A Train Makes Waves

On May 10, Viennese passers-by on the Danube got to witness an unusual spectacle: Around noon, the cargo ship “Amare” passed on its way from Basel to Bratislava, with 12 bright red wagons on board. They were components of the Waldenburgerbahn (Waldenburg Railway), a Swiss narrow-gauge train which is now on the last leg of its long journey to its new home in Slovakia.

©Bernd Kudla

Until recently, the 750-mm-gauge railway ran between the small Swiss towns of Liestal and Waldenburg near Basel. Built back in the 1980s, the train was a favourite among rail enthusiasts – but the time has come to say goodbye. The narrowest railroad in Switzerland had its last outing on Easter Monday as the line is about to undergo reconstruction that will connect it to Basel’s public transport network by 2022.

Next Stop: Čierny Balog

While modernisation put an end to the Waldenburgerbahn’s 140-year history, the electric train itself is getting a second life some 900 kilometres away in the heart of Slovakia: The railway company ČHZ (Slovakian Forest Railway) purchased 17 wagons, which will be put into service along the tracks of the Čierny Hron Forestry Railway. Running 16 kilometers through the Slovakian Ore Mountains, the route has a particular quirk lying on its route: In the town of Čierny Balog, the tracks run through a soccer stadium, dividing the playing field and running in front of the grand stand. No wonder this heritage railway route is a well-liked tourist attraction in the region, carrying 70,000 passengers a year. However, ČHZ plans to electrify the historic line by 2025 and use it for local public transport – a project where the retired Swiss carriages play a central role. 

The wagons are being loaded onto the Amare./(C) Baselland Transport

Continuing the Legacy

It was a worthwhile deal for ČHZ, which acquired the rolling stock for €76,000, a fraction of the cost of a new acquisition. Interest in the wagons was high, as the head office of Baselland Transport (BLT), the Swiss operator of the Waldenburgerbahn, told Metropole. Offers came from Germany, Austria, Romania and even Madagascar, but in the end, the Slovakian proposal was the most convincing as it included concrete plans as to how the vintage train would be used. BLT emphasised that “it was important to us that the vehicles would run again as soon as possible.”

On the journey to their new route, the railroad cars crossed a large part of Central Europe: Stowed on the cargo ships “Amare” and “Quinto,” they left Basel on the Rhine, then continued along the Main and finally the Danube, passing Linz and Vienna before reaching their final destination, Bratislava. From there, the carriages were hauled on land to Čierny Balog. Shipments such as this are made possible by the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, a waterway connecting the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean with the Black Sea that measures 171 kilometres. 

Those who weren’t lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the unconventional transport might just plan a trip to Čierny Balog, where the “new” Swiss-Slovakian train will presumably roll in 2025.

6 Best Places to Visit in Bulgaria

Sofia | СОФИЯ

Bulgaria is a home of legends and myths, stories of past centuries, monuments of battles lost and won that paint the landscape with a distinctive pigment, preserved in its own time capsule. Without a red thread to guide you through, it is easy to get lost. But in fact this is the exact moment when you can fully immerse yourself into a new experience. 

Living in various places abroad over the last few years, I have formed a stronger bond to Sofia, my hometown. If I have to choose where to start, it would be with the memory of Sofiiska banitza, the bakery (banicharnitza) in the neighbourhood Nadejda (Hope). There are many bakeries in Sofia, but none is like the one you pass by everyday on your way to school, with the smell of melting white cheese and the heat of the oven blowing in your face. The paper that it is wrapped in soaks up in grease and you try to bite through the crust without burning your tongue.

Unforgettable too is the spirit of the Sofian parks and the spontaneous ‘bench parties’ that vanish as quickly as they begin. In the middle of Sofia is Kristal, an emblematic garden, named after the once famous restaurant ‘Kristal’, which was the favourite place of the aristocracy in the 80s and 90s. Today, people gather to socialize with friends or strangers, play chess, listen to music and celebrate until the early hours in the morning.

Klek (squatting) shops were the first privately-owned enterprises after the fall of communism. A klek shop is someone’s basement with a window at the level of the street, where you could buy snacks, drinks, cigarettes or newspapers./(C) Joro Nikolow

If you have more time, you could run to the nearest klek (squatting) shop. These were the first privately-owned enterprises after the fall of communism. A klek shop is someone’s basement with a window at the level of the street, where you could buy snacks, drinks, cigarettes or newspapers. The exchange that happens between the seller and the customer in these shops is something extraordinary and humbling. To purchase something you need to kneel down and literally peep inside, into a different view, one of shoes, legs and dogs. Although klek shops are a reminder of a past time, they are certainly not outdated, and serve as monuments of the need for transition and new perspectives.

Public baths in Sofia have existed since at least the 16th century. Jeleznica, located in the outskirts of Sofia, is a mineral hot spring. When you arrive there, you can go hiking and discover the hot geysers. The water is believed to be rejuvenating, helping to relieve stress and even skin diseases.

Rila Mountain | РИЛА

Rila Mountian/(C) Wikimedia Commons

Bulgaria also offers fascinating nature preserves, such as the Rila mountain and its seven lakes – one of the most breathtaking natural settings on the Balkan Peninsula. Every year on August 19, the Universal White Brotherhood, also called the Danovists, gather to celebrate the New Year, the day when the energy flow is most powerful and healing. The Danovists perform a special ritual, dancing in unison and forming large concentric circles – paneurhythms. Hundreds of people gather on this day dressed in white. The ritual takes place on the Molitveniq Hulm (Prayer Hill), reaching its peak at dawn. It is believed that the first rays of the sun charge the dancers with spiritual energy and health for the upcoming year.

Plovdiv/(C) Unsplash

Plovdiv | ПЛОВДИВ

Roman theatre of Philippopolis in Plovdiv/(C) Wikimedia Commons

Next stop is at the heart of the country, Plovdiv, best reached from the end station of the Sofia metro line and then by hitchhike, as people are extremely friendly. Plovdiv is not only the second-largest city in Bulgaria, but also the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, the 2019 European Cultural Capital. While in Plovdiv, I recommend a stroll among the narrow streets of Kapana (“the trap”), a former center of trading and craftsmanship and today a very hip neighbourhood. Kapana is full with small artist ateliés, galleries and hang-outs. Take a break at the Art News Cafe situated at Otets Paisii, the alternative street of Plovdiv. Right next to it is FLUCA: The Austrian Cultural Pavilion, hosting regular cultural events.

Ruse/(C) Unsplash

Ruse | РУСЕ

Moving to the Northern border to the Danube, we arrive at Ruse, also called the “little Vienna” of Bulgaria, because of its architectural similarities to the Austrian capital. This is the birthplace of Elias Canetti, the 1961 Nobel Laureate. In his 1977 memoir The Tongue Set Free, he describes the town, where “every day, you could hear seven or eight languages. There were Bulgarians, Turks, Greek, Albanians, Armenians and Romas, together with two groups of Jews, the Sephardim who spoke Ladino and the Ashkenazim.”

Rose Valley | PОЗОВА ДОЛИНА

Rose Valley/(C) Wikimedia Commons

The Rose Valley is located south of the Balkan mountain and north of Sarnena Sredna Gora. There is the home of the famous Bulgarian oil-bearing rose – Rosa Damascena.

Every year, on the last Saturday of May, Karlovo organizes its Rose Festival, where the colorful embroidered skirts and shirts of the rosepickers merge with the colors of the rose bushes, and the clear blue sky resonates with whistling and the melodies of folk songs.

Nestinarstvo | НЕСТИНАРСТВО

Nestinarstvo is the fire-walking festival, practiced in the village Bulgari./(C) Wikimedia Commons

Another exceptional event on the night between June 3-4 is the fire-walking festival, Nestinarstvo, practiced in the village Bulgari. It is an ancient tradition originating in the Tracian worship of the Sun God.  After the arrival of christianity, it became a celebration of the saints Costantine and Helen. Villagers gather around the fire to watch dancers, nestinari, who bravely step barefoot on burning embers. Once the title nestinar was passed on from mother to daughter, nowadays they are chosen by saints. During the ritual some fall into a trance and are said to predict the future. 

And to finish it all off, travel with a time machine back to the 70’s, and find your way to Camping Kiten, where you can have a drink and a chat with Polly, the owner of Vesel Bar (Happy Bar). Forever young.

All You Need to Know About Austria’s Green Pass

The key to Austria’s grand reopening on May 19, the so-called “Green Pass” is designed to simplify access to facilities and businesses previously off limits due to the risk of infection by providing evidence of a negative COVID test, full immunization, or recovery via a simple smartphone app or a physical ID.

Inspired by a similar system implemented by Israel, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz championed the notion of an EU-wide digital COVID certificate during an EU summit in February alongside states like Greece and Portugal. And while Brussels aims to have the system go live by July, Austria has resolved to introduce their version early, positioning itself as a “pioneer” on the international stage. 

The national Green Pass rollout will occur in three phases: 

From May 19 until the introduction of digital certificates, previous documents such as a negative COVID test, proof of recent recovery from an infection, or a completed vaccine record will be sufficient for entering cultural institutions, eateries, and sports facilities. Antigen tests (valid for 48 hours), PCR tests (valid for 72 hours), or self-tests (valid for 24 hours) are permitted. Children can use tests carried out at their school. Results are typically sent via e-mail and text; you can also print them out directly at testing sites. Proof of vaccination – valid 22 days after the first jab and up to nine months after the second – can be downloaded directly from the electronic vaccine portal. Alternatively, general practitioners or municipal offices can also issue printed certificates. Evidence of recovery can be requested via e-mail or post.

Beginning in June, the Green Pass will transition to a QR code either as an app or a paper ID – however, it will be valid only within Austria. The certificate will be downloadable from gesundheit.gv.at with mobile phone signature or Bürgerkarte (citizen card). While the exact details of the QR code are still being hashed out, the federal government has promised it will be compliant with European data protection laws. 

The final phase is set to start at the end of June, with the European Union projected to introduce a digital certificate valid for the entire bloc as well as in the EEA area and Switzerland, with each country deciding for themselves what simplifications that will bring.

A Rocky Road to Greenlighting

Data privacy activists, however, were initially skeptical. The government’s original plan relied on everyone from hairdressers to concert organizers scanning the 20-digit code, name, and date of birth printed on the back of e-cards to verify a person’s status. They would then run the information through the so-called “Green Check” app, which would have lit up either green or red to signal admission.  

However, the NGO epicenter.works warned that this would pose significant security risks: As the first ten code digits printed on e-cards are always the same, hackers could simply try combinations for the remaining numbers via brute force attack, potentially gaining access to the private medical data of millions of Austrians. In addition, attackers could take photos during entry checks, opening the door to stalking and blackmail.   

Furthermore, experts argued that the plan to utilize a central server essentially amounted to people tracking. During entry checks, operators would have logged who, when and where someone was requesting admission, making it easy to create movement profiles of users. The Austrian Medical Association and the Chamber of Commerce voiced similar concerns and this concept has since been scrapped.

In general, most experts approve of the QR code concept that replaced proposal to use e-cards, but some criticize its temporary nature. With the EU introducing its own system just a few weeks later, epicenter.works has called the Austrian version an “obvious PR effect” for Kurz. 

However, the EU has assured that mutual interfaces between national systems will be created. Thus, the Austrian QR code will eventually be readable at every border, enabling free travel across Europe.  

Word of the Week: (sich) genieren [ʒeˈniːʁən]

Verb. To feel embarrassed or ashamed. Always used reflexively, e.g. Ich genier mich (I’m embarrassed). Orig. from the French gêner (to bother or disturb); so roughly speaking, you’re bothering yourself – a fitting description for the flushed faces and discomfort that go hand-in-hand with the feeling. In use since the 18th century, it’s unsurprising that humiliation is, as it were, a French thing in Vienna – it was the language of the court and among the upper classes, public embarrassment was akin to social suicide. As in all Catholic countries, in Austria, shame is of course an effective social engineering tool, so expressions like Der hot ka Genierer (He has no shame) are used appreciatively nearly as often as they are disparagingly, voicing admiration for someone rising above the petty bourgeois sensibilities of their neighbors. On the other hand , it could be emphasizing that someone is an inconsiderate boor. As always, context is key!

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

“Vaccines for All” Campaign Calls for Fair Global Distribution

While many of us are eagerly awaiting our shot, it’s easy to forget that when it comes to global vaccine distribution, not all countries are created equal – almost half of all doses go to high-income countries which make up only 16% of the world’s population. According to data from the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, the EU has ordered enough to vaccinate its population 2.7 times over, while the African Union can only vaccinate 38% of its people; in India, this number drops to a staggering 4%.

With the slogan “No one is free until everyone is free,” the fundraiser Go Give One draws attention to the fact that overcoming the pandemic will require global immunity. Launched by the WHO foundation, the campaign seeks to give countries unable to purchase enough doses equal access to Covid-19 vaccines, aiming to mobilize 50 million people worldwide in an effort to close the vaccination gap between higher- and lower-income countries.

To achieve this, Go Give One is asking those willing to help to donate single or multiple doses, which come at as little as €6 a jab. Supporters can either make one-time donations or sign up for a monthly scheme – for example, buying 5 doses for €30 or 10 for €60. 

All proceeds go toward COVAX (Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access), a joint initiative co-led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the Vaccine Alliance Gavi, with UNICEF as a key partner. The goal is ambitious: COVAX hopes to distribute about 1.7 billion doses by the end of this year, enabling immunization of at least 20% of the population of 92 low- and middle-income countries.

While every bit helps, the vaccine-sharing scheme is largely carried by nations contributing as soon as they cover their own needs – as one of COVAX’s 190 member states, Austria has pledged €2.4 million. So far, COVAX has provided more than 49 million doses, but rollout has struggled recently due to delivery problems and the sweeping surge in India.

Finally getting the long-awaited shot is a highly emotional moment for many. But instead of simply jumping for joy, Go Give One reminds us to not take it for granted and see the bigger picture – fairer vaccine distribution benefits us all.

Meet Miglena Hofer & Severina Ditzov, the Founders of Austria for Beginners

by Ekaterina Georgieva & Mariya Tsaneva

“That’s when I ‘proposed’ to Miglena,” Ditzov recounts, laughing. Well, not that kind of “proposal.” She was already informally giving legal advice to help Bulgarians deal with everyday life in Vienna. Hofer was part of an organization for families abroad, helping mothers to cope with parenthood and Austrian administration. The two friends decided to join forces. And in 2016, they set up the non-profit organization Austria for Beginners.

“At first, we thought it would just be a side project, as we had other commitments,” Hofer remembered. But everything happened very quickly. In just three or four months, their phones started to ring around the clock. While there were Bulgarian consultants in Vienna, they discovered, there were no Bulgarian lawyers, and public legal aid was difficult to access. A lot of people needed their help.

Today Austria for Beginners is open to the entire international community in Vienna, committed to easing the integration process of foreigners and those with a migrant background, by ensuring that they are well informed about their rights and know how the administrative processes work in Austria. Through their practice, they meet “a lot of intelligent people from all over the world who cannot use their skills here,” Hofer said. Foreigners often have difficulties with legislation and language, so “for many of them, the way is not to be hired as employees, but to start on their own by using their skills.”

Hofer and Ditzov decided “to give a home to all these people.” In 2019, they founded the Collaboratory Co-Working and Events Space where international people can share their professional knowledge. “We help people feel local in Vienna,” says Hofer.

This is also the only co-working place in Vienna that allows parents to bring their children to work. Both of them are mothers and they understood the importance of a place where they could work and still be with their children. “As a foreigner,” Hofer said, “it is easier to do something on your own than to try to get hired.”

In Vienna, the two young mothers found new possibilities and the freedom to experiment. “Legal education in Bulgaria gives you a very specific plan for your professional life,” Ditkov said. “When I moved here, I met other people who gave me a different vision”

May Day Protest Turns Violent as Protesters and Police Clash at Votivpark

A protest turned ugly on Saturday, May 1st, as tensions flared between demonstrators and riot police at the Votivpark near the University of Vienna, resulting in 12 arrests and over 450 people charged as well as seven officers and roughly 50 protesters injured. According to the organizers, the Österreichische Hochschüler_innenschaft der Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (the student council of Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts), the situation escalated when two activists climbed up the scaffold on Votivkirche to attach a banner; the police maintain they were reacting to several hundred violent protestors who attacked them with beer bottles and -cans. Metropole’s Daniel Harper was on the scene. 

(C) Daniel Harper

The march began around Ottakringer station at midday with hundreds in attendence all wearing protective masks, making their way through the city toward the Votivkirche where a series of speeches would be held at Sigmund-Freud Park.

Chants and causes were numerous – some denounced unfair labour laws for sex workers with signs reading, “Sex work is real work!” while others spoke out against domestic violence and others still promoted Black Lives Matter.

From black-clad members of Antifa carrying megaphones and flares to university students with signs, more and more people joined the march as it progressed.

(C) Daniel Harper

By 13:00, thousands were making their way through the city, stopping traffic through Ottakringer Straße and attracting the attention of passers-by and residents who peered out their windows. Eventually, the crowd reached Josefstädter Straße where red banners were draped on the U6.

(C) Daniel Harper

Upon arrival at Sigmund-Freud Park, demonstrators were met by police in riot gear, who had established a perimeter of vans in front of the Votivkirche and deployed in small groups around the park. 

Violence erupted after a photographer who had climbed onto a car to take a picture was detained, which in turn led to altercations between protestors and the police. 

Once things turned violent, officers promptly utilized pepper spray and began arresting several people, with excessive force witnessed by several demonstrators. 

(C) Daniel Harper

The police eventually regrouped, with protestors forming human chains in front of them. Some put up their hands to demonstrate peacefulness and tried to communicate.

“Why are you doing this?”, one woman asked, “We are all Austrians, we are all human beings!” 

Eventually the police withdrew, forming a line around the periphery of the park. Many demonstrators left, while individual officers asked demanded to see IDs and enforced COVID safety measures. 

One Iraqi migrant joked, “I don’t need to go to the gym as the police gave me a good full body work out already.”

As the crowd slowly dispersed, some headed toward the police station on the corner of Berggasse to wait for friends to be released. 

Many waited at Oskar-Morgenstern-Platz, where detainees would be slowly released one by one over the next hours, with the crowd erupting in applause each time.

By 2:00 in the morning, many were still waiting. 

“My relationship with the police has been altered, for sure,” one demonstrator exclaimed. “I tried opening a dialogue about why this happened, but he was fixed in his position.” 

Vienna wasn’t alone in this however: This year’s Labor Day saw over 200 people detained in Istanbul, while 34 were arrested in Paris. Many protests in major cities across the world also ended in incarceration, violence and a lack of communication. 

What started out as a peaceful march devolved into arrests, beatings and violence, leaving many to ask, “why did this happen?”

5 New Vienna Hot Spots to Track Down Post-Lockdown

With Vienna’s 24-hour curfew lifted and a general reopening scheduled for May 19, Vienna is slowly awakening from hibernation – and aside from old favorites awaiting our return and Kaffeehaus waiters practicing their infamous eyerolls, several new attractions await those venturing back into the city center. Here are 5 upcoming or recently opened events and hotspots you may have missed while socially distancing at home!

A Whale at the MQ

Opening today at the MQ’s main courtyard, Salzburg-born artist Mathias Gmachtl’s Echoes – a voice from uncharted waters is an installation in the form of an 17-meter-long whale, a 5-ton wake-up call raising awareness for the extinction of life underwater wrought in steel. Created over 12 months in cooperation with several marine biologists, the colorful sculpture uses sensors to better demonstrate the danger of noise pollution to species that rely on sound for communication and echolocation: if visitors get too close, the lighting dims and whale songs emanating from the sculpture gradually grow quiet before disappearing completely. See it until June 11, when the installation moves on to Lugano and Montreal!

7., Museumsplatz

mqw.at

HERE at the Secession/(C) Maria Hassabi

The Wiener Festwochen Become the Wiener Festmonate

The Wooster Group/(C) Elizabeth LeCompete

After COVID-19 forced a smaller line-up and a delay until last year, Vienna’s premier culture festival is back for its 70th anniversary with numerous (pandemic measure compliant) concerts, plays, exhibits and multi-disciplinary performances and happenings by local and internationally renowned artists. With events spaced out from May to November rather than over a few weeks as usual, highlights include New York-based The Wooster Group’s (pictured) version of Brecht’s The Mother, British playwright Alexander Zeldin’s trilogy The Inequalities and the Festwochen’s traditional opening concert – broadcast live on ORF2 and 3sat without an audience. The festivities commence next week, starting with Maria Hassabi’s performance art piece Here at the Secession – free entry on the first day!

Various locations

festwochen.at

(C) Colin Cyruz

Matto de Pizza Is Mad About the Pie 

(C) Colin Cyruz

Opening in late March, this new artisanal pizza bar is already a runaway hit, boasting long waiting lines for takeaway even during lockdown. Right next to the popular Tuchlauben Eissalon, it’s easy to understand the buzz: their dough is made of three different types of Italian flour and kneaded for 48 hours to achieve optimum consistency, and topped with authentic gourmet fare like Salame Napoli, Mortadella, bufala, Amalfi lemons and many more. Particularly popular is their pizza mortazza – fior di latte, provolone, mortadella, artichoke cream and topped off with roasted pistachios. The best part: they sell by the slice, so just order several if you’re indecisive!

1., Tuchlauben 19

(current opening hours)
Tue-Fri 12:00-15:00
Sat 12:00-16:00

0665 65 64 27 00

mattodepizza.com

A Stairway to Heaven at Stephansdom

(C) Jenni Koller

If you haven’t been to the 1st district lately, you may be surprised to see a neon golden ladder glowing atop the south tower of Vienna’s landmark Stephansdom. A symbol of hope created by artist Billi Thanner out of aluminium, gold paint and neon lighting, the Himmelsleiter (ladder to heaven), actually begins within the cathedral, with its first 18 rungs starting at the baptistery and an additional 33 rungs going 36 meters up the tower to a height of 136 meters. Up since April 3 as a special Easter message, the Himmelsleiter will remain until Sep 30 due to popular demand – as we can all use a reminder that heaven awaits.

1., Stephansplatz

dompfarre.at

(C) AANOIR/Robert Weinzettl

Lena Hoschek Opens New Flagship Store

(C) AANOIR/Robert Weinzettl

Five years after opening her first flagship store to resounding success, Austrian fashion phenomenon Lena Hoschek has moved to new premises, carefully crafting her vision of a luxurious salon to create a singular shopping experience. Famous for her retro-chic contemporary takes on traditional Austrian floral designs, Hoschek’s extreme attention to detail extends beyond her dresses and into her interior decoration, with thoughtful details like bespoke counters, opulent wallpaper with a pomegranate motif and music playing from vintage radios. Just a few blocks away from her previous store on Goldschmiedgasse, her new location is also near her recently opened concept boutique for kid’s couture Bunny Bogart, already a favorite among hip parents. 

1., Seilergasse 16

Mon-Fri 10:00-19:00 Sat 10:00-18:00

lenahoschek.com

Austria’s Vaccination Plan Explained


Austria’s vaccination plan against COVID-19 was off to a slow start, but has massively picked up speed since. In April and May, 2021, we firmly entered phase 3 of the vaccination plan, which foresees a rollout of vaccines among the general population.

If you live in Vienna, make sure to pre-register for your vaccination under impfservice.wien or call 1450.

You can also select a risk group that may apply to you. The city will progressively open up new vaccination appointments, according to risk and age. You will be informed via email or sms when you are eligible for an appointment, or you can also check the website regularly.

If you live in another federal state, you can select the registration page that is relevant for you on the website Österreich impft.

Important Facts About Vaccination in Austria

  • Vaccination is free for everyone living in Austria.
  • All vaccines used in Austria have been vetted by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which granted them conditional approval for people aged 16+.
    • Currently, four vaccines are approved in the EU:
      • The vaccines developed by Biontech-Pfizer (Comirnaty) and Moderna (both based on mRNA technology).
      • The vaccines developed by the Oxford University & AstraZeneca and by Johnson & Johnson / Langssen (based on vector adenovirus technology).
    • The Johnson & Johnson / Langssen vaccine is administered in a one-shot regimen, all other vaccines are given in a two-shot regimen (with different waiting periods between the first and the second shot).
  • The vaccines have been tested and are considered as safe.
  • The EMA also advises on potential after effects (headache, fever for a few days) and very rare side effects of the vaccination in its regular safety updates – if you have questions, make sure to check with your general practitioner (GP) or any other health professional.
  • Vaccines in Austria will be administered by health professionals, at official vaccination sites, at doctor’s office or as part of a company vaccination plan.
  • Austria gets its vaccine doses in regular installments as part of larger EU vaccine orders.

Essential Information About the Vaccines

What’s the Current Status?

The Austrian Health Ministry has set up a vaccination dashboard on which citizens can see the progress of the vaccination plan. It is available in both English and German.

As of May 4, more than a quarter of Austria’s resident population has received at least one vaccine shot – that’s over 2.3 million people, or 31.35% of the eligible population 16+.

More than a tenth of the population has been fully immunized so far – that’s over 860,000 people, or 11.49% of the eligible population.

Statistically, every 1.8 seconds a vaccine dose is being administered in Austria.

Immunization has progressed further for the older age groups, as these are the ones most at risk from COVID-19.

So far, 3.5 million vaccine doses have been delivered to Austria via the EU vaccine program.

Deliveries are expected to ramp up massively in the next weeks and months. Austria expects another 5.5 million vaccine doses in the remainder of Q2, 2021 (i.e. in May and June). In Q3, 2021 (i.e. July to September), an additional 12 million vaccine doses are expected.

Austria’s Health Ministry also provides an overview of deliveries that took place so far and planned deliveries for the next couple of weeks from different companies.

The vaccine dashboard also shows the vaccination status of Austria’s federal states (always as percentage of the eligible population).

Note that Vienna vaccinated a significant number of people working in the capital but living in Lower Austria, which explains part of the difference in vaccination rates. Tyrol got extra deliveries from a special EU allotment to fast-track vaccinations in the district of Schwaz and contain a virus mutation spreading there.

Other federal states ought to get the vaccine doses according to their resident population and are then responsible for vaccinating their population.

The dashboard also shows daily vaccination rates and average over 7 days.

In April, the average has been a bit shy of 50,000 vaccinations a day – that’s approximately 0.56% of the population. Austrian politicians have announced that the daily vaccination rate may rise to 100,000 vaccines administered on a day in the coming weeks and months – that would be akin to vaccinating 1.1% of the population in a day.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) has promised that every resident of Austria who wants to get vaccinated will get a chance to do so “within the next 100 days.”

The government plans to open up the Austrian economy and society on May 19.

For visits of restaurants, bars, services, spas or gyms, the so-called “green pass” will be established. It should show whether one:

  • has tested negative for the coronavirus recently,
  • has had COVID-19 in the last 6 months,
  • or has already received a vaccine shot (valid as “green pass” starting three weeks after getting the first vaccine shot, when a degree of immunity should be firmly established).

The “green pass” will initially be just the term for any document confirming on of these three things above, i.e. a vaccination card, a negative test certificate or a lab confirmation of an infection. Later, a digital system with a QR code should also be established and facilitate traveling.

For more updates on the current situation, check out our daily coverage at coronavirus in Austria or have a look at our comprehensive coronavirus update page.

Stay healthy and get vaccinated when you get a chance!


News from March 15

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) updated the Austria vaccination plan on Monday, March 15, and submitted it to the federal states by decree.

The changes in the adapted vaccination plan in short:

  • Elderly and high-risk patients will be given priority.
  • The AstraZeneca vaccine will now also be used to vaccinate those over 65.
  • And those who are confirmed to have had COVID-19 in the past will only get one vaccine jab for now, as recommended by health experts.

Over 65s First

In the now starting phase 2, the priority for people over age 65 and at-risk patients takes precedence over other groups, such as contact persons of pregnant women or staff at schools, daycare center, and child care facilities. Before, the plan was to vaccinate these groups in parallel. Now, the latter will only be given a chance for their vaccine shot after “all persons over age 65 have been offered vaccination in a timely manner.”

In addition, the restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine were removed. In mid-February, the National Immunization Panel (NIG) had recommended the use of the vaccine now also for people aged over 65.

Second Shot Delayed for Some

The decree also adjusted the vaccine regulation for those who have already had COVID-19. If the COVID-19 infection was confirmed by a laboratory, it is recommended that vaccination be deferred for 6-8 months and then, according to current knowledge, only one dose be administered. If laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection occurs between the first and second doses, the second dose should be deferred for 6-8 months.

Now a Binding Guideline

Anschober reiterated Monday that rapid vaccination of the increasing supply of vaccines in the coming months will be “crucial.”

Media outlets reported that more than 300,000 vaccine doses are currently waiting on shelves as of mid-March, compared to a bit over 1 million doses administered so far. This is about 23% of the total supply of vaccines that Austria received.

In order to speed up vaccinations, a new decree is to go to the federal states shortly. The national vaccination plan is a binding guideline for all places administering the vaccine in Austria. It gives instructions on the sequence of vaccinations up to the summer based on the promised delivery quantities and delivery dates. Health Minister Anschober last updated it in mid-February.

The new decrees* were deemed necessary both due to new information on the vaccine situation and due to increasing calls to unify Austrian vaccination efforts, whose details have been largely left to the federal states up to now. This may now be changing.


*A decree is an administrative order, in this case of the Minister of Health, to the subordinate organ administrators, in this case, the governors of federal states, who are bound by instructions of the responsible federal minister. By virtue of instructions, these contain a binding interpretation of laws or ordinances or also instructions as to the specific manner in which the execution of a law or ordinance is to be carried out.

“Bierwirt” Charged with Murdering Ex-Partner, Spurring Renewed Calls to Protect Women from Violence

It was just another quiet Thursday night in Brigittenau’s Winarskyhof when, suddenly, a 42-year-old man rushed into the Gemeindewohnung of his partner, a 35-year-old nurse, and gunned her down, shooting her in the foot and head. The woman’s 13-year-old daughter just barely escaped by fleeing the apartment; a visiting neighbor witnessed the crime.  

A 42-year old man broke into his former partner’s Gemeindewohnung in Briggentau’s Winarskyhof and gunned her down./(C) Wikimedia Commons

When the police arrive around 20:00, they found the suspect lying shirtless on a bench in the courtyard, intoxicated and unconscious; he had reportedly downed a bottle of vodka shortly after the deed. His handgun, which another resident had knocked out of his hands earlier, lay just a few meters away. The suspect was taken into custody Friday morning and hospitalized on Monday. He had reportedly threatened another individual from the woman’s immediate surroundings last week. This was not reported at the time, so the law enforcement authorities initially had no knowledge of it, said Nina Bussek, the spokeswoman for the Vienna Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Already the ninth murder of a woman by a current or former partner this year, this sad but all-too-familiar tale has an ugly twist: The suspect is none other than the so-called Bierwirt, the plaintiff in a multi-year sexual harassment case involving Green party head Sigrid Maurer. 

While the police initially spoke of a “42-year-old Austrian citizen” over data privacy concerns, numerous sources, including the suspect’s personal lawyer, have since confirmed his identity as Albert Lastufka, a.k.a. the Bierwirt, who achieved nationwide infamy after sending Maurer sexually demeaning Facebook messages in 2018, then suing her for defamation after she posted the messages on Twitter, claiming he never wrote them. A court initially ruled in his favor, but the verdict was eventually overturned. A year later, new evidence – a confession allegedly written by a certain “Willi,” who Lastufka claimed is a regular at his bar – emerged;  however, “Willi” first excused himself due to illness, then flatly denied any involvement when he did take the stand. The Bierwirt unexpectedly withdrew his charges, marking the end of the lawsuit. 

Sigrid Maurer was “shocked” after hearing about the incident. (C) Wikimedia Commons

Maurer expressed “shock” after hearing about the incident. However, she refused to reveal her personal feelings or comment on the case. 

“Yesterday the ninth woman this year was murdered by her ex-partner. Every woman killed is one too many. Every injured woman is one too many,” Maurer wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “I am personally shocked that the perpetrator is apparently the Bierwirt, but that is irrelevant in the matter. To clarify: of course, the presumption of innocence applies, so far there is only one suspicion.”

A Dire Record 

As the only state in the European Union where more women than men are victims of crimes, Austria’s high number of femicides is shocking but nothing new, with 31 women murdered by their partner last year. 

In 2018, Austria recorded a record high 41 femicides, prompting the Interior Ministry to appoint a special commission to investigate the matter. The results were sobering: In each homicide committed during a relationship, the victim was female. In 47% of the cases, the crime was committed after the relationship had ended. An entry ban had been imposed on the ex-partner 44% of the time, and in 16% of the cases, several bans existed. Breakups and unemployment were identified as the biggest contributing factors, closely followed by alcohol or drug abuse. Half of the perpetrators were foreign nationals. 

In an interview with the daily newspaper Kurier, psychologist Reinhard Haller expressed concern over Austria’s femicides, stating that these are now occurring “differently” than several years ago: While men used to only attack “during or immediately after an argument,” they now “plan” murders and approach their victims out of “hurt vengeance.” Additionally, “small things” are enough to set perpetrators off. Haller attributes this to men being increasingly narcissistic and feeling threatened by growing female autonomy. Prominent sexist figures, such as former U.S. President Donald Trump, have set examples for such behavior, says Haller. 

In Austria, initiatives to protect females are relatively new. The first women’s safehouse opened roughly 40 years ago – in 1978. It took until 1989 for rape and violence within marriage to become a crime. Restraining orders were introduced in 1997. 

According to women’s groups, these efforts still have much room for improvement. Maria Rösslhumer, the managing director of the Association of Austrian Autonomous Women’s Shelters (AÖF) argues that the government has failed to act proactively. “Something very bad always has to happen first,” Rösslhumer told Die Presse. “It obviously takes a more or less prominent perpetrator [for the government] to act.” 

A Call to Action 

During a special summit on Monday, the federal government agreed on new measures to combat violence against women, including enhanced data sharing between authorities, better screening of potential motives, strengthening case conferences where the police, judiciary and victim protection groups exchange information as well as embedding 800 specially trained prevention officers in routine inspections. The Women’s Ministry commissioned the Bundeskriminalamt (Federal Criminal Police) to conduct a qualitative study of all homicides against women in the past decade. Furthermore, the judiciary announced it will facilitate better communication between public prosecutor’s offices and victim protection agencies. 

Moreover, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer urged women to contact the police once they feel threatened: “The murders of women this year show one thing in particular: the police were only notified in one out of a total of nine cases.” Raab seconded this, announcing a new information campaign to educate women on available resources for domestic violence victims. 

Experts are particularly optimistic about the case conferences. In a ZIB 2 interview, legal expert and psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner said that increased coordination would allow for a more comprehensive risk analysis of potential perpetrators. As a result, authorities could act more swiftly and implement steps in advance, thereby preempting fatal crimes. 

More Resources Needed 

Women’s organizations welcomed some of the government’s proposals but criticized a lack of funding, with the Wiener Interventionsstelle gegen Gewalt (Vienna Intervention Center against Violence) demanding an additional €228 million. The group claims that 3,000 additional staffers are needed to provide proper support for women and children. “We are deeply convinced that we are always working at the limit in our facility,” said member Rosa Logar in a ZIB 1 interview. “We look after over 6,000 victims, we have a counselor for 310 victims, so we can only give short-term help.”

However, it remains unclear whether women’s agencies will receive more resources. During a press conference after the meeting, Women’s Minister Susanne Raab emphasized that the annual budget has already been increased by 50% to a total of €14.65 million, and that violence protection is adequately funded. However, on Tuesday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stated that initiatives “won’t fail because of money,” with his administration ready to provide more funding if necessary. “The financial questions will resolve themselves, Kurz reassured.  

Another concern is that the new proposals still fail to safeguard threatened victims. “Unfortunately, we haven’t done everything, it’s not enough to just give a woman a phone number in the middle of the night and then leave her alone,” Rösslhumer said. “Women need personal protection when they are in a risk situation and the perpetrator is still walking around freely.” While personal protection was not on the agenda on Monday, the matter may be discussed at a roundtable with victim protection facilities planned for next week. 

Among others, the Wiener SPÖ Frauen protested against domestic violence against women on March 3./(C) Astrid Knie

Some 500 protestors gathered on Karlsplatz on Monday night, chanting “Stop femicides, you don’t kill for love” and standing in solidarity with women. The group began marching toward the Bierwirt’s establishment in the 8th district, but the police denied direct access, and the gathering dissolved on Lerchenfelderstraße.  

With domestic violence against women having only increased during the pandemic, the matter is as urgent as ever.

Click here for Metropole’s guide to mental health and domestic violence services for women.

Bulgarian Spots in Vienna

For a start, many of the stands at the iconic Naschmarkt are run by Bulgarians. It is a great convenience to those at the nearby Bulgarian Embassy (Schwindgasse 8), Bulgarian Orthodox Church and Bulgarian School (both at Kuhnplatz 7). What a better start of our Bulgarian journey than trying some typical Bulgarian food?

Café Restaurant Seasons

(C) Café Restaurant Seasons

15., Ziegelofengasse 17

On Ziegelofengasse 17, 1050 is the Café Restaurant Seasons, the only Bulgarian restaurant that has continued to deliver during the lockdowns. The owner, Roumen Petkov Savtchev, met us at the door, slightly ill at ease because of the restrictions, but the conversation soon turned warm and neighborly, and we understood why he has become a friend to almost the whole Bulgarian community in Vienna. A man with a long experience in the field, Savtchev manages to offer a menu with seasonal dishes that satisfies the nostalgic needs of his Bulgarian clientele but also presents Balkan cooking to foreigners. The most sought-after dishes are the meatballs with Bulgarian herbs, bean soup, tripe soup, breaded sheep cheese, roasted chicken liver, Shopska and Snejanka salads and, for dessert, yogurt with honey and nuts. You can always order a Banitsa or some other Bulgarian specialty in advance as the restaurant also has a catering service.

Bulgarian Products Shop Pilgram

But if you plan to cook Bulgarian dishes at home, you will definitely need a good Bulgarian shop to buy some typical products: On Pilgramgasse you will find a Bulgarian shop./(c) Danny Nedkova

5., Pilgramgasse 15

The newest Bulgarian shop in Vienna, Pilgram has won our hearts with its wise and funny advertising video and warm welcome. The young business partners Christiana Marinova and Todor Stefanov came to Vienna to study law, but went through several very difficult years. Driving a taxi to make ends meet, Stefanov had an accident, leading to a long trial, unsupported by his employer, leaving him to struggle through it alone. So he decided to work for himself, and opened the shop with Marinova in the middle of the pandemic. Their strategy was determined by the clientele in the neighborhood.

They work with small producers in Bulgaria and make fresh deliveries every week. Rather than trying to create a Balkan Oriental atmosphere, they simply present the products on well-ordered shelves, with labeling understandable even for foreigners. You can buy the original Bulgarian yogurt, Lyutenitsa, the Bulgarian white cheese (similar to feta) and kashkaval (yellow cheese), rakia (grape brandy), unique Bulgarian tomatoes but also products like martenitsa (a decoration of white and red threads, given in March for health).

A good Bulgarian table always needs the appropriate wine to complement the meal. A selection of the best Bulgarian wine producers can be found on Operngasse./(C) WeinSelekt

WeinSelekt

4., Operngasse 30

An interesting and charming place, WeinSelekt shares its second floor with a small bookstore and library affirming the everlasting love story between wine and the printed word. It is also a stage for thematic evenings with Bulgarian artists, actors and musicians, and a very useful place for picking up a present, as you can buy wine bottles labeled according to the upcoming holidays. Among the rich variety of wines, our insider tip would be the unique Mavrud, a wine made of a grape variety of the same name that grows only in the region.

Dabov Specialty Coffee

8., Josefstädter Straße 5

One of the place where you find this kind of coffee is at Dabov Specialty Coffee at Josefstädter Straße 5, 1080. The café is small but cute, and in the summer you can enjoy a table outside. Regulars enjoy the friendly atmosphere and good music, but also the stylish packages of coffee reputed to come from the best farms in Africa, Central and South America and India. We recommend their house-made cold brew!

Intervegareisen

But if you really want to learn more about Bulgaria, and you don’t want to see just the few things shown to every tourist, if you want to feel the spirit and the unique sources of Bulgarian nature and society, you will surely need an experienced and intelligent guide. Our choice goes to Intervega./(C) Wikimedia Commons

1., Tiefer Graben 9

Here, you will not find the typical kitschy brochures of sun and sand. Instead, you might be offered a visit to Rosa Valley, where you can learn about Bulgarian rose oil production, or perhaps to the breathtaking landscapes in the Rodopi Mountain, where legend tells us Orpheus was born and lived. Or perhaps most magical of all, the silent beauty of the Bulgarian Orthodox monasteries, where you can retreat from one world to find another.

Word of the Week: Schmähtandler [ʃmɛːˈtandlɐ]

Noun. A liar, swindler, or teller of tall tales. A compound noun consisting of Schmäh, a wonderfully versatile word that can mean anything from a clever remark to a playful falsehood to a certain savoir vivre; and Tandler, a somewhat archaic term for a seller of sundries or used goods, that lives on in this popular expression. The image conveyed is of a purveyor of Schmäh, selling their listeners wisecracks and unlikely stories – or even outright scamming them. The underlying implications depend largely on context: It can be used to denounce a habitual leg-puller or an actual confidence trickster, but in a city where “having Schmäh” is considered high praise, using it appreciatively is tantamount to elevating someone into the ranks of true Viennese originals. After all, the gift of gab, the ability to talk your way out of any situation with bonmots,witticisms, outlandish fabrications and superficially humorous but actually deep insights is something the great Wieners from Nestroy to Qualtinger to Häupl all had in common, and thatthe rest of us aspire to achieve.

“Der ur Schmähtandler!” (“What a teller of tall tales!”)

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

Meet Aneta Bulant-Kamenova, an Award-Winning Bulgarian Architect in Vienna

by Ekaterina Georgieva & Mariya Tsaneva

Aneta Bulant-Kamenova came to Vienna for the first time in the summer of 1969 little knowing how visit would shape her life. This is the year of a major international competition for the design of the new United Nations in Vienna – “a very important event not only politically, as Vienna was the buffer zone between the West and the East,” Bulant-Kamenova remembered, but also because of the many notable architects who took part. Together with a colleague, she decided to submit a project and applied for a visa to come to Vienna to see the site.

Aneta Bulant-Kamenova’s 1969 design for the UN helped bring her to Vienna and launch her career as an acclaimed architect./(C) Private Archive

Getting out of Bulgaria was difficult at that time but with the support from the architects association in Sofia, her application was finally approved – ironically only shortly before the project had to be submitted without some essential technical details a site-visit would have revealed (and in fact, their plan was quite similar to the Viennese UN building today).

This first visit gave her the chance to meet Anna-Lülja Simidoff Praun, a leading architect of Bulgarian-Russian descent and a family friend. Praun had been the first woman to study architecture in Graz, and was now a renowned architect and interior designer, part of the intellectual circles in Vienna, and a pioneer of postwar Austrian design.

“Her environment was at such a high level that you wanted to be part of it,” Bulant-Kamenova remembered in a recent interview. Her influence on the young architect was enormous. The two developed a strong friendship, and Praun became her mentor, introducing her to the vivid art world in Vienna, full of aristocrats, architects, and artists for and with whom she would do projects later on.

“People move abroad and emigrate for economic, political reasons…My biggest attraction,” Bulant-Kamenova said, “was the cultural exchange and the people I could be in contact with.” She became swept up in the scene, and handed herself over to this new life.

Aneta Bulant-Kamenova (C) Pajakov

Today, Bulant-Kamenova is an internationally recognized, award-winning architect who made Vienna her home of choice in 1981. Born in Sofia in 1942, she grew up as the only child in an intellectual family, where her father was a literary historian and her mother an astrophysicist, who discovered several new stars and gave her daughter a lifelong fascination with the heavens. But her family roots show deeper ties between Bulgaria and Austria, with an Austrian grandmother of the Wisoko-Meytsky family, whose sister married Hans Lauda, the grandfather of the Austrian F1 Legend, Niki Lauda.

Still fascinated by the stars, she applied and was accepted to study nuclear physics and also architecture. She chose architecture because of her close contact with a school friend whose father was an Architect. She explains that she “admired his drawings” and the stories from his student years in Italy.

The World “In Between”

Soon after arriving in Vienna, she became excited by the differences in design that both reflected, but also defined, how people lived. “The traditional houses in Austria and Western Europe, in general, are closed, perhaps because of the climate,” she explained. “So you open a door and you’re out in the field.”

In the old Bulgarian houses, the transitions were more gradual. “You have closed rooms, then a veranda, where one part has a lattice, half-closed to be seen from the inside, but not from the outside,” she said. “Then an open part of the veranda, an external staircase and then the high walls of the yard.” In Bulgaria, there were lots of stages “in between,” and living took place in all of them.

So she began putting this idea to work in a modern idiom: Elements from nature, landscapes and rural architecture are woven into Bulant-Kamenova revolutionary and elegant glass constructions.

One striking example of this are the winter gardens of the family Sailer and Denzel, sophisticated silicone-bonded glass buildings that make a smooth transition from the inner to the outer space of the house to create an outdoor room.

The Winter Garden of Sailer House – an elegant silicone-bonded glass building, smoothly connecting inner and outer space/(C) Rupert Steiner

Once in Vienna, the talent of Bulant-Kamenova didn’t stay hidden for long. Soon after, she got an offer from professor Johannes Spalt to assist him in the creation of an archive of Bulgaria

n rural house architecture. It gave her a new perspective on traditional Bulgarian houses.

“Through the eyes of the foreign architects, I got an idea about the value of the Bulgarian national Architecture,” she told Metropole. From there, she went on to collaborate with big name architects like Anton Schweighofer, Otto Steidle, Friedrich Kurrent, and others. After finishing her Dissertation, she began teaching at renowned universities as TU Vienna, TU Innsbruck and TU Berlin. She was also a visiting professor at the University of Monterrey in Mexico with Klaus Wailzer.

Curating Bulgarian Design

Bulant-Kamenova is also a co-curator of several exhibitions on Bulgarian architecture in Vienna. The last one, with Adolph Stiller at the Ringturm Gallery in 2019, presented Bulgarian architect Stefka Georgieva, a leading figure of Bulgarian Brutalist Architecture of the post-war years and yet today, nearly forgotten.

It was an important exhibition, hailed by critic Aneta Vasileva as “a chance to return and rediscover a forgotten, and for many today a totally unknown part of the history of Bulgarian architecture.” In this sense, Bulant-Kamenova in Vienna has been able to build important bridges between Bulgaria and Austria.

Here, she also met Klaus Wailzer, with whom she founded Bulant-Wailzer Architecture Studio in 1996. Their joint work brought them international awards and a name for innovative and elegant glass structures. Their aim was an architecture extremely reduced, without decorative effects, that performs its protective functions without weighing down those who live or work within them. These constructions are intended to fit harmoniously into a diverse environment and at the same time give opportunities for interactive communication with the ever-changing outdoor space.

The Lugner City Suspended Glass Bridge over the Gürtel is one of Aneta Bulant- Kamenova’s best-known designs in Vienna/(C) Rupert Steiner

Among best-known works is the Lugner City Suspended Glass Bridge, which floats over the Gürtel. Escalators lead the pedestrian coming out from the subway station through the glass construction into the restaurant lounge. The steel structure is wrapped everywhere with frameless glazing of insulating glass panels. This is the world‘s first suspension glass bridge, without any columns, hung on two steel ropes to the building of the cinema center.

A second project known to almost every Viennese is the Skywalk pedestrian and cycling bridge. Leading from the U-Bahn station Spittelau, the bridge guides the people over the complicated junction of streets to the surrounding sidewalks. The project is a light air path that opens a panoramic view of the sky and the surrounding area and at the same time fits harmoniously into the diverse environment.

Aneta Bulant-Kamenova’s career has been shaped by her natural sense of space and construction developed growing up in Bulgaria. She sees herself as a cosmopolitan, with inspiration for her works in the architectural heritage of a wider world.

“State does not matter,” she says, “Culture matters, and the character of the person.”

Up & Away: Living and Working in Vienna as a Foreigner

  • Metropole’s online workshop Up & Away provided Vienna’s international community with all the answers they’ve ever had about working and hiring as a foreigner here.
  • Relocation and immigration experts share their insights and give priceless advice.
  • Watch a recording of the event and find helpful resources for your residence status woes.

The Austrian capital is home to more than 340,000 international people from 80 nationalities – a number that is only expected to grow in the coming years. Vienna’s international community makes up a vital part of the city’s population. Their contributions range from their business and industrial savvy to the arts, culture and philanthropic endeavors. Yet, the relocation and immigration processes that allow them to come and stay in Vienna often involve giant amounts of red tape and complex documentation that isn’t designed for non-German speakers. The event Up & Away is committed to changing that.

As the voice of international Vienna, Metropole is committed to shedding light on these issues and helping in any way we can. On April 28, we hosted an online workshop in cooperation with Vienna UP’21 – the mega-event for startups, investors and talents across different industries, curated by the Vienna Business Agency – that gave the audience a chance to ask all their questions on immigration, relocation, founding a business and keeping their visa.

Business Hotspot Vienna

Vienna offers lots of fertile ground to innovative new businesses. Half of all Austrian startups are based here, which has led the city to become a vibrant hotspot for young entrepreneurs. With its Central European location, a high-powered corporate climate and myriad funding opportunities, ambitious minds are gathering from all over the globe to base their business in the world’s most livable city.

Watch the video above to get valuable insights on Vienna as a startup hotspot from Flora Miranda, an Austrian fashion designer, Travis Pittman, CEO and co-founder of Tourradar, and Miglena Hofer, CEO and co-founder of The Collaboratory, a coworking space that supports internationals in Vienna. Find out what they wish they had known before they started up and what advice they have for entrepreneurs-to-be.

Up & Away: Meet the Panelists

Vienna-based professionals gave their expert insights on immigration and relocation at Up & Away

If you plan on moving to Vienna, all roads lead through the MA35, the Municipal Department of Immigration and Citizenship, which has earned a reputation for being difficult to maneuver, especially for people who don’t speak German. Though they have vowed to improve their service, people still shudder at the thought of having to face Vienna’s notorious immigration department.

“When you go to the MA35 by yourself, you’ll have a hard time. Many of the clerks don’t speak English and the forms are very complicated,” says Angelika Brenner-Cecerle, CEO and partner at Recom Relocation and one of the panelists at Up & Away. She specializes in supporting people with the intricate process and has helped countless individuals with their residence permits. One of them Mithun Poojary, a quality assurance specialist at the Vienna-based diabetes management company Mysugr, who also joined our panel of experts. He moved to Vienna from India and enlisted the help of Brenner-Cecerle, who he says made the process incredibly smooth for him. “I only had to go to the MA35 twice, once to file for my visa, and once to pick it up.”

Rounding out the panel was Severina Ditzov, CFO and co-founder of The Collaboratory and a lawyer who dedicates a lot of her time to the NGO Austria for Beginners. With her expertise on legal issues, Ditzov was able to answer specific questions with precise detail and wowing the audience with her vast knowledge and invaluable advice. “If your initial application isn’t accepted, request a written response. Don’t just call and accept the first answer, get multiple opinions,” she advised. For further insights from the event, click on the video below to watch the panel discussion in its entirety.

Missed the Event? Catch Up on Up & Away!

As the interactions in the comments during the event proved, the immigration process can be difficult and frustrating. Vienna often gets the reputation of being unfriendly and unwelcoming, but that’s just one side of the coin. Almost 200 people joined Up & Away live and most of them were quick to engage and offer their support. That, too, is Vienna. If you ever feel discouraged or in need of support, keep in mind that there are people who have been through the process and who are more than happy to help. Below is a list of resources you can turn to for guidance and support.

Austria for Beginners

If you need help with your paperwork, resume or matters regarding the relocation of your family, Severina Ditzov and Miglena Hofer are ready to lend a helping hand – in English, German and Bulgarian.

Recom Relocation

The team at Recom Relocation has an extensive array of expertise and are prepared to support you throughout the entire process. Don’t face the MA35 alone, they know the process inside out!

The Female Factor – Limitless Conference

Women can find support for their businesses in this vibrant and empowering community of peers who are committed to bringing about a new era of leaders. Join their Limitless conference to hear from global industry forces and learn how to make it as a woman in business.

Metropole Community Members

Fellow Metropolitans have your back – and they reached out to let us know that they would like to offer their help. If you need assistance with setting up your business in Vienna, reach out to Zoran Rajkovic from the Vienna Business Agency. He’s happy to walk you through the first steps in a personal Zoom call. If you need an Austrian to lend support while you’re going through the bureaucratic process, Patrick Jaritz from Ariot is looking forward to your email.

The Vienna Survival Guide Series

Whether you’re new to Vienna or want to help a friend get settled, the Vienna Survival Guide Series is what you’ve been looking for. This comprehensive set of information lights a path in the dense forest of Austrian bureaucracy. Get answers to all your questions about health, housing, and education in Vienna, and stay tuned for The Vienna Survival Guide for Tax & Law, available in Fall 2021.

Merkel Defends Her Wirecard Lobbying Efforts in China

One of the biggest financial scandals in German history, the Wirecard affair went into its next chapter last Friday on April 23rd, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel testifying before the Bundestag about her decision to lobby on behalf of the company. Set off by the revelation in June last year that the Munich-based payment platform Wirecard had misreported its revenue and was missing €1.9 billion in funds, the former CEO of the company, Austrian entrepreneur Markus Braun, was arrested on charges of fraud, market manipulation and money-laundering while former COO Jan Marsalek evaded capture and remains at large. Embarrassed by the fact that the now-defunct Wirecard enjoyed stellar ratings and raised no alarms from fiscal authorities until the very end, the German Bundestag launched an extensive inquiry into how the former investor darling’s financial misdeeds had managed to go undetected for so long. 

The chancellor was the fourth senior government official to be questioned by the parliamentary committee since the investigation started on October 1st 2020. Asked specifically about her conversation with Chinese state officials over Wirecard’s planned acquisition of the Chinese company AllScore, Merkel called her lobbying efforts a “normal operation,” adding that the government regularly lobbied on behalf of German companies abroad. “Wirecard AG didn’t receive any special treatment,” the Chancellor stated. 

Looking back, it seems like the state visit placed the interests of Wirecard front and center, but “this is far from the truth,” Merkel said, stressing that her talks with Chinese premier Xi Jinping concerned a plethora of political issues and that representatives from Wirecard weren’t even part of the business delegation. 

“Despite the press reports, there was no reason to assume there were serious irregularities at Wirecard at the time,” Merkel concluded. 

A key point of contention was a phone conversation between Merkel and her former Defense Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who worked as a lobbyist for Wirecard in 2019:  Merkel confirmed that she indeed spoke with Guttenberg for 45 minutes shortly before her visit to China, but couldn’t recall if Wirecard had been mentioned. “For me, it is normal to accept requests for conversations from former members of my administration,” Merkel added.

A day before Merkel’s deposition, Finance Minister and head of BaFin (Germany’s financial oversight authority), Olaf Scholz, gave his own statement before the Bundestag. The Social Democratic Party’s candidate for chancellor, he announced that BaFin has been working tirelessly to strengthen its powers and implement reforms following last year’s events.  

Several opposition members on the committee were dissatisfied with the chancellor’s version of events, with Left Party member Fabio De Masi stating that Merkel’s testimony left “many open questions.” Danyal Bayaz of the German Green Party told Reuters that the fact that some allegations against Wirecard were already public at the time of Merkel’s visit needed to be thoroughly assessed. Florian Toncar of the pro-business Free Democratic Party called the chancellor’s actions “a political mistake,” adding “I think not deliberately, not intentionally, but in fact, the chancellor effectively supported the continuation of the balance sheet manipulation.”

With the Wirecard investigation currently encompassing over 300 hours of hearings, 98 deponents and hundreds of thousands of documents, the committee is scheduled to submit its final report before the Bundestag goes into summer recess in July. 

Promising Talks on Iran’s Nuclear Program Resume in Vienna

Under the chairmanship of the European Union, talks about Iran`s nuclear program began again in Vienna on April 7. These talks focus on the technical details on how to re-implement the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA), within the framework of the JCPOA Joint Commission.

The US-delegation, led by special envoy Rob Malley, is only indirectly involved in the talks. After former President Donald Trump withdrew in May 2018 from the 2015 Vienna agreement, the US has not been a member of the “Joint Commission”. Thus in addition to Iran, the talks primarily include the other five members of the UN Security Council – China, France, Russia, and the UK, plus Germany and the EU, with Enrique Mora chairing the sessions on behalf of EU High Representative Josep Borrell. 

The logistics themselves are complicated with the EU delegates conveying messages between the three locations – the Grand Hotel, the Imperial and the Intercontinental – so that the Iranian and US delegations avoid direct contact. Both Rob Malley and Iranian lead negotiator Abbas Araqchi were involved in the 2015 negotiations in Vienna, while Russia and China sent their lower ranking ambassadors to the talks.

Both sides, the US and Iran, started off with extreme positions:  The US wanted Iran to return to its original commitments, now significantly reduced since Trump’s pulling out of the agreement, before it again would lift any sanctions. Iran, on the other hand, has asked that the US lift all sanction before hand, arguing that it was the US that violated the JCPOA in the first place. Some observers had suggested that the US lift sanctions simultaneously, or step by step, with Iran’s return to its commitments. However, all the delegations soon concluded that a rigid sequencing is not feasible and rejected it.

Working Groups and Changing Goals

During the process of the talks, three working groups were established. One is looking at the sanctions related to the JCPOA; this process has been complicated by the Trump administration, who relabeled them with other concerns like “terrorism” or “human rights,” in an attempt to make it harder for any successor to remove them. Iran also wants the lifting of the sanctions to be subject to verification. 

The second group deals with Iran’s commitments, to make sure that all technical requirements are met. This is also not easy, as Iran has since installed more modern centrifuges than it had in 2015. The third group is to coordinate the results of the other two and identify ways to implement them.

Two weeks into the negotiations, Iran expanded its delegation from the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency to include experts from the Iranian Central Bank and members of the oil ministry, a clear indication of their priorities and a recognition that not all sanctions could be identified and removed at once. Iran wants access to the oil market und to invoice its sales in petrodollars. It also wants participate in the financial funds-transfer mechanism SWIFT.

Another thorny question is which year’s version of the agreement should be used as the reference point for restarting the JCPOA. Iran prefers 2017 before the heavy sanctions of the Trump-administration kicked in. The US will want to restart 2015 because the provisions that limit Iran’s nuclear program, like uranium enrichment or the number of centrifuges, would take longer to expire. On April 27 Iran drafted an agreement as a basis for further negotiations.  

On April 28 and 29, several additional bilateral and trilateral meetings took place, including one between the US and the Russian delegation – a clear sign that the talks were making progress.

A Window of Opportunity in Vienna

There have been several attempts to disrupt the negotiations. The most serious was an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in Natanz, attributed by most international but also Israeli observers to the Israeli intelligence. Iran held its fire, instead announcing it would enrich uranium to 60 percent, a step closer to the capacity needed for a nuclear weapon. The negotiations continued, as participants recognized that only an agreement – and not military action – could restrict Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, both sides appear to be taking non-public measures in good faith.

The talks in Vienna offer a window of opportunity, similar to the one in 2015 when the JCPOA was first adopted. At that time, both Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama understood that after more than a decade of failed attempts, it was a unique moment to come to an agreement.  Weeks passed as negotiations were extended time and again. 

There was a similar situation of urgency this time, as the EU, Rouhani and Biden are all aware. With Iranian elections scheduled for June, Rouhani’s successor might not be as determined.

A failure of the Vienna negotiations would have far reaching consequences. Iran would enhance its nuclear program and come closer to a nuclear weapon. This would be enough for Israel to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. It would also try to involve the US in the conflict, a request that would be hard for Biden to refuse. 

In addition, Iran would most likely increasingly limit the maneuvering room of IAEA-inspectors, and might even force them to leave. It could also threaten to leave the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The IAEA would thus lose any possibility of knowing the status of Iran’s nuclear program. And Saudi Arabia, as announced, could develop its own nuclear weapons program, or simply by a nuclear weapon from Pakistan.

The Vienna talks may offer an opportunity once again that should not be passed by.

Meet Borjana Ventzislavova, Bulgarian Artist Who Spinning on Wheels Around

Artist Borjana Ventzislavova is, in a sense, her own subject. Raised in Sophia, and reestablished in Vienna, she is a woman of many worlds, who has made a study of intercultural life and turned it into art.

Arriving in Vienna first as a child, visiting her aunt during the summer holidays to practice her German. “I never wanted to come and live in Vienna, but all paths were leading me here,” she told us. “In the mid ’90s, Sofia was in such chaos, and I was so curious. So there was only one move I could make – abroad.”

After studying Informatics in Sofia, she came to Vienna in 1996, at age 20. Here she discovered Media Art, with Peter Weiberl at the Universität für Angewandte Kunst. She was struck by the different style of education and the more open relations between students, and the students and professors. Here, at an art school, it was much more informal, not the same hierarchy.

But even though she came from a German-speaking high school in Sofia, she had some problems understanding at first, because of the dialect. “Very often I interrupted the professors and asked them to switch to “Hochdeutsch” (standard German), but they couldn’t. They simply can’t do it.” Or perhaps they didn’t think they needed to; But she needed, and felt entitled, to understand. Now years later, she enjoys the dialect and uses it herself.

Following her graduation from the Angewandte, she worked in film/video, installation, photography, and in performative and media art, focusing on the impact of political and social power structures.

“My works deal with identity and mobility, and how individuals can be marginalized,” she said. She looks at different social groups, at migration and cohabitation, and the everyday connections that result.

In one of her most provocative videos – “I deal, you deal, we all deal for the nEU new deal”, she took original video recordings of speeches by well-known politicians, but deep-faked the sound track, creating an “as if” form of public confessions for political missteps. So in the video you can see Sebastian Kurz appearing to apologize for encouraging “stupid nationalism, which claims that a Schnitzel is more authentic than a spring roll,” and promoting a sort of post imperialism at the expense of migrants and refugees.

In this era of the so-called “dark web,” Ventzislavova is using Fake News as a tool to play on the desire of many to see certain politicians being more honest with the public. This is not without risk, and without clear labeling, there is always a danger it could be misused, or even libelous. This is also work that resonates in the air, and opens public discussion.

Her current solo show at the (Bank Austria) Kunstforum Wien is on re-thinking nature, continuing through May 2, as well as a public art project, “In this together,” in St. Pölten though the end of the year.

Today, Ventzislavova see herself as international, someone who carries her “homes” within her. Still, the pull of her real homes is strong, and however much she travels, she always looks forward to coming back to her family and friends in Sofia and Vienna.

Word of the Week: pflanzen [ˈp͡flant͡sn̩]

Verb. 1. As any German dictionary will tell you, pflanzen means to plant something – either flora (as in planting herbs or petunias) or objects (as in “planting your feet”); a Pflanze is simply a “plant.”

2. As any Wiener will tell you, the far more fun definition of pflanzen is “to mess with,” “to make a fool of,” “to pull the wool over,” “to screw with” or “take the piss out of” something. A Pflanz (no “e” at the end!) is therefore a hoax, swindle, rip-off or prank. The origin of the term is unclear, but planting season never ends in Austria – especially in politics. And you’re likely to hear an exasperated “Wüst mi pflanzen?” (“Are you for real?”) year-round.

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

How the EU Got Its COVID Vaccine Program Back on Track

In a frenzied week at the end of January, officials handling the European Union’s vaccination efforts were in a state of panic.

On Friday, January 22, the news dropped that AstraZeneca would not only fail to meet its target of delivering 100 million vaccine doses to the bloc in the first quarter of 2021, but would miss it by a mile. 100 million had become 31 million, and the hope of a swift vaccine roll out evaporated.

These were days when Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – like plenty of Europeans – was looking enviously across the English Channel. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) had stolen a lead on the EU by approving the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine three weeks ahead of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), and for AstraZeneca the UK had a head start of four.

The vaccination program of the EU and India were off to a slow start, also because both regions have been exporting significant amounts of vaccine doses, other than the US and UK (c) World in Data

That was not all. The UK’s National Health Service was particularly agile at getting doses into arms, and the UK’s own AstraZeneca production was up and running, while the plants at Seneffe, Belgium and Leiden, Netherlands were struggling.

As if that were not galling enough, BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines were being exported from a plant at Puurs, Belgium to fulfil the UK’s contract for that vaccine that had been signed four months before the EU’s. Meanwhile across the Atlantic, vaccination efforts were likewise ramping up considerably faster than in the EU.

Need for Change

It was in those febrile January days that the European Commission realised the EU’s vaccination approach needed to change. Vaccines were flowing out of the European Union, and none were flowing in. Why, the Commission was asking, could UK plants not be used to make up for the European plants’ supply shortfall? The least the Commission should do, reasoned von der Leyen, was to make it clear what vaccines were being sent where, and so on January 29, the EU’s transparency and authorisation mechanism was launched.

Von der Leyen even managed to make Brexit overshadow the birth of the authorisation mechanism, having included a specific reference to preventing vaccine supplies going from Ireland to Northern Ireland in the initial draft – having given fellow Commissioners next to no time to raise their objections in the evening of Friday, January 29. In both Dublin and London, the blowback against von der Leyen was swift and fierce, and the reference was swiftly dropped. But the repercussions of the Commission President’s misstep rumbled on for weeks afterwards.

Whose Vaccines?

The first direct impact of the authorisation mechanism was an export block on 250,000 AstraZeneca doses destined for Australia in early March, to date the only shipment actually blocked by the mechanism. Why, the argument went at that stage, are AZ doses en route to a country that has far lower infection rates than the EU? Critics of the mechanism saw this as a sign of the EU abandoning its decades long commitment to global trade. Not only was the EU struggling to get vaccines to its own citizens, but it was simultaneously sacrificing its principles.

As observers on Twitter and news website Axios pointed out, the EU and India have both exported large numbers of vaccine doses to countries in need, while the US effectively banned any vaccine exports.

It was at this stage that the solidarity between Member States and the EU began to seriously fray. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his Danish counterpart Mette Frederiksen launched a broadside against the EU’s slow vaccine procurement and approvals process, and sought an agreement with Israel for second generation vaccines, outside the EU framework. Hungary and Slovakia looked to Russia for supplies of Sputnik V.

Yet when the first statistics on EU exports leaked in mid-March the numbers were astounding. In just five weeks since the introduction of the new mechanism at the end of January, the EU had exported 34 million vaccine doses, including 9.1 million to the United Kingdom.

When von der Leyen presented updated numbers at a European Council summit at the end of March, including estimates for the period prior to the introduction of the new rules, the total export number amounted to 77 million doses, including 21 million to the UK – about 40% of the total doses administered by the British Government at that stage. This was not the go-it-alone post-Brexit success Johnson trumpeted: The UK’s vaccine roll out was built on supplies from the EU.

That was not all. Behind the scenes the EU was sharpening its approach. Stung by the January episode, and keen to build on good will from the summer of 2020 when joint procurement of vaccines by the EU was widely praised, von der Leyen had given her pugnacious Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton the task of pinning down what was up with vaccine supply chains in the EU, with AstraZeneca foremost on his list, not least as the first quarter supply debacle had been followed up with a scaling-back of second quarter projections as well – down to 70 million from 180 million. Visits to the Halix manufacturing plant in Leiden, Netherlands and a raid on the Catalent bottling facility at Anagni, Italy, followed, while Belgian regulators were keeping tabs on the facility at Seneffe.

Measly March

Caused by a combination of EU nerves, AstraZeneca CEO Soriot’s interview with a group of European newspapers, and UK belligerence about doses it was supposedly due, controversy had swirled throughout March over whether AZ was keeping doses in the UK rather than sending them from British plants to supply the EU.

Breton and the European Commission were meanwhile steadily coming to another more mundane conclusion: this was not a problem of supply diversion, but an absence of supply. AstraZeneca’s supply chain in the EU was not reliable enough, and production not scale-able enough, to ever meet the projected delivery figures, and that the EU would better look elsewhere to prevent its vaccine supply efforts becoming even more of a fiasco.

Since this realisation, change has been swift. Denmark has concluded it does not need AstraZeneca doses at all any more, an option for a further 100 million AZ doses has not been taken up, and the European Commission is considering taking AstraZeneca to court for not having been able to stick to its delivery schedule.

Bringing Manufacturing Back Home

A further fear in the European Commission was that the AZ-UK-EU spat would be repeated between the EU and the USA over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, developed and produced in Leiden, Netherlands by J&J subsidiary Janssen. The initial plan was for vaccine produced in Leiden to be shipped to the United States for bottling, before then being sent back to the EU. But those doses would have been in danger of not being returned until J&J fulfilled its contracts in the United States, as the USA uses its Defence Production Act to restrict exports.

Avid vaccine watchers on Twitter have followed the early twist and turns of the debate – but also pointed to the massive ramp-up in EU production and delivery of vaccines that’s ahead. (c) Jacob F Kirkegaard

A bottling line originally intended for a dengue vaccine at IDT Biologika, Dessau, Germany was swiftly repurposed for Johnson & Johnson for a three month period, and J&J production and finishing at Reig Jofre, Barcelona, Spain will be on stream by June. Crisis averted. On top of that, the plant intended to be used for J&J bottling in the USA has subsequently been forced to close, making the EU’s scramble to put together an EU-only supply chain seem even more sensible. The EU is due to receive 55 million Johnson & Johnson doses in the second quarter.

While AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have provoked all the public debate, another vaccine has steadily been rising to pre-eminence in the European Union, namely the joint venture of BioNTech from Mainz, Germany and US concern Pfizer.

mRNA on the Rise

Back in the summer of 2020 when the European Commission was starting its vaccine procurement, no one was sure which vaccines would work out, so a portfolio approach was chosen. Six Advance Purchase Agreements were concluded covering three different vaccine technologies – mRNA (BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, Curevac), vector virus (AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson) and recombinant protein-based (Sanofi-GSK).

BioNTech/Pfizer won the race to be the first vaccine to be licensed for use and is still the vaccine with the highest effectiveness – 95%. Its use has not been beset by a concern about side effects that has dogged AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Its public funding comes from just two sources: the European Investment Bank made available a €100 million loan to BioNTech in June 2020, and the German government followed up with €375 million in September.

BioNTech to the Rescue

That second funding boost allowed BioNTech to purchase a further plant in Marburg, Germany and hence be able to massively scale their vaccine production. A deal with German chemical firm Evonik has also established the final part of BioNTech/Pfizer’s supply chain that until recently had been off shore.

Even before the Marburg plant came on stream, BioNTech/Pfizer exceeded its first quarter shipments to the EU by 1 million. With doses from Marburg now shipping, the company has since been able to up its projections for the second quarter to 250 million doses, more than all the other vaccines at the EU’s disposal put together.

Apart from a minor hiccup at the Puurs, Belgium plant in January, BioNTech/Pfizer have been able to deliver on schedule week after week, month after month. The Commission, by now confident both in the vaccine’s effectiveness and BioNTech/Pfizer’s ability to deliver, has placed a further order for 1.8 billion doses for delivery in 2022 and 2023.

A comparatively small Moderna shipment – 35 million doses of its mRNA vaccine are due in the second quarter – completes the European Union’s vaccine line-up for now, with a further supplier – Curevac – due to be approved by the early summer.

Back on Track

So just three months on from January’s low point, the EU’s vaccination effort has rebounded. France and Germany are regularly breaking their own daily vaccination records. The European Commission is confident at least twelve EU Member States will have 70% of their adult populations vaccinated by mid-July. Joint procurement has meant even the EU Member States with no vaccine manufacturing have received supplies.

And perhaps most significant of all, EU vaccine supply is not only solid, but the lion’s share is BioNTech/Pfizer, the best performing vaccine with the most reliable supply chain. January’s angst feels like a long way behind us now.


Jon Worth is a Berlin based consultant and blogger. He teaches EU politics at the College of Europe in Bruges.

Ivan Krastev – Stretched Between Two Worlds

by Mariya Tsaneva & Elena Skuleva

For Ivan Krastev, the meaning of home, mobility, democracy, and demography are all wrapped up with the current pandemic. They set the stage for our conversation with the Bulgarian political scientist and public intellectual who divides his time between Vienna and his other home in Sofia.

“One of the most interesting things about a person who lives outside of his country is that he lives always stretched out [between them] and comparing.” As a political scientist who has spent most of his life in Bulgaria, this identity is very important to him, and many of the things he thinks and writes are a “result of what I have learned for 45 years in Bulgaria,” he explained.

Krastev is a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and the chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. He is a founding board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the global advisory board of the Open Society Foundations, and a member of the advisory council of the Center for European Policy Analysis and the European Cultural Foundation. Krastev has also held fellowships at St. Antony’s College (Oxford); the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars (Washington, D.C.); the Institute of Federalism at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), and in 2019, he got a Mercator Senior Fellowship. Foreign Policy and Prospects has listed him as one of the 100 most influential intellectuals in the world.

Krastev moved to Vienna with his family 10 years ago, and since then, they have been constantly traveling between the two countries. His wife, Dessy Gavrilova is a cultural manager who co-founded the Vienna Humanities Festival as well as the European Network of Houses for Debate,Time to Talk (TTT).

In Bulgaria, she is well known as the founding Director of The Red House Center for Culture and Debate in Sofia. The family tries to spend two-three months of the year in Bulgaria as they think it is important that their children have choices while growing up. “Speaking two languages is not enough. It is very important to have different environments, to have children of the same age with whom you can discuss things that interest you”. Vienna, he said, is a city that grows on you, “where the longer you live in it, the more you start to like it.”Perhaps most important is the feeling of history. “We often live with the idea that the world was born yesterday and will die tomorrow,” he said. “Walking through Vienna, you can choose in which century you would like to live.”

The second thing are the manners, “a kind of alienated politeness in people which makes living here somehow easy.” Even though Krastev has lived in Vienna for 10 years, he prefers to communicate in English. Living in a foreign city means being in contact with people from a small environment, he explained, mainly colleagues. “When you live in Bulgaria, your knowledge of the society is much deeper.” For him, this comes from the broad connection with family and friends with whom you grow up. “And you have a sense of depth.” In Vienna, he admits, he has no sense of depth.

Ivan Krastev is a Bulgarian political scientist, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, permanent fellow at the IWM (Institute of Human Sciences) in Vienna./(C) Stephan Röhl

Demography & Optimism

Metropole’s “Home is Where the Herz is” project celebrates the cultural variety in Vienna and the large Bulgarian community here. But at the same time, the fact of the diaspora is very sensitive for the Eastern European Countries.

“The demographic collapse in Bulgaria is the biggest in history in the absence of war or some cruel natural disaster,” Krastev said. In the last 30 years, Bulgaria has lost more than 2 million of its population. Austria for the same period, grew by almost the same number. Demographic changes are also influencing the economy. “In Europe, it is often discussed that money goes from West to East; but the people do not always realize that, with every one of us who left Bulgaria, all the money that was invested in our education goes from East to West,” he said. “It is a big paradox that the investment in a good education turns against these countries.”

The opening of the borders created many opportunities to choose where to study or work. However, Bulgaria is also a small country with an aging population. For Krastev, this creates tension between the younger generation who raise their children in a non-mother tongue environment and their relatives in Bulgaria, a tension that separates them over the language barrier. “Suddenly, the feeling of society as a social contract between those who lived before us and those who will live after us is shattered.” Additionally, Krastev points out that the success of the people who have significant achievements in Bulgaria is very often devalued by the fact that all their friends went away, as “much of the success is that it be shared with the people you value.”

Is It Tomorrow Yet?

Krastev explains that when the pandemic started, the general appeal to the people was to stay at home. Many of them were not “at home” in the cities where they were working. Others had temporary work, which immediately disappeared with the crisis. And the third group, he points out, were the students: “One of the peculiarities of COVID-19 is that it brought children and parents together in a way that was surprising for both sides.” For his family to stay at home meant to go back to Bulgaria. “During a crisis, to be surrounded by a language you know was very important,” Krastev explained, and then added, laughing: “Here, the hospitals are better, but in Bulgaria, we know the doctors.”

His family intentionally decided to spend the first 80 days of the pandemic in the Bulgarian countryside, close to the grandparents. “You are there, you do not see them, but the very fact that you are in the same place psychologically acts in a completely different way.” In a time of crisis, home is where your closest people are.

Krastev’s thoughts about the political aspects of the coronavirus situation are gathered in his book Is It Tomorrow Yet? Paradoxes of the Pandemic, available in every major book store in Vienna.

Right now, Krastev is working on a book planned for publication in the autumn, which explores the problem of demography and democracy. The inspiration for the book came from the famous poem by Bertolt Brecht, The Decision. In it, Brecht says that now, “we understand that the government is very dissatisfied with the people. In this situation, isn’t it easier for the government to dismiss the people and elect new ones?” In democracy, “people choose the government, but the government also chooses its people by deciding its migration and electoral laws, and issues of citizenship,” Krastev explained.

“What I’m interested in,” Krastev said, “is how governments choose their people.

Fintech at Vienna UP’21: A Tale of Virtual Coins and Unicorns

  • Austria is an increasingly major player in the industry, boasting its first fintech unicorn.
  • New research investigates ways that blockchain technology can drive social and economic change.
  • At Vienna UP’21, global fintech players will discuss the status quo and new developments.

Digital technologies have been a relevant topic for Austrian financial companies for quite some time, with 63% of them stating that fintech is an essential part of their business model. While most see the emergence of these new technologies as a great tool and incentive to innovate, others think that fintech will inevitably take over the traditional finance world. One thing is for certain, these groundbreaking enterprises are shaking up the system and spurring innovation – and the trend shows no signs of slowing.

Fintech Trends in Austria

Vienna UP’21 Fintech
The past several years have brought forth a number of innovative payment methods that are both safe and convenient

The finance market is indisputably in the process of a digital transformation. As one of the world’s smartest cities, Vienna also fosters innovation in the finance sector. In fact, five of Austria’s ten top-ranked startups are fintechs and the number of companies in this promising sphere keeps growing. While the focus of the past few years has been on convenient payment solutions that uphold the highest safety standards – such as Paysafecard, which allows customers to make safe, prepaid online payments without the involvement of a bank or a credit card company – the future is pointing to different trends and opportunities.

The industry’s number one buzzword will continue to play a key role in the future of fintech: blockchain. Researchers at WU Wien’s Institute of Cryptoeconomics are currently investigating how the digital ledger system can be used to cope with social and ecological challenges. To further promote developments in blockchain technology, the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG)’s COMET program funds the Austrian Blockchain Center (ABC), an interdisciplinary research institute based in Vienna. Aside from the blockchain, the use of artificial intelligence will also be a vital component of fintech innovation. The Viennese startup Finmatics already offers AI-based solutions for financial and accounting processes, helping companies automate their bookkeeping tactics.

With fintech achievements entering the mainstream, big banks are forced to innovate as well. Back in 2017, the Bawag Group (one of Austria’s main retail banks) already teamed up with baningo.com to help their users find a well-suited banking advisor in their area. As Vienna’s fintech scene continues to grow and prosper, we can expect more collaboration efforts between fintech startups and established banks in the years to come.

Austria’s First Fintech Unicorn

Vienna UP’21 Fintech
Formerly a space exclusive to industry insiders, cryptocurrencies are becoming more and more accessible to everyone

Only 4 months into the year, 2021 has already been a record-breaking year for Austrian startups. The first quarter brought in more money in investments than the entirety of 2020. Virtual currencies like Bitcoin and the blockchain software on which they are traded are becoming increasingly commonplace as companies race to adopt crypto into their portfolios. A prime example of this trend is the Vienna-based startup, Bitpanda. The investment platform reached unicorn status earlier this year at a valuation of $1.2 billion, received €142 million in equity capital. The company was founded in 2014 with just a handful of employees and now counts more than 2 million users across Europe.

Bitpanda has since become a way for people to safely and easily invest in cryptocurrencies, precious metals, and digital assets, while steadily growing its product offering and customer base. “Our vision is to make the financial world accessible to everyone,” says Eric Demuth, CEO and co-founder of Bitpanda, of their decision to add 24/7 fractional stock trading to their platform. “This gives users a chance to invest in international stocks for as little as €1. Until now, this sector has been too complex for the average person to maneuver, and we’re in the process of changing that.”

Join Vienna’s Fintech Innovators at Vienna UP’21

Vienna UP’21 Creative Industries
Dive into Vienna’s vibrant startup scene at Vienna UP’21

At Vienna UP’21, which kicks off today, Austria’s fintech sector is poised to shine. Over the next two weeks, technology enthusiasts can dive into the fascinating world of cryptocurrencies and the digitalization of the finance world. Check out the program and make a note of our picks below for the best fintech happenings at this year’s all-digital version of the mega-event for startups, investors and talents across different industries, curated by the Vienna Business Agency.

4Gamechangers Festival “4Pioneers”

4Gamechangers has a full year of event highlights up its sleeve, starting with this four-day TV special which will be broadcast on Puls24 and online from April 27-30, 2021. The wide range of topics includes sustainability, the power of cooperation, and the shared path to a better future.

Fintech Week Vienna

This event organized by Fintech Week Vienna aims to bridge the divide between fintech startups and the worlds of incumbent banking and compliant regulation. The organizers will also provide a glimpse into the developments that have shaped the fintech ecosystem in Austria in 2021. Join them on May 3, 2021, for a day of high-caliber panels, insightful presentations, and compelling keynotes.

B2B Software Days ’21

The sixth iteration of the biggest B2B event for software and digital business in Europe, organized by the Vienna Business Agency, is returning this year on May 12. Join 2,000 other participants for fascinating keynotes from Ericsson, SAAB, LinkedIn, Amazon, IEEE, the City of Vienna and many more and pitch your start-up idea in front of 50 international investors.

Want to dive deeper into the world of Vienna’s startup scene? Check out our articles  “Where Art Meets Business” and “Innovation That Saves Lives” to find out about local creative industries and the biotech and medtech sectors at Vienna UP’21.

This article is part of a cooperation with the Vienna Business Agency

Winter Season a Washout for Austrian Tourism

The pandemic has disrupted the global economy in myriad ways, but the Austrian tourism sector has been particularly affected: Normally a €2.3 billion (2019) industry that serves an average of 43 million international tourists annually, revenues in the sector have come to a grinding halt. 

While last summer brought us a sense of relative normalcy, many in the industry hoped for some sort of winter season, but lockdowns and border controls dashed even the most modest expectations, with Vienna and Austria’s western ski resorts particularly affected. 

The Austrian Institute of Economic Research’s (WIFO) latest analysis of the 2020/21 winter tourism season revealed that compared to 2019, arrivals were down by 93.6%, causing a 90% decline in revenue excluding financial support from the state. As for this year, new COVID strains have made projections unpredictable. 

Saving Summer

Still, with tourism comprising 5.9% of Austria’s GDP, a way forward is sorely needed. As one of its biggest advocates, Austria is heavily banking on the EU’s “Digital Green Pass” for the upcoming summer season, an app confirming an individual’s COVID-19 vaccination that would replace testing and simplify safe cross-border travel within the union. Austria’s Minister of Sustainability and Tourism, Elizabeth Köstinger, has therefore spearheaded efforts for all 27 EU member states to define the final tourism priorities for the Green Pass. “This is a great success for our Austrian initiative and an important further step towards a uniform Green Pass throughout Europe in summer,” Köstinger hopes. The draft will be voted upon by the EU Parliament in its next session on Apr 26. “I will keep up the pace so that the Green Pass is ready for use throughout Europe in the summer” she promised.

Austria’s Minister of Sustainability and Tourism, Elizabeth Köstinger, has spearheaded efforts for all 27 EU member states to defined the final tourism priorities for the Green Pass./(C) BKA/Dragan Tatic

This would be a shot in the arm to the beleaguered industry, where WIFO experts estimate that pre-2020 numbers can only be expected to return in 2023.

With a general reopening planned for May 19, hotels are optimistic that international tourists could return by mid-June, resulting in occupancy rates reaching up to 51% of 2019 levels. In addition, they expect an influx of domestic vacations this summer – particularly in the countryside. “People want to leave their homes as soon as they can. They will want to travel with their families – especially for summer break. And families want convenience.” said Rosa da Silva, procurator of the Austrian hotels in the Gorgeous Smiling Hotel Group. With much uncertainty still surrounding the Green Pass, Da Silva predicts that many will opt to holiday in their home countries, avoiding the scrutinizing process of crossing borders – especially families, which are generally comprised of different age groups. To her, “the Green Pass will only create a divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated family members.”

Reopening may not be the end of it: Tourism expert and senior economist at WIFO, Oliver Fritz, revealed on radio Ö1 that the industry may face a wave of bankruptcies in the future when bridge loans will have to be repaid. Da Silva concurs that aid payments have helped the industry survive, but “current financial support from the state is due to end in June. I hope that the government will come to realize that realistically, they need to extend aid until the end of the year, especially for hotels in the city.” Although we all appreciate a less crowded 1st district, the pandemic’s strain on the Austrian Tourism sector has been severe, and the hard times are far from over. 

Austria to Open Up on May 19

Austria plans to lift coronavirus containment measures and reopen the economy on May 19.

“We’re nearing the light at the end of the tunnel,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) said, announcing Austria’s plan to come out of the lockdown. The government had promised a concrete plan for reopening the country, which it presented on April 23. Thanks to the faster vaccination rate (currently, around 50,000 vaccine shots a day), said Kurz, a return to normality is not too far off. The chancellor did however also warn that there will be “very cautious opening steps” with “clear safety concepts.”

The biggest updates are the following:

  • Schools will resume full in-person instruction on May 17.
  • Restaurants, bars, hotels, spas, gyms and cultural institutions can reopen on May 19.
  • Cultural and sports events will also be allowed again, starting on May 19.

For schools, regular testing of students and staff will continue. For restaurants, bars, hotels, culture and event, the much debated “green pass” will become an entry requirement.

The “green pass” will show whether one:

  • tested negative,
  • was vaccinated,
  • or has recovered from a recent infection.

The “green pass” will be available digitally and also as a piece of paper, it is planned to be introduce in mid-May. The concept is inspired by Israel, which vaccinated its population in record time and used its own “green pass” system to return to normality.

The measures in place for these first opening steps will be:

  • In all areas, wearing FFP2 masks and registration is mandatory (contact details must be provided).
  • All proprietors must draw up a prevention concept and appoint a COVID-19 officer. Closing time is 22:00.
  • Four people (plus children) are allowed at a table in indoor dining areas, and a maximum of ten people are allowed in outdoor dining areas.
  • Consumption is permitted only while seated; buffets are allowed.
  • Catering employees must wear an FFP2 mask; if they are tested, a mouth-nose protection is sufficient.
  • In cultural and event areas, two meters distance must be maintained when patrons are outside an assigned seating area. There must be at least one unoccupied seat between groups of visitors.
  • Events may be held outdoors with a maximum of 3,000 people and indoors with a maximum of 1,500 people. Venues with fixed seating may be filled to no more than half capacity.
  • Events (e.g. conferences) with 11 or more people must be registered, and events with 51 or more people require a permit from the health authority (introduced in mid-May.
  • When it comes to sports, 20 square meters of space per person must be available indoors (e.g. fitness studios and  spas). While practicing sports, no mask is required.

Freedom for Those Who Are Vaccinated

Those who have received their first vaccination shot will be allowed to go to bars, theaters and the like three weeks (21 days) after their vaccination appointment without having to show a negative coronavirus test. The government expects that up to three million residents of Austria will fall into this category on May 19.

All other people will still have to conduct tests. However, these can also be done at home – in contrast to the wishes of Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein (Greens). According to reports, the governors of federal states in particular were pushing for self-tests at home. A complete opening of all sectors is scheduled for July 1, weddings and other bigger events will then also again be allowed. Mandatory testing will presumably no longer be necessary in the summer.

Raise the Curtains!

“This is something you can plan,” said Minister of Culture and Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler (Greens), hoping for “a lot of creativity and joy for the new approaches.” Elisabeth Köstinger, Minister for Agriculture and Tourism (ÖVP), was also pleased that restaurants, the tourism sector and cultural institutions will be allowed to re-open: “On May 19, it’s curtains up again!” The government wants to a make a “beautiful summer” possible, she said.

The effects of the opening steps will be closely monitored for the first few weeks. If the trend is favorable, more easing steps could come in June. Night clubs and bars being open at the usual late-night hours will probably have to wait longer. For students, in-person instruction will resume on all levels on May 17. Currently, only elementary school students have five days of instruction at school, everyone else is taught in shifts.

Together yet divided

The plan is for these opening steps to happen at the same all across Austria. However, individual federal states will still have the option to deviate from this schedule.

Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ), for example, is planning a gradual opening – “careful, intelligent and sustainable.” Therefore, some opening steps may be delayed in Vienna, depending on the situation by then.

In Tyrol, a new variant that is currently spreading might pose another problem for the federal state. The new mutation seems to combine the infectiousness of B1.1.7 (the so-called British variant), which is thought to be more infections, and E484K (the so-called South African variant), which can partly surpass prior immunity to the original strain and vaccines. At the moment, 1,800 people in the federal state are knowingly infected by this mutation. Yet the situation on Tyrol’s intensive care wards is stable despite the mutation, according to the local crisis team.

Law, Folklore, and Music – the Many Faces of Nina Wasilewa-Zanechev

by Ekaterina Georgieva & Mariya Tsaneva

After Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU in 2007, Nina Wasilewa-Zanechev watched in dismay as chaos unfolded: So many new procedures, between institutions unable to understand each other, and a disaster for new EU citizens stuck in legal limbo. The confusion – between administration departments, authorities and institutions – was close to total.

Take Ivan*, an employed Bulgarian, who had come to Vienna as a student before 2007, a year of immigration law reform that placed severe new restrictions on new residency permits. So the timing mattered. But when Ivan applied at MA35 for permanent residency (Bescheinigung des Daueraufenthalts), MA35 couldn’t find a record of his previous visas and refused to issue the document. So, he wrote a complaint describing how he has fulfilled the conditions – he had been working longer than five years, was insured and paying taxes.

Based on this, MA35 issued him the certificate, but later fined him for not presenting the previous visas and for not applying for the confirmation of registration (Anmeldebescheinigung), a pre-step for permanent residency. It was all absurd. He went to court, as MA35 insisted that he pay the fine. It was only €50. But the question was fundamental. It was finally settled when Ivan found his old passport, with his visas before 2007, and provided them to MA35, although he was not required by law to keep these documents.

Since 2009, Wasilewa-Zanechev has spent her days solving problems like this through her consultancy Kompass, one of the first private advisory centers for new European citizens, offering mother-tongue advice and guidance in Bulgarian and Romanian.

“I knew I couldn’t save the world, but if I could help two, three people with information that could solve their problem, that was enough for me,” she says. In one of their early victories, Kompass got the Meldeamt to create a new document informing EU citizens in their native language of the need to file a confirmation of registration (Anmeldebescheinigung) within four months, signed at the time of registration (Anmeldung) at the registry office counter.

Before Kompass, EU citizens coming to Austria struggled with questions like, “How can I stay here?” or “How can I access the labor market?” Other questions involved social benefits or taxes: “Am I socially insured? And in which country? Where should I pay my taxes and who protects my EU legal rights?” Wasilewa-Zanechev’s observations tell the tale of the Bulgarian diaspora over the last three decades.

She summarizes the waves of migration like this: In the mid ’90s, right after the collapse of communism when Bulgarians were finally free to leave the Eastern bloc, many chose emigration to Austria, to be part of the forbidden West. Those who followed often came to study, usually supported by their parents or study grants. Their goal was not to emigrate, but to get a good education and return. After they graduated, some went back to Bulgaria, but they often stayed in the social circles they had formed in Austria. Some did well; it was “the moment when the good salaries had started in Bulgaria,” says Nina. “Nevertheless, many returned to Vienna,” in the years that followed as they were not able to fully adapt.

Folklore and Music

We met Wasilewa-Zanechev online right before she left Austria for Bulgaria, where she was to study singing and conducting at the Academy of Music, Dance and Fine Arts in Plovdiv. As we talked, a sudden rush of energy, even joy, filled the conversation. Even over Zoom, she is a dynamo. She had come to Austria in 1996, to study psychology, and went through a rollercoaster of jobs as taxi driver, certified babysitter, teacher, entrepreneur. She was even a butcher for a time. Today, she leads Kompass, and in her free time, rides her motorcycle and is a passionate folklore dancer.

Which was already a lot – until, at the age of 40, she discovered a passion for singing Bulgarian folk songs. A dancer since childhood, she had learned almost all folklore dances of northern Bulgaria. “But I hadn’t sung,” she admitted. “When I found the powerful mystery of singing, I saw the way a sound can influence someone.” Today, she sees herself as “an ambassador of Bulgarian folklore.”

In Vienna she puts together polyphonic arrangements for Trelina, a group she founded in 2020. She is also a choir conductor for the ensemble Kitka and member of the international vocal ensemble Glas (Bulgarian for “voice”) that includes 15 singers – 13 Austrian, one Croat, one Bulgarian (Nina) and one Bosnian who organized the group. The idea behind Glas grew out of a workshop with arrangements of the women’s folk choir, The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices, a group “born from Bulgarian songs.” People are often surprised. “There are people who know me as a consultant, or as a colleague. But when they go to a concert and see me being a soloist, they are, “Wow!”

So where is she most at home? “I’m cosmopolitan,” she said. “I’ve lived everywhere. So where I am is [home]. I am here at the moment, so this is my place.”

Coda

It’s late evening in Sofia. Lockdown and Corona are the most spoken words at the end of the year 2020. Single people are coming back from work, rushing down the streets to their homes. At that hour they practice a distant eye contact. Some music echoes from one underpass. A lonely busker fills up the space with the folklore rhythm of his bagpipe. He blows up his instrument and lets the sound be carried away from the great acoustic.

Suddenly, a woman who gave him a few coins when she was passing just moments ago, comes back. Wrapped in a long winter coat, her face is covered with a mask, and her hands, holding two grocery bags, hang at her side. She freezes in the middle of that dungy space alone. There are only the two of them.

Then the darkness of the underpass splits in two.The woman picks up the melody of “Veljo Hajdutin” and starts singing. Actually singing is the wrong word: she makes the music alive with her voice and even with no audience, she conquers the stage. What happened that night, in that place started a fire of unfinished sympathy.

Nina went on to tell the full story: “Suddenly a girl came from somewhere and asked me if she could make a video of us. I told her it didn’t bother me, and I kept singing.

“The acoustics were amazing and the sound from the combination of bagpipe and my voice resonated in the plaster of the subway underground. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t bear to leave. Something kept me there, singing all three verses.” When they finished, the girl had left. At parting, Nina hugs the bagpiper, and he goes back to playing.

“As I was in the subway, I thought about these lonely, intimate moments, which are the real performances, and I regretted not asking the girl to exchange contacts,” she told us. “I wanted to hear the recording, to feel the resonance again.” Never mind, she tells herself, she doesn’t need the video record to remember. “it was enough that it happened and that I experienced it.”

When Nina gets home, a friend called to say she has just seen a video of her singing on the internet. By the time she woke up the next morning, the video had gone viral.


*Name was changed.

Burgenland to Build Austria’s Largest Wind Turbines

Austria has been making impressive advances in its goal of deriving all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, with the country’s largest wind turbines to date currently being installed in Gols and Mönchhof, Burgenland. 

Built by the Püspök group, the 30 turbines each boast 80-meter-long blades at a height of 242 meters, nearly double the size of the Stephansdom ; total output will be 143 MW, enough to provide electricity for some 90,000 households. Austria currently has 1,307 wind turbines with a total output of 3,120 MW. 

The €143 million project is a major upgrade from the previous wind plant on the same location, which were built 20 years ago with turbines placed a mere 150 meter high. “We can set up more systems in this area than before,” said company CEO Lukas Püspök. “We are generating three and a half to four times more electricity,” as new turbines are more efficient and increasingly cost-effective.

(C) Püspök

However, wind power is only part of the Püspök group’s strategy: In the future, they plan to generate more electricity from solar energy. “Photovoltaics when there is a lot of sun and wind power when there is a lot of wind,” as Püspök puts it. His Burgenland-based company is Austria’s second-largest wind farm operator, and will have a market share of 30% in their home state upon completion of the new Gols and Mönchhof plant.  

“We are not only mathematically self-sufficient in terms of electricity with renewable energies in Burgenland, but far beyond – almost twice as much,” he said. Indeed, Burgenland has officially been self-sufficient in electricity since 2013. 

Green Austria Plans to Go Even Greener 

Under construction since 2019, the upgraded wind farm comes at an opportune time: Last month, Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler and State Secretary Magnus Brunner presented the Renewable Expansion Act (EAG), the legal framework for the federal government’s plan to pour €1 billion annually into expanding renewable energy sources until 2030. The European Union has promised to provide an additional €10 billion in funding. 

“By 2030, Austria will generate its electricity exclusively from biomass, wind power, hydropower and solar energy,” Kogler announced. “This puts Austria in the fast lane when it comes to climate protection.”

However, that’s easier said than done. Austria currently produces 53.5 TWh of green electricity, with plans on the state level increase output to 65.1 TWh. But to reach the goal of 100% renewables, 15.4 TWh are still missing. As 1,300 wind turbines generate just 7 TWh per year, the current energy gap is significant, and some federal states are hesitant to comply. 

Austria’s western states in particular are still apprehensive: Wind farms – and, to a lesser extent, solar plants – are unpopular among citizens, with many considering them an eyesore that take up a lot of space. Environmentalists are also not a fan. The north end of the Neusiedlersee contains over 200 windmills, which are said to interfere with birds. Local politicians are mindful of this, and, thus, only Burgenland, Lower Austria and Styria are set to expand their capacity in this sector, despite some resistance from locals. Overall, Austria’s nine states are still short of federal targets by half regarding wind power and 8.2 TWh in solar power. 

Luckily, there are alternatives. Experts are particularly optimistic concerning hydropower, with Salzburg, Styria and Tyrol already close to their targets. If existing expansion plans are implemented, the gap would be a relatively small 2.2 TWh. Things are also looking up in the biomass sector, where researchers expect new project applications to cover the current 1 TWh gap as soon as the EAG subsidies flow. 

Either way, Austria is committed to achieving climate neutrality by the end of the decade and the federal government is willing to enforce that policy. All federal states can and must initiate significant steps towards renewable energy sources, emphasized Gewessler. “We will discuss areas of potential with each state, what hurdles still exist and where we can help,” she said. 

How Wittgenstein Became Bulgarian

If you happen to take a walk through the quiet street of Parkgasse in Vienna’s 3rd district, your eye will glide over an elegant white villa with the Bulgarian flag waving out front. This is the Bulgarian Cultural Institute, in Haus Wittgenstein – an emblematic architectural masterpiece with remarkable stories to tell.

If these walls could talk, the visitor might hear fascinating tales of the private life of the Wittgenstein family, the strains of Gustav Mahler’s music and recitations of Tagore’s poetry. Following the timeline of history, you might hear the sounds of the military boots of Russian soldiers, or voices of nurses from the Red Cross echoing through the building after the end of WWII, or secret conversations of the Politburo’s Elite of the Bulgarian Communist Party, west of the Iron Curtain.

A long time ago, the city villa was a meeting place of the Vienna Circle, hosting the intellectual international scene of vivid and controversial thinkers, painters, musicians, philosophers, and scientists. The guests were often bohemians and intellectuals, the critical minds of the prewar era, shaping the cultural life of Central Europe.

This house has a dazzling history of ups and downs that could be the basis for a number of exciting films. Built in 1928, in a modernist style reminiscent of the Bauhaus, the house was conceived with fanatic mathematical accuracy by one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and his friend, Paul Engelmann, a student of Adolf Loos, for Wittgenstein’s sister, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein. In clean lines and elegant proportion, he sought to apply philosophy to architecture, a perfect coherence between each element in the space.

Finished in 1928, Haus Wittgenstein was designed down to the last detail by philsopher Ludwig Wittgenstein./(C) Haus Wittgenstein

Ludwig Wittgenstein dedicated more than two years to the interior, shaping each door, each handle, window and radiator. When the house was nearly ready, he suddenly decided the ceilings were 3 cm too low, and had them raised, to fulfill his vision of perfect proportions. The costs for the reconstruction were huge. And when Margaret refused to pay for the rebuild, Ludwig – who had given away his share of the fortune to his brothers and sisters – bought himself a lottery ticket in the hopes of winning enough to pay for the changes.

In the 1940s, the Stonborough-Wittgensteins emigrated to the USA. And after WWII, the house was used first as a barracks for Russian soldiers and later for the Red Cross. In the 1960s, the Wittgensteins sold the building to a businessman, who planned to tear it down because of its poor condition and build a profitable new high-rise in its place.

But by a fortunate chance, a group of architects, led by Carl Auböck III, heard about the plans, and after huge protests, the group managed to stop the project and make the case for the unique building as part of the city’s cultural heritage. The house went back on the market. Auböck suggested to Bulgarian Ambassador Vladimir Ganovski to buy the building.

Haus Wittgenstein, a Love Story

Carl Auböck III wasn’t just any architect, he was the son of architect couple Carl Auböck II and Bulgarian Mara Utschkunowa, both students at the Bauhaus in Weimar, studying under Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten, the fathers of the Bauhaus. Utschkunowa was also the only Bulgarian woman to study there.

But it gets better: Once on her way back to Bulgaria from Weimar, Mara lost her wallet in the Vienna station. She turned for help to her Viennese colleague and friend Carl Auböck. But instead of finding her wallet, she found love, and stayed in Vienna for the rest of her life. In 1924, her son, Carl Auböck III was born – at about the time the idea for Wittgenstein’s house, too, was born. So when Carl III became the savior of the house some 40 years later, it was an act of love. In honor of his mother, it became the National Cultural Center of the Communist People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

The building’s next patron was Ljudmila Zivkova, the minister of culture and daughter of Communist Party leader Todor Zivkov, who launched a “policy of liberalization,” following the Helsinki Accords in 1975. A free thinker whose esoteric practices of yoga meditation brought strong disapproval from the party, Zivkova set out to popularize Bulgarian culture in the West, beginning with the Cultural Palace in Vienna.

On December 5, she signed the contract and Haus Wittgenstein became the first institute of its kind opened in a Western capital during the Cold War. After restoration (supervised by Carl Auböck III) the center opened on January 4, 1977, with a concert of opera in the newly built performance space, attended by Austrian Minister of Higher Education and Research, Hertha Firnberg.

For a long time, the building had extraterritorial status, with access possible only with a passport and highly restricted. Still, several important cooperation agreements were signed there, including the Exchange Convention between the Austrian and Bulgarian National TV stations, the Austrian and Bulgarian Academies of Science, Künstlerhaus Wien and the Association Of the Bulgarian Artists, Austrian Association of Modern Music and the Bulgarian Composers Association Convention.

In the 1980s cultural relations between Austria and communist Bulgaria were among the best-developed in the West. Still, in Haus Wittgenstein programming was conservative and bounded strictly by the cultural propaganda of the People’s Republic of Bulgaria.

Today, the organization still has an official character. When you enter, you sense immediately the deep respect and the feeling of distance that shimmers through the heavy metal curtains of the past Wittgenstein once designed. The house that all admired but none found hospitable is the doyen of all Bulgarian institutions in Vienna that nursed cooperative Bulgarian-Austrian relations through the communist years.

But the moment art fills the building, you feel its power.

The Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Vienna was a stage for Borjana Ventzislavova’s  Video project “It isn’t healthy” from 2013. The Title was playing with the words Wittgenstein once said himself about the House he created./(C) Borjana Ventzislavova

And today as then, the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture actively contributes to the social life of the Bulgarian diaspora in Austria. It has been a host to the Bulgarian Research Institute as the organizer of science conferences and cultural events, The Friends of Wittgenstein House Society, SS. Cyril and Method Cultural organization and many others.

The Literature Circles Lectorium Bulgaricum, the 22 volumes of Miscellanea Bulgarica and Young Musicians in Vienna’ have all been created in the frame of the Cultural Center Haus Wittgenstein and fit naturally to the previous history of the building.

From the classical art exhibitions and contemporary performances, the program of the center
goes beyond Bulgarian borders and shows exhibitions of top artists, from Picasso to Christo,
Boris Hristov and many more. The theater has hosted Viennese-Bulgarian Dance and
Singing Collectives and brings the beauty and uniqueness of the Bulgarian rhythm and
sound closer to display.

Works by Bulgarian artists who studied or live in Vienna, such as WESSI, Irina Georgieva, Krassimir Kolev, Mariana Kroutilinan and Val Wecerka, were part of the exhibition “DREI JAHRZEHNTEN“, organized by the  Bulgarian Cultural Institute in Haus Wittgenstein. /(C) Haus Wittgenstein

Some say that the Bulgarian Ratschenitza and Horo (from the Latin “chorus”) are a technique of healing through music and movement. People connect through dance, creating sacred circles that swirl with energy, the rhythm resonating with the beat of the human heart. When the feet move and the voice unfolds across the borders of space and time, new horizons open.

The stage is open for theater pieces and films, concerts, and talks with artists and politicians, from the classical to the experimental – Haus Wittgenstein is the first address for Bulgarian culture in Vienna.

Word of the Week: Chutzpe [ˈxʊt͡spə]

Noun. Audacity, nerve, boldness, outrageousness. Orig. A loanword from Yiddish which has also made its way into the English vernacular (particularly around New York), albeit more commonly spelled as “chutzpah.”

As with many expressions, its precise meaning tends to shift according to context: When used appreciatively, Chutzpe is synonymous to “guts,” “moxie,” “spunk” and cocky self-confidence. However, when uttered darkly, it connotes “impertinence,” “disrespect” and general “shamelessness.”

One recent example of the latter comes from Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who defended himself from allegations of cronyism in Parliament on Mar 30, 2021 by calling out the the Social Democrats (SPÖ) in particular for “a certain Chutzpe,” as they were themselves involved in the decision process they were now criticizing. And furthermore, the Chancellor went on, they have a rather extensive track record of appointing party loyalists, in-laws and insiders to lofty positions. But hey: It’s all in the family!

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Biotech and Medtech at Vienna UP’21: Innovation That Saves Lives

  • After more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the interest in biotech and medtech solutions has reached new heights
  • Vienna is becoming an international hub for the health and life science industry, which generates €3.4 billion in revenue
  • At Vienna UP’21, health and life science events gather the world’s brightest minds and fiercest innovators to illuminate the future of the healthcare sector

With a scientific and medical tradition that goes back centuries, it’s no wonder that Austria is a rich resource for the biotech and medtech industries. In recent years, the Austrian capital has been bustling with new developments and has come to be recognized as a key player on the international scene.

Public Health Meets the Economy

Vienna UP’21 Biotech Medtech
Biotech Austria aims to promote cooperation between the government, science and the biotech industry, which currently employs 2,000 people and includes over 150 companies

In December of 2020, Austria’s biotechnology companies banded together to form Biotech Austria, the country’s first specific branch association for the biotechnology industry. This association aims to promote cooperation between the government, science and the biotech industry, which currently employs 2,000 people and includes over 150 companies. “The biotech industry is a very important economic sector in Austria,” says Peter Llewellyn-Davies, president of Biotech Austria and CEO of Apeiron Biologics. “The technologies that have been developed by this industry have come to play a key role in human wellbeing, public health and thus the economy.” In this past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the importance of this industry firsthand. The development of new innovative ways of testing and the remarkably fast progress in developing the SARS-COV-2 vaccine have been crucial in containing the pandemic. One of the new diagnostic methods, the RT-LAMP, was developed right here at the Vienna Biocenter.

As the country’s capital, Vienna is undoubtedly the center of Austria’s medical industry. According to a 2017 report by LISAvienna the city is home to more than 240 medical device companies, boasting a workforce of 8,890 people and bringing in €3.4 billion in revenue. Currently, there are 51 medical device companies carrying out research, development and manufacturing in Vienna. A number of these companies have a long-standing tradition that goes as far back as 1969, however the biggest companies on the market are notably younger, with 24 of them being founded less than five years ago. In addition to bigger companies, Vienna is increasingly becoming a hub for medtech startups focusing on digital health solutions.

Funding the Biotech and Medtech Sectors

Vienna UP’21 Biotech Medtech
With lots of financial support from research and innovation funds, Austrian biotech and medtech innovators are becoming global forces in healthcare

It is important now more than ever to invest in new talent and innovative ideas in the field of biotech and medtech. Fortunately, Vienna isn’t lacking in the financing department, offering an abundance of research and innovation funds. The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) aims to support ongoing development of Austrian science and basic research at an international level. Their primary goal is to fund top-quality research projects for individuals and teams by enhancing the competitiveness of Austria’s innovation system and its research facilities. The Austrian promotional bank of the federal government AWS also offers several funding options like the AWS Preseed which delivers funding for the phase before a life science company is set up, providing up to €200,000 to those selected.

Join Vienna’s Biotech and Medtech Innovators at Vienna UP’21

Vienna UP’21 Creative Industries
Dive into Vienna’s vibrant startup scene at Vienna UP’21

The upcoming startup festival Vienna UP’21 aims to connect startups, investors and talents across different industries at numerous events. In addition to helping the participants navigate through challenging times, the conferences combine research and application as equals and provide new insights into tomorrow’s innovations. Inspired tech talents will share the stage and screens with members of academia, the government and the health care sector at this unique international festival, curated by the Vienna Business Agency.

Respected members of the science community and tech innovators will also gather at this year’s iteration of the startup mega-event to discuss the newest developments in their fields. Peruse the program and mark these health and life science events below. Don’t miss the chance to dive deeper into this fascinating and life-changing industry!

Health Hub Vienna Meetup – Patient Empowerment

As medical technologies are advancing, so is the healthcare system they serve. At the core of it is patient empowerment, a process that helps people gain agency over their healthcare and increase their active involvement in their wellbeing. On May 7, Health Hub Vienna is hosting an interactive meetup on the subject with a keynote, a discussion panel and interactive sessions.

Biotech Atelier: Special Edition on Water and Biotechnologies

We use it every day and often take it for granted, but its significance for business and technology is constantly increasing – water. On May 10, Biotech Atelier is starting a dialogue with utility companies, startups and larger business entities in the area of biotechnological developments and their application in the water sector.

LISAvienna B2B Health Partnering

The life science connector LISAvienna invites startups to connect with medical professionals and healthcare providers from across the world and join them in an illuminating discussion on areas in need of innovation on May 10.

dHealth 2021

The Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) – Center for Health & Bioresources has organized this conference series – now under the name of dHealth – since 2007. Their fifteenth iteration is a how-to on navigating the healthcare sector in times of crisis, a theme that couldn’t be more timely. Join them for the two-day event on May 11 and 12 and gain valuable insight into the medical innovations of tomorrow.

Want to dive deeper into the world of Vienna’s startup scene? Check out our article “Where Art Meets Business” to find out about local creative industries and their involvement in Vienna UP’21.

This article is part of a cooperation with the Vienna Business Agency

‘Mein Kampf’ and the Troubling Artifacts of History

Almost 100 years after Hitler published his autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf, and nearly 80 years after the demise of the Nazi regime, the display and selling of the book are still illegal in Austria and Germany. This is also true with many other Nazi artifacts. As the wartime generation and their children die off and their homes are broken up and dispersed, their collections from the Nazi era inevitably pass into the hands of collectors and antiques stores.

In a small bookshop just down the road from the Volksoper in the 9th district, Alsergrund, a small rack by the door displays old magazines from the 1920’s to the 90’s. Among them was a magazine called “Frau und Mutter” from June 1940, with a photo of a woman in traditional Austrian dress on a red and black front cover. The Nazi colors. But besides tips on how to keep a clean household, there seemed to be nothing too overtly political and controversial about it. Time to move on.

The owner of a small cluttered second-hand shop in the 16th, Ottakring, simply shook his head: No Nazi collectables. All that was on display was an old coin with the eagle and swastika engraved. 

There was more to find in the 7th, Neubau, where an employee took me to the back of the store and unlocked the drawer to reveal song books, medals, pamphlets and photographs of families and soldiers bearing the insignias of the regime. This was very much under the counter.

Courtesy of the author

These are “Verlassenschaften,” he explained, the things left behind by those who die, the memorabilia of lives lived and ended that re-emerge on the shelves of these shops, the Altwarengeschäften. The families take what they want and allow the antique store to clear the rest, keeping for sale anything of value. 

“Most of the Nazi artifacts are hidden away, in the basement or sometimes in boxes under the bed. That’s where we find them,” he told me. “People also come here, hoping to sell things like that.” Sometimes it’s people in the building trades who find something and don’t know what to do with it. “So they come here.”

At this point a man entered the shop and asked if they had an Airforce Paybook, from the Luftwaffe. Why something so specific? 

He was from Yugoslavia, he said. “It is more difficult to find these things there, especially documents like these.” A couple of days earlier, a friend had given him a diary from an air force soldier from the air bases in Klagenfurt and Zeltweg. It is these things, the personal things, that fascinate him.

Collectors from outside of Austria in search of rare objects is its own kind of cottage industry, one that has been going on sub rosa since the end of WWII. Soldiers returning home from the occupation often brought flags, weapons, cutlery, anything with the insignia of the Third Reich to take home as souvenirs. 

“It’s been portrayed as the most evil regime in history, there is an obvious appeal in that,” explained Holocaust scholar Gregory Weeks, former head of the International Relations Department at Webster University in Vienna. 

Gregory Weeks is a Holocaust scholar and the former head of the International Relations Department at Webster University in Vienna. 

“Most antique shops have copies of Mein Kampf, but usually they’ll want some kind of letter to show that you’re buying it legitimately.  But certainly everyone from that generation had copies on their bookshelves.”

As the allies were closing in the final weeks of the war, the first thing to go was the uniforms, and then anything overtly symbolic of the former regime. But, as many young Austrians know from visiting their grandparents, a copy of Mein Kampf was a piece of memorabilia that survived.

“After [the Anschluss in] 1938, when people got married, they were given a copy of Mein Kampf which was stamped with the date of the wedding and bound in white leather.  So a lot of people have these copies as a nostalgic piece in their homes”.

Weeks took out a large book entitled, World War Two Collectibles, and flipped through the pages that estimate the value of rifles, medals and helmets of the Third Reich. Next to these,  “Mein Kampf has no real value beyond a few euros,” he said. There were too many of them. On the other hand, he was once offered a silver Christmas ornament bearing a likeness of Adolf Hitler’s face…  “I wish I’d bought it,” he said with a laugh.  It turned out later to be quite a valuable piece.

Often these deals must be done with discretion. In January, police and officials from Austria’s anti-terrorist unit raided a Viennese apartment, where they found a cache of Nazi artifacts including pins, medals, uniforms and weapons ranging from daggers to a sub-machine gun. Which on their own might be allowed but collected altogether without proper authority, is strictly prohibited.

Courtesy of the author

It had been a strange journey – Days of walking into antique stores, asking to see Nazi collectables and being shuffled into several backrooms was desensitising. Without a direct comment from the police, it is impossible to tell if these backroom deals are known about or whether they are simply tolerated. This appears to be the biggest open secret in Vienna. 

Courtesy of the author

Many younger people seem to feel a certain apathy, summed up by a Viennese friend: “My grandma has portraits of officers of the regime hanging in her attic, but what are you going to do?” They were soldiers, and they may have been Nazis. They were also her relatives and friends.

For the wartime generation and their children, many of the Nazi artifacts were simply the souvenirs of times that although now politically disgraced, were the times when they lived, loved, married and had children. For others, family photographs with a Wehrmacht soldier or a wedding copy of Mein Kampf leave a bad taste. The sentiments have become disposable memories families try to forget.  

And so they end up in the antique stores of Vienna’s back streets.

Being Bulgarian in Vienna

by Ekaterina Georgieva, Danny Nedkova & Pavel Naydenov

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the obvious: Dr. Renée Gadsden, professor at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts, has met a lot of Bulgarians in Vienna: “Almost all of you come from Sofia, and knew each other from high school,” she said grinning. Viewed from the outside, we were a small homogenous group, with collective codes of thinking and shared memories. “But you were also curious – hunters – and always knew what and where something was happening.”

Vienna’s Karlsplatz has become one of the central meeting points for the growing Bulgarian community of the city./(C) Wikimedia Commons

And if she wanted to find us, she simply went to Karlsplatz, where the “Bulgarian village” always gathered. Dr. Gadsden is from New York City. In Vienna, she was a foreigner like we were, and understood us as well as urban street life.

We grew up in Bulgaria under the communist regime, “the kids of Perestroika,” a generation of curious young people, living between the shadows of the old and the light of the new. As a side effect of everything forbidden, in our little underground street life, anything was possible. That’s how we became the New Kids on the Bloc in Vienna, who came to gain knowledge and to meet the Western side of the world.

Coming to Austria in the mid-1990s was a decision that meant the chance to study abroad at Austrian universities for a small fee. Born in the late 1970s, we were the first generation who had the chance to study abroad. So that’s how we met again, all at once, in a different country.

Vienna became our School of Life. And no one said it was going to be easy. We were not aliens, but as Bulgarians, we were almost illegal – not “Englishmen in New York.” We struggled through the long road of visa regulations and the severe restrictions on Eastern Europeans entering the labor market. We supported each other and when the time came each year to apply for a new visa – each student needed to have 70,000 Schillings (€5,000) in the bank – everyone contributed to the friend’s account for a few days. That was when we really knew we were Bulgarian, that we were different. The system put a frame around our freedom, and taught us what it meant to be a foreigner.

Those without financial help from their families and a scholarship had to work illegally. In liberal and free Austria, the positive word “foreigner” became the negative, almost cursed, word Ausländer, and we understood that there were foreigners and foreigners, according to the system.

As students, Bulgarians in Austria were not allowed to work even for a day, and the hiring procedure for foreigners was so unattractive that few employers would do it. That changed in 2007 when Bulgaria became a member of the EU. So, all the people who came in 1995 and had worked unregistered until 2007 were missing about 12 years of work experience; but it had been illegal, so we couldn’t prove it.

After Bulgaria’s entry into the EU, a lot of people decided to try their luck abroad. Before that, the flow had been to Italy and Spain, or seasonal workers to Portugal and France. After 2007, many re-oriented and when they found out about the strong social and health system in Austria, they moved here, although most didn’t speak the language yet.

At the Edge of the Balkans

Vienna turned into a magnet for students. The affordable fees made it the top choice – close enough to home but too far to go back very often! And after graduation, many decided to stay and make Vienna their new home. Particularly the artists: Before World War II, their favorite city had been Munich; after the war, it was the Austrian capital. Because of the city’s international background, Vienna created the best environment for the exchange of ideas, experience, and innovation. Maybe it took a while for most Bulgarians to adapt to the Central European manners, but for most of us, Vienna is still at the edge of the Balkans, so we call it home.

As time passed, the Bulgarians who settled in Austria realized they wanted to pass Bulgarian ways on to their children. Schools, cultural and art centers, and parents’ associations were formed, introducing the young generation to the Bulgarian culture, traditions, and language.

After the embassy school was closed in 1992, the SS. Cyril and Methodius was registered as the first financially independent scholastic institution outside Bulgaria where children could continue their Bulgarian education in their free time. Today, alongside the Prof. Ivan Shishmanov School, founded in 2019, the two schools offer a curriculum in Bulgarian language, literature, history, and geography with diplomas, recognized by the Bulgarian Ministry of Education.

Bulgarian schools in Vienna offer a curriculum in Bulgarian language, literature, history, and geography. They have launched theater projects, vocal groups and dance ensembles, giving space for students to explore Bulgarian culture outside Bulgaria./(C) Bulgarische Schule Wien

Still only a seedling in a forest, the program would not be possible without the parents’ associations and the teaching staff. Their involvement has launched theater projects, vocal groups and dance ensembles as part of the curriculum, giving space for students to explore Bulgarian culture outside Bulgaria. They also emphasize independent thinking, and the ability to criticize and recognize the essential.

Living abroad, we are trying to stay connected to our roots. Some of us do this by watching Bulgarian TV or listening to the radio, and reading books, while some of the Bulgarian shops sell our newspapers. Others hang Bulgarian mementos on their walls. For the more active, though, this is not enough. And this is where informal groups come in – where old traditions are kept alive by singing folklore songs or dancing our traditional folk dance, the Horo.

For example the Verein Bulgarische Rhythmen with a traditional folk choir Kitka, classes in traditional dance, and Kukeri – people dressed like monsters, who dance on the streets to get rid of the bad omens and energy, and to welcome fertility and health. During the pandemic, a new ensemble, Trelina, led by Nina Wasilewa-Zanechev, recorded beautiful
arrangements of well-known Bulgarian folk songs, in videos they uploaded on social media to lighten the spirits of Bulgarians in Vienna.

Media and Social Network

The Bulgarian media spectrum is diverse – from printed publications to radio and television to social media and network gatherings. It’s a well-known fact that while getting a great education in Austria one can study here forever. “The perennial Student“ is a typical Austrian phenomenon that occurs equally to the foreign student as to the Austrian. And two of them, Katherina Germanova and Ivan Karchev finally established a Bulgarian student association KIT, in 2005, to bring students together and help orient newly arrived Bulgarians. Then, OKTO TV began hosting the show “Brigada”, featuring experiences and anecdotes of Bulgarian life in Vienna, mostly in German. On radio, the Bulgarian highlight is the weekly podcast “Mit Akzent – The Unspeakable World of Todor Ovtcharov” on FM4.

One of the largest social events for the community is the annual summer Fair Заедно (Together) in the Palais Miller Aichholz. Since 2017, the fair has hosted seminars, expert talks and art workshops for its 1,500 visitors. They have launched theater projects, along with Bulgarian sports games and highlights of Bulgarian cuisine. 

Most Bulgarian print magazines from the early 2000s have evolved into more flexible digital formats and became important social nodes. As cross-cultural and informative platforms on Facebook, they have a significant impact on Viennas’ Bulgarian community.

The online community was especially strong in 2020, a year marked not only by the pandemic but also by anti-governmental demonstrations in Bulgaria. The Facebook groups Bulgarians in Vienna, with its 10K subscribers, shows how lively the community is. For the first time, an International Demonstration Network was formed to demand the resignation of Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and Chief Prosecutor Ivan Geshev, protesting against government corruption. Slogans like “EU are you blind” defined the hundreds of days of protest. Due to the growing political engagement of Bulgarians abroad, the government is trying to reduce the number of polling stations.

The demonstrations in Vienna launched a lively dialog among Bulgarians in different walks of life, on the streets, and on social media channels. But the point of exchange still remains the Bulgarian hotspot Karlsplatz, near the Embassy.

Austrian Catholics Criticize the Vatican’s Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

The Vatican’s latest ruling against same-sex marriage has sparked outrage among many of Austria’s 5 million Catholics and 1.3 billion Catholics globally, including high-ranking Church leaders who have openly voiced opposition to the directive.

On March 15, the Vatican declared gay marriage “illicit,” claiming that any such union is “not aligned with the Creator’s plan.” While the Church would receive homosexuals “with respect and sensitivity,” it would not support their unions. The decision, reached by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope Francis, came in response to questions raised by priests and perishes who sought to welcome homosexual couples.

Christian faith describes marriage as a sacred union between a man and woman for the purpose of procreation. It entails a mutual commitment such that wife and children are protected. Under this reading, the Vatican asserts that same-sex unions do not align with Catholic teaching and thus cannot be sanctified. This decision does not imply a critique of homosexual couples, but rather a “reminder” of the Church’s views on marriage. 

The ban is a major setback for gay Catholics who have hoped the Church was becoming more inclusive. Many had become increasingly optimistic ever since Francis’s call last fall for a legal framework for homosexual couples. 

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” said the pope in a documentary film Francesco, which premiered at the Rome Film Festival in October. The Vatican later clarified that gay couples deserve civil protection, including legal rights and healthcare benefits, but the pope’s comments do not suggest a change in Church doctrine.  

However, Francis has previously also expressed conflicting sentiments about gays. In an interview published in December 2019, he called homosexuality a “fad,” advising gay priests to be celibate or step down “so as not to lead a double life.” Additionally, he described romantic attraction between people of the same sex as “something that worries him.” In line with such statements, the Vatican’s latest directive appears to signal an end to its reformist intentions and reaffirms the Church’s firm stance that the sacrament of marriage sanctions the relationship between a man and a woman, and should be restricted to heterosexuals. Francis’s earlier proposal for the institution of “civil union” could provide an alternative that would not be in conflict with this foundational principle. 

Same-sex unions are allowed in almost all western democracies. Austria legalized same-sex marriage on January 1, 2019. 

Opposition in Austria 

High-ranking Austrian Catholics have denounced the Vatican’s ban. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and a long-time member of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, said he was “not happy” about the decree and called the ruling a “clear communication error.” While he believes that the “holy matrimony” is and will always be sacred, he advised the Church to talk less about sexuality and focus on love instead. “I know many people who are in love with someone from the same sex and for whom this word from Rome was deeply painful,” Schönborn said. 

The Priests’ Initiative (Pfarrer-Initiative), an Austrian-based Catholic dissident group founded in 2011 by Helmut Schüller with roughly 400 members, vowed to defy the ruling and would continue blessing gay couples. “We will – in solidarity with so many – not reject in the future any loving couple who asks to celebrate in a worship service the blessing of God that they experience every day,” the group said in a statement. 

Austrian Catholics have long opposed the Vatican’s position, which they consider homophobic.  In 1995, a group launched the so-called “Church Citizens’ Initiative,” which called for “more humanity instead of blanket condemnations in questions of homosexuality.” With some 505,000 signatures, the petition was supported by a substantial share of the Catholics. Still, the group failed to enact real change. In light of the Vatican’s latest ruling, the situation seems to have improved little for homosexual Catholics in the past 26 years.  

Now, a broader Austrian public has again decided to speak up. A survey by the magazine Profil found that the majority of Austrians oppose the Church ban on same-sex marriage. Only 13% of the participants understood the Vatican’s decision, while 64% of the participants rejected the ban, and 21% stated that they were not interested in what the Church does. 

Parishes in Austria and other European countries have raised the rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. One is the Schwechat Parish in Lower Austria, where Father Werner Pirkner believes that homosexuals are just as much a part of the Church as everyone else.

“God loves all people, that is my deepest conviction, sexual orientation does not matter,” said Pirkner. “The church must provide a handrail for all people to hold on to and should not put up a stop sign for anyone.” 

Bulgarian Cuisine ― 3 Must-Try Recipes

And Bulgarian cuisine follows the logic of its geography in the heart of the Balkan region where so many paths cross.

Often described as a mixture of Turkish and Greek cuisine, though, the characteristic dishes such as sarma’’ and musaka” however have their own local versions, with tastes and sensations that proudly differ from their neighbors’. Even abroad Bulgarians have always Bulgarian white cheese (similar to “feta”) in their fridge and many of us make our famous Bulgarian Yogurt ourselves. Containing the unique and extremely healthy Bacillus Bulgaricus, we are convinced it’s the best yogurt in the world!

For Bulgarians cooking is not just a daily routine, but it’s a national craft. For this, they have even invented the emblematical Чушкопек (Chushkopek) – an electric kitchen appliance for roasting paprika, and an official Bulgarian patent from the late 1960’s. The word comes from Chushka – paprika and Peka – roasting, and almost every Bulgarian family has one. Even those who go abroad find a way to bring it along to a place of honor in their new home. And as with bigos for the Poles, or goulash for a Hungarian, this special aroma carries with it the memories of childhood and home.

The Queen of Bulgarian Cuisine

Шопска салата!

Шопска салата (shopska salad) is a unique vegetable combination which will win your heart at first taste. Eaten almost every day and on any occasion in summer, it is the favorite salad of the Bulgarians. It consists of finely-chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and fresh parsley, cooked and peeled red peppers and seasoned with salt, sunflower oil and a bit of vinegar, all this hidden under a pile of grated white Bulgarian cheese.

Шопска салата (shopska salad) is a unique vegetable combination which will win your heart at first taste. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

What makes shopska salad differ from Greek salad is the blending of the tastes rather than feeling each vegetable and the cheese as separate elements. But the truth is, the salad which bears the three colors of the national flag, was actually an invention of the national tourism agency “Balkantourist” during the communist era in the 1950s. Served in all Bulgarian restaurants, it rapidly became popular among Bulgarians and foreigners. Today, Bulgarians eat it before meals with a small glass of Rakia. Much as we love this salad, though, it is actually quite hard to make outside Bulgaria. The big secret hides in the taste of the tomatoes. So try to find Bulgarian or at least Turkish tomatoes on the market before trying your hand at this fantastic salad. It’s well worth the effort!

Easy & Common

Тapatop (Tarator)

Served mainly in the summer instead of a salad, or as a refreshment between the meals, this cold, uncooked soup goes ideally together with a sip of Rakia – a combination traditionally consumed before the main course – or Mastika, a Bulgarian Anise drink like Ouzo.

Served mainly in the summer instead of a salad, or as a refreshment between the meals, this cold, uncooked soup goes ideally together with a sip of Rakia. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

Ingredients

  • 500 gr yogurt
  • 1 cucumber
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small bunch dill
  • Sunflower oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Walnuts (at your liking)

Preparation

Cut the cucumber into tiny pieces, or into cubes and stir it. Add the crushed garlic, the minced dill and the chopped walnuts, salt and pepper. Mix well together and leave for some minutes. Beat the yogurt and pour it into the mixture. Add some water but watch out that it does not become too thin. It should have smooth, soupy consistency. Decorate with walnuts and dill. Makes a festival out of any summer day!

Nettles With Rice

An easy and economical springtime dish whose preparation gains a certain flare from the comical outing for the whole family – in gloves, or even just plastic bags over their hands, scavenging the neighborhood to pick the nettles. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

An easy and economical springtime dish whose preparation gains a certain flare from the comical outing for the whole family – in gloves, or even just plastic bags over their hands, scavenging the neighborhood to pick the nettles. We garnish it with our famous Bulgarian yogurt (kiselo mljako) – the healthiest yogurt in the world, as it contains Lactobacillus Bulgaricus known for its benefits for the human immune system!

Ingredients

  • 500 gr. fresh nettle
  • 5 spring onions
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 small carrot
  • 1 bunch parsley
  • 1⁄2 bunch mint
  • Sunflower oil
  • 1 glass of rise
  • Black pepper
  • Salt

Preparation

Heat the oil in a pot and add the chopped onions, after a while also the smashed garlic and the carrot in tiny pieces and stir. Set on medium-high. In 3-4 min add the cropped nettle, parsley and mint and cook for 5 more minutes until they soften. Add the rise, stir and pour 2-3 of a cup of vegetable or beef bouillon. Cook on a low heat until the rice is ready, add salt and pepper. When serving, put a spoon of Bulgarian yogurt in the middle and decorate with parsley or mint leaf.

Lyutenitsa

Bulgarian Лютеница (lyutenitsa) is a simple but scrumptious, mouth-watering vegetable paste, eaten as a spread on a slice of warm bread. It was the natural substitute to tomatoes and peppers in winter, particularly in earlier times. Thinking of my childhood, one of my fondest memories is my grandmother calling me in for an afternoon snack, giving me a bread slice with lyutenitsa and white crubled chese.

Bulgarian Лютеница (lyutenitsa) is a simple but scrumptious, mouth-watering vegetable paste, eaten as a spread on a slice of warm bread. /Courtesy of Metropole’s Bulgarian community (c) Danny Nedkova

Ingredients

  • 1kg (2 lbs) red peppers
  • 1 kg (2 lbs) tomatoes
  • 400 gr (14 oz) aubergine
  • 2 middle sized carrots
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 big cloves garlic
  • 30 ml sunflower (any plant oil will do)
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 s.s. salt
  • 1.s.s. sugar
  • 1 pinch of black pepper

Preparation

Bake, peel and remove the seeds and stems from the peppers and aubergines, boil the carrots. Grate the tomatoes and remove the skin, put the sauce in a big pot to boil until the paste starts to thicken. Stir constantly. Grind the peppers, the boiled carrots and the aubergines and add them to the tomatoes. Stir constantly at low heat. Sauté the onion and the garlic in the oil and remove them before adding the oil to the mixture. Add the parsley, salt, sugar and black paper. The mixture is ready when you can make a path with the spoon that doesn’t close on the bottom of the pot.