We looked into how the Viennese language evolved in our first cover story and you may be surprised about how we examined the challenges and contradictions political correctness and cancel culture have raised, as well as hearing the insights of a non-binary linguist about choosing pronouns and why it’s not an attack on language.

From trash talk to spoken word

For the uninitiated, Austrian German is a lot to take in: The pronunciation and dialect, for one, but, more importantly, the attitude and sense of humor are more of a key to the Austrian soul than any vocabulary list. Who better to teach us about that than one of the country’s poetic sons, the irresistibly irreverent pop artist and wordsmith Paul Pizzera? But language is complex, so we cast a wider net to find the subjects of our profiles: A linguist, a speech therapist, a translator and a spoken word artist who share how they see language color our world. 

Understanding and interpreting a language is a high stress business – particularly in Vienna, where the UN and OSCE require constant simultaneous translating. That profession is dying, you say? Perhaps, but the limits of natural language processing software are just as important to understand as the opportunities, both of which we examine in “Siri You Cunning Linguist.”

The man who said “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world” developed his ideas in this very city. Ludwig Wittgenstein had a dramatic life but his contributions changed the way we think about language forever. We’ve put together a selection of books for language-lovers, and spoken with one of the great literary critics and professors of our time, Marjorie Perloff, whom Austria lost during the Anschluss. Don’t miss the tales of the unsung heroes of cultural communication: the publisher and translators making Austrian literature available to English-speaking readers.

Most of all, we hope your curiosity will bring you outside, to an outdoor language café or a new neighborhood; try out new phrases with the “Viennese by District” guide and discover your favorite new outdoor market.

Whether you stay in town this summer or venture beyond the city limits, stay true to Viennese humor – if something goes wrong, take it in stride and whatever you do, 

Don’t be a stranger, 

Maggie Childs

Cover

 This season’s cover seeks to reflect the many topics, questions and debates that arose when we put this issue together. Language is about communication, identity, opinion, emotion, dialogue, expression and so much more. The pen of Berlin-based illustrator Anna Gusella sought to capture Vienna’s daily multilingual reality and how life in the city turns on the sound of an Ahoj, Habibi or Hawara. Look up annagusella.da and IG @anna.gusell for more inspiring design pieces by the illustrator. 

Word of the Week: Schnitzelpracker [ˈʃnɪt͡sl̩pʁakɐ]

Noun. A meat tenderizer. Traditionally a wooden or cast metal mallet with pyramid-shaped steel studs on the face of the head, although dishwasher-friendly plastic versions are increasingly popular. Compound word consisting of Schnitzel (which needs no introduction) and Pracker (whacker), a Viennese noun stemming from the verb pracken (to hit vigorously; source unclear but likely an onomatopoeia). Commonly called a Fleischklopfer in standard German, the Austrian name belies its importance in making Vienna’s signature dish: giving your veal/pork/poultry cutlet a good shellacking before breading and frying not only softens tough meat, it also enlarges and flattens it, making your Schnitzel soft, succulent and pleasantly thin, well done with a crisp crust. Leaving it un-pracked would result in a tough, soggy affair – so put your back into it!

It follows that the Schnitzelpracker is ubiquitous in Austrian kitchens; as a potentially very painful implement, it has also gained a reputation as the weapon of choice of belligerent housewives, filling the role reserved for rolling pins in other lands. Any henpecked Wiener husband even considering coming home drunk will think twice at the prospect of facing an angry matron with one of these culinary warhammers in hand.

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Meet Moulham Obid, the Syrian Prince of Fashion

Artist and fashion designer Moulham Obid was born in 1990 in Masyaf, Syria. He completed his Visual Communication studies at the University of Aleppo and graduated with a degree of Fine Arts in 2012. He moved to Austria in 2014 to attend the Herbststrasse Fashion School in Vienna. He presented his latest collection during the Vienna fashion week on September 8, 2020. Obid’s couture collections are exciting to look at, carefully made with a captivating attention to details, and clear design concepts.

We interviewed Obid about Vienna, his inspiration, and his latest couture collections.

Moulham Obid’s relationship with Austria began in Aleppo, where he was studying at the university, and chose Gustav Klimt and Austrian writer Robert Schneider as the basic components of his graduation project. His obsession with Klimt stayed with him as he journeyed through the UAE and Lebanon before settling down in Austria. Seeing Klimt’s painting in person was like a dream.

As an artist, do you think that Vienna has contributed to your success?

Absolutely. Vienna helped my success by not oppressing me. Even though the “connections” issue is till current in Vienna, when you are presenting good and creative work, it will be appreciated at the end, whoever you are. So, I am thankful for that.

Moulham Obid’s couture collections are defined by detailed creations which are handcrafted over hundreds of hours. With elaborate patterns, artistic draping and pleats, they seek to capture a vision of modern femininity while underlining individuality./(C) Sabine Linemeyr aka éon.noir/Fashion model: Chiara (Instagram: lunacydrop) via Innercircle Management

Your couture collections are striking and exciting to look at. What or who inspires you?

Nature. My first and only inspiration is nature. The natural elements, such as a leaf, and all the details nature presents. That’s why you barely see straight lines in my collections.

Ruffles can be seen in many of your creations, is there a significance behind it to you?

Yes of course. Ruffles are transparent yet strong, they look fragile, but they can be very powerful if you sew them the right way.

In his latest collection, face masks were integrated on the runway:

I made this collection (“Pollution”) in 2017, way before the pandemic. The concept was all about survival, whether you are a man, a woman, covering your face or showing it, survival is what’s important. Unfortunately, the collection was delayed by a different project. But at the end I was able to present it in 2020 during the Vienna fashion week.

How did the pandemic affect your work?

The pandemic is a very sad situation. But to me, it was also a very good chance to take time for myself and my work. It was almost like meditation, because I had a lot of time to finish my collection. I used this time for reflection and inspiration.

The Wiener Zeitung – Born By Decree, Buried By Bureaucrats

The Wiener Zeitung is losing its funding and the government is not inclined to pay.

(C) Wikimedia Commons

It all began with the stroke of a pen, and it may soon end the same way. Austria’s Wiener Zeitung, the world’s oldest newspaper still in print, is likely to cease publishing soon. Emperor Leopold I signed the (then) Wienner Diarium into life in 1703, wishing a journal reporting only the truth and the facts.  Whether he was a rarity in his time, a ruler genuinely nurturing a modern free press, or whether he was creating a house magazine to spin imperial interests, is unclear.  The fact is, the Wiener Zeitung has been a respected and genuinely independent news source, despite being (still) owned by the Austrian state, for now over 300 years.  

The first edition of August 8, 1703 told of French troops taking the Venetian pass of Monte Baldo and pressing on to Insbrugg (Innsbruck) and of local militias outside Vienna pushing back Räuber-Gesindl (marauding mobs) coming out of Hungary. Equally important were deaths and arrivals in the imperial city. Even tradespeople got a mention when they died: Johann Rendt, 35, pastry cook, Aug 4 of Lungensucht (tuberculosis). Arrivals counted only the Great and the Good: Aug 1, Herr General Reventlau from Leipzig. The entry for Aug 7 notes laconically: “No one came.” A slow news day.

“Will the world’s oldest newspaper survive?” asked Profil in April, headlining an interview with its current editor. The Wiener Zeitung is not being closed down for heroically resisting some intolerant autocrat, but rather as collateral damage from well-intended Brussels regulations. EU Guidelines 2017/1132 require all member countries to ensure that official government announcements and mandatory declarations from commercial and other organizations (for example, financial reports of publicly quoted corporations) be freely available on digital platforms. The objectives outlined in well-worn business jargon are all perfectly reasonable: “cost efficient … all inclusive and accessible … effective and functional … optimization of competitive markets … social challenges of globalization and digitalization … job creation … mobilization of investments … etc. etc.”  Who could disagree?

Three Centuries of Independence

The fatal consequences for the Wiener Zeitung are that three-quarters of the newspaper’s revenue has come from just these boring, but legally mandatory, public announcements. If all of this goes online, there is no business plan for survival. Kanzler Kurz has taken a hard line: “It is not the responsibility of the government to finance a newspaper.” Cynics would suggest that control freak Kurz is happy to see any independent voice silenced. The outspoken editor in chief of the weekly Falter, Armin Thurnher, had no doubts: “A declaration of bankruptcy,” he thundered, and went on to point out that the €20 million it would cost to support the condemned paper are nothing beside the €180 million the government spends to keep the mass circulation dailies sweet. But it is always possible that the beleaguered finance minister just welcomed anything that saves him a few million a year.  

Admittedly, the Wiener Zeitung is the circulation midget among the serious dailies, its average print run of about 15,000 feeble beside its principal colleagues, Der Standard and Die Presse, which each count between 70,000-80,000. So, of course, it is sad but a bit like the crocodile tears we weep when the last neighborhood grocer closes, even though we’ve all been shopping at Spar or Billa for years. 

It is doubly sad because only five years ago, Parliament passed a statute, officially sealing the Wiener Zeitung’s complete editorial independence after 300 years. Cynics may say that the three centuries’ delay only confirms Gustav Mahler’s famous dictum that everything happens later in Vienna. But it was worth the wait – the Wiener Zeitung is a state owned paper that is truly independent.  And Putin PR this is not: The wording of the editorial Blattlinie is clear: To be “equidistant from all political parties and social partners.” Simon Rosner of the editorial governing board put it in perspective: “Our ultimate owner is the Republic of Austria, not the government of the day. Our responsibility is to the citizens.” Important for the journalists is the clear right to work unhindered and – if necessary – to outvote management on the appointment of the editor in chief, a privilege shared by very few other publications around the world. 

Outright Censorship or Legal Ambiguity 

Freedom of the media has never been a self-evident certainty, but the paper’s robust independence began early during the (relatively) short period of enlightened liberalism under the Emperor Josef II.  When the US Congress passed the 1st Amendment guaranteeing freedom of the press in 1789, the Wiener Zeitung carried an unequivocal report, albeit discreetly placed towards the back.  Even that was gutsy in an age of generally repressive censorship across Europe.   

After seven years of silence during the Nazi era, the paper was back on the street in the fall of 1945./(C) Wikimedia Commons

After seven years of silence during the Nazi era, the paper was back on the street in the fall of 1945 with a ringing declaration from the Allied Council of the occupying powers: “The freedom of the press is of great significance for the restoration of Austrian democracy.” All well and good until you read the following paragraphs forbidding any reportage which “endangered military security … insulted the occupying forces … disturbed public order.” Similar Gummiparagraphen (elastic ambiguity) are on show in Budapest, Ankara and Warsaw. 

Former editor in chief Reinhard Göwell/(C) Wikimedia Commons

Austria’s national broadcaster ORF suffers periodically from party-political infighting, famously during the brief years of the Black/Blue (ÖVP/FPÖ) coalition 2001-2007. The ORF statute stipulates 15 of the 35 seats on the Stiftungsrat (Board of Trustees) to representatives of the main political parties and another nine are chosen by the government of the day – a pre-programmed journalistic gauntlet, but not a problem the Wiener Zeitung shares. When asked about political pressure, former editor in chief Reinhard Göwell just smiled: “Not the way they do at the Krone.” (Austria’s major tabloid, infamous for bending to fit political whim.)

Today, Austria’s media landscape is generally free from government interference. The Reporteurs sans Frontières Press Freedom Index rates Austria at Nr. 17 in the Good Situation category, behind the Nordics, but close to New Zealand, Canada and Germany (the USA stands at Nr. 44, ahead of Tonga but behind Burkina Faso, the British press at Nr. 33).  Tu felix Austria

Will the Wiener Zeitung survive? The present Chief Editor Walter Hämmerle understands the big picture: “We’re neither heroes nor victims,” he told the weekly Profil. “A great past is not enough for the future, but we produce a good paper, and we just want to keep on doing it.”

New High-Speed Rail Train Connection Between the Austrian and German Capitals

Austria, Czechia, and Germany have agreed to build a high-speed railway connection from Vienna to Berlin, intended to make the trip in four hours and five minutes. With the current travel time being nine hours, the proposed route would halve the journey.   

Going via Dresden and Prague, the new connection would largely use or upgrade pre-existing infrastructure, although the construction of a new tunnel through the Ore Mountains between Saxony and Bohemia would be required. Austria, which only accounts for a small portion of the route, will need to be extend the Nordbahn (northern railway) – first built in the 1830s, it’s the country’s oldest line and currently ends in Břeclav, where it connects to the Czech Railway system. The connection between Berlin and Dresden is expected to be completed by 2025, with the entire route projected to be completed by 2030. 

The new route is part of the so-called Trans-Europ Express TEE 2.0 initiative, which was presented during the German EU Council Presidency in September 2020. It envisions an expansion of high-speed rail lines between major European cities, with increased use of night trains throughout the continent.  

Transcontinental Race

Austrian Climate Protection Minister Leonore Gewessler welcomed the proposed route. “The railway is the backbone of climate-friendly transport,” she told APA. “And fast rail connections bring us all closer together in Europe.” She considers the project a “clear message” that trains are the future of short- and medium-haul routes in Europe.

In a video message, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized the importance of the project for achieving the European climate goals. “Our strategy for sustainable and intelligent mobility provides for a 90% reduction in traffic-related emissions by 2050,” she said. This requires doubling high-speed railway traffic by 2030 and tripling it by 2050. Additionally, railway freight traffic must grow at least 50% by 2030 and double by 2050. 

In a similar tone, the EU has recently called on member states to reduce short-distance flights, a move pioneered by French President Emmanuel Macron last month. The commission plans to build new railway links to provide more incentive to travel by train instead of air. New night trains could be especially attractive as alternatives to short-hauls and car traffic.

However, experts have ridiculed these ambitions, pointing to the lack of railway infrastructure in the region. “A French-style TGV could cover such a distance in less than two hours,” EU expert and director of Euro Intelligence Wolfgang Münchnau wrote in an article. “France managed the transition from air to rail a long time ago – and even in France, there are still short-haul flights to connect Paris and Nice. The obstacles to do the same at the European level are bigger, and the legal and political scope small.” 

Yet, von der Leyen has ensured the commission’s commitment to the project, announcing that it would propose an action plan to promote long-distance rail passenger transport later this year. 

Austria’s Grand Reopening Brings a Sigh of Relief

It was a long drought, but the time has finally come: On May 19, large sections of the Austrian economy reopened after almost 7 months. Restaurants, cultural institutions, sports- and recreational facilities are once again available to those carrying a “green pass,” certifying that they are vaccinated, tested or have recovered from Covid. This so-called 3-G-rule (“getestet, geimpft oder genesen”) has become the key to re-entering public life. Additionally, guests eating in need to register on site, providing their contact details via QR-code or paper form.

State authorities ensure that restaurants and cafes adhere to the strict 3-G rule./(C) Rathaus Presse-Service/Gruppe Sofortmaßnahmen

The easing of strict regulations was precipitated by encouraging pandemic developments across the country, with daily cases at their lowest since September 2020. Meanwhile, Austria’s vaccination campaign is in full swing: As of May 26, 45% of the Austrian population had received a first jab, and 17% had been fully vaccinated.

With the situation looking up, opening up the hospitality industry is a big step towards relieving the country’s economy. In Vienna, 90% of gastronomic establishments opened their doors, according to the Chamber of Commerce, which, in turn, was a shot in the arm to their suppliers. And there’s more good news: Shortly after reopening, unemployment in Austria dipped under 400,000 for the first time since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.

Theory and Practice

While the relief was palpable, the highly anticipated reopening came off to a slow start – possibly due to the highly changeable weather. By the weekend, however, a sort of normalcy had kicked in, and for restaurants all over the country, business was brisk. At Zwettler’s, a traditional Gasthaus in Salzburg’s old town, the landlord was delighted on Saturday: “We’re fully booked during lunchtime and dinner, we can count on our regulars.” Asked about the 3-G rule, he confided he didn’t feel comfortable rigorously checking his customers. “We adhere to the measures” he emphasized, “but I’m not the police.” 

Indeed, entry requirements were monitored more thoroughly by some venues than others, but the majority of businesses complied with regulations. As the Vienna police told Metropole, they inspected around 1,550 establishments in Vienna by Tuesday, resulting in only 32 reported breaches of COVID regulations. Still, high spirits did result in some infractions: Last weekend, violations of the state-mandated curfew were recorded all over Austria. The most prominent cases were in Vienna, where around 1,000 revelers continued celebrating long after bars had closed at 22:00 on Donaukanal and Karlsplatz on Saturday and Sunday night, respectively. The police also had to break up large public gatherings in Klagenfurt and Innsbruck.

Like the First Time

However, most people were cooperative, and on Monday morning, the mood was pleasant at the venerable Café Eiles on Josefstädter Straße. An elderly gentleman sat at a table by the window, enjoying his second Mélange of the day while scanning the QR-code placed in front of him. He showed himself content with the safety measures: “I can very well live with this system. It’s really straightforward – even at my age, I can manage!” he laughed.

The young couple at the next table was equally excited, taking their baby daughter out for the first time: “We’ve been waiting to finally show her our favorite coffeehouse!” Despite the unanimous cheerfulness, the compulsory break for Austrian gastronomy might have left some customers a little rusty: At a nearby table, a middle-aged man took his sweet time deciding on an adequate tip for his waiter, loud enough for everyone in the café to hear. “I’ve almost forgotten how to do this!” he joked.

Schnitzel for the Show

With the nation in a good mood, the government didn’t miss the chance to celebrate their success on Wednesday at popular establishments like the Schweizerhaus in Vienna’s Prater, where Chancellor Kurz and Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger of the ÖVP and the Green  Vice-Chancellor Kogler and State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Andrea Mayer sat down together for lunch.

To celebrate the reopening of the gastronomy on March 19, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (left), Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (second row, left), State Secretary for Cultural Affairs Andrea Mayer and Vice-Chancellor Kogler visited the Schweizerhaus in the Wiener Prater.

As the first week passed without major incidents, the newfound freedom has definitely whetted the public’s appetite for more, and plans for lifting additional restrictions are already in the works: On Monday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens) announced on ZIB 2 that outdoor mask requirements as well as distancing rules and closing hours could be eased as early as June 10. Concrete plans will be presented by the government on Friday.

Word of the Week: Bummerl [ˈbʊmɐɺl]

Noun. Bummerl refers to a loss, originally in the central European card game, Schnapsen. Extremely popular in Bavaria, Austria, and former countries of the Austrian Empire, it evolved from earlier trick-taking card games, becoming widespread in the 17th century.

Often played at taverns and inns, the stakes were usually libations like Schnaps – hence the name – to circumvent church and government bans on gambling for money.According to the Viennese playing card manufacturer Ferd. Piatnik & Söhne, Bummerl, is an archaic term for a small wooden keg of beer, which was often the prize the loser had to pay.

Presumably when the barman was out of Schnaps. Like many other games, it eventually became an analogy for life in general, leading to colorful, often wistful expressions like “Ana hat imma das Bummerl.”(Someone always gets the Bummerl, in other words: Someone always has to pay the price).

Interestingly, Austrian Law doesn’t consider Schnapsen a form of gambling but rather a game of skill like chess, bridge and Tarock, another very old trick-taking card game played with tarot cards still highly popular in Austria and the successor states of the Austrian Empire.

No matter how well you speak German, the Word Of The Week will help you impress any Viennese! While learning German is not an easy task in general, learning the language in Austria can come to be twice as complicated.

Strongly linked to local cultural individualities, the slangs change and evolve in all cultures around the world, the words and phrases make sense only when one is familiar with their cultural context. The Word of the Week is here to help you understand those singularities and impress the locals with some real Viennese words and expressions.

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

Meet Precious Nnebedum, a Multitalented Spoken Word Artist

0

For many of us, 2020 was a rough year, but for Precious Nnebedum, it turned out to be “the best year of my life,” she told me.

Not only did she complete two nursing degrees despite the university making a less-than- smooth transition to online learning, she was also awarded best newcomer for both the Exil Literature Prize and the Kleine Zeitung Kopf des Jahres” (Person of the Year) prize for her work as an activist, which included leading the Black Lives Matter demonstration in her home city of Graz, attended by more than 10,000 people.

“2020 literally taught me to figure out what I could do even though I was in a chaotic situation,” the 23-year-old Nigerian-Austrian said.

Creativity abounds in the life of this thoughtful and vibrant writer, poetry slammer and spoken word artist. But then, storytelling was always an essential part of Nnebedum’s family and culture. The youngest of five siblings, she spent the first half of her life in her native country, surrounded by her numerous relatives, where telling each other stories was a constant in their lives.

The adjustment to Austria wasn’t easy. The only black pupil in her school, she spent her first couple years at school hardly speaking at all. (“Since I didn’t know the language, I decided it was better to listen.”) It was a different story at home, where communication took place in a combination of English, German, Igbo, and a kind of pidgin English.

She also started keeping a journal, focusing on expressing herself in words and pictures on the page, and began writing poetry. Eventually, she found her literary voice.

Nnebedum now sees all the various challenges of living as a minority in Austria, and even the pandemic, as “blessings” in disguise.

“This pandemic’s made us squeeze out every last ounce of imagination we have,” she said, “and challenged us to see what we can do with what little we have at the moment.”

In Precious Nnebedum’s case, clearly, a “little” goes quite a long way.

Meet Alexandra Obernberger, Speech Therapist in Vienna

0

Alexandra Obernberger cupboards are chock-full of games and toys. When the children see them, their eyes light up. “They feel like they’ve arrived at Toys ‘R’ Us,” the 26-year-old native Upper Austrian laughed. “Like they’ve just entered paradise.”

Obernberger is a speech therapist, and her toy-filled practice is a place where children know they will be understood and accepted, and with the help of the toys, guided through the world of words.

The majority of Obernberger’s patients are children – about 80% – brought by parents deeply concerned about their child’s speech impediment or delayed language development. Their reaction to the games and toys is sometimes skeptical at first.

“One of the biggest misunderstandings about what I do is that I simply play with the children for an hour,” she explained.

“It is a form of playing – but in a very targeted way.” The most important foundation of Obernberger’s work is the trust she builds with her young patients.

“Children learn how language functions through their environment,” she emphasized, “through interaction.” Direct contact is crucial in language development, and cannot be taken for granted in a contemporary child’s upbringing. Technological devices such as smartphones, tablets and TVs are “not optimal,” she says, and often lead to passivity.

Altogether, some 50,000 children in Austria are affected by some kind of speech or language impediment, according to the 2018 report of the Austrian Professional Association of Speech Therapists.

One of the most frequent questions Obernberger gets is “Why my child?” – a question that unfortunately has no simple answer. Causes can range from genetic factors, psychological or neurological issues, to hearing, vision or motor-skill-related problems. But most often it’s a combination of several.

While there has been extensive scientific research on possible causes, for Obernberger, helping the children overcome their difficulties comes first.

“The interesting thing about ‘research’ is that when there’s a lot of it, it often means they haven’t yet arrived at any solutions.”

With that, Obernberger went back to the business of finding them.

Meet Werner Richter, a Literary Translator in Vienna

0

Back in the early ’80s (pre-Amazon), Werner Richter gave a friend traveling to the US a booklist to take to a bookseller to get recommendations for others he might like.

Among the recommendations was Water Music, by an up-and-coming author, T.C. Boyle. Richter fell in love with the book, and finally, after two years, persuaded a publisher to hire him to translate it for German-speaking readers. Boyle went on to become a world-renowned author, and Richter to translate his next 10 novels into German.

“I was quite lucky at the time,” said the 66-year-old Berlin native, although he admits there are clear caveats to this. Literary translation is an intensive, demanding job, and the conditions surrounding it not always ideal: It brings little recognition and is often poorly paid, and susceptible to unpredictable ebbs and flows of the publishing market.

Richter was given three months to translate Water Music, requiring the cancellation at the last minute of a long-planned trip with his wife to Mexico.

Such good-luck stories can make careers in the world of literary translation. The Norwegian translator Torstein Høverstad – a friend and colleague of Richter – had the enviable fortune of being offered the first of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Promising to do it in two months rather than three got him 25% extra on the page rate. Combined with progressive working conditions for Norway, Høverstad has done well.

Richter is on the board of the Austrian translators’ interest group (IG Übersetzerinnen Übersetzer), where he has helped to improve conditions for translators here, most notably being instrumental in a Supreme Court decision to require proper crediting of translators’ work in all formats, such as quotations in the media.

Although such work has taken up a lot of his time, a passion for translation will always flow through Richter’s veins. He still likes to read translated books aloud to his family in the evening – a technique translators use to proof their work.

“I still find myself ‘pre-editing’ even while reading aloud to someone,” he laughed. “If it’s not working, I just go ahead and change the wording myself.”

Capital Offense

It was a late summer afternoon, just a few weeks after I’d moved to Vienna from my hometown, and I was riding the D tram. Enter a Schwarzkappler (ticket inspector): The sullen look on her face, so typical for members of this profession, turned even darker when she realised I’d forgotten my student ticket. Still sporting a strong Salzburg accent back then, I tried to explain myself when she suddenly interrupted the bust. “Wait – are you not from Vienna?” I admitted my “crime,” not realizing its relevance. Her expression turned from annoyance to a mixture of pity and condescension.

“So you’re from the province, that makes sense! This must all be very confusing when you come from the hinterlands,” she sneered. Slightly offended at having to endure added insult to injury, I awaited my fine, but it never came: She let me go, hollering “You will get the hang of how we do things here in Vienna!” as she moved on.

To a non-Austrian, this incident may seem like a lucky break, but situations like these reveal the complicated relationship between Vienna and Austria’s other eight provinces, which locals frequently refer to as Restösterreich (literally, “the rest of Austria”). The name says it all – Many Viennese perceive everything beyond the city limits as the boondocks, good for nothing more than the occasional weekend trip to the Alps

But unfounded prejudice needs stereotypes to feed off, and a nation as old as Austria has no shortage in that department. Tyrolians are dismissed as hyper-patriotic, gun-toting mountain men, their slow speech patterns have given Styrians a reputation as a bit dim and Salzburgers are considered Festspiele-obsessed, conceited snobs. And poor Burgenland – formerly part of the Kingdom of Hungary and only a part of Austria since 1921 – has to endure an entire series of jokes mocking their alleged imbecility.

But regardless of home province, a Zuagroaster (someone who came to the capital from the countryside), will to some extent always be perceived as a hick, especially when speaking a regional dialect. The suspicion is mutual, of course: Wieners in Innsbruck, Graz, or the Upper-Austrian sticks will, just as unfairly, be referred to as Großkopferte (arrogant bigheads) wherever they go. And while local rivalries between Austria’s regions are endless – with Kärnten and Steiermark a particularly vicious example – Restösterreich can always agree on one common enemy: the capital.

Big Head, Small Body

Of course, the urban-rural divide is pronounced in many nations, and the tug-of-war between Vienna and the provinces is reminiscent of other rivalries like between London and England’s North. Still, few places are as focused on a single place as Austria, where a third of the population lives in the Vienna metropolitan area. Of course, this wasn’t entirely intended – designed as the capital of the enormous Habsburg empire, Vienna was the cultural and political hub of a nation of over 50 million until 1918, when the former great power shrunk to one eighth of its previous size, practically overnight. Austria was suddently a microstate, ruled by a world city.

It is this historic imbalance that shapes the national dynamic. Whether misplaced or not, the Viennese tend to forget there is more to Austria than just its capital. It’s hard to blame them though – be it the economy, the media, arts or culture – Vienna is where it all happens. No wonder many “provincials” end up here for jobs, education or simply the freedom and anonymity a large city provides.

After four years of living here, I am beginning to understand that yes, being dismissed as a hayseed can be exasperating – but playing the provincial idiot also comes in handy. Whenever I get into a difficult situation now, I let the preconceptions work for me and attempt to extricate myself in the thickest Salzburger argot I can possibly manage. Sometimes, it actually works. 

Meet Nadia Varadinova, Purveyor of Delicacies

“The mother was in shock! Her eyes opened in awe of the table overflowing with delicacies.”

It was New Year’s Eve 2020/21, and on the table, irrestibly luscious, lay an enormous appetizer in the shape of the number 21 – leaving every mouth watering in the family Nadia Varadinova is working for. Cubically cut paprika, avocado and onion covered tiny whipped peninsulas of crème fraîche. Thinly sliced salmon pieces are curved inside the dome of fresh and soft textures. Bellow all that, crisp, airy knots of puff pastry twist and turn to form the foundation of what can only be called a composition. Someone takes the first piece. The tension is broken and the rest follow, all asking themselves how anyone can do this.

What can Nadia Varadinova’s story possibly be?

Varadinova’s ancestors left a strong imprint. One was her grandfather, a baker, who taught her the importance of sitting together around the table and creating a shared experience. Her other grandfather on her father’s side, a hairdresser by profession, fled to Vienna from Sofia, because of his name, Georgi Dimitrov, also the name of the first leader of the BKP (Bulgarian Communist Party). His son, her father, never managed to follow, but Nadia still wonders if she might have family in Vienna she has never met.

Although Nadia Varadinova speaks neither German, nor English, you can breath in her warm-hearted generosity through the food she makes. We met her for a coffee at the Stadtpark, one of her favourite places, she says, where her mind can run free. It was a sunny early spring day, and the paths were full with people jogging, a thrilling sight after the winter months of the lockdown. Her presence was calm and we immediately felt at ease. We began our conversation about the hats and socks she knits:  She smiled and offered to make one for me too.

“Kids, let’s make your mother angry, I feel like eating one of her pastries today…,” Varadinova’s husband used to joke. “My best dishes always came to life at my lowest points,” she remembered. She never worked professionally as a cook, but basked in the praises of her near and dear for the wonders she made in the kitchen. This is a “fire woman,” as we say in Bulgarian. She has lived her life on many fronts, as a mother and as a wife, as the hard worker who brings money home and draws everyone irresistibly together for an evening meal. 

The Fire Woman From Bulgaria

“There is no shameful job”, she says.

Now in her 60s, Nadka Varadinova spent most of her life in Sofia, until unimaginable circumstances brought her to Vienna. She had been laid off her job as an accountant at Chistota, the company responsible for garbage collection in Sofia. But her late husband was becoming increasingly sick, and staying idle was out of the question. At her age it was hard to find a job of any kind, and eventually, she found work with a cleaning services company. Her career as a cleaning lady began.

When Varadinova was feeling unwell and couldn’t sleep, baking was her life boat. She would occasionally bring some homemade sweet and salty pastries to work, and found joy in making special things for the people around her. 

Her delicacies did not stay underdiscovered for long. All the while, her cakes, banitsa and milinki had been making their way to the CEO, and it wasn’t long before he invited her to come work as a cook in his summer house. His Austrian-Bulgarian family, fell in love with her cooking and with Bulgarian cuisine, especially with sarmi (filled Sauerkraut leaves with rice). So on Oct. 24th, 2017, Varadinova moved to Vienna, where her boss and his family live, where their son became her biggest fan. Soon she was also helping with the household.

Even after three and a half years in Vienna, Varadinova told us, it still fascinates her how well-used and well-maintained the green spaces in the city are.

“In Vienna there is a place for the elderly and the disabled. They are visible and part of life.” Nevertheless, it is not always easy to be in a country where you do not speak the language and have limited possibilities to meet new people. Especially in a pandemic, when it becomes harder and harder for her to be independent.

So every now and then, she travels back to Sofia to see her daughters and her nephews – whom she misses immensely – and once again be part of the world she left behind.

Lockdown Update – Austria’s Current Coronavirus Measures

We bring you a lockdown update on current coronavirus measures that apply in Austria.

The economy opened up again on May 19, and people with a “green pass” (i.e. those vaccinated, tested or recovered) can enter restaurants, bars or use personal services. Meanwhile, vaccinations in Austria continue apace, with new slots opening up every week. The City of Vienna provides PCR “gargle” tests and rapid antigen testing for free.

To understand how it all works in practice, we created several graphics for you on the latest coronavirus measures.

Graphics created by Daniel El-Sabeh.

For more detailed guidance on traveling to Austria right now, go to the next page

Vienna Bars Airbnb From Renting Out Council Flats

Last Wednesday (April 12), The city of Vienna won its lawsuit against the online rental hub Airbnb, over whether the company could feature council flats (Gemeindewohnungen) on its platform. City representatives had previously provided Airbnb with the addresses of 220,000 city-owned apartments and requested several times that they block them on their platform as subletting subsidized council housing is in fact prohibited, but their demands were ultimately rejected by the company.

Airbnb had instead offered to block all Gemeindewohnungen as long as the city notified them of each one individually. City hall retorted that such an undertaking was not feasible. The dispute eventually the municipal government taking legal action against the company, filing suit in commercial court in July last year.

“It is reasonable to expect platforms like Airbnb to support the city in preventing illicit activities like subletting council apartments. It is inefficient – and in some cases impossible – for city employees to check every individual advertisement,” city councilor for public housing Kathrin Gaal stated.

The court eventually ruled in Vienna’s favor, with the official verdict reading as follows: The defendant is guilty and is required to stop publishing advertisements for renting or subletting all known apartments belonging to the city of Vienna on the internet, in particular under the airbnb.at and airbnb.com domains. 

According to Viennese authorities, the decision, which is still open to appeal, will have repercussions beyond Airbnb’s ability to feature government-owned apartments on their site. The verdict may also bar Airbnb from advertising privately-owned properties which don’t allow subletting or are subject to other restrictions. In a statement to the Austrian Press Agency (APA), the company announced that they will examine the judgement and release an official statement shortly.  “We take the preservation of living space in Vienna very seriously and want to assist the city in protecting council housing. We will now consider how to find a mutually-agreeable solution and wish to continue having a constructive working relationship with the city of Vienna,” an Airbnb spokesperson told APA, reiterating that they already offered to purge all council apartments from their website as soon they’re notified last year. 

Word of the Week: fremdschämen [ˈfʁɛmtˌʃeːmən]

Verb. To feel embarrassed or ashamed on behalf of someone else. A compound word consisting of fremd (foreign, strange, different, other) and schämen (to be ashamed), literally meaning to be ashamed for another. But like many handy (and high affect!) German words such as Angst, Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude, it expresses a singular sensation that is hard to translate into English. Specifically, it denotes the feeling of witnessing someone behave in such a cringeworthy manner it affects you physically – a kind of sympathetic squirming or even perturbed horror – even though you yourself have done nothing wrong. It is important to note that oftentimes, it’s not the actual deed (appalling as it may be) that offends as much as the utter lack of self-awareness and propriety exhibited. As the perpetrator lacks even the common decency to acknowledge his transgression and unapologetically goes about undermining the most basic norms of society, you inadvertently feel a moral gag reflex, as the culprit clearly has none. Most frequently felt when witnessing the unreflected antics of reality TV “stars,” washed-up celebrities, and, of course, politicians the world over, from Trump to Farage to Blümel.

“Der ist so peinlich, echt zum fremdschämen!” ( “He is so embarrassing, really to be ashamed for!”)

The Word of the Week can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Spread the word!

The Austrian Government Acquires the Site of the Former Concentration Camp at Gusen

After decades in private hands, the former concentration camp Gusen, described by Bernard Aldebert as the “hell of all hells,” has finally been acquired by the Republic of Austria. Established in 1940 between the villages of St. Georgen and Langenstein, the former subcamp of the better-known KZ Mauthausen was operated by the Schutzstaffel (SS), who subjected inmates to forced labor in nearby quarries and arms production for Messerschmitt and Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Tens of thousands suffered starvation and mass executions, with the average life expectancy being just six months.

In total, 200,000 people were imprisoned in Mauthausen and its 49 subcamps, half of whom didn’t survive. Gusen alone held 20,000 prisoners at the time of its liberation by US forces on May 5, 1945, and 35,000 people met their death within its walls. After the war, Gusen was repurposed as a residential complex, and most of its concentration camp facilities were torn down. 

The government decided to negotiate the purchase of major parts of what remains of the subcamp on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen in 2020. Officially, the new owner will be the Burghauptmannschaft (Austria’s monument authority), who will put them at the Ministry of the Interior’s disposal.

“The negotiations have reached a positive conclusion,” Minister of the Interior Karl Nehammer said during a wreath-laying ceremony on the eve of the anniversary of Mauthausen’s liberation on May 5. Specifically, the government obtained the entrance to the tunnel system Bergkristall in St. Georgen, two SS administrative barracks, as well as the rock crusher and Appellplatz (assembly area) in Langenstein. 

A Visible Sign of Remembrance

Nehammer also laid out the plan to turn the location into a “visible sign of remembrance,” with the Mauthausen Committee currently devising a concept in collaboration with international, national and regional stakeholders. “In a time where the voices of the survivors are becoming quieter, memorials need to speak louder. May the new memorial in Gusen serve as a remembrance of the victims and an admonition for the living,” Nehammer stated. The governor of Upper Austria, Thomas Stelzer, added that freedom and liberation didn’t just arrive in May 1945 but require continuous work. 

While Mauthausen was given to Austria in 1947 by the allies for the purpose of establishing a memorial, Gusen fell into oblivion: only a small monument currently commemorates its victims, despite this forced labor camp occasionally holding more inmates and having a higher mortality rate than the main camp. The impetus for its purchase initially came from Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who expressed interest in buying the camp in 2019 as it primarily held Polish prisoners; this, along with pressure by international associations motivated the Austrian government to obtain the complex and turn it in a memorial.  

According to local historian Martha Gammer, the purchase of Gusen doesn’t represent a trend reversal in the culture of remembrance, “but a chance to solve local conflicts, that formed after years of neglect.” 

Meet Petar Naydenov, Bulgarian Opera Basso

It was for a place in the company of the Wiener Volksoper that Petar Naydenov came to Vienna from a theatre in Bavaria eight years ago. “There were so many opportunities here for opera singers, and just a one-hour flight from home,” he remembered. There he met brilliant colleagues and visiting professionals, and went through very intense rehearsals for numerous productions. Trained in the Belcanto tradition and specializing in Italian roles, In Vienna Naydenov expanded into the German and 20th century repertoire. And, he said laughing, “I learned something about discipline.”

Then three years later, he decided to go freelance. “Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts…” he told me, quoting Cervantes. “But it is not what is called the ‘easy life.’” Freelance opera singers have to travel and live for weeks or sometimes months away from their families. “It is a lonely feeling going to the premiere, then to the after party and return to the hotel room always alone,” he said, “not to be able to share this emotion with your nearest and dearest.” Then, the next day, he would read the critics, his hands trembling, and talk to his children over Whatsapp…

“Still, it’s the most thrilling emotion to go deep into a role like Fillip II or Mephistopheles, to imagine them in your own body, to give them your own face and gestures, your own truth…” he said. “Yes, this is the sweetness and bitterness of being a freelancer.”

A talented and successful Bulgarian opera basso, Naydenov is known for his powerful stage presence and the beauty and warmness of his voice, which have made him one of the leading basses in Vienna. Born in the south of Bulgaria, Naydenov graduated from the National Music Academy in Sofia continuing his studies with Nicola Giuzelev and Ghena Dimitrova. He debuted as Don Giovanni and was a guest with Tel Aviv Opera, Theater St. Gallen, Cairo Opera, Grand Théâtre de Tours, National Opera Helsinki, Oper Graz, Opera Triest, the Malmö Opera, and Opera Bergen. His battle-horse-roles Filippo II, Gremin, Fiesco, Zaccaria and Don Giovanni, have received particularly high praise.

All this suddenly came to a stop a year ago with the COVID pandemic, when freelance stage artists lost most of their upcoming contracts.

“It is a difficult time, almost like being at war,” Naydenov says, “and there are only two ways ahead: despair or creativity.” And by creativity he does not mean the living-room concert in slippers and mobile camera. “No! I am against this trend, which changes the live connection between the actor and his audience.

“I miss the stage terribly, but now we have time to rethink and redesign our professional path, make some corrections. One has to stay positive.” To keep up his spirits, he likes to go to the family’s holiday house with his wife and children “who also need my support and understanding.” And he turns to his hobbies – photography, painting and fishing, and fulfilling a long-held dream to become a bee-keeper. “Bees are taking a lot of my time now, I have four colonies,” he said, laughing. “It is an amazing open-air activity and a rewarding feeling to do what is right for the natural world.“

While Naydenov feels comfortable in Vienna, there are still powerful things linking him to his native country – his parents, certainly, but also the stage of his home theatre Sofia Opera. “This was where I started, where I go back constantly and where I feel most comfortable,” he said. The welcoming atmosphere and “the caring people who have known me almost from my childhood…” It’s a “very, very emotional” thing every time he returns!

For Bulgarians, their opera stars are something like a national label – a professional company of excellence, whose métier traditionally take them abroad. Vienna with its prestigious opera houses, its rich cultural life and history, has long been a magnet for these exceptional people for whom it often becomes a base for their future forays across the international opera world.