If the shot is not on target, move the goalposts…

Football did not come home last month, unless of course you eat, sleep and breathe calcio. Nephew and I enjoyed the tournament together, although I struggled to get behind the England team, probably due to the fact that I have endured almost a lifetime of disappointment since Geoff Hurst propelled England to World Cup glory in 1966, although I will doff my hat to the squad members for giving everything, in particular surviving social media hostility.

Ever the neutral…

Unlike the FA’s trophy cabinet, the trophy cabinet cleaners at Vienna City Hall traditionally have to fend the awards off with a proverbial stick. Vienna had enjoyed a seeming monopoly on the acolade of the best city to live in for the last decade, under the stewardship of Mayor Michael Häupl. I have dwelled on this subject before in this little blog on a few occasions (here in 2018, here in 2019 as the government fell, and again last summer).

However, this year as the Sommerloch hits again (and yes, this is another perennial favourite from living in Vienna), we are in a positively dystopian world, beset by plague (well a pandemic) and Vienna has been knocked from its seemingly insurmountable perch. Yes, that is right. Vienna is apparently no longer the best city to live in the world. Vienna has stumbled, due to the pandemic, to 12th in the Economist ranking and Auckland has taken over at the top of the pile, a tribute to its remoteness and successful approach to tacking the pandemic.

So has this left City Hall in a quandary about how to regain its top spot? With a bevy of focus groups, committees, working groups, PowerPoint presentations and strategic plans presumably the way out of this unfavourable situation? Surely City Hall would have had Messrs Curmudgeon and Barratt on the case, as seasoned commentators about Vienna’s (rightful?) place at the top of the liveability perch, or at the very least on speeddial, ready to impart their knowledge of having spent over a quarter of a century each in Vienna, far away from the gleaming towers of the bubble of international organisations, global conglomerates and having observed Vienna warts and all from eyries in various districts.

Unfortunately, we were too late – possibly our invitations were lost in the Sommerloch, and Mayor Ludwig instructed his people to act quickly and to move the goalposts slightly to tinker with the metrics used and to once again ensure that Vienna was in its rightful place at no. 1. They could have plumped for the city being the centre of nocturnal rail travel across the continent, open for business in the brave new world, even though the spectre of Covid-19 has not been banished. As I write today in mid-August, cases are heading north of 1,000 a day – an amount last witnessed in early May. Travel is of course being blamed, but the issue is that Vienna is needing to be open to tourists (well the nice fully vaccinated, regular PCR testing, or recently recovered ones at least!) to try to hoodwink those who downgraded it in the Economist liveability index.

At the same time, the city also wants its burghers to spend their money in the city, rather than bolstering the economy of anywhere south of Liesing. So the SPÖ, as Vienna’s party, has to employ a new gambit. Gastrogutscheine were so last year, and there is no mayoral and council election to be won this time around. So a new slogan is needed – to highlight its affordability, liveability, and above all to start appealing to potential future voters. And so, as I trotted up the road to retrieve a parcel (this time from within the EU, so none of the shenanigans reported in my last post to report of…), I struck upon their latest strategy.

Poster seen at bus shelter on Krottenbachstrasse.
“Vienna gives you strength. The most child and youth friendly city in the world, irrespective of where you come from and your level of income.”

After all, all good SPÖ voters shun the coast of Croatia, the weekend house on the Wolfgangsee, or the delights of the Salzburg festival and choose not to escape the Sommerloch, don’t they? However, as a dear friend explained to me – the City of Vienna after all ensures that the water in the moats of sandcastles is of drinking quality, that there are sandtoys to keep the littluns happy and that sandpits are covered from the fierce rays of the summer sun. So why would anyone want to go away on holiday after all of that?

I will have to concede that for me as a Neowiener (albeit of nearly 30 years’ standing) that I do like to get out of the city. In retirement I spend a good deal of time out and about in the outer districts and in the Speckgürtel, and also try to avoid the City Centre, frequently only passing through by U-Bahn rather than alighting to part with my money and falling foul of the 1010 surcharges on vital commodities (beer, schnitzel and similar) in the hostelries inside the Ring. But the pandemic and various lockdowns has had an impact on me – and my dear wife. We desperately needed to leave the city. After all it is not necessarily the best city in the world for us (me a healthy pensioner, my wife still with a couple of years’ teaching until retirement), as we crave escapes from the city during the summer.

It was natural that having downed tools after another demanding year of teaching that my wife insisted on a break. Sorry Vienna, but where “Kraft tanken” ((re)charging your batteries) is strongly the order of the day, it becomes desperately necessary for us to escape the confines of the city and do so away from the suburban comfort that we have come to take for granted. And so we packed up lightly and headed out of the city, to Upper Austria and Styria, to catch up with some friends and to have a few nights away from home and pootle about the parts of the country that we have seen less of in the last year and a half. We caught up with one of my wife’s cousins, who lives near St Michael in Steiermark as part of the homeward leg of the journey after a couple of days with friends in Upper Austria.

It was in St Michael that the “townie” in me clearly came out. When my wife’s cousin suggested that we should go off for a walk and duly repair to a Wirtshaus some 45 minutes away, I hadvisions of a lively night, with beer being quaffed with abandon (seeing as we were also walking home!) so I duly suggested that we should take a “Wegbier” with us. This was met with a look of disdain that was, at least I believe it to be the case, more fitting of a suggestion to go and muckspread the townhall. I have been seeking confirmation/affirmation that I had not committed a cardinal sin by suggesting having some liquid entertainment for our walk to the Wirtshaus. Fortunately, at my little gathering last night, my Viennese friends assured me that it was probably the fact that the Wegbier is an urban thing, and my wife’s cousin was merely caught unawares about a wonderful institution (unless they were just being polite to me in order not to offend me!). The Wegbier has become a thing again in Vienna, as nephew informed me, as it became a way to socialise at a social distance with a friend while so much was off limits during the various lockdowns. So the Wegbier has become the socially acceptable form of antisocial drinking – leagues above that of clandestine tinnies behind the forecourt shop at the petrol station, an institution during the winter of 20/21 as well as the first lockdown back in March 2020.