Murder of a 13-year-old Girl Sparks Debate Over Austria’s Asylum Policies

The murder and sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl from Tulln (Lower Austria) on June 25 has led to a public outcry, as well as a heated political debate on deportation practices in Austria. All four suspects hail from Afghanistan; three of them have a criminal record andwere asked to leave the country after their requests for asylum were denied. According to a reconstruction of the night in question by the Vienna police, two of the suspects (aged 16 and 22) knew the victim and met her at the Donaukanal, where they allegedly gave her the drug ecstasy. They subsequently took her to the apartment of a third, 18-year-old suspect in the 21st district where a fourth suspect (22) later joined them; she was then supposedly given more drugs and subsequently sexually assaulted by at least two of the men. The exact circumstances of her death are still unclear, but the coroner currently assumes that the cause of death was asphyxiation; injuries sustained during the assault suggest that she fought back. Once the victim lost consciousness, the suspects allegedly panicked when they discovered her heart had stopped, attempting reanimation before bundling her in a carpet and leaving the body leaning against a tree in the early hours of Saturday, June 26.

The first two suspects were brought into custody on Friday, followed by the arrest of the third on Sunday; a fourth suspect wanted in connection with the murder has yet to be apprehended. Two of them, ages 16 and 18, have already confessed, but the 23-year-old arrested on Sunday has yet to do so; he is currently being held under charges of evading arrest, conspiracy and to prevent repeat offenses. The fourth suspect is believed to have fled the country; an international warrant for his arrest has been issued.

Several media outlets announced on Saturday that the suspect still at large had been charged six times for various crimes including distributing illegal substances, theft and assault and was convicted three times over drug-related offenses, most recently in 2020. Having initially applied for asylum in Austria as an unaccompanied refugee minor in 2015, his request was denied back in October 2017, but he remained in the country after filing an appeal with Bundesverwaltungsgericht (the Federal Administrative Court) which is still pending after four years. Austrian asylum law dictates, however, that an appeal should be processed as soon aspossible if the residence permit of the concerning party has been terminated.

Political Fallout

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and interior minister Karl Nehammer have demanded that laws be tightened, with the latter expressing criticism towards the EU’s asylum system, “which forces us to let every asylum seeker in, no matter their country of origin.”  The administration insisted that they were unable to deport the suspects despite their criminal records as their applications were under appeal at the Federal Administrative Court, a process that can take years.

Minister of Justice Alma Zadić (C) Parlamentsdirektion/Thomas Jantzen

The minister of justice, Alma Zadić, saw the matter differently, stating that the current laws should be sufficient if implemented correctly. “Asylum legislation has been tightened several times in the last couple of years. Our laws provide enough options, they just have to beconsistently enforced,” she stated, noting that the ministry of the interior already has the legal framework to deport those with a criminal record despite ongoing court appeals.

The Federal Administrative Court also refused to take the blame, releasing an official statement on Monday emphasizing that they are doing everything in their power to keep the conversation factual and will therefore forgo any debates via the media. However, they didn’t deny the long delays in processing, citing their enormous backlog: in 2019, they heard a record 40,000 cases, 80% of which were asylum appeals.

The murder has also prompted a strong reaction from the right-wing populist Freedom Party(FPÖ), with Lower Austria’s regional Asylum minister, Gottfried Waldhäusl, starting aVolksbegehren (referendum) under the name “Deport criminal asylum seekers immediately,”which will be open for signing on July 15.

In Vienna’s New Seestadt, a Rich and Unexpected History

When we moved to the Seestadt Aspern in November 2020, we couldn’t help but feel ghosted by the real Vienna: Where was the cultural scene we loved, the history we found endlessly fascinating? With this move, we certainly weren’t going to walk in the steps of Brahms, Dvorak, and Richard Strauss every time we headed home from the U-Bahn. Not that Seestadt wasn’t impressive: It is one of Europe’s largest urban development projects, a community unto itself, where we could spend more time outdoors, and help create community. But was this all there was?

Every day, returning home from the city center, I would glance at the road on the other side ofthe U2 Seestadt station, leading away from the project. Where did it lead, I wondered?

So on one crisp April morning, I decided it was time to find out. Crossing under the metro station and further passing the Technology Center Aspern on the right and cultivated fields on the left, we braced ourselves for the ever-piercing wind and followed the new bicycle and pedestrian roadway with no precise endpoint in mind. As the road curved to the right in the direction of Essling, we noticed a wooden bridge leading into a young forest, judging by the thicket that framed it on two sides. Shrubs, trees, and bushes in colorful bloom, an invitation to explore. What was beyond the walkway? And why was it here in the first place? As we made our way across, we noticed the metal panels that intersected the wooden ones, suggesting historical layers difficult to decipher, with writing in both directions, one to be read coming, I realized, the other going. But my husband and toddler were already well ahead, planning our picnic for the next day at one of the wooden seating areas nearby. “I’ll be right there,” I called behind them, a code that they should not wait.

Wooden bridge leading into the young forest (C) Anca Tigan

Living Memorial

In one direction, the panels told the story of how, on April 9, 1987 – 34 years before almost to the date – 400 Viennese school children planted a memorial forest for Vienna’s 65,000 Jewish Holocaust victims. “And with every tree, we bring a little bit of hope into people’s hearts,” while adding to the city’s green belt that helps keep Vienna’s air clear. A footbridge of memory reaching out from the past, through 1987 to the present day, and into the future, when the thicket will be even denser, the shrubs higher, the trees taller.

On the other side of the walkway, a glade opened out onto a quiet scene of a man throwing a ball with a young boy and a dog, while on the crisscross of paths behind them, people were jogging or walking. There were the two seating areas that had been the object of such intense discussion earlier, where we could picnic next to the memorial stone put up in 1988, the first to Vienna’s murdered Jews erected in a public space. Oddly, or perhaps not, I felt at peace, breathing in the fresh air and delighting in the flush of spring that enveloped the scene. Maybe the father throwing a ball with his son was himself one of the 400 school children who had initially planted the memorial forest. Maybe descendants of the victims were among those jogging along the paths ahead. Some who lived in the Seestadt surely connected on a personal level with the memorial forest. When it was planted 34 years earlier, few anticipated that it would serve as a recreational area for the new community of 20,000 who would come to live there. Like in any place where time was at play, memories and mementos would layer with the buzz of the present in an enterprise known as history.

Setting Aviation Records

In the opposite direction, the wooden bridge told the story of Flugfeld Aspern, the legendary airfield that had been on the Seestadt site.

One of the world’s most modern airports when it opened in 1912, it was a place where history was written first-hand: I could easily recognize the outlines of the fields, thickets, and hangars from a century before, when the airfield was the site where 18 world records were set, establishing Austria as a leader in early aviation. It was here that the world’s first international airmail flight originated, on a route from Vienna to Cracow, Lemberg (Livov), Proskurov and Kiev. It was here that the landing of Graf Zeppelin was covered live in 1932, to the delight of the Viennese who came out to witness the event. And finally, as history would so often have it, it was at Flugfeld Aspern where key Nazi officials landed on March 12th 1938, followed by its transformation into a vital airbase for the Luftwaffe.

Asperner Flugfeld was one of the world’s most modern airports when it opened in 1912 (C) Anca Tigan

One of the earliest pioneers had been Lilly Steinschneider, one of the two women pilots allowed to fly in competition. During the Second International Flight Week at Vienna-Aspern in 1913, the engine of her aircraft cut out, forcing an emergency landing which badly damaged her plane, but from which she walked away uninjured. The Viennese satirical magazine Kikeriki was suitably wry, writing, “Thank God, she wears reform pants!” – a not so veiled allusion to the changes in women’s fashion from corsets to so-called “reformed clothing.”

A century later, all the street names in Seestadt have been dedicated to women, to finally begin to balance the preponderance of men’s names everywhere else in the city. I’m keeping my eye out for pilot Lilly Steinschneider, who more than anyone, has earned a commemoration there.

So, as I rejoined my family in the young forest, I realized that even without the famous composers, Seestadt would be a special place. This district too has a layered history, far more than I had previously grasped, as well as a living, evolving part of this multi-faceted city. During construction in 2013, workers discovered the remains of a prehistoric settlement, as well as four burial sites for horses killed during Napoleon’s defeat here in 1809. And then there was the airfield, whose dug-out concrete was now being reused for new roads, building upon the past and looking into the future. Now, I decided, not only would Seestadt offer housing and work for 25,000 people within a decade, but it would be a place for us to put down roots and make our own contributions to the life of the city.

The author of this post is indebted to Dr Gregory Weeks for his support with the research for this piece.

Word of the Week: Radler [ˈʁaːdlɐ]

Noun. 1. A cyclist. Stems from radln, an alternate term for “cycling” in Austria and southern Germany (as opposed to the High German radfahren). 2. A refreshing beverage made from one part beer and one part lemonade. Extremely popular during the summer months as a thirst quencher, the name derives from its initial popularity among cyclists and other amateur athletes; as it’s inadvisable to drink heavily and ride, a mildly alcoholic alternative to the traditional Krügerl was very welcome – particularly as it also makes the full-bodied beers popular in central Europe lighter and more palatable during a heat wave.

Documented since the early 20th century, it was inspired by similar drinks from the UK like Shandy; still there are several colorful origin stories. One of them states that the Bavarian innkeeper Franz Kugler invented the drink out of necessity: Running low on beer on a scorching day in 1922, he simply stretched his reserves by diluting them with lemonade, serving the drink to the many cyclists and day trippers arriving at his establishment just outside Munich. 

Either mixed at the tap or sold readymade in bottles, today, the soft part of the drink varies widely by region, with everything from Himbeerkracherl (raspberry soda) to grapefruit juice added instead of the classic lemonade. There are even non-alcoholic versions, though some would argue that this defeats the purpose. Two particularly popular local mixers are Almdudler (a popular Austrian soft drink flavored with herbal extracts) and Holunder (elderberry).

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!

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Austria to Provide 150,000 Laptops and Tablets to Schools

During a press conference at the  Gymnasium Diefenbachgasse on Jun 21, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Education minister Heinz Faßmann announced concrete plans for the digital offensive they presented a year ago, promising that laptops or tablets will soon be made accessible for every Austrian pupil who needs one, with students retaining ownership. The devices – either new or refurbished, with the final choice lying with individual schools – will be 75% subsidized, meaning that families will have to pay about €100 per computer, depending on the model; underprivileged families may even apply for the fee to be waived entirely, receiving their devices free of charge. In addition, Kurz and Faßmann also announced that all federally-funded schools will receive fiber optic-based broadband internet by 2023.

So far, 93% of schools across the country have requested digital devices for their 5th- and 6th graders by sending a “letter of intent” to the ministry, which included accepting commitments to provide further technical training to their teachers. With the majority asking for Windows notebooks (42 %),followed by iPads (27%) and Windows tablets (22%), not all devices will arrive by the end of summer vacation, but the government has committed to a timeline promising delivery by the end of the winter semester (September to January). Schools will also receive up to three devices per class to accommodate this the new way of learning. 

To ensure that students will not be overly distracted, teachers will be able to regulate internet access during class, as well as share their screen on the whiteboard for the entire class to see. Abiding to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, teachers will not be able to access a pupil’s personal data. 

Budgeted at €250 million, the opposition did not waste any time responding. The SPÖ’s spokeswoman, Petra Vorderwinkler criticized the 25% deductible for parents and the timing of delivery, saying that “the peak of the pandemic is already over.” The NEOS’ leader, Beate Meinl-Reisinger, also commented on the timing of the initiative, calling it “shameful” that the administration is only reacting now; she also mentioned the lack of infrastructure in place and called for better preparation, more staff and better training.  

“Lockdown – Vienna Nights in the Time of Corona” Captures the Stillness and Solitude of Early 2020

With Vienna gradually reopening and the city’s Schanigärten once again filled with contact traced, 3-G compliant patrons, it’s easy to forget the sheer shock of the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, when Vienna’s lively streets became nearly deserted overnight. An extraordinary time for all, but to some, an inspiration: Local photographer Danny LoCascio spent 34 nights from April to June last year out on the streets of Vienna, documenting the  solitude of curfew during the early days of the pandemic. Born and raised in Chicago, LoCascio has been living abroad for the last 30 years, first picking up a camera in the ‘80’s while living in Saudi Arabia to capture the endless dunes of the Rubʿ al-Khali desert. A retired teacher, he now devotes his time to his twin passions of photography and music, performing as blues and folk artist Danny Chicago. One year after his latest project concluded, Metropole met LoCasico on the terrace of WerkzugH to enjoy a cold drink and look back on his journey. 

In the first chapter, The Beginning – April 11-18, the Prater Hauptallee is silent and empty, depicted in eerie black-and-white images reminiscent of The Third Man’s suspenseful ambiance. LoCascio’s monochromatic approach was a deliberate decision that went beyond personal taste, the shades of grey illustrating the mood of an entire city. “I was going with the look which would make people feel like I did,” LoCascio explained, “a mix of fear and confusion towards the situation.” With an unwavering gaze, he caught the unprecedented nights of loneliness in otherwise lively places. “A friend told me “your book made me feel really sad and depressed,” he recalls; “and I said ‘thank you,’ because that it is what I made it for, to remember the true feelings of those times.” 

Pandemic Mementos

Far more than a diary of images, Lockdown, Vienna Nights in the Time of Corona, paints an evocative picture of everyday life in the early corona era, when curfews and fear of the unknown drove people indoors. Shown in chronological order, the book illustrates how Vienna’s general atmosphere developed over time, strongly impacted by breaking news and new restrictions. “Everything was so unusual, like wearing a mask – which was even political back then. Now it is a complete banality,” LoCascio points out. “Taking pictures of people at these times was somehow a challenge, but it brought something unique: the amazing power of emotions you could get through people’s eyes.”

(C) Danny LoCascio

Leafing through the pages, optimism slowly emerges as locals slowly reemerged in public places. The book ends on a tipping point: the Black Lives Matter demonstration on June 4, 2020, where hundreds of Viennese took to the streets. “It was really interesting to understand the mood of people through this times; in the end, it was like an orgy of socialization,” he reminisces. The large gathering offers a counterpoint to the wistful images of the lockdown, in stark contrast to the onset of the pandemic. “People missed it so much, that it was a real feeling of freedom.”

All in all, LoCascio’s work bears stirring witness to those singular times. “It’s like a souvenir of the first lockdown. Later on, people will look at the book and think that lockdown 1.0 was the good old days,” he said with a laugh. “More seriously, it will keep its value as a historical record, just for people to remember what we have been going through.” He sees his book as a testimony to what living in Vienna was like at that moment in time, a reminder to never to take what we have for granted. “As Joni Mitchell said, you don’t know what you got until it’s gone.” 

Long-term Immunity – Memory Cells Never Forget

Natural infection with SARS-CoV-2 induces humoral (antibodies) and cellular immune responses against the virus, but now we need to know for how long. 

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, with life getting back to normal, but the pandemic is not over yet. We’re still worried about new waves with the latest variant in the autumn, and it’s relatively early in the COVID-19 pandemic to determine just how long protection against reinfection lasts. It’s taken time to figure out which types of immune cells are long-lived, how many there are, where they are in the body, what they’re reacting against, and now we need to know how long they’ll last. 

Recent research suggests that we should expect long-lived antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 because people who recuperated from SARS-CoV, a virus similar to SARS-CoV-2, had antibodies 17 years later. This is encouraging as long-lived immune responses are vital to getting the pandemic under control. In addition, more vaccinated and recovered people means fewer with severe or fatal versions of the disease.  

The immune system has a long memory, beginning during the initial viral infection when modifications to immune cells result in new cells that can live in the body for years or even decades. These memory cells react whenever they re-encounter the virus and protect us long-term. It’s like what happens with the measles: When we’ve had an infection once, we never get it again. 

Immunological memory is a complex defense mechanism, and for many viruses, there are several types of cells involved: The CD4 T helper lymphocyte coordinates the initial immune response and establishes immunological memory; the B lymphocytes that produce the antibodies that prevent viruses from entering our cells at all; the cytotoxic CD8 T lymphocytes that recognize and kill infected cells; and lastly, the memory plasma cells that continuously secrete antibodies long after the virus is gone.  

Lasting immunity to SARS-CoV-2

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 stimulates the body to make a broad immune response against several viral proteins, including the crucial spike protein, which is essential for the virus to enter cells and ultimately cause the COVID-19 illness. In contrast, vaccination only targets the spike protein and makes the immune memory response potentially less robust. A key to evaluating long-lasting immunity requires a complete understanding of memory responses following infection.  

Recently published scientific reports give us hope that long-term immunity to SARS-CoV-2 exists in many, if not most people. Researchers followed people for over a year after recuperating from COVID-19 and found that immune memory to SARS-CoV-2 lasted at least six months after infection in about 95% of subjects tested. They also found that the virus had triggered all the essential memory cells and antibodies. 

Other researchers identified memory plasma cells in the bone marrow that produce neutralizing antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. These antibodies are high during and after the initial infection and decline after a few months but seem to stabilize at a low protective level and might even be a predictor of long-term memory. 

In another recent study, researchers showed that antibodies stabilize 12 months after infection and that memory B cells can improve the quality of the antibody over time. More good news is that these antibodies can also neutralize some of the SARS-CoV-2 variant strains and that vaccines appear to boost the numbers of these persistent antibody-secreting plasma cells.

So, it looks increasingly like most of us will develop long-lasting protective immunity after a COVID-19 infection or after vaccination. But, of course, we need to keep following recovered and vaccinated people to figure out just how long immunity lasts and whether it protects against new variants. 

Still, a lot to feel good about!

How to Make Fattet Al-Makdous/Eggplant Fatteh

Translated by Majd Nassan

Eggplant fatteh is one of numerous types in the Middle Eastern region, a toasted pita bread topped with layers of eggplant, saucy minced meat, and finished off with a layer of tahina sauce.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg of small eggplants (can be found at Exotic Asian shops) 
  • vegetable oil or butter for frying 
  • 50 g pine nuts 
  • 1 piece of onion chopped
  • 500 g
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white or black pepper
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • A little bit of water to dilute the tomato paste
  • 3 Arabic pita bread
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 kg yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 200 g tahini
  • 30g fresh parsley, chopped

Cooking Instructions

  1. Using a vegetable digger, dig out the eggplant from the top while ensuring the bottom remains intact.
  2. Heat a nonstick pan at medium heat. Add olive oil and the dug out 5. eggplants move them around until all sides are nicely browned.
  3. In the meantime, heat another frying pan over a medium heat, add a little oil and butter and fry the pine nuts until golden brown. Remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.
  4. In the same pan, add the finely chopped onions and cook until translucent before adding the minced lamb and cinnamon. Cook the meat for about 5 minutes or until it is done, add half the pine nuts and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.
  5. In a pot, add some water and the tomato paste and a pinch of salt.
  6. Stuff the eggplant with the cooked meat all the way to the top and place in the tomato sauce pot in a standing position. Let it cook for about 15 minutes until the zucchini is cooked.
  7. Cut the pita bread into small squares or break it up using your hands. Heat a frying pan with a little oil and butter, and toast the bread until golden brown. This delivers a stronger flavor, but you can also toast them in the oven.
  8. In a bowl, whisk the yoghurt, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, a little of water, salt and pepper.
  9. Using a deep and large serving plate, assemble the dish by layering the pita chips on the bottom of your serving dish. Top with a layer of the stuffed eggplant, followed by a layer of the remaining tomato sauce and then finally the layer of the yogurt/tahina sauce.
  10. Sprinkle some roasted pine nuts and parsley on top.

Meet Mouddar Khouja, Secretary General of the Austro-Arab Chamber of Commerce

It was the beginning of 1981, when the Khoujas decided to leave Syria for Europe; suitcases were packed, and off they flew to Germany.

The 15-year-old Mouddar and his family found the transition difficult. As they settled into an apartment in Hamburg, they were surprised that none of the neighbors invited them over, as would have happened in Syria. It was only later they learned that new residents were expected to invite the neighbors for a housewarming or a meal!

In Hamburg, Khouja went to a secondary school, where he enrolled in special classes for newcomers to learn German and, eventually, the other subjects taught in German. Eager to understand what was being said in school, on the news, or even in the streets, he picked up the language early on and excelled at it. His father, who had been a merchant in Syria, continued in his trade after moving to Germany. And soon, Germany became a second home for Khouja, who associated it with family and safety.

Some four years later, having finished high school, Khouja moved to Vienna to pursue a M.Sc. in Computer Science at the Technical University of Vienna (TU Wien). “Throughout that period, I was committed to assisting Arab students applying to university, with translations, interpretation, and any issues they might face,” he recalled. While Germany and Austria have many similarities, it took him two and a half years to finally feel at home in Vienna, a turning point that shaped his decision to stay.

There was a striking difference between Hamburg and Vienna from a cultural and aesthetic lens. “Hamburg was destroyed during WWII and thus most of its buildings are modern, whereas Vienna is a city with mesmerizing architecture and well-preserved old buildings,” he elaborated. Khouja particularly admired the Austrians’ diplomacy and savoir faire compared to the straight-forwardness typical of northern Germany.

Shortly after graduating, he started working at Siemens in telecommunications and management, gradually rising to become a team leader. He then moved to other companies, including Connect Austria 1, after which he founded his own company, offering ICT consultancy services in partnership with CISCO Systems, the largest Telecom Infrastructure provider in Central Europe and the Middle East. Later on, Khouja made a transition to business consulting and financing international projects, as well as providing solutions in the Islamic banking sector.

Then, in 2010, he was nominated by the Federation of Syrian Chambers of Commerce for Secretary-General of the Austro-Arab Chamber of Commerce (AACC), a measure of his business profile and wide network of prominent Austrian and Arab economic and diplomatic connections. It was a popular decision, endorsed by both the Union of Arab Chambers and the League of Arab States, the umbrella under which Arab and joint chambers of commerce operate, followed by the approval of the Chamber’s General Assembly, including the Arab Ambassadors Council. As Secretary General of AACC, his role lies in boosting mutual trade and economic relations between Austria and the Arab countries, as well as promoting scientific, academic and cultural exchange and cooperation.

“I do my best to bring the different perspectives closer and to create a solid foundation on which prosperous relations can be established and enhanced,” he told Metropole. As such, Khouja supported the Integration Circle in Vienna’s 21st district and launched the Arab Engineers Initiative in 2016, aimed at creating job opportunities for Arab engineers, mainly from Syria and Iraq.

Within his first year as Secretary-General, the Chamber’s membership increased by 60% and turnover by 44%, as he went about fostering partnerships with ministries, municipalities and international organizations in Austria and the Arab countries. Eventually, the Chamber became the go-to point of reference for many Austrian and Arab companies and institutions seeking mutual cooperation, business partnerships and investment opportunities.

“Attracting Arab investors to Austria and presenting Austria as a pioneer and a role model in credibility and trust has also been a priority for me,” he said. To do this, he goes beyond understanding both sides; in a very real sense he is both sides.

“When I am in Austria, I represent the Arab side, and when I am in an Arab country, I represent Austria: This is the motto I go by to build solid foundations and resilient bridges between the two. I believe that durable (business) partnerships require not only mutual understanding and respect, but also a genuine acknowledgment, appreciation and admiration of one another’s culture.” In his opinion, the personal dimension can often be indispensable for the success and flourishing of partnerships.

Dr. Kurt Stürzenbecher, Chairman of the City Council Committee for Finance, Economy, Digitalization & International Affairs awarding SG Khouja the Decoration of Merit in Gold of the Federal State of Vienna 2019./(C) Wikimedia Commons

In 2019, Khouja was awarded the “Decoration of Merit in Gold of the State of Vienna”, in recognition of his dedication and devotion to the city and state of Vienna through his personal initiatives and in his role as Secretary General of AACC.

And on a personal note, anyone who knows SG Khouja, knows well his fondness for Syrian cuisine, particularly Aleppo’s, something he takes enormous pride in. “Aleppian cuisine is all about fresh and healthy ingredients, and the more diverse a culture is, the richer and tastier its cuisine. All this is reflected in the cuisine of Aleppo,” he said, “an ancient city that once was the cradle of civilization and a strategic commercial and cultural hub.”

Although he has been living abroad for 40 years, SG Khouja remembers his childhood there fondly. In 2010, he went to Syria on an official mission, and spent three days in Aleppo, visiting his grandparents’ house near the Citadel and the Al-Madina Souq, the largest covered historic market in the world (approx. 13 km).

“It was a hot summer day, the temperature was around 49°,” he remembered. “As I walked through the streets, the scent of jasmine filled the air, and a flashback of memories started running in my head.” Eventually, the road led him to his old school: “I found myself checking out each and every corner there, from the garden to the classrooms and sports center.”

Khouja truly hopes that the conflict in Syria will be resolved soon and that peace and security will again prevail in this country that has over the centuries been home to many civilizations, religions and ethnicities living harmoniously side by side. While Austria is the home he chose for himself, where his children were born, and where he plans to stay, neither Syria nor Germany will lose its special place in his heart.

Home is where the heart is, and the heart is everywhere one has ever lived…

Summer in Vienna Brings Lifted Restrictions

As of July 1, the following loosened restrictions will be in effect in Austria:

  • The 3-G rule (geimpft, getestet, genesen – vaccinated, tested or recovered) will continue, with proof of one of the three required for most aspects of public life. 
  • Curfew will be lifted and there will be no restrictions to business hours.
  • Nightclubs and Nachtgastronomie (late night bars) will reopen for the first time in 16 months; there are still ongoing discussions regarding entry requirements.
  • Weddings and dancing in close proximity will be permitted again. 
  • One meter distance between patrons will no longer be required when seated at restaurants, but contact tracing will still be mandatory.
  • Large events will be able to take place without any restrictions; food may be served. Concerts with standing room only can take place once again, with and no masks required. 
  • In Vienna, children under the age of 12 will need a test to access certain places (e.g. museums, leisure areas, swimming pools etc.).

In addition, FFP2-masks are slowly on their way out: From July 22 onward, they will only be required in hospitals and care homes. 

On the EU level:

  • Border restrictions will be loosened for travelers coming from the US, UK, South Afrcia, Serbia, Albania, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Vietnam. To enter, meeting the 3-G requirements is sufficient.

While Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein assured that “Summer will go back to how it was,” the vice-principal of the MedUni Vienna, Oswald Wagner, warned that the rapid spread of the Delta-Variant means that “the pandemic isn’t over yet. We still need to be cautious.”

The Magnificent Tastes of Syrian Cuisine

Translated by Majd Nassan

The interest and passion Syrians have for their food is second to none. This love stems from their customs and traditions, which are founded on the concepts of generosity and honoring their guests. What better way to honor a guest than by overwhelming them with food?

It is virtually impossible to visit a Syrian household and not get invited for a meal or at least a cup of coffee with Baklava. Syrians are all about hosting and sharing their cultural habits. There’s even a famous Syrian saying that indicates a strong relationship on the basis of shared meals, “We have bread and salt between us.” If you are a tourist walking through the streets of old Damascus, you are bound to get invited for a cup of tea or a home-cooked meal.

As a result of this culturally embedded hospitality, Syrians became accustomed to adding love to their food. Syrians insist that taste has to be perfectly delicious while still healthy and varied.

A large portion of Syrian food contains most nutrients that the metabolism needs. For example, Syrians are used to eating “Fool Mdammas” for breakfast, it’s a form of Fava beans boiled with fresh vegetables, lemon juice, and garlic, commonly eaten with pita bread and Ayran yoghurt. It’s one of the cheapest things to eat available in any district of Syria, a simple meal containing protein, fiber, folic acid, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. Syrian dishes are full of nutritional benefits. So now is as good a time as any to invite you to try the Syrian cuisine.

Syrian vs. Lebanese Cuisine

Given the shared history and culture between the two Middle Eastern nations, there’s almost no difference. The regions of the Levant share many dishes. For example, the Syrian and Lebanese cuisine focus on salads, grape leaves, stuffed vegetables, rice, olive oil, fresh lemon and pomegranate juice are essential ingredients in cooking.

It is however visible that in Europe and elsewhere, Lebanese cuisine is the more dominant of the two. This can be traced back to the mass exodus of Lebanese during the Civil War from 1975-1990, which strengthened the reputation of the Lebanese cuisine across the world. Yet, to be honest, the two cuisines are almost identical. So if you are ever invited to a Syrian or Lebanese restaurant, don’t be surprised if the dishes look and taste extremely similar. One can only tell the real difference if you are actually in Lebanon or Syria, because that is where the subtle differences become clear.

Fattet al-Makdous or eggplant fatteh is one of Syria’s signature dishes./(C) Deposit photos

Let’s go back in history; Syrian cuisine has been very rich and varied since ancient times, as it represents the heritage of the many cultures that inhabited its land. Like other former Ottoman nations, Syrians infused Ottoman dishes into their cuisine – things like Turkish kebabs (more like Adana Kebab and not the widely known Doner Kebab) that are available in great variety across all Syrian cities, each adding their own touches and methods. Most Syrians agree that Aleppo’s cuisine is the best and most varied when it comes to kebabs (they have over 15 varieties, some with aubergine, others with sour cherries), while Damascus is famous for its cooked yoghurt dishes, and chickpea fatteh.

Overall, as elsewhere in the Levant, there is a prevalence of lamb and ground beef, and most cities use a similar spice mix based on cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cumin and black pepper.

But the Syrian cuisine also offers delights such as yabra’a rolls with rice, grapeleaves and meat./(C) Thalia Grill

Street Food & Home Food

When friends meet and walk through the narrow lanes and adjacent houses of Damascus, it is very difficult to ignore the inviting smells pouring out of the restaurants and houses. It could be the famous shawarma, which is chicken or lamb meat on a skewer for barbecue, with garlic cream, pickled cucumber and pomegranate molasses, (while it does look similar to Doner Kebab, the taste is entirely different). Another aroma is the smell of falafel, which Syrians eat religiously.

But the main street food Syrians thrive on is a mixed grill of lamb, beef, chicken, onions and tomatoes, however, this is not exclusively a dish you get from a restaurant (like shawarma and falafel which are seldom made at home), more often than not, in spring and summer courtyards across Damascus, at least once a week you would invite friends and family over for a barbecue.

As you can imagine, one cannot just simply eat savory dishes, either on the street or when hosting at home. Syrians have a sweet tooth, so it is almost mandatory to eat kunafa (a cheese-based dessert famous throughout the Levant). Also, while wandering through those narrow alleyways, one will surely encounter a food truck, carrying green almonds and green sour plums (ouja and jarnick) in spring, in summer, grilled and boiled corncobs, in autumn fresh pistachios, and in winter boiled beans with lemon broth, cumin or roasted chestnuts.

Falafel/(C) Unsplash

If you have been out with a Syrian friend, you must have had a struggle when it came to paying the bill at a restaurant. It is a prevalent Syrian (likely Arab too) custom that an individual pays for a group of friends, such that one of them rushes to pay the bill as evidence of their generosity, and another insists on paying for everyone on another day. For Syrians in Austria beautiful memories and laughter are connected directly to their dishes, so, heavy with nostalgia, they come to Vienna from all over Austria to visit Levantine restaurants to recreate the feeling that they are at home. And perhaps not surprisingly, these Levantine restaurants are mostly in the Austrian capital and are almost impossible to find elsewhere in the country.

Despite the magnificence of Syrian street food, it differs greatly from the homemade dishes. Syrian women invest love and passion into their meals, apparent from the famous homemade dishes that require a couple of days to prepare, such as the most popular stuffed dishes, where vegetables are dug out (zucchini and eggplant) on one evening, then stuffed the next morning with rice and seasoned meat before finally simmering them for an hour and sometimes more.

A big challenge facing many Syrians is recreating authentic home dishes in Austria, mostly due to lack of some ingredients or the massive difference in taste of certain vegetables and herbs. For example, Fattoush is one of the most famous Levantine salads and contains cucumber, tomatoes, lemon, salt, sumac, herbs, mint, green thyme, watercress, and an herb that’s identical in shape to Austrian Vogerlsalat (lamb’s lettuce or corn salad) but has a much stronger taste. This Levantine version of Vogerlsalat defines Fattoush for some. So, every time I visit a different European country, my instinct is to immediately buy a pack of Vogerlsalat in hopes that I can finally taste those delicious Levantine greens. So far, I’ve never been successful.

Ramadan Season

Let me tell you a little bit about how Muslim Syrians observe the holy month of Ramadan.

They invite family and loved ones to gather at the Iftar “breakfast” table (after sunset), which must include all kinds of food, beginning with energy-rich dates and thirst-quenching drinks such as (licorice, tamarind, apricot juice, in addition to water). There is an old custom among neighbors, and the reason for Ramadan, exchanging among themselves a plate of food or sweets daily to add more variety to their tables.

A typical Iftar meal starts with a soup, the most important of which is shorabet adas (lentil soup with meat or chicken broth), eastern salads like tabbouleh, or fattoush, and some appetizers like hummus or muttabal. Following this we move to the main dish that may be kibbeh (fried, raw, grilled and with yoghurt) or mahshi (stuffed zucchini, eggplant, and grape leaves) or molokhia (rice, meat, leaves of jute mallow) or one of the yoghurt dishes like shish barak (beef stuffed dough boiled in yogurt) and koussa blaban (zucchini stuffed with minced meat and rice, cooked with yogurt), of some type of fatteh such as makdous fatteh (recipe here). A Syrian Iftar is not complete without ending with fruits and sweets like qatayef asfiri, kunafa, and harissa.

Barazek (a biscuit dipped in roasted sesame)/(C) Unsplash

And then in the late evening (after 21:00) cafes and restaurants overflow with entertainment programs such as competitions and games of backgammon, or listening to the storyteller accompanied by drinking bitter Arabic coffee and black tea with barazek (a biscuit dipped in roasted sesame) and perhaps to smoke a hookah. It all goes on through the night, until we reach the time of Suhur, an hour before sunrise, a second, usually light, meal that the fasting person eats. Most Syrian restaurants are full with groups of friends at 3:00, as if it were midday – the spirit of Damascus that does not sleep.

Christians and Muslims participate together in spreading love during this holy month, helping the needy, doing charitable works, and gathering family and friends at the dinner table. But they differ in the rituals of fasting. Although not obliged, Christians tend to refrain from eating or drinking on the streets during Ramadan out of respect for their Muslim brethren. I remember when I was in school, our Christian friends would go outside the class if they got thirsty so as not to tempt their Muslim friends who were fasting.

There’s indeed a tight bond between the two religions, as Muslims in Syria also celebrate Christmas with their Christian friends and more often than not, Muslims would visit Christians over the Christian holidays and Christians would do the same during Muslim ones. Of course, these visits are never with an empty hand and often contains sweets that are made specially for the occasion.

Prominent Politicians Launch Referendum Against Corruption

A number of current and former government leaders from across the political spectrum have strongly criticized recent politically-motivated assaults on the Austrian judicial system, drafting a Volksbegehren (Public Referendum) against corruption, calling on all  parties to preserve the independence and integrity of the judiciary. The Referendum can be a popwerful tool that with the signatures of 100,000 qualified voters, forces a debate in the Nationalrat (National Assembly).

Presented on Tuesday, June 15, this non-partisan initiative was authored by twelve proponents and many supporters, including lawyer Werner Doralt; the former president of the Federal Court of Audit, Franz Fiedler; former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Irmgard Griss; former chairman of the International Anti-Corruption Academy, Martin Kreutner; former legal affairs spokesman for the ÖVP Michael Ikrath; constitutional lawyer Heinz Mayer, former “Ibiza affair” prosecutor Christina Jilek and former third Nationalrat President, Heide Schmidt. 

Prompted by recent domestic political events like the attacks of the ÖVP against the public prosecutor and the still ongoing Novomatic scandal, the initiative’s demands stretch far beyond an independent judiciary protected from political pressure, seeking to curtail systemic corruption caused by the entanglement of party politics and business. Among other things, the initiators are advocating more transparency when appointing new posts; another important issue is the independence of the media, which has seen a decline in the last couple of years.

“We need reform because corruption is undermining our judicial system,” explained Kreutner during the presentation. The complete Volksbegehren outlines 72 individual measures divided in five sections: dignity and integrity in politics; separation of powers; independence of the judiciary and supervisory authorities; expanded anti-corruption legislation and, finally, advancement of the media and the freedom of the press. Mayer emphasized the importance of the separation of powers, seeing it as the only way to exert necessary oversight. In addition, he stressed that members of parliament should answer to citizens, and not their respective political parties. 

Time for Change

Ikrath stated that Austria has the constitutional framework to achieve all the necessary changes and added that “ sloppy handling of corruption in the past has led to it becoming a systemic problem.” Indeed, Austria has a higher corruption index than the EU average, according to the Global Corruption Barometer published by Transparency International.

“These numbers should alarm accountable politicians,” Ikrath added, stating that the referendum is a suitable way to raise awareness and appealing to chancellor Sebastian Kurz to take action. 

The referendum has already prompted a response from the government. In a written statement, Kurz was receptive to giving serious consideration to the Volksbegehren, particularly the “strengthening of the independent judiciary” and the establishment of an independent federal attorney. 

Apart from gaining support from prominent officials, the initiative has received public endorsements from three major parties – the NEOS, SPÖ and Greens.

The referendum has been formally filed and start collecting signatures by the end of June, with the initiative launching a crowdfunding campaign on June 22 in the hope of adding €70,000 to the €15,000 provided by the organizers for organizational expenses. In the interest of transparency, a list detailing how the funds were used will be published online after the referendum concludes. 

Vienna to Introduce Citywide ‘Parkpickerl’

The long-standing debate regarding the short-term parking spaces in Vienna has finally resulted in a new regulation that requires a universal Parkpickerl in all of Vienna. A Parkpickerl is a parking sticker that is required in many parking zones in Vienna, with which one can park as long as one wishes in the short-term parking zone of their district. The new regulation marks years of pressure from the Greens in the previous city government to enforce fee-based parking zones in the whole city. 

On the 16th of June, the SPÖ Executive City Councillor for Innovation, Urban Planning and Mobility Ulli Sima announced the new regulation with the NEOS junior partner as well as other four SPÖ district leaders. This regulation will end the remaining free short-time parking zones in Florisdorf, Donaustadt, Liesing, Hietzing, and parts of Simmering. The new universal Parkpickerl will cover all the 23 districts of Vienna from Monday until Friday between 9:00 and 22:00. However, some exceptions are granted in lightly populated spaces, industrial as well as green and peripheral areas such as Donau-Auen and Biesamberg. As of March 2022, the Parkpickerl will cost €10 per month, excluding the administrative fees, and will only be granted to the residents of the city of Vienna according to their districts and not to the 200.000 who commute to Vienna with cars. The new regulation will also standardize the price of the Parkpickerl, which currently costs €10 in the city center and around €7.50 in the outer districts per month. The revenue from the Parkpickerl, which was estimated to be around €123 million as of 2019, will flow into the expansion of the public transport system, said Sima.

City Councillor for Innovation, Urban Planning and Mobility Ulli Sima und NEOS Head Bettina Emmerling introduced the citywide Parkpickerl at th bei der PK Parkpickerl/©PID/Christian Fürthner

“It creates more space for people in the districts, less time spent looking for a parking space and better quality of life thanks to green spaces and trees, because we simply don’t need as much space for parked cars” said Ulli Sima in a statement. The new regulation was criticized by the opposition; the third president of the Vienna parliament (ÖVP) criticized the law and called it a “rip-off”. Vienna’s FPÖ leader Dominik Nepp was not thrilled either with the new regulation, calling it another way to “empty the pockets of the Viennese.” In response, the Greens stated that the new law is “better than nothing” and demanded smaller parking zones within the Viennese districts. 

The Pandemic Prompts Young People to Reclaim Public Spaces

As restrictions were lifted and temperatures rose, the last few weeks saw young Viennese increasingly flocking to the inner city in search of an outlet, but with clubs still shuttered and a mandatory closing time of 22:00 (since changed to midnight) for bars, many continued partying at impromptu after-hour gatherings in public spaces, defying curfew and social distancing regulations. With the Donaukanal, Maria-Theresien-Platz and Karlsplatz particularly popular, the latter saw things come to a head in the early hours of June 5, which saw officers in full riot gear swarm Resselpark to break up an illegal gathering, which resulted in numerous bottles being thrown, 60 people charged and 8 officers injured. On the following day, the police department temporarily restricted access to the park, warning that those who enter after 19:00 risk a fine of €1,000 or four weeks in prison.  

The police were widely criticized for their heavy-handed approach, facing allegations of escalating the situation through excessive force, including the use of pepper spray. The incident gave new urgency to the plight of young people in the pandemic age, with deputy mayor Christoph Wiederkehr convening a round table between city officials, youth organizations and the police department the following Tuesday to find peaceful resolutions for the future. “We have come to an agreement that in the future, there should be awareness teams in public spaces,” Wiederkehr announced afterward, outlining that there will be three teams consisting of four people making the rounds at popular spots from 19:00-4:00 to prevent escalation. Furthermore, the city will add additional offerings to their upcoming Kultursommer, including club events conceived alongside popular organizers. 

Wiederkehr also made a public plea for reopening nightclubs with appropriate safety measures in place. “Only that will satisfy the need for free space and mobility,” he added. Convinced that there is no other way to resolve the situation, he also appealed to the federal government to loosen the curfew. Wiederkehr’s pleas have since been answered: In light of positive developments in the fight against the pandemic, Chancellor Kurz and Health Minister Mückstein announced today that the curfew will fall entirely effective July 1, allowing clubs to reopen under current 3-G rules, alongside several other looser restrictions. 

The Kids Aren’t All Right

Club owners have stated that they are more than ready to take on the task, as many have already devised their own safety concepts necessary for reopening. “I believe that clubs are the solution for this problem. We check our visitors before they enter,” the chairman of the association of Austrian club owners, Stefan Ratzenberger pointed out.

The younger generation has been disproportionately affected by the restricted interactions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, as social life plays a bigger role and fulfils different functions than with among other age groups. Losing a year in this developmental stage is “a very distinct type of loss,” said psychologist Cornelia Ehmayer-Rosinak.

Many young people have expressed frustration in the last few months, citing that they felt their needs had been overlooked during the crisis. While least likely to have a serious infection, they nevertheless had to remain home to not endanger more vulnerable groups, and tend to be last in line for vaccination, ensuring that restrictions will affect them longer than others. 

Several recent studies have been published that show a deep sense of discontent and numerous psychological problems among adolescents. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), mental anguish has increased across the board since the pandemic began, but especially among the age group 18-30.  

According to Ehmayer-Rosinak, the younger generation has developed a new and distinct relationship with public spaces that will not change anytime soon. With the curfew being loosened and a possible reopening of nightlife on the horizon, the draw of public spaces may lose some of its allure, but their appeal is here to stay.

Family Matters – Austria’s Generous Support for Expectant Mothers and New Parents

In 2019, my partner and I were delighted to discover that we were expecting a baby. In amongst the medical check-ups, conversations about names and regular calls to friends and family, I realized that I needed to understand the available provision for leave and associated financial support to help adjust for life as a family.

What I thought would be relatively straightforward turned out to be more complex than I anticipated. What follows is an overview of our experience as a family insured by the Österreichische Gesundheitskasse (ÖGK), which may be helpful to those who are new to the subject.

The key instruments of family income support in Austria are the benefits paid out by the Familienlastenausgleichsfonds (Family Burden Equalisation Fund, often referred to by the “FLAF” acronym). This is managed by the Austrian Finance Ministry to at least partially compensate families for the additional cost of children. The FLAF is funded through a mix of an employer contribution and general tax revenue.

Legal entitlements of employees are primarily intended to ensure that raising a family and employment are reasonably compatible. The Mutterschutzgesetz (Maternity Protection Act) comes into effect as soon as an employer has been informed about a pregnancy. Under the program, expectant mothers are not allowed to work beyond the eighth week prior to the expected delivery date and eight weeks post-partum (times that may be extended under certain circumstances). This period is known as Mutterschutz.

During her Mutterschutz, my partner received Wochengeld (weekly financial support) from the ÖGK as defined in the Allgemeines Sozialversicherungsgesetz  (General Social Insurance  Act). Post-birth, she made an application for Familienbeihilfe (Family Allowance), a monthly payment designed to help cover essentials such a food, medicine, baby products etc. As long as the stated conditions continue to be met, this payment continues until the child is 18 and, potentially, through university up to the age of 26. 

My partner made her application for Family Allowance using the finanzonline website. Each tax-payer who draws Family Allowance is also entitled to a child tax credit. This is paid together with the family allowance and does not require a separate application.

I also wanted to spend time together as a family in the months following the birth, and so I investigated the options available. If I took a Papamonat – a month of unpaid leave arranged with my employer – there would be the possibility of a Family Time Bonus, allowing me to temporarily stop work and dedicate myself exclusively to the family. 

I gathered the necessary documentation and, with the help of a colleague in HR, prepared the necessary paperwork from my employer and submitted these, along with the other documents, to my health insurer, the ÖGK. This was possible either by downloading a form directly from the www.meinesv.at or www.finanzonline.at websites.

With the near-term now organised, our thoughts began to turn to the coming year. Following the Mutterschutz, parental leave is governed by the Maternity Protection and Paternity Leave Acts (Väterkarenzgesetz). Parents may freely decide which of them will claim the leave. There are various permutations on how leave may be shared, but, as a family, what worked for us was for my partner to take leave until our baby was one year old and then for me to take two months following this, until our baby reached fourteen months of age.

During periods of parental leave, which were unpaid by our employers, both my partner and I applied for financial assistance through the federal Kinderbetreuungsgeld (Child Care Allowance). Eligibility and the amount of support depend on a number of factors, including approval for the Family Allowance, with various payment options/models. Please note: Unpaid leave and the provisions for financial support come under separate acts, so be sure to check your eligibility for each before making your final decisions.

Once my partner had confirmed her leave with her employer (Mutterkarenz), she made her application for the Child Care Allowance on the finanzonline website. I followed some months later, once I had made arrangements for work leave (Väterkarenz) and obtained the required documents.

I must say here that the entitlement to leave and financial support has been extremely welcome and I am very grateful to the Austrian state for making this provision available. 

In assessing what would be best for your situation, I would recommend:

  • Do your own research: Review your employer’s intranet pages, speak to HR and search the web. 
  • There is flexibility in how leave may be shared and the timeframes in which it may be used. Take time to consider what is best for you and your family. While the experiences of others can be helpful, eligibility and individual circumstances may mean that you choose something different.
  • The eligibility conditions, application forms and request for documents can be complex. Speak to your employer as soon as reasonably practicable to obtain the required documentation and apply promptly to minimize the possibility of delay.
  • Be aware that taking leave may affect your annual leave accrual and have an impact on your 13th and/or 14th salaries. Discuss this matter with your employer’s HR team.
  • And most important, best wishes to you and your family!

Useful Links:

In German and English:

Maternity Protection Act –https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/Erv/ERV_1979_221/ERV_1979_221.pdf

Paternity Leave Act – https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/Erv/ERV_1989_651/ERV_1989_651.pdf

In German:

Familienlastenausgleichsgesetz – https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=10008220

Allgemeines Sozialversicherungsgesetz  – https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=10008147

Familienzeitbonusgesetz – https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20009586

Kinderbetreuungsgeldgesetz – https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung.wxe?Abfrage=Bundesnormen&Gesetzesnummer=20001474

Information about Parental Leave: https://wien.arbeiterkammer.at/meinesituation/Ich_bekomme_ein_Kind.html

Detailed brochure about Parental Leave: https://wien.arbeiterkammer.at/service/broschueren/berufundfamilie/Mutterschutz_rg_bf.pdf

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Since social distancing measures went into effect, car sharing has seen an immense boost in popularity. But it’s not without its downsides – you can’t always count on a car to be available when you need it, taking it for longer trips can get expensive, and you often find them dirty, smelly and with trash left behind. Enter vibe, the new fully electric car subscription service that’s bridging the gap between car sharing and ownership.

Win a road trip with vibe and LOISIUM

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How vibe works

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Subscriptions have revolutionized the way we consume things. Like Netflix and Spotify, vibe gives you access to your own car for as long and as much as you need it. The minimum subscription period is six months. After that, you can renew, get a different car, or simply cancel. They offer a wide variety of models for all individual needs, from a practical Smart convertible to a state-of-the-art Tesla. Their five tier model offers all major brands. Plans start at as little as €339 a month, no down payments or hidden fees, and 15,000 km per year are included.

E-mobility: The future of driving

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Join the e-mobility revolution and improve your carbon footprint

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Word of the Week: wuzeln [ˈvuːt͡sl̩n]

Verb. To move in a twisting or rotating fashion. Orig. unclear, but presumably onomatopoeia. In practice, this root meaning has three derivatives in common parlance: 1. To maneuver by twisting and turning, usually through a crowd (Er hat sich durch das Gedränge gewuzelt – he moved through the jostling masses). 2. To roll a cigarette (Er wuzelte sich eine Tschick – he rolled a cig). 3. To play foosball (table soccer) – as the game consists entirely of rotating rods with football player figures attached in an attempt to shoot the ball into your opponent’s goal, the name is fitting. With tables frequently found in student dives and Gasthäuser throughout the country, wuzeln remains a popular pastime, with many establishments holding regular tournaments. A Wuzzler is therefore a foosball table – not to be confused with a Wurlitzer, a manufacturer fairground and theaterorgans and later jukeboxes which became a genericized name for the latter in Austria and Germany.

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!

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 was 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