Ausweis, bitte.” (ID please) The theater clerk’s smile slides into an incredulous hard line as she takes my University of Vienna ID to validate my student discount

By Amanda Kontor

Despite the protective plastic cover, its long body is bent out of shape, with dog-eared corners bearing witness to its famous incompatibility with seemingly any wallet. The clerk grants me my discount and returns my ID, but not before another chortle at my expense – and how can I blame her? The orange cardboard ID may be an iconic part of Austrian academic life, but it’s an absolute relic.

When I first moved to Vienna – and before I started having exchanges like this regularly – I toted my newly acquired student ID around in bliss, in no small part because it matched the old-world image I projected onto the city. To me, the handwritten Matrikelnummer, glued-in passport photo and Admissions Office stamp were just as nostalgic as the traditional coffeehouses, classic trams, and horse-trodden cobblestones that I’d been expecting.

For the University of Vienna, which has issued them since at least the early 1900s, the cardboard ID card is anything but a nostalgic throwback. In fact, it was well past the recent 650th anniversary of Vienna’s Hauptuni when it joined the rest of the city’s universities in the 21st century and upgraded its IDs to a plastic model—the u:card.

Now, students and faculty members patiently await the delivery of their new, blank, credit card-sized white ID’s, which they’ll have to scan into machines on campus to complete. And while keeping something in your pocket that Sigmund Freud was familiar with was undoubtedly delightful, it’s hard not to sweep that feeling aside for the satisfaction that comes with sliding the new u:card so effortlessly into your wallet—without any dirty looks from a theater clerk.