Maggie Childs Reflects on Language

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

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

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

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

From trash talk to spoken word

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t be a stranger, 

Maggie Childs

Cover

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

Word of the Week: Schnitzelpracker [ˈʃnɪt͡sl̩pʁakɐ]

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Moulham Obid, the Syrian Prince of Fashion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the pandemic affect your work?

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

The Wiener Zeitung – Born By Decree, Buried By Bureaucrats

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

(C) Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

Three Centuries of Independence

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

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

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

Outright Censorship or Legal Ambiguity 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcontinental Race

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

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

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

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

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

Austria’s Grand Reopening Brings a Sigh of Relief

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

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

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

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

Theory and Practice

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

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

Like the First Time

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

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

Schnitzel for the Show

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

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

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

Word of the Week: Bummerl [ˈbʊmɐɺl]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Precious Nnebedum, a Multitalented Spoken Word Artist

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Alexandra Obernberger, Speech Therapist in Vienna

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Werner Richter, a Literary Translator in Vienna

0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capital Offense

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

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

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

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

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

Big Head, Small Body

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

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

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

Meet Nadia Varadinova, Purveyor of Delicacies

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

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

What can Nadia Varadinova’s story possibly be?

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

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

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

The Fire Woman From Bulgaria

“There is no shameful job”, she says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lockdown Update – Austria’s Current Coronavirus Measures

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

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

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

Graphics created by Daniel El-Sabeh.

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

Vienna Bars Airbnb From Renting Out Council Flats

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

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

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

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

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

Word of the Week: fremdschämen [ˈfʁɛmtˌʃeːmən]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Visible Sign of Remembrance

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

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

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

Meet Petar Naydenov, Bulgarian Opera Basso

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!