Tag der Arbeit: return of the Mai Aufmarsch

Yesterday saw the return of “Tag der Arbeit” after a corona-shaped two year hiatus. Traditionally the SPÖ Bezirksfraktionen have marched from their respective districts to convene at Vienna City Hall (Rathaus) for what is known as the Mai Aufmarsch. Two years of pandemic have meant that this traditional date in the SPÖ calendar was taking place for the first time since 2019. Of course, this meant that it was the first time since his election victory in October 2020 that Bürgermeister Ludwig had presided over proceedings. He had of course overseen it once, in 2019, since taking over from his avuncular predecessor Michael Häupl.

It was therefore with a slightly anticlimactic feeling that the return of the Tag der Aufmarsch was a Sunday. Austria does not move public holidays that fall on Sundays, meaning that it was happening on people’s day of rest. In past years, I had helped to get a friend’s ailing father to the Rathausplatz in his wheelchair. Sadly my friend’s father passed during winter, and so this was the first time in many years that he was not dutifully wheeling his father around to catch up with his friends from the Party. I called my friend earlier in the week, to see what he wanted to do, as he has been struggling with loneliness since he lost his father.

I’d suggested going along to the Aufmarsch, if he felt that was what his father would have wanted, although both of us were uneasy about the expected size of the crowd, so we decided to skip it, and instead to raise a glass in a quieter corner of Vienna over a comfortable lunch. A Zwiebelrostbraten was enjoyed along with a large glass of wine each, all courtesy of the Gastrogutschein that I had received for submitting a Christmas shopping receipt as retail reopened after the last lockdown, just before Christmas.

Footage from the Salzburger Nachrichten (SN) coverage of the Mai Aufmarsch.

The messages at the Rathausplatz this year were not just about solidarity for (fellow) workers, but also calling for an end to the War in Ukraine, and about the current cost of living crisis – due to the ravages of the pandemic and also the war. Red FFP2 masks were apparently being handed out, although use was apparently at best “isolated”. Possibly it is a sign that two years of near “isolation” are also over, or at least many people think they are mentally over. This was a day for solidarity and friendship.

Friendship and alliances run deep in the SPÖ. Importantly, Mayor Ludwig stood behind Pamela Rendi-Wagner with an umbrella on the podium, and naturally hopes naturally that she will stand behind, or rather by, him at the end of May, when he is due to be re-elected as head of the SPÖ in Vienna. Although, as with other recent re-elections (e.g. Mikl-Leitner for the ÖVP in Lower Austria, or Kogler for the Greens), it is likely to only be a question of how close to unanimous the decision is. Rendi-Wagner however had only got 75% of the vote for her own re-election in June 2021.

Is this what Döbling’s Bezirksvorsteher is trying to catch? Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

SPÖ remains the largest party in Vienna and is supported by the Neos in a coalition, having split from the Greens. My district, Döbling, remains staunchly turquoise ÖVP, with the incumbent Bezirksvorsteher on a personal crusade to stop boy racers (or “Roadrunner” as they get called in the local rag) up in Cobenzl, but at a lower altitude, the transportation problem is more about safe bike lanes. He was out pressing the flesh along with all the other local politicians at last weekend’s Flohmarkt on the Obkirchergasse, which also returned after two year’s absence, never being one to miss out on a photoshoot.

A planned bike lane for Krottenbachstrasse appears to have been kicked into the long grass for now, although the local chapter of the Radlobby (a benign group of pro-cycling activists) will doubtless continue to campaign for more cycle ways in the district. While I understand the positives of cycling, with its contribution to exercise and climate neutrality, Krottenbachstrasse is busy enough as it is, but there really isn’t space for a bike lane given the shortage of parking as it is. Further out, towards Neustift am Walde it gets even more difficult as new builds spring up all around and there are building sites at various stages of completion. There still apparently seems to be money for deluxe housing, even though many of the apartments seem little bigger than shoeboxes.

My biggest concern is the current rise in the cost of living. Recent increases in the price of groceries have become particularly apparent. One effect of the War in Ukraine has been the effect on the supply chain for sunflower oil. I will freely admit that Ukraine was not on my radar as being such a large producer of it. Dairy prices seem to have also increased significantly. I noticed that the cost of Teebutter (I recently chanced on an interesting piece by another blogger in Vienna about its origins) seems to have risen dramatically over the last two months. Like fuel, where prices used to start with a 1, they are now starting with a 2.

As well as fuel prices, electricity and gas prices have also increased substantially – and this is causing real problems for those whose savings have already been swallowed up by the pandemic. Annual bills based on meter readings hit letterboxes in March and April, and there was no good news on this front for many, and those heating with gas are rapidly understanding how dependent Austria remains on Russian gas.

For the uninitiated, gas and electricity bills in Vienna are calculated annually, usually from March to March, and paid in between 5-10 even instalments. Meter readings are either estimated or calculated, with smart meters having meant the days of guesstimated readings being by and large confined to history. If you consume more than you pay for, there is the dreaded Nachzahlung, which can make a dent in your bank balance if there is a tough winter. In the relatively unlikely event that you have overpaid, the balance by and large covers your next instalment.

From the darkest recesses of my mind in the mid-1990s, I recollect my friend the Larrikin once being too scared to open his bill, and getting me to open it up for him, as he’d sent in an estimated meter the year before that might have been somewhat low, and therefore in his favour. When the meter man came round the following winter, it was clear that there had been a “substantial change in his consumption habits”. After the shock to the system, he then spent the next year convinced he could be so sparing on his electricity consumption that he would get money back the following spring. Needless to say his comedic wearing two jumpers an overcoat and a woolly hat did bring his winter bill down somehow, but I reckon that was reinvested in hostelries and phone bills, meaning any saving he had managed to make was only going to offset increased social spending.

Nephew was dreading his electricity bill, as he knew it wouldn’t be in his favour, given that he has mainly been working from home. Last I knew, it hadn’t cleaned him out though, as he continues to live frugally otherwise. He even chided me for suggesting we grab a coffee in the city centre together, and pointing out that prices had risen substantially for a mediocre cup of coffee. He did however said that he and his girlfriend had taken to using “Too Good To Go” to reduce their shopping bill, although it had been a hit and miss experiment to begin with.

I’d helped lift nephew’s spirits a bit by taking round some red wine, as I decided that we were not going to drink them very soon, so he and his girlfriend might as well enjoy them. We’ve been trying to make our wine lake slightly smaller – we just haven’t been drinking that much at home over the last couple of years, and therefore are still getting through the wine we bought in 2019 for planned parties and the like for the following summer. Nephew jokingly said that the price increases are probably here to make sure he keeps working hard to try to get ahead, but that he appreciates the bottles of wine. It also reminds me that I am in a fortunate position as a healthy, solvent, and well looked after pensioner. As tired as I feel, I do appreciate that I have it pretty good and don’t have the same daily worries that others do. Take care everyone!