The City that Sleeps

Slow down . . . what’s the hurry about?

You’d better cool it off before you burn it out

You’ve got so much to do

And only so many hours in a day


But you know that when the truth is told

That you can get what you want or you can just get old

You’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through

When will you realize, Vienna waits for you


–“Vienna” Billy Joel


The universal appeal of Billy Joel ‘70s classic “Vienna” has a special resonance for anyone who lives here, and all the more the longer you stay. Joel was inspired to write the song after tracking down his father, a WWII refugee, who had chosen to return to Europe, settling in Vienna.

Joel was moved by a complex set of emotions he found here, and that he captured in the song: the age-old traditions, the finiteness of existence, and the leisurely pace of life. Although the chorus, “Vienna waits for you”, is now used by the city in its promotion for tourists, it’s actually not far off the mark. While the rest of the world clamors to be the biggest, the best, the brightest, and the most modern, Vienna has remained cool and complacent, content to be set in its ways.

The outcome? Consistently topping quality of life surveys, ranking higher this year overall then ever before. In the Mercer Survey, Vienna has ranked as the city with the highest quality of life for seven years now, and elsewhere, in Monocle magazine, aimed at today’s trend-conscious, professional globetrotter, it’s now made the big jump from No.6 to No.2 after Tokyo. Suddenly, Gemütlichkeit is cool.

Why the big leap? In part, it reflects a change in Monocle’s own ranking system, with more points given for affordability and access to the outdoors. So, it’s not Vienna that has changed, it’s the others who have caught on.

In a world obsessed with novelty, this is an interesting development. Continuity, charm, and comfort sound stodgy, but it’s precisely these qualities that have finally brought Vienna its due. Wien bleibt Wien, Vienna remains Vienna, and now the rest of the world is catching up, or rather, slowing down.

And what’s holding Vienna back from that coveted No. 1 spot (as if anyone really cared!)? In Monocle’s list of reservations about our city, its main gripe is with the opening hours. In a city where “Grüß Gott” is still the main form of greeting, shops closing on Sundays should not come as that big a surprise. In a culture with no direct translation for the English word “convenient”, there is also no game show called “Shop ‘till You Drop”.

Austria takes its (numerous) public holidays seriously. They are literally holy, that is, saints days and other events of the religious calendar. And on Sundays, we’re meant to rest, to keep the Lord’s Day holy.  And for the socialists, keep a day for the family.  Except of course for those who keep all those cafés, restaurants, museums and concert halls open for our edification – which of course, is part of God’s (and Red Vienna’s) plan.

The alternative? An artificial sub-set who have to work on Sundays and holidays, and can never be part of the 11:00 a.m. concerts at the Musikverein, the family lunches, the walks in the Wienerwald or outings to a film or a museum – the important rituals of many Vienna lives  Today’s Viennese would not stand for it any more than their parents did.

In Vienna, quality of life means what it says – and it’s for everyone.

Get it? We knew you’d catch on, eventually.



Janima Nam
Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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