English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “The Weather”

Wein in Wien

With the onset of autumn, I have started thinking back to the summer and how we coped with the high temperatures. One pleasant way was to head to higher ground. You might not know this, but Vienna is not all just city city city. It is hugged by a forest and surrounded by hills which the locals love to walk in, cycle in, jog in, but mostly, drink wine in. For in the tiny little villages on the outskirts of the city, and in the hills, grow lots of vines which produce lovely grapes, from which you get lovely local wine.

Dotted around the vineyards and walking trails you can find little taverns selling the new wine. The style of these Heurigen varies from very informal ones which operate out of a hut where you can relax on deck chairs only a stone’s throw from the vines, to the longer-established ones with their heavy wooden interiors with twee curtains.

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

Grinzing, a part of the nineteenth district of Vienna, is well-known for its Heurigen and bus-loads of tourists regularly roll up to enjoy some wine and schnitzel, but it’s not just the tourists who visit these. Throughout the long summer evenings, most Heurigen outdoor gardens are full, with tables reserved for large groups of people both young and old. It’s a part of the culture that I really love, as do all of my expat friends. After all, I like to think I am doing my bit for the environment by drinking wine that is literally produced just down the road: my wine doesn’t have to travel half way round the world. Imagine that; drinking wine to help the environment, good conscience booze – another reason to love Vienna!

Winery Mayer in Grinzing which was once where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Winery Mayer in Grinzing where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Austrian wine is little known in the UK, but actually there are many wine regions throughout the country and wine is an integral part of the culture. I have wiled away many a Sunday afternoon with a walk down Kahlenberg hill, wandering from one vineyard to another, and there are many festivals throughout the year to celebrate the local produce.

Most Austrians drink their wine with soda as spritzers, which is probably wise considering a litre of wine will only set you back around ten Euros and is extremely quaffable. There is always a buffet selling bread, ham and cheese to soak up some of the alcohol.

Heurige Zimmerman in Salmonsdorf

Heurige Zimmerman in Neustift am Wald

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

Early autumn views

Early autumn views

Lovely wine

Lovely wine

These taverns are open from around mid April to November, so you can enjoy the various seasons of wine. At the moment it’s Sturm time, when people enjoy the very early wine which takes the form of cloudy grape juice still fermenting and is surprisingly alcoholic. So, you see, the English Girl in Vienna is not always pounding the pavements in the city soaking up the culture, but can often be found in the forest and hills imbibing a lot of it – along with the locals, doing my bit for the environment.

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

2012-08-18 18.17.19

http://www.pfarrplatz.at/heuriger-eng.htm

http://www.weinhof-zimmermann.at/

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know this is horribly overdue as an entry about Christmas and New Year, but there are so many lovely photos to share, that talk about Christmas I must.

Christmas in Vienna and the run up to it is truly magical. The centre of the city is tastefully decorated in the most splendid of twinkly lights and people bundle up, ready to spend most of their time outdoors despite the winter temperatures. Vienna is a very outdoor-sy city and the winter is no exception. You can’t move for Christmas markets that cater to your every Christmas gift need, and stands selling roasted chestnuts and hot cups of punch spring up on every pavement, there to provide residents and visitors with warm food and warm alcohol. What I love is that, although the place is overrun with tourists, the markets are enjoyed by everyone who lives here. It is not uncommon for friends to meet each other after work at a market to enjoy a Gluehwein and families meet up at weekends to wander round and look at the stalls, enjoy the brass bands and generally soak up the jovial atmosphere.

The twinkly chandeliers in the mains street called Graben, note the punsch stands

The twinkly chandeliers in the main street called Graben, note the punsch stands

Belvedere Christmas market

Belvedere Christmas market

Can you see the brass band?

Can you see the brass band?

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

Most markets close on 23rd December and the biggest one, at the Rathaus, closes on Christmas Eve. There is one, however, that opens on Christmas Day itself and for the past two years I have gone on Christmas morning, pre-Christmas lunch to the Schoenbrunn for a final mooch around. I’m not the only one; it is always busy with shoppers, tourists and Gluehwein guzzlers and is one of the nicest ways I can think of to spend a couple of hours on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Although the Christmas markets disappear quite abruptly, their void is filled soon after by the New Year stalls that help revellers see in the New Year. They mostly sell, food, alcohol, cold alcohol, hot alcohol and more food, but there is a great number dedicated to the selling of lucky charms. You can buy fluffy pigs, pig ornaments, pig stickers, tiny pig figures, pigs of every description, some of them even dressed as chimney sweeps or holding four-leaf clovers. I asked my students about the relevance of the pigs and they apparently signify prosperity because, in the olden days, if you had a pig at the start of the year, it was a sure sign that your household would not go hungry.

I went to the city centre on Silvester, which is New Year’s Eve. I went in the afternoon and the place was heaving with people already in the party spirit. The atmosphere was much more boisterous than it ever was over Christmas, with people chugging down a few Jaegermeisters with every Gluehwein. It seemed like the whole city was on a mission to get drunk. I left before darkness fell, mostly because I had been warned by people who have been here a long time that the crowds in the city get unbearable in the night time and it becomes every claustrophobic’s nightmare. Apparently the general din is so loud that you can’t even hear the bells of St. Stephan’s Cathedral chime in the New Year, even though the party takes place literally outside it. The whole city also becomes obsessed with fireworks and from about 8pm onwards anyone can look out of their apartment window and see a fireworks display from a number of locations; it naturally reaches its crescendo at midnight and the sky glows pink and yellow and the sounds of explosions can be deafening.

A sunny New Year's Eve afternoon

A sunny New Year’s Eve afternoon

Turbo Gluehwein

Turbo Gluehwein

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

On New Year’s Day debris littered the whole city. We went for a bracing walk up to Kahlenberg, one of the hills in the woods that overlooks the city, and it was apparent that it had been one of the places to be the night before. It also seemed, from the number of empty bottles, that everyone had been on the sparking wine. The fog hung low and freezing and the city was eerily quiet because everyone must have been in bed sleeping off the excesses of the night before, but Vienna being Vienna, we still found a place to have an outdoor drink on such a biting winter’s day. We found a tiny open-air Heurige (wine tavern) open for business. The tall round table at which we stood had a layer of frost on it, but they were serving hot booze and sausages and had a fire lit to keep us toasty. Every passer by who stopped for a New Year’s drink was given a lucky charm, a little pig, to see in the New Year and I thought how glad I was to be in Vienna for the start of 2013.

The staff braving the cold

The staff braving the cold at the Heurige we found

Good luck charms with every drink

Good luck charms with every drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year's drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year’s drink – perfect with the fire

Dark Skies, Dark Mood?

 

Gloomy weather on Mariahilfer Strasse

 

Back to winter

 

They say the weather makes the Viennese grumpy. I’ve been told that autumn can be a pretty dismal time when a deep fog descends over Vienna and hangs for weeks at a time. That is certainly true of last autumn when, for a whole month, each morning started the same as the one before and never varied its shade of grey. It had a heavy presence, like it was breathing. I actually quite liked it. Being from the UK, I am used to a grey sky, rain and cold. I have also lived in a perpetually sunny place called The UAE where the sun made me miserable, at times. It was always goading me into being in a good mood, trying to antagonise me into being happy and scorching me as punishment when I wasn’t. I often longed for a nice grey day. With a nice grey sky, you can simply be. You can be serene, calm and still. You can stay in the same mood that you woke up in and enjoy your bad mood if you’re in one. You can be quiet and contemplative. You can stay in all day drinking tea and dunking biscuits. No one expects anything of anyone when there is a grey sky, whereas when it’s bright there’s social pressure to be annoyingly jolly. Reactions to the weather really depend on what people are used to. A Saudi Arabian student of mine couldn’t get out of bed last autumn, let alone think or concentrate. Like Superman, he is powered by the sun. I get energy from a spot of rain.

But the Viennese must be used to foggy autumns and changeable skies, so it doesn’t really explain why bad weather equals a bad mood. It’s been alleged that it is the Viennese temperament to be grumpy and so they need little excuse. I teach a lot of people who grew up in different regions of Austria and one diplomatically said she finds the Viennese very creative in their ability to find so much to complain about. In reply, the Viennese student defended his inherent right to moan about anything and everything, admitting it was a favourite pastime of his. He was proud that the people of Vienna are all so skilled in the art of complaining. Someone else once asked me how I coped having to teach the Viennese with their melancholia. In truth, I don’t find them to be miserable. If being happy is a positive number and being grumpy is a negative number then Viennese people hover around zero, neither happy nor sad, which is an excellent place to be; it has balance.

Today, after having a whole week of what appeared to be the start of spring, it is snowing again. But because the snow is mixed with rain the sky is dark and the atmosphere is a little depressed. The others around me in the café do look a little glum and pensive. There is a lot of gazing outside the window going on. All are silently watching the snow falling on the hooded figures on Mariahilfer Strasse, which is quieter than usual. The people in here mustn’t be true Viennese because if they were, I suspect they’d be feeling very content, happy to have something to grumble about.

Room with a view, today's coffee shop hang out in Thalia Bookshop

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