Monday, 22 December 2014

"We were expecting you Mr. Bond" - Austria entertains 007

The news that Austria’s Christoph Waltz is to play the part of the villain in the forthcoming James Bond adventure “Spectre” is perhaps not so surprising, in that since Waltz shot to international fame in 2009 for his Oscar prize winning performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” he seems to have cornered the market for baddies.

Already reasonably well known in the German spoken world through his performances over many years in the likes of the cult crime series “Tatort”, he seems to be very comfortable with his sudden international fame, apparently enjoying his appearances on several US talk shows, most recently the Tonight Show.

Earlier this month, his pal Quentin was on hand again to help with the imprint of Waltz’s own hands in Hollywood’s “Walk of Fame”

Bond's Aston Martin - thief's idea of public transport
The Austrian Bond connection is set to continue in January in Tirol with the filming of some scenes from the forthcoming film “Spectre.” Unfortunately, several cars selected for use by 007 have been stolen, which rather inconveniences our James poor fellow. Never mind, public transport is very good in Austria.

Shortly after news of the theft broke, this writer was walking at dusk along a leafy laneway on the outskirts of Vienna, when a sharply dressed figure emerged from the gloom, running. Dark well cut suit, white shirt, tie adding a dash of colour to the ensemble. Highly polished shoes, shining in the darkness. Athletic gait. 
It was only a matter of time before 007 showed up in Vienna, I thought. Why? Because as Emil Bobi in his book “Die Schattenstadt” (The Shadow City) describes, Vienna is THE world leader in espionage with apparently at least 7,000 spies plying their trade here. This tradition of subterfuge goes back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire but more recently Austria’s status as a neutral land bordering three Iron Curtain countries, enhanced Vienna's reputation as being a melting pot for spies .
Bond slowed down just long enough for the keen observer to see that it was questionable  he was of a legal age to order a Vodka Martini never mind know whether it was shaken or stirred. James added, he couldn’t stop as he was late for his dance class at Elmayer Studios and if he delayed he’d miss his tram.

For the uninitiated, Elmayer is to dance and Vienna what Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is to cinema and Hollywood. Every year, dozens of teenagers enrol at Elmayer, to learn etiquette, good manners and of course how to dance. The dress code is definitely smart, very smart. A young man at Elmayer, looks like an apprentice 007, a young lady like a Bond Girl in waiting.

Those who enrol at Elmayer will be offered the opportunity “to open” the Debutantes Ball in the palatial splendour of the Hofburg – the Imperial Palace. A very grand and elegant occasion, this marks the culmination of the “Ball Season” finishing just before midnight on Fasching Dienstag (Shrove Tuesday) at which time, as tradition would have it, the austerity of Lent begins. 

At any rate, the young James Bond graduates from Elmayer knowing his Bossa Novas from his Polkas. 

And even if he forgets his waltzes, then Christoph is of course on hand to remind him.

May you and your Graf Josef Grüner Veltliner, be nicely chilled this Christmas and New Year.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Sommerfrische - on how the Viennese decamp to the countryside during the Summer months

To non - German speakers the word „Sommerfrische“ might sound like a gaudily packaged brand of air freshener available in your local supermarket. However this rather quaint word used in Austrian German evocatively describes the annual exodus by the Viennese or indeed other Austrian city dwellers during the months of July and August to their Summer residences in the country.

And like with so many things Austrian, “Sommerfrische” has tradition and a fairly impressive infra-structure supporting it. Its origins lie in the nineteenth century when thanks to the recent industrialisation, the burgeoning middle classes were experiencing unprecedented wealth and were not slow in decamping along with the aristocracy from Vienna to the fashionable countryside. Semmering, Wienerwald and further afield Salzkammergut became very popular areas in which to establish a second household.

This of course was supported by substantial investment in developing a good railway system. Through the construction of the Westbahn, Südbahn and the famous Semmeringbahn during the mid 19th century, destinations that had required many hours, even days travelling could now be reached within a day. Kaiser Franz Josef, still known in Austria today as “the” Kaiser disappeared every Summer, preferring to spend time in his beloved villa in Bad Ischl rather than in the heat of the city. If the Kaiser looked forward to Summer, his enthusiasm was not shared by the local wildlife… 
The Kaiser Villa - Bad Ischl

Fast forward to the 21st Century and what started 150 years ago with the aristocracy and wealthy industrialists has permeated to just about all sectors of society. Whether through purchasing their own or by inheriting an inexpensive lease, so many people seem to have (access to) some form of holiday home be it a hut type structure attached to a garden allotment somewhere in Weinviertel or a rather lavish “turn of the century” pad on Attersee. The mass exodus occurs as soon as the schools break up at the beginning of July. The effect is to be seen in Vienna. Empty streets, little traffic, smiles on faces, a much more relaxed and friendly atmosphere. It is as if the city, its constituent parts and inhabitants breathe a collective sigh of relief as it is at last free again to cast off the city role and become again the collection of villages they would really much prefer to be.

With the exception of one or two “hotspots” the only crowds around are tourists but these are easily absorbed. Vienna’s “Bezirk” or District system has provided for that. Each District originates from what was a village or town which in time has become swallowed up by the greater city. Yes, this is how cities evolve, but in Vienna the Districts have retained their own distinctive feel with in most cases, flourishing mainstreets and shops.  These are very definitely not homogeneous suburbs and offer a very substantial infra-structure to the inhabitants. The apparently ready supply of retail outlet space at presumably favourable enough rates means that it is not unusual to see signs posted in a shop window in a district very near to the centre: 

“July 1st – August 31st. closed for holidays. See you in September.”
In what other European capital would you see that?

Who knows how long it will be before these signs disappear altogether. Rents in Vienna are in European and world terms already quite high and are rising as the demand for office space and private accommodation grows. The prognosis is that Vienna’s population will rise to over 2 million by the year 2030 from its current level of 1.77. The building industry is very optimistic about the future..

This “closure” during the months of July and August might be a source of inconvenience and stress to those trying to get things done before the break. However, with the Summer now fading and the pace of life increasing as the Autumn rhythms are restored, those of us who could experience the easier way of life in Vienna during “Sommerfrische” say it was very welcome.