Vienna at night

Pro & Con | Winter 2019

The Still of the Night

by Dardis McNamee

Some come to Vienna wishing it were Rome or Madrid, bistro nights in Trestevere, or partying on the Barrio de Las Letras. Vienna’s so quiet. Where’s the action? The answer is, underground, or on the roof, in an old warehouse, or under the arches of the Stadtbahn. Or simply, inside. In Vienna, there is a noise ordinance: After 10 pm maybe 11, bring it inside. And if you’re outside, keep it way down.

It’s all about the right to “quiet enjoyment” – something the Viennese take very seriously. So, rules apply to construction workers as they do for families with children, who should think about getting thick rugs. Even the city’s hallowed musicians honor the sanctioned hours, which vary with the instrument, but are generally tolerated weekdays from 8:00 to 18:00, evenings by arrangement. Pianos, accordions and recorders are considered “fundamental to Viennese culture,” as are strings and woodwinds, legally guaranteed at least four hours a day, even on weekends – although preferably not from 12:00 to 14:00, where neighbors need their Mittagspause. As to brass players and drummers, they’re out of luck – no legal protection at all – and would be best advised to find a practice room on the Gürtel. Volume is decisive, but also the subjective annoyance to a representative “average inhabitant.” What is ortsüblich, i.e. local custom.

To me, Vienna is a relief after other cities. In my neighborhood, the quiet of evening streets is broken only by footfall, a conversation or a flash of laughter and the occasional car. Farther on, you can just hear the whirring and low growl of steel on steel as a tram slides past. No boom boxes, horns or car alarms wailing plaintively into the night. Where every third doorways seems to be a café, bar or restaurant, sidewalk tables are put up at 11:00, and the hum of voices moves inside.

In subways and trains, there’s no loud music or shouting into cell phones; the decals on the windows remind everyone to be considerate. Not forced to absorb the tensions of other people’s lives, the Viennese are left in peace, free to think their own thoughts.

So, here’s the deal: Party on! Just tone it down after 11:00, midnight at the latest, even on Saturdays. Best: Alert your neighbors. Or better yet, invite them by for a drink. A little courtesy goes a long way.

 

Missing the Sound of Music

by Sophie Spiegelberger

Walk down the street on a hot summer evening in Berlin, New York or Paris, and you’ll see sidewalks bustling with people – dining, drinking talking and having a good time. In short, making some noise. Not so in Vienna, where night streets are eerily quiet. After 22:00, the place is a ghost town: no outdoor dining, no bar patrons outside with a pint in hand; and certainly no open-air raves. 

Vienna didn’t become the world’s “most liveable city” by accident: The restricted opening hours, rent caps, bike lanes, pedestrian zones and noise ordinances are all there to, quite literally, keep the peace. 

But must we penalize the city’s nightlife in the bargain? Afraid of petulant neighbors, street entertainers pack up, pubs shoo away patrons “in high spirits”, and partygoers retreat inside or just give up and go home. 

Can’t a city that prides itself on its savoir vivre lighten up a little? At least on weekends? 

Granted, residential areas should be quiet, but exceptions can and should exist. Surely there are bigger menaces to society than musicians practicing at night. Or parties past 22:01. 

Is it too much to ask the Viennese to endure the sound of people enjoying themselves? No need to scrap all rules; Just loosen them up a little for designated areas, and on weekends and holidays. 

Let’s allow Vienna’s vibrancy to shine both night and day.

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