Viennese Vignettes

After five long years in the beautiful city of Vienna, the time has come and I am preparing to move to pastures anew. I can’t leave without a final summation of what it is to be an expat/immigrant/outsider in this great city, so I present here an unnumbered listicle of things a person should achieve by the time he/she leaves Vienna. This is part bucket list, part cultural commentary, and part passive-aggressive rant about easily resolved white people problems. Littered throughout one may even encounter a piece of solid advice that will make living here easier. There are around 50 of these little tips about how you know when you know your way around Vienna. If only I could think up a catchy title to reflect that! I usually try and make these posts accessible for all readers, but this time I apologise: if you haven’t lived in Vienna for at least a few months, you will be completely lost here. To paraphrase Ultravox, it will mean nothing to you. Anyway, I’ll be back at the end.

viennese vig

Greet someone with “Grüß Gott“.

It’s how to politely say hello to a stranger in this part of the world. Literally it means ‘Greetings to god’. If that’s confusing, it’s because the greeter is asking you to greet god for him/her should you see him first (in heaven). It’s polite, it’s alliterative, and it is an everyday reminder of our futile mortality, so I’m a big fan.

 

Never learn to speak German fluently.

You don’t need it: all the people you meet will speak English better than you anyway. For the rare moments you encounter a non-foreigner, simply pointing and acting generally unfriendly is more than enough to communicate an action or idea to an Austrian.


Play football with Wiener Kickabouts

The premier football group in Vienna for foreigners who want to play with foreigners, and Austrians who hate Austrians. If you want to play regularly, play with them.

  

Watch football games at the Shebeen.

Less touristy than many of the other sports bars, there can be quite an atmosphere when big premier league teams are playing. #ViennaHack: When in a big group, remember what you order, as the bar staff will generally try and charge you for drinks unpaid by other groups. Advice: never be the last group to pay up after a football game.

 

Go to a Wiener SportKlub game.

David Alaba aside, Austrian football is terrible. Celebrate it by supporting a third division working class team while drinking warm Ottakringer on cold seats. Preferably aim for the Derby of Love, one of Central European footballs most contested sporting rivalry’s.

 

Play kickball with Vienna Kickball.

Spend a Sunday afternoon standing around a park drinking beer and asking people what the hell Kickball is. A good mix of expats/foreigners make up this group, and the leadership is a good mix of overt cynicism (hungover Christoph) and over-enthusiasm (Toma when he sees snow). Join up here.

 

Use Vienna CityBikes.

It’s like owning a bike, except without any of the responsibility. Check out this handy graphic here.

  

Feel guilty when the marathon is on.

It looks like anyone can do it, doesn’t it? Maybe next year, but for now, let’s just wake up for the finish on TV, and then back to bed.

 

Be the slowest person running on the Prater Hauptallee.

You’ll have a lot of competition, but you can do it.

 

Shout at someone while cycling.

You know best. Ruin that tourist family’s day!

 

Never go skiing.

It’s for tourists and middle class families, so skiing is none of an expats business.

 

Win Quiz Dreitausand!

The best quiz in town. It’s run monthly throughout most of the year at club Transporter. No pop culture reference from the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s or even this decade is too obscure for these quizmasters. If you win, treasure it. Because it won’t happen too often.

 

Get 3 leisurely drinks in during Happy Hour at Johnny’s Pub.

It’s daunting, but you can absolutely do it if you time it properly. Get there for 18h for your first pint, finish it by 18:30 for pint 2, then at 18:50 order number 3 while pretending you were on your way to the toilet. Bingo: you’re nicely drunk by 19:30 on a weekday for around €6. But tip the barman, for god’s sake.

  

Drink a cocktail made by Percy on the Donaukanal .

Drinking your warm cans by the canal is one thing, but the best beach experience in Vienna is a little shack run by authentic Caribbean man Percy just across from the Bratislava Twin Liner Port. He’ll sing you reggae songs while making you a rum cocktail, and then you can relax on beach chairs in the dirty sandbox they provide as seating.

  

Get kicked into a bar at 10pm.

Vienna needs her sleep. So if you’re drinking outside a bar around the curfew, you could well find yourself being forced inside. Bitte Pssst!

 

Sneak beer into the cinema.

The soundtrack of watching a film in a Viennese cinema is of quiet moments in the movie being  punctuated by a cacophony of cans being cracked throughout the theatre. Just do it: no one cares, because they’re doing it too.

 

Mix gassed water with white wine.

It took me years to realise how to make Austrian white wine drinkable.

 

Eventually realise and accept that you drink alcohol absolutely every day.

They have champagne for breakfast here, for Christ’s sake. Only those raised here can possibly avoid a small bout of alcoholism.

 

Bring unsuspecting people to Adlerhof.

Tell them it’s just a normal bar. Don’t explain anything. Works best with people you don’t know too well.

 

Wait for the fun to start at Schikaneder.

It won’t, but you’re not going to be the one who admits it.

 

Know what your personal price-ceiling is with regards to Wurstelstand Beer.

It’s €2.80. Anything more, and they are having a laugh. Don’t encourage them.

 

Go to a bar without reserving a table

You’re not going to have a good time, but try and fight the system anyway!

 

Get pissed off at having to wait 5 minutes for an U-Bahn.

Completely unacceptable. No other words.

 

Accept that the U3 is Vienna’s best U-Bahn line.

It’s got the main bus station (VIB), the Westbahnhof, the main shopping street (Neubaugasse), the tourist centre (Stephansplatz) and the main link to the airport (Wien Mitte). No other line can compare.

 

Come to regard the 13A as the U5.

It’s frequent, it’s fast, and it fills the hole where the U5 should be. It just happens to be a bus.

 

Get your kaisekrainer with mayonnaise instead of mustard.

I ordered it by mistake once, but have never looked back since. The sausage men will look on you with disgust, but don’t be ashamed, for it is delicious, and they live in a hut on the side of the street.

 

Say on facebook that you’re interested in every free event there is.

Free outdoor cinema, free ethnic festival, free concert, free puppies. Everything’s free in the summer, but there’s gonna be too many people there, so just drink a few cans by the kanal instead.

 

Swim in the Danube.

It’s dirty, smelly, and tastes like mould, but in a land-locked country you take what you can get.

 

Have a good hour or two at a Donauinsel BBQ, before the mosquitos come out and eat you alive.

As the sun goes down across the water, you’re eating a burger, with your fourth beer in your hand, and you reflect on life’s inner meaning. Because in 10 minutes you will be living in a war zone.

 

Wander far away from the U-Bahn stations on the Donauinsel.

Stay around the population centers to be safe, but just once, walk or cycle 15 minutes further than you usually go. After a pleasantly empty buffer zone, you will encounter the flabby, middle-aged, intensely proud, and incredibly sunburned naked enthusiasts of the FKK.

 

Watch amateur freestyle German rap battles at Einbaumobel on Saturday nights.

Watch it once for the experience, but don’t go back. They are terrible. But you can pay whatever you want for the beer. #freispende

 

At least once, avoid getting involved in the Great Ice-Cream Debate.

Everyone’s vegan hipster ice cream crap is just as terrible as everyone else’s. Eis Greissler be damned!

 

Only go to museums when they’re free to enter.

You’ll see how much people of this city appreciate art every first Sunday of the month, and on the Austrian National Holiday, as well as in the occasional free opening of an exhibition at the Albertina. They love art here. Just not enough to actually want to pay for it.

 

Get bullied into ordering early in the bakery chains.

They’ve got 100 different products, all with unique names, and the name signs are all in front of the wrong products. Yet I’m supposed to know what I want within 3 seconds of entering Anker.

 

Get unnecessarily stressed as supermarket closing time approaches.

If the clock passes 19:30, and you haven’t yet gone to the supermarket, you are in deep trouble. Just be glad it’s not 18:01 on Saturday……

 

Yell “KASSA BITTE!”

In order for this to be authentic, the person shouting at the staff to open another checkout counter must already be consuming the one can of beer he/she came in to buy.

 

Never expect to go shopping for something specific and find what you are looking for in the first place you visit.

Consumerism never really came in here, and this is reflected in the supermarkets and big electronic stores. Shops have the things they sell, and others have the things they sell. It’s your job to find the right one. And don’t bother the staff in each shop about what you’re looking for, either.

 

Give your tram seat up for a woman carrying a small dog.

She probably lists it as a dependent on her tax forms.

 

Complain about -15° in the winter, 40° in the summer, and everything in between.

Humans weren’t meant to live in places with such temperature changes. Just stay at 19°, and everyone will be happy. Everyone goes on beach and ski holidays anyway, we don’t need extreme weather here.

 

Find out what’s going on with Puber.

If you don’t know what that is, then google it. It will ruin the city for you forever, though.

 

Have lunch at the UN.

If you don’t work there, get a friend to invite you. They sign you in and after a big security check, you can walk around the place as long as you hold your friends hand. Make your friend pay for lunch too: he or she is nothing but a rich, tax dodging bastard.

 

Live off the state.

Make socialism work for you! Feeling tired, bored with your job? You pay the taxes, so you have earned a break. Make everyone else pay for your extravagant lifestyle for a few months.

 

Fear the reckoning of the Jahresabrechnung.

It’s that time of year, and you’re starting to regret using that cheap fan to cool yourself all through August, aren’t you? Maybe you didn’t need to have the heating on in late February, and maybe energy saving bulbs are worth the extra few Euros over those cheap shitty ones you always buy. The days before the Jahresrechnung are like waiting in line on Judgement Day: we know what we did wrong, we just hope none of it was as important as we think.

  

Lie to the Rauchfangkehrer.

He wakes you up at 6AM, has a look around your apartment and then very seriously tells you that you need to get your chimney serviced. You tell him that’s what you thought he is here for. He repeats his request, and hands you a business card. You tell him yes, you will call them today. He leaves, and you go back to bed.

 

Get used to the smell of horseshit.

The First District sure is charming. In pictures.

  

Be prepared for a fight at Hofer/Lidl.

Its Balkan rules in these supermarkets.

 

Go to another country to use the airport.

Michael O; Leary knew what he was doing when he set Ryanair up in Bratislava.

 

Never answer the doorbell, for fear it’s the GIS man.

It’s only €14 per month, but it’s your €14 per month, and it’s worth the lies, deceit and anti-social behavior.

  

Get terrified whenever a fellow foreigner mentions something you don’t understand about the MA35.

“Oh, what were you doing at the MA35?”

“I was just getting my 35qx29b renewed. It only took a few weeks, and they only fined me €136,278 for doing it too late. I was so lucky.”

 

Watch Before Sunrise.

And imagine how different that movie would have been if the two young lovers had wandered around Vienna during the winter. There sure as hell would not have been two more movies.

  

Live south of the Wienfluss.

Refer to everyone else as Northern Barbarians.

 

Eat cake at Café Central, while making awkward eye contact with the piano player.

Maintain his gaze all through the entire score of The Third Man.

 

Don’t panic when you lose your keys.

A few years ago it would be the end of the world, but now, you have a guy for this. While 99% of schlusseldiensts won’t illegally cut your keys, you know a place where it can be done in minutes. No forms, no hundreds of euros, just a normal service: the way it should be.

  

 

 

FIN

Some minor white people problem issues, but what can you expect when you reside in the most livable city in the world? You have to complain about something, and complaining about monotonous perfection is how you know you have truly become an Echte Wiener (just joking, they will never accept you, EVER. Console yourself by bringing up Austria’s role in World War II. In schools here they were taught that Germany invaded Austria, and occupied it just like they did to Poland. Inform them of what the rest of the world learned in school!). Don’t be afraid to leave me a message below, on facebook or on twitter about your own personal Viennese Vignettes. This was an amazing city to live in, and I will definitely miss this place and all those I met in Vienna. It meant something to me. Oh, Vienna.

 

 

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1996: Looking Back In Anger

For those who don’t want to read, or would like some musical accompaniment to this rant, please simply skip to the bottom of the page or click here for a Spotify/YouTube playlist of the best music from 1996. These will convince you of my argument in ways that my words cannot. 

For a person who pretends to be an expert on almost everything, from politics to economics to copyright law, you may have noticed that I don’t pretend to know anything about music. In fact, this is my 87th post, and only once in the previous 86 have I ever dedicated an entire post solely to music. I will admit it now, I am no authority on music, and I can prove it. For it was around this time of year 20 years ago, in early February 1996, when I bought my first ever music single. It was a time before Spotify, before iTunes, before Napster, before even the power of the mp3 format had been recognised by anybody except a small group of audio engineers in central Germany. The only way to listen to music was to either buy the album, buy the actual song (if it was released as a single), or to wait for it to be played on the radio (and possibly record this on cassette). That single I bought 20 years ago was none other than Babylon Zoo’s Spaceman, a song that was only popular because it was featured in a Levi’s commercial, and the mid 90’s was a strange period in history where Levi’s jeans were so popular they could literally be used as currency in some places. The song was ridiculed as trash even then, but I was so clueless that I genuinely liked it. I still listen to the song from time to time, but recognise now that enjoying it non-ironically is practically impossible.

From this inauspicious beginning however, I began to pay a bit of attention to what was happening in popular music. I regularly listened to radio stations in Ireland that played popular music, and through my friends at school and family at home I discovered music slightly under the radar (that phrase meant something else before the internet) also. This all culminated with me buying my second ever single a few months later: Three Lions by Baddiel, Skinner & The Lightning Seeds: a novelty single that was the anthem of England’s football team during the European Championships that year. It sounds silly, but I stand by that purchase.

So yes, these were the only two songs I bought in 1996, and after a brief foray into minidisc recording in the late 90s/early 2000s, only really began collecting music once it became free for anyone with an internet connection and relaxed morals. I soon had a collection of thousands of songs, which I would then on a regular basis curate into playlists of up to 100 songs for listening on a regular basis. Later on in the late 2000’s a troika of ubiquitous wireless internet, attention deficit disorder and the emergence of Wikipedia soon meant that I could now read the history of every song I listened to on a regular basis, and the curious thing was that so very many of them were released in 1996. Not just released in 1996, but were popular songs released in 1996. I realise that my nostalgia goggles are most definitely switched on, but I am here today to try and convince you that 1996 was the best year in modern history for popular music.

1996

When you think of popular music now, you think of things like Adele, Kanye West, One Direction, David Guetta or Beyonce. This type of pop music was also present in 1996 of course: for Adele, think Celine Dion, or for One Direction think Take That or Boyzone. However the mid 1990’s also allowed a certain mix of genres in popular music, and 1996 was the pinnacle of this. In spring 1996, switching on a popular radio station you could be confronted by Gangsta’s Paradise by Coolio or Street Spirit by Radiohead. 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins could turn up in rotation, as well as Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison. Stupid Girl by Garbage might get an airing, or even Firestarter by the Prodigy. All of these songs were top 10 hits in the UK and Ireland by the end of March 1996. In January 1996, Missing by Everything But the Girl was the biggest song in Europe. All of the mentioned songs I still listen to regularly, and all are unqualified classics.

In the summer, The Fugees would appear with Killing Me Softly, followed by several other classics from their album The Score. 1996 was also the year Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill blew up, and the year was scattered with single after single from that album. No Diggity by Blackstreet became a breakout hit in the winter, as well as Faithless capitalising on the success of the Prodigy by rereleasing Insomnia. Together with Children by Robert Miles and the remix of Born Slippy by Underworld, fresh from being immortalised in Trainspotting, 1996 was the year dance music gained credibility. At the same time, No Doubt were gaining traction with Just a Girl and the Foo Fighters released Big Me out of nowhere. 1996 was also a year of immortal one hit wonders, such as Deep Blue Something’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Joan Osbornes One Of Us, OMC’s How Bizarre, Fools Gardens Lemon Tree and Luniz’s I Got 5 On It. As I said, these songs didn’t just get released and went unnoticed, they were all extremely popular at the time. I could namedrop classic songs for another paragraph, but I think it’s best if you just listen to the playlist at the end of this post.

The defining point of music in 1996, in popularity as well as legacy, was none of the songs I mentioned here, and nothing positive at all: it was the emergence of the Spice Girls in late summer, with Wannabe. They followed that hit with a few more before Christmas, and became the biggest pop group in the world. Their manager was Simon Fuller. He would use the millions he made from the bands career to create the modern reality TV show, first with Pop Idol in the UK, and then American Idol, and followed closely by {insert nationality} Idol. This franchise and its offshoots not only dominates popular music now, but also popular TV in general, and subsequently Twitter and YouTube. There would be no Ken Lee without The Spice Girls. Without them, Donald Trump would not have had The Apprentice as a platform for over a decade to brainwash stupid Americans into thinking that he is a great leader.

It is thus where I acknowledge that as well as being the greatest year in modern history for popular music, 1996 also saw the sowing of the seeds that would later destroy it. While in the mid and late 90’s, bands like Blur, Oasis, The Smashing Pumpkins, REM, The Manic Street Preachers, Sheryl Crow and No Doubt could achieve success in the mainstream charts, the evolution of the music industry after The Spice Girls, reality TV, and online downloading meant that popular music would never achieve so much quality in a single year again. Of course, it wasn’t all good: I have gotten this far without mentioning that the biggest song of the year was La Macarena. It’s a terrible song, but it’s undoubtedly a classic terrible song. 1996 even did the bad stuff well.

The Playlists:

The Best Songs from 1996

For those without Spotify, here’s the YouTube equivalent: