English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

The Joy of Sekt

Austrians love to celebrate and they love to celebrate with a glass of something fizzy. Well, don’t we all? I have been in many teaching establishments and offices over the years in Vienna and whenever I open a fridge to look for some milk for my tea, something which attracts comments from the locals who usually drink tea black, I am always stunned by the amount of alcohol I find and disappointed by the absence of milk. There is always booze, at least five bottles of Sekt in there. Sekt is sparkling wine and is the must-have drink for celebrating anything. Just as Spain has its Cava and Italy has its Prosecco, Austria proudly has its Sekt. There is a lot to celebrate in schools apparently – the start of the year, the end of the year, retirements, birthdays, Christmas, Fridays. Once in school they even celebrated the end of some professional development training, and many meetings end with a glass. Sekt is brought to house parties and is often an integral part of a gift. Sekt is also the main ingredient in the drink called a Hugo, which is sekt, a dash of both elderflower and lime, topped up with soda and garnished with mint. It is deliciously dangerous, seeing as it is like drinking pop.

When you celebrate, it is customary to say cheers, which is “prost”. There are, however, definite rules to how you must perform this ritual of saying prost. For example, you must clink your glass with only one person at a time. The reason being is that you must make eye contact with each person as you say prost and you can only do that one at a time, unless you have eyes that can move in opposite directions and you have control over that ability. You also cannot cross arms, so you cannot reach down to the end of the table over the prosting glasses of another pair; this is bad luck. It is like in Ghost Busters when you cannot cross the streams. You have to wait until the way is clear. You have to, of course, close the circle and say prost with everybody, but you must make sure that there is alcohol in every glass. It is a no-no to say prost without booze. I’ve been with Austrians who will say prost anyway even when somebody raises a soft drink, but they are only doing that to make allowances for the Auslanders who don’t know any better, and would never do that normally. The group-cheers, the very quick and convenient cheers, where you all clink your glasses together and cover a lot of people in one go is also definitely not allowed. That means that the whole process takes a long time and is quite intense with all the eye contact. It is hard to clink your glass with another while looking someone in the eye. There is the constant fear that you will miss the glass altogether or get too carried away and smash the glasses. Another reason eye contact is important is that apparently there is a superstition that says if you don’t make eye contact, you will have seven years of bad sex, and another one warning that you will have ugly babies; serious consequences indeed! So please take it seriously.

Over the summer, I was very happy to find a small bar dedicated to the sole selling of Austrian Sekt. I had actually heard about this place a year or so ago, but back then it was a smoker’s place and I am happy to say that it is now smoke free (a growing trend in Vienna which makes me happy), although the smell of old smoke does linger on. All the produce is from Burgenland, a province next to Vienna, on the border with Hungary. It enjoys the perfect wine-growing climate and produces vast amounts of lovely wine. So, do as the locals do, and get celebrating; it is a highly enjoyable part of the culture.

The Sekt shop

The Sekt shop

 

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

http://www.sektcomptoir.at/

 

Martini Gansl

No, this is not a new type of cocktail. It would be pretty gross if it were because Gansl means goose, and I don’t think anyone would like a splash of goose fat mixed with their Martini and an olive.

The geese have certainly gotten fat and already been butchered in Vienna, but not for Christmas; for Martini goose season, which is now upon us. Running through November, this is a time when one can go to any restaurant and enjoy a feast of juicy roast goose, braised red cabbage which oozes with warm spices and apple, and big, fluffy dumplings which are an Austrian favourite and specialty.

Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

 

Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim home for roast goose Christmas dindins

Bob Cratchit carrying Tiny Tim home for roast goose Christmas dindins

I had never had goose before I came to Vienna. I had always associated it with the Cratchits’ Christmas dinner and Dickensian England. It is now a time I look forward to each year, and it is actually widely celebrated around parts of Europe, like in Germany and Slovakia for example, and finally I managed to find out the history behind it.

Martini refers to St. Martin, who, as legend has it, was a noble and celebrated Roman soldier. He was known for his good deeds towards the poor and famously cut his own cape in half to share with a freezing beggar he chanced upon. Seeing so many needy people around, he decided to renounce his life as a soldier and became a monk. So, why are geese eaten in his honour still to this day? Well, because as the story goes, the heads of the church heard about this former soldier from a very well-to-do family and decided that it was only fitting he should be promoted to the rank of bishop. When Martin heard of this he was aghast. He was happy with his humble life as a monk and had no aspirations to be elevated within the church. On hearing that the church officials were approaching his village, he decided he needed to hide. He hid himself in the only place he could find at such short notice, a barn filled with geese. The geese were not happy at all with this human invader crouching amongst them and began to squawk their loud disapproval and, thus, humble Martin’s hiding place was betrayed by the geese. He was indeed discovered and made a bishop. The goose has remained a symbol of St. Martin ever since and became the main ingredient of the last feast to signify forty days of fasting before Christmas, now known as the time of advent.

It is a lovely, special time in Vienna, a pre cursor to Christmas and a chance to get together and enjoy a big, hearty meal; something that Austrians do very well.

Taken at Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing, where I recently enjoyed a lovely goose dinner

Taken at Zum Martin Sepp in Grinzing, where I recently enjoyed a lovely goose dinner

Autumn has Come to Vienna

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

Happy pumpkins make the best pumpkin soup

 

Autumn is a lovely time in Vienna and is characterised by three things; pumpkins, chestnuts and booze.

Pumpkins are everywhere: supermarkets are filled with turnips, squash and gourds of all shapes and sizes; pumpkins are used as decoration all around shopping centres and in people’s homes and not just as a nod to Halloween, but in celebration of the season in its own right. Pumpkin soups, salads and ravioli appear on every restaurant menu. I even went to a festival dedicated to the celebration of pumpkin-time and got to sample pumpkin punch and pumpkin beer.

Autumny decorations for sale

Autumny decorations for sale

Brass accompaniment for  the pumpkins

Brass accompaniment for the pumpkins at the festival

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Pumpkin display at the festival on the hill at Am Himmel

Horse chestnuts, having fallen from the trees can be seen rolling around pavements, but sadly, children here don’t play conkers as the game is unknown. Roasted chestnuts, called Maroni, are available on most street corners and always make me think of a Dickensian winter scene.

And finally, the booze part. Autumn is the time when Sturm is available. Sturm is wine in its very earliest form, basically fermented grape juice. It is cloudy and, due to its juice-like taste, can be very potent as it is tempting to knock it back much quicker than you would a glass of wine. Locals warn you to only have one or two glasses because for many it can be sturmisch (stormy) for the stomach and be an inducer of diarrhoea. Stalls pop up all over the city centre offering red and white varieties.

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

Boozey grape juice straight from the barrel at a pop-up stall in the city centre

So, enjoy the orangey pumpkin glow of autumn before winter and the Christmas markets are upon us, but please be careful; for while it is tempting to jump into a big pile of golden autumn leaves and crunch your way through them, remember that this is Vienna and there may be a big pile of dog poo lurking beneath the surface.

Arty Farty

Not your average busker

Not your average busker

 

One day I got off the tram and almost tripped over a big harp. That’s the thing about Vienna; musicians and artists, nay artistes, are everywhere. Many people I have met through teaching and in my German classes have been here solely to study piano, music or dance.

The ghost of Mozart wanders all around the city. You can’t walk down a street without a proud sign announcing the fact that Mozart once stayed there for a week back in the late 1700s. You soon realise that he laid his head down to rest in a lot of places around town, as did Schubert and Beethoven. The influence of the classical masters floats through the streets of the first district as the buskers, not your average pop-playing guitarists, belt out opera classics and lug their violins and even their harps around to serenade the shoppers. The Opera runs summer concert specials until the end of September, which do a best-of of all the musical masterpieces of the most famous operas and classical musicians.

 

Spare a copper?

Spare a copper?

 

And now onto another type of art; that being graffiti, and the so-called artist who recently managed to wind up everyone in the city. A guy who went by the name of Puber had a terrible habit of spraying his name on most of the buildings in Vienna. His scrawl can be seen daubed everywhere, around the 8th and 9th district especially. Here’s one particularly beautiful Wagner building he defaced with his brand of art.

 

Art? Perhaps not

Art? Perhaps not

The citizens of Vienna recently rejoiced when Puber, a Swedish guy in his thirties, was finally caught and charged.

http://www.thelocal.at/20140718/graffiti-vandal-puber-to-appear-in-court

The thing is, it really was not necessary for him to use the city walls as his canvas because in Vienna there are areas dedicated to street art, where people can tag and spray away all they want to. This website lists all the legal walls in the city, http://www.wienerwand.at/

The most centrally located one is the area around the canal, which provides a decent amount of wall space, and the work there varies from people just having a go and trying it out, to those perfecting their tag, to the more talented artists producing larger pieces. Here is a current work near Schwedenplatz this is very enjoyable.

One of the scenes from along the canal

One of the scenes from along the canal

So, if you are ever tempted to leave your “So-and-So woz ‘ere” stamp on the city, you know where to go.

 

 

Getting Around

I love living in Vienna and a lot of expats I know are really very happy with the lifestyle they have here. Every year a report comes out, saying that Vienna is the number one place to live in terms of quality of living. When people ask me why I like it so much one of the reasons I give is the quality of the public transport, which makes me sound like a train spotter, but I’m really not. The transport system is so good that it adds to the ease of life, and the accessibility means that you rarely feel like somewhere is too far to go to, and so the city is there, easy to navigate and easy to get to know and love.

I caught up with some UK news just last week about how rail commuters will shortly be informed by how much the cost of train tickets will rise in the coming new year. I had to feel a little smug when I thought about the minimal cost of travelling in Vienna. When I tell my friends in England, especially the London-dwelling ones, that I pay for a yearly pass just 365 Euros, yes that’s right, one Euro per day, they almost start to weep with envy. It’s not just the affordability of the public transport system; it’s the scope of the network. You have access to fast over-land trains, the underground, buses and also trams and at weekends and the night before public holidays, they run all through the night. You can even get around on Christmas Day and New Year’s with no problem. In my three years of living here, I have been late to work just three times due to delays. There are numerous ways to get to the same place, which means that if your route is interrupted, you have plenty of alternatives and you don’t often end up stuck just waiting for the disruption to end.

Trains don't even get delayed when it's snowing

Trains don’t even get delayed when it’s snowing

The U-bahn

The U-bahn

 

You can even hire some of the older trams for special events. These are called the ‘party bims’ (bim being the local nickname for trams, because of the ‘bimmmm’ sound the bell makes when you press the button to request to stop), and once or twice we have tried, unsuccessfully, to board a tram which was full of revellers quaffing wine and bopping along to music.

One of the old style Bims in the snow, not a party one though :-(

One of the old style Bims in the snow, not a party one though 😦

My absolute favourite thing though is the website www.wienerlinien.at, upon which you can type in the address you want to start your journey from, and then input where you want to go to, and it will tell you exactly how to get there via the quickest route. It even gives you a map of where to walk once you get off the tram or bus. There is also an app called Qando, which can detect where you are and tell you all your public transport options in that area and when the next underground, or bus, or whatever it may be, is due. Like the website I just mentioned, it will also plan your route for you, and both of them have English language versions. God bless Wiener Linien.

 

Of course, there are times I get sick of it. At peak times there can be a lot of elbows at the ready, especially as the locals are not too fond of queuing, and during the height of summer, it can get a bit fruity on the older vehicles that don’t have air conditioning. There are days I feel like I spend my whole life on public transport and that I know the lines and various stops off by heart is a bit sad, but it enabled me to take a job that I would not have been able to without giving in and getting a car.

One thing that is very confusing when you are first here as a tourist can be where to buy a ticket and where they are checked. There are no barriers at stations to put your ticket through and drivers do not need to see a ticket when you board, so you think that if you were so inclined, that you could travel around for free. I must confess to having done that at first, that was until I was informed by a friend that that made me a Schwarzfahrer and liable to pay a fine if caught. I wondered how I could be caught when I had never seen a conductor of sorts, but I dutifully bought a ticket. I was glad I did the next time I was on the underground, when the man next to me suddenly stood up and produced some ID and a portable ticket machine from under his coat and started checking people’s tickets and travel passes. The plain-clothed ticket checkers patrol different lines on different days and dish out the automatic, on-the-spot fine, which is a hefty one hundred Euros. At least one person gets caught every time and I felt very sorry on one occasion for the fraught mum who jumped on the tram for one stop because her very little kids were late for school, only to get caught straight away. The locals also tell me that the frequency of ticket patrols increases in December when the city tries to collect as much extra revenue as possible before the year end, and there have been times when my ticket has been checked more than once on the same journey. You have been warned! Alternatively, you could get a horse and carriage, but that is much more pricey.

60 Euros for 20 minutes. Nice, but I'll stick to the tram

60 Euros for 20 minutes. Nice, but I’ll stick to the tram

Summer Holidays

The long-standing joke amongst Austrians goes along these lines; there are only two reasons to become a teacher and these are July and August. That’s because schools are out for the whole of those two months and the holidays are looonnnnggggg.

 

Summer holidays are taken very seriously here; everyone recognizes the importance of taking a break and most think that one week just is not adequate. During my first two years in Vienna I was a freelance English teacher and I learned the hard way in the first year that I had to save a lot of my salary from autumn and spring in order to make up for the loss of pay in summer when the fervour for English learning evaporates with the heat and all English learners exit the city for holidays. It is common for people to save up most of their holiday for the summer months and have around three to four weeks off, whether in one lump or staggered over the two months.

 

What surprised me and still continues to do so is the attitude towards holidays from those in business or public services. Holidays are considered a right, a normal, integral part of summer and it is common to walk past cafes and smaller, independent shops and see that they have closed so they can take their holidays. The desire to make a profit, it would seem, takes a break too, or perhaps it is strategic: perhaps all their customers are away and so it makes sense to close while it is quiet. Official institutions take a break too and you should not expect to get official paper work done quickly at this time. Indeed, last year I started a new job in September and had a terrible time in August trying to find someone in the human resource department to actually get my documents to. I also did not receive my first salary until October because the people in accounts were off on holiday and so could not process everything in time for the September pay date. The notion of such staff being required to stay around in August to process the many new teachers’ contracts is preposterous and although people might not like it, it is an accepted fact that things pretty much grind to a halt in summer.

 

The biggest surprise for me though was what happens when doctors go on holiday. Most doctors in Vienna have set hours when they have open clinics where you can just turn up and wait in line to see your doctor. The beauty is that no appointment is necessary. The downside is that occasionally you turn up, after having taken the morning off work because they may only be open from 9-1pm on that particular day, only to find a big sign on the door saying they are off on holiday. I was used to a system where a locum doctor would be on duty, or other doctors in the practice would substitute, but clinics here often have just the one doctor and locums are not used. They do, however, provide a name and address of a substitute doctor, but then you have to find them and hope that they are open at the same time, which is often not the case.

Doctors need a holiday too. Perhaps they go on a group holiday with the reception staff. 

The difference in approach is something I am gradually getting used to and I like this European attitude that says summer equals holiday and seeing as summers can be sizzling hot then it seems fair enough. The newspapers recently reported that we have had the worst summer in Austria for a while but compared to England, obviously it has still been a decent one.

 

What I do love during the summer is that you can go to one of the many outdoor pools and enjoy some rays. Here’s a picture of my local pool, which is better than a lot of holiday resorts.

 

Not quite the seaside but just as good. The Viennese outdoor pools.

Not quite the seaside but just as good. The Viennese outdoor pools.

It is just a shame that even these pools also take it in turns to close down for three weeks over the summer period, despite demand remaining high. Still, it is a nice way to spend your all-important, long holiday without having to leave Vienna.

Don’t Mention the War

fawlty-towers-t-shirt-war-500x500 How can I, in the two years I have been writing this blog, not have mentioned Hitler? It’s that Britishness engrained in me which means that even though I talk about the war and Hitler, I never do with the locals. I knew that I was moving to Vienna about a year before I actually did and from that moment on, I got everything out of the library that I could about World War II and the man who started it. The book by Brigitte Hamann called Hitler’s Vienna follows the life he lived in Vienna when he arrived as an eighteen year old. It even gives his old addresses and I found myself on a morbid Hitler tour which took me to 31 Stumpergasse, where he apparently lived in a shared room as a penniless young man trying to make it in Vienna. I have no idea if this building is still the original; perhaps it was bombed and rebuilt after the war, but it made me shiver all the same when I thought of the ideas and the plans that were being formulated in the mind of the Führer as a young adult.

One of Hitler's Vienna addresses

One of Hitler’s Vienna addresses

 

Whenever I read this book in public, I always bent the front cover back so that no one could see it.

Whenever I read this book in public, I always bent the front cover back so that no one could see it.

And that brings me to the impact it has had on language. The word Führer, which means leader, stems from the root word führen, which means to lead or guide. You can still use that verb, but you can’t use the noun. If you want to say you are the leader of a group, you have to say you are the Leiter, or even use the English loan word Manager. In every German course I take someone inevitably declares him or herself to be the Führer when they are talking about running a group or being a team leader in work; an honest mistake by those trying to get to grips with the language. Whenever this occurs, our teacher always stops and tells us, “Der Führer is schon tot. Gott sei dank!” (the Führer is dead. Thank God!) and he is right to warn us about the offence we could cause by using that word.

 

In school the other day, I picked up the mandatory history books and saw that the war is dealt with honestly, with warnings for the past not to be forgotten. Almost every school has the book “Die Welle”, The Wave, on its literature reading list. This comes from an American TV-film written about a true story of a high school teacher who, in response to being asked why ordinary Germans didn’t do something about Hitler and his wave of persecution, starts an experiment to try to show how ordinary people get caught up in a mob mentality. We have indeed seen The Wave, dubbed in German, in our German class. Most children here will read the German translation in school as a warning about following the crowd and getting swept along in a movement without stopping to question.

 

The city drips with references to Hitler, the war and its legacy. There are streets named after famous Nazi Hunters and a whole Israeli and Jewish community whose synagogues, schools and cultural centres are protected by armed police patrols. The second district is known as the old Jewish district and Praterstern, a large train station now, is the location where Jews were rounded up and removed from the city to the work, concentration and death camps. It is only in recent years that this district has started to be regenerated and seems to be more up-and-coming. There are monuments that say ‘niemals vergessen’ (never forget) and there are frequent art exhibitions all with the same aim; to protect against oblivion. They know that to not forget the past is the only way to protect the future. When you walk around the city it is as if some famous landmarks bear a ‘Hitler was here’ mark and I find myself telling my visitors as we walk past the opera that Hitler used to go there, being able only to afford last minute standing room only tickets and that he was greatly influenced by the grand performances. Likewise, when we walk around the splendid Ringstrasse, I talk about how Hitler was influenced by the pomp and ceremony of Kaiser Franz Joseph’s parades and included many of the same elements in his public rallies and speeches.

 

Whilst not wanting to forget, the locals don’t like to talk about Hitler. Eating out with friends the other week my Austrian friend mentioned Hitler and immediately followed it with the realization, “Uh-oh. I just said Hitler in Austria,” and whilst we laughed, it was true that people at the surrounding tables had all pointedly turned and looked at the moment the name was mentioned. When Russell Brand recently posted on YouTube that he was sitting on the bed that Hitler once slept in in Hotel Imperial, it was reported in the free tabloid paper the next morning and declared to be an unfunny, insensitive joke and the hotel was quick to release a statement to distance itself from the truth of Brand’s assertion. It’s a good thing that Hitler’s shadow across the city still makes us shudder and the city should make sure that no one forgets.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxQTcQdIZfM#t=39 for Russel Brand’s YouTube post

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVRXXbU-z7U for The Wave on YouTube

http://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-Vienna-Portrait-Tyrant-Young/dp/1848852770 for Hamann’s book

We Three Kings

Today, on the 7th January, most Viennese went back to work and all the kids went back to school. Why so late, why not on the 6th, like in the UK? The answer is because the 6th of January, which we know as Epiphany, is Three Kings’ Day here and it is a religious public holiday.

The three kings can actually be seen walking around the city, taking the form of children dressed up as Casper, Melchior and Balthasar bestowing good luck on houses whose occupants open their front doors when they hear the singing three kings. The kings bless the house and in chalk write 20+C+M+B+14 over the door frame (the year 2014, with the initials of the kings in between). This is just one of the differences hiding amidst the many similarities we share in the ways we celebrate at Christmas time.

Let’s start with the Christmas tree, which I prefer to put up as early in December as I can. The earliest I have managed to buy a tree here is 9th December and I put it up straight away to enjoy it for as long as possible. This, according to the locals is far too early and unusual behaviour. Trees, if they are bought a couple of weeks before Christmas, are often stored out in the cold on balconies, still all wrapped up, ready for the big reveal on the 24th.

Christmas Eve, which for me from my cultural background is treated as the long day of anticipation before the big day, is the day on which Christmas is celebrated in Austria. Although shops are open in the morning, most places close around 2pm. The day time is a busy and buzzing time with lots of people out and about working, buying last minute things, or grabbing a lunch time drink with friends. Then, in the afternoon, those with children go on a small outing; the purpose of which is solely to get the children out of the house so that the parent who remains can put up and decorate the Christmas tree in record time as well as laying out all the presents. The children are brought home a few hours later by the other parent, or the helpful grandparents, and the kids return home to a wondrously festive front room and dive into their presents, which were brought not by Santa, but by the Christkind (meaning ‘Christ Child’ in English). The image of the Christkind is that of a teenage child, usually a girl with long blond hair, radiating goodness and looking suitably angelic in a flowing white gown; not your average fat Santa that’s for sure!

17 year old Valerie beat the competition to be 2013's Christkind

17 year old Valerie beat the competition to be 2013’s Christkind

Questions surrounding the Christkind usually occur around the same time that children who are used to another more fatherly-looking type of present deliverer start to come up. Kids start to notice that they never get to see the Christkind and realise the strange coincidence that Mum or Dad is never with them when they go out and the Christkind comes to their house.

The image of Santa, or Father Christmas is present but he is called the Wiehnachtsmann (Christmas Man), and is used in many advertising campaigns and is more linked to German traditions. The familiar image of Saint Nic goes by another name, that of Nikolo or Nikolaus, and he comes to visit children much earlier, on 6th December. The familiar concept of naughty and nice children deserving or being undeserving of presents applies to this date. Naughty children can expect to be visited by Krampus, which is a scary looking devil type creature who comes with long branches ready to hit the naughty children with. Such unlucky children can only hope to be given a lump of coal. However, on the next day, good children are rewarded by Nikolo who treats them to nuts, tangerines and chocolates. There were lots of such treats going around the school I teach in on this day and it reminded me of how as a child as well as my small Christmas gifts, I would always be given a couple of tangerines in my stocking.

Motivation to give up your naughty ways

Motivation to give up your naughty ways – meet Krampus

Amidst the differences, it was nice to discover that everybody loves a good Christmas song, and as my classes sang along to Last Christmas it showed that, whatever the traditions, everyone loves singing along to Wham.

http://www.heute.at/news/oesterreich/wien/art23652,955857

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2013/dec/17/krampus-evil-santa-germany-pagan-demon

One Glühwein, Two Glühwein, Three Glühwein, Lama!

It’s my favourite time of year in Vienna. It is Christmas market time. It is actually the reason I moved to Vienna. I came here on holiday once at the beginning of December and instantly fell in love with the twinkly splendour of the city.  A handful of markets opened last weekend and the remainder open this weekend and so, seeing as they are the reason that this English girl is in Vienna, I thought a write up was in order.

The locals I have spoken to all say that they totally avoid the market at the Rathaus, which is the biggest one and pulls the most tourists in, so it can get really busy, uncomfortably so at times. It is however, a very grand and lovely one with the biggest Christmas tree lit up amidst the back drop of the grandly gothic town hall building. The Viennese complain that it is too commercial and sells rubbish, but if you want some lovely Christmas tree decorations, toys and sweets, sweets and more sweets then it is more than worth a visit. Be warned, it also has the most expensive Gluehwein. Coming in at four Euros a cup, it is a whole Euro more than at other markets. Last year the prices pretty much seemed to be uniform, but this year there is a noticeable difference in cost, although it has to be said, it definitely tastes good.

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Gingerbread heart heaven

Gingerbread heart heaven

Next we have the Spittelberg market which lines the small and charming lanes around Stiftgasse. It is small, but perfectly formed and has a very unique feel to it.  Most people agree it is best for buying jewellery, so it is a good place to buy a few presents. It also has great spaces under trees lit with fairy lights in which to enjoy a Gluehwein or Punsch. If you get too cold, there are also lots of bars and restaurants to shelter in and it has many covered areas in which to stand and have a drink in. It is very atmospheric, especially in the evenings.

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

Yesterday I was at the Karlsplatz Christmas market, right in front of Karlskirche church and it was there I discovered it is the best place for lamas. No, I hadn’t had too much mulled wine, there were actually lamas being led around. They were part of the ‘attractions’ for kids, because this market is probably the best one for families. It has an area dedicated for kids, with animals, straw for them to play in and a little workshop for them to do crafts. Food and drink stalls circle this area and so parents can amuse themselves while keeping an eye on the kids. This market is also popular with locals who appreciate the crafts, ceramics and glassware on sale. Lovely atmosphere, lovely Gluehwein and lovely lamas. Oh and if you ever wanted to see a photo of the baby Jesus, this is the place to go.

The market at Karlskirche

The market at Karlskirche

Here's a close up of that little baby Jesus

Here’s a close up of that little baby Jesus

That lama just winked at me I swear

That lama just winked at me I swear

The market I will end on is my favourite one of all. The Freyung market claims to be the oldest and for me it is definitely the most Christmassy. Freyung is a gorgeous little square which is beautiful at any time of year, but is especially magical at Christmas. It’s great for Christmas decorations and gourmet food products like mustards and honey. Even the Viennese give the Freyung market their seal of approval.

The old Viennese Christmas Market

The old Viennese Christmas Market

There are many more markets around the city, which I will try and review within the next few weeks. Until then enjoy the hot booze, the hot chestnuts and the lovely lamas.

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Back to School

At the start of September the kids went back to school and this year, I went with them. Now teaching in Viennese schools, I get to experience first hand the Austrian education system.

The first difference compared to the UK is that school children here do not wear uniforms. That has of course been obvious since I arrived here more than two years ago, but similar to the UK, the shops all use the Back To School theme as a marketing campaign. I expected it in stationery shops, but was surprised to receive a brochure through my door from C&A promoting its back to school range. I love how they still have C&A here when it disappeared from British high streets in the mid nineties and yes, they have all the same ranges like Clock House and Yessica and yes, it is always just that little bit unfashionable. I flicked through with interest to see what their back to school range was, thinking that perhaps there were some schools that have uniforms that I just did not know about, but it became apparent that back to school clothes are in fact just normal everyday clothes which you should just buy in preparation for September.

Back to school in your jeans.

Back to school in your jeans.

So, similarly casually dressed in my jeans, I went off to start the new school year. My lasting impression from the first day is of the technology, which blew my mind. Not because there is a lot of it, but because it’s so rubbish and virtually non-existent. Any computers they do have are unbelievably slow. In the staffroom there are two computers for all the staff. No teachers are given laptops. There are no computers or interactive smart boards in classrooms. In fact, it’s like stepping back in time to see chalkboards being the main teaching aid and the chalk and talk method still being the main way of teaching. It frustrates the teachers and accounts for them only being in school when they have to teach: you really do have to go home to do all your planning and admin.

I had often wondered, upon seeing large groups of children hanging around the streets as early as 1pm on a week day, why they never seemed to be in school. During my first few days it all became clear to me. Pupils have to be in school at 7.45am and schools pack all their lessons into the morning and go right through without a lunch break. Instead, they have a fifteen minute break called a Jause when the kids try to stuff as much bread and pop into their mouths as possible whilst also trying to run around the school corridors. Often they cannot wait until this Jause and so try to eat in the five-minute breaks between classes. The absence of a long break when they can run off some energy means that they have ants in their pants in class. School is out for some by 1pm, for others it is 2pm. On one or two days a week each class may have to stay until 3 or 4pm for a later lesson, and on these days they can have a proper school lunch, but that is also a strange system to me, to finish at varying times through the week with a timetable that can change every couple of months. I often wonder how parents cope with the irregularity of the school hours. It’s strange to see children and teachers leaving the school at different points during the school day. I wonder how they keep track of everyone. As a teacher of British origin in Vienna, I find this system of a school day without many breaks really tough because there’s never enough time to make, let alone enjoy, a cup of tea!

Is that appropriate foot wear?

Is that appropriate foot wear?

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