Vienna Today - Vienna Life
The brightest diamond in Europe’s cultural crown for centuries, Vienna fell on hard times
at the end of WWI with the decline of its keepers, the Habsburgs. With the exception
of Red Vienna in the 1920s, when the city prospered under the most successful socialist
government Europe has ever seen, the city wallowed in the cultural backwaters for much
of the 20th century.
The previous 10 years has seen the city turn itself around, and in the 21st century, Vienna
is once again looking peachy. Quality of life is high: Mercer Consulting, in its worldwide
quality of living survey, ranked Vienna fourth behind Zurich, Geneva and Vancouver. Some
Viennese would beg to differ. Nevertheless, the facts speak for themselves – the city’s public
transport system is one the best in the world, green spaces abound, the circus of public
festivals and events grows larger year by year, rent and living costs continue to stay low
and the socialist welfare system is strong.
The city’s bar and club scene has never been healthier. Traditional pockets such as the
Bermuda Dreieck have floundered in the wake of new locations opening up across the city,
and now locals are spoilt for choice. The districts inside the Gürtel, in particular Wieden,
Mariahilf, Neubau, and Josefstadt, have built up a strong concentration of progressive bars
and live-music venues, while districts traditionally bereft of night spots, like Leopoldstadt,
are currently experiencing a surge in nightlife. Electronic music, once the darling of Vienna’s
contemporary music scene, is, like the city, on the comeback. Clubs such as Flex and Künstlerhauspassage
not only attract big names in the local scene, such as Kruder & Dorfmeister
and the stars of Cheap Records, but also a regular troupe of international DJs and bands.
Many of the smaller bars, rhiz, Fluc, and Cabaret Renz included, feature DJs habitually.
The Viennese, back from world trips, tired of schnitzel and began exploring the few Chinese
restaurants and Turkish kebab houses in town. Before long, new flavours and spices
were popping up all over the city (and continue to do so), whetting the Viennese appetite.
In recent years the trend has reversed somewhat, with local cuisine making a comeback:
today, modern takes on traditional dishes are in.
Art, a major link in Vienna’s cultural armour, continues to go from strength to strength,
and fortunately the councillors of Vienna have never been shy about forking out for art and
public space. Their greatest achievements in the 21st century – the reopening of the Albertina,
home to the world’s greatest graphic art collection, and the completion of the Museums-
Quartier, the eighth largest cultural complex in the world – have not only complemented the
city’s incredible art treasure chest, but helped to create an art scene of epic proportions.
Through all the improvements and new-found openness, Vienna has remained an incredibly
safe city. Crime has risen ever so slightly in the past few years, but the majority
of convictions involve theft and burglary, something that has had little impact on the freedom and safety of the Viennese. People can go almost anywhere night or day and
feel unthreatened; women still walk home alone at night without fear of harassment, and the elderly ride the trams and buses well into the night.
Xenophobia, Vienna’s Achilles heel, still
lurks in the background. In recent years the
Freedom Party (FPÖ), formerly headed by
Jörg Haider, has played on this fear, targeting
foreigners and asylum-seekers during
election time. In 2000 it rode the tide of intolerance right to the doorsteps of parliament,
forming a coalition government with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). This, however,
seemed a catalyst for Vienna’s sleeping liberals, who demonstrated en masse at Heldenplatz
(some 200,000 turned up) against the FPÖ’s racist platform. In the 2001 council and 2002
national elections, FPÖ lost major ground in the popularity stakes and Haider left the
party due to internal fighting. In stepped HC Strache to fill the void. A young, charismatic
politician with perfect teeth, Strache began his career as FPÖ leader with strong xenophobic
rhetoric accompanied by weepy eyes and overwrought nationalism. His racially motivated
campaign against Turkey’s inclusion in the EU in both the 2005 council and 2006 national
elections struck a chord with a surprisingly large community in Vienna. His party secured
14.4% of the Vienna vote in 2006, up an incredible 6.4%. Juxtaposing the city’s small racist
streak is its concern for the environment; the Greens still head off the FPÖ in the popularity
stakes, receiving 17.1% of Vienna’s votes in the 2006 national elections, and won the
districts of Mariahilf, Neubau, and Josefstadt outright. However, it might be time, as Dirk
Stermann (of the humorist duo Stermann & Grissemann) proposed after the 2006 elections,
for a ‘foreigners’ party that hates Austrian nationals’.
Through it all, the Viennese saying Wien ist ein Dorf (Vienna is a village) rings true;
traditional values are still highly regarded and at times it seems as though everyone knows
everyone’s business. It may be old fashioned, but its kinda comforting.
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