Urban Harvest

The annual ritual of the Weinlese on Schwarzenbergplatz mixes the social with the political.


One of the refreshing differences between Austrian and Anglo-Saxon politics is the public affinity to alcohol: in the puritanical USA a pol photographed downing the demon drink could be committing political suicide, in Austria a politician who doesn’t enjoy beer or wine is probably unelectable.

Wednesday’s mini political event was the annual ritual of the Weinlese (grape harvest) on the grand Schwarzenbergplatz in the center of the city. The five or six modest rows of vines, discreetly hidden behind a stone balustrade (and in the way of modern absurdities, right across the street from McDonalds) make up Vienna’s smallest vineyard and an annual entry on the Mayor’s calendar.

Waiting for the mayor

Around 11.00 on a cool October day, a casual knot of some 30 people were waiting for the mayor, Michael Ludwig, to arrive. Dress code was decidedly modern casual: elegantly urbane women in their off-duty mufti of quilted jackets, well-cut jeans and polished boots, their male companions slightly scruffier. An exception was the omni-present Dompfarrer Toni Faber, the Catholic church’s socialite figurehead, in a perfectly-fitting slim cut suit, the clerical black offset only by a starched white dog-collar (for the photo op he handed his overcoat to a waiting lackey).

The early arrivals all seemed to know each other and were chatting happily with a glass of the wine grower’s signature Gemischter Satz as Ludwig, without pomp or circumstance, strolled up to join them.  A brief round of handshakes to all present and on with the show:  Vineyard boss Hans Schmid decked out the Mayor with a crisp new Kellermeister‘s apron, emblazoned with the Mayr am Pfarrplatz logo, and placed a pair of serious-looking secateurs in his hands. Snip snip, then Ludwig and Schmid turned to face the cameras, each with a well-formed bunch of grapes. After myriad versions of the photo op at well-oiled professional speed – with and without the dirndl-clad Weinprinzessen and other minor dignitaries – Mayor Ludwig was free to do what he clearly enjoys, to mingle and chat with anyone who wants to talk to him.

Urban Harvest | The future of vineyards

METROPOLE was interested in the future of Vienna’s magical vineyards, up in the hills on potentially prime real estate overlooking the city. “We have an absolute block on any development” he assured us: The vineyards will stay the way they are.  Always the politician, he could not resist a dig at his colleague from the other major party, in neighboring Niederösterreich: “On the other side of the state line,” he added, “all kinds of stuff is getting built.” Reason enough to vote Red in the upcoming local elections.

(Foto credit: Copyright: Mayer am Pfarrplatz)

Simon Ballam
English, studied in NY and worked in London, Düsseldorf, NY, Fankfurt, Prague and Vienna. This covered stints in market research and the film industry, international advertising coordination and strategic planning. Currently business school lecturer and journalist.

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