Waiting in Wien

Why would you want to while away a week in Vienna when the whole wide world is waiting..?

Photos by Tessa Mythos

Those thrift shop trouser you got two countries ago, are still too long. The Eastern tailor at the bottom of Rennweg can fix it for Friday, he promises. He measures you deftly and questions you about your nation’s glorious economy. “40 years ago Wien was wunderbar, now it is ein Katastrofe!”, he sighs as he charges you a 10’er for his services. They include some lengthy lamentations: Rent is through the roof. Wages are a joke. Insurance is unreasonable. Police are targeting him in traffic. You untangle yourself from the harsh realities of his life and hit the street hungrily with a rumbling unease.

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You are welcome in Vienna if you can get past the palace gates

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The sun is baking the concrete workers in a block-sized pit downtown. Burly, busy, brown. You see them only here and on the U-bahn, leaving the inner circle for their high-stacked apartments in massive projects beyond the Nine Districts. Later you notice the hookah lounges, where smokey smiles hang loudly in the air.

Nobody jaywalks or litters or begs. Supermarkets close at seven, and always on Sundays. Billa, Spar, Billa, Hofer – Lidl is the wurst. You stock the fridge in your rent-a-home with basic groceries and when you see the prices, you get some budget-biscuits too, to stave off any spontaneous spending on treats. You will be passing right by some of Europe’s most dedicated and expensive confectioneries over the next few days, but you know that everything will be cheaper if you just wait. Just don’t…

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You give in and treat yourself once to
some confectionery extravaganza

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Newspaper boys have been replaced with open bags on lamp posts. Kindly leave €1.40 for the latest news on the emergency election. The Man was caught in a hot tub in Ibiza, taking bribes from a Russian model. The next best nationalist looks at you from the walls – he looks like more of the same. Some tag his image with that tell-tale moustache.

Others hang fake official posters in the trains, advising against noticeable body odours. “Please don’t breathe on your fellow travellers”, it mocks in disbelief of how far into a citizen’s soul a society can seriously seep. You eat a wrap from a stand by a station. Suitcase rollers on marble stairs turn the Slovenian busker’s sorry serenade into a warbled flamenco. A lonely spice, happenstance, while bulky cameras stare at empty platforms. Benches here only have few drunks.

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Vienna’s old Imperial Natural History Museum has been collecting rocks from all around the world for more than 500 years

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Concentric stratification culminates in pompous museums in the heart of a long since expired empire. You come in delighted droves to feast your eyes on ornate details of splendid buildings and unbelievable collections of artwork and artifacts and natural phenomena. You listen sanctimoniously to Wolfgang’s works in the palace garden, while every driver in town is cursing the constantly changing lanes. It’s always rush hour on these roads.

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Around the corner an old and grey-stubbled man is treading the pavement in a pastel coloured sea of silent six-storey buildings. Five steps at a time, then one hand on his heart and the other to the wall. How far can you go from here?

“It’s a one way kind of place”, says the murky Danube river as you zip across her bridges on an electric scooter. You just can’t cruise along all cool like that with an open drink in your hand. You normally never buy coffee from dispensers and now the shitty Kleiner Brauner gets all over your one clean shirt. First time tourist with an app for it all and nowhere to go but a lot of looks. Is everyone watching?

“This city is so straight, ain’t even a crooked stick on the ground”, says the squirrel that looks you square in the eyes, on a soft path in the far reaches of the public park, where whispering women assemble on their horses. Where do Wieners go for kicks? Every 8th shop is a locksmith or a drugstore.

Magic Mosaic

There are mystics lingering in the fabric of Wien, weaving dreams into vision it seems. Kind freaks with big scopes represent the hopes you have for any populated place. One called Hundertwasser made a perfectly wonky house for actual humans. It continues to pull crowds every day for its organic eccentricity. You pass it, neat and deserted, on another late-night feat of footwork, wearing out your legs to satisfy your quest for the spirit of a place.

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Ernst Fuchs’ turned his pool pump house into the ‘Nyphäum Omega’

Away in a suburb, an extravagant villa stands testament to the life of another – Ernst Fuchs. He was at the front of a wave in his time and left a deeply spiritual and playful legacy of artwork behind, not to mention 16 children. He built himself a mosaic mirror-chapel for his spirit and never left it. A friendly teacher of visionary painting takes you there and you see him travel inward to confer with the old fox. New ideas for the painting he is working on. Your friend settled here late, but came in deep like a spearhead. He teaches folks how to journey and you can tell from his honesty that he knows the way.

Auntie’s wall-paper still darken the rooms on the second floor, where canvases crowd around a young artist couple’s cabbage dinner. Teachers inside out, inside the centre of the city, they long for country living but they are holding it down for now – painting their souls’ contents as they must. They know of the one and only neighbourhood in the city where you can DIY and take it easy. What a relief to know it exists, but of course you don’t have time to go there now.

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You’re surrounded by spectacular nymphs for a golden half an hour

On your full-moon night-walk home through the city on a Friday the 13th, the only party you pass in the street is a bodega blaring out schlager-pop for a few dancing couples in lederhosen and low-cut traditional dresses, complete with glass-pints of golden beer. No drums in the park, no shouting in the streets, no sub-woofer cars on a cruise, no home-disco bouncing out a window. No sirens.

The other foreigners in your rent-a-home either speak too much or not at all with averted eyes. The local host is hiding behind that fake profile and the colour-coded lock-boxes, but the price is alright and the wifi is on. The neighbourhood is at the top end of the D-line tram. Elite dwellings border vineyard hills. Biergartens for jetsetters, hand made shoes, an arts cafe open by appointment only. A foot and hand clinic for diabetics, next to a fancy old pastry shop. Several hairdressers and a gym called Fit-Inn.

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You pass only one house which looks like its residents might have some spunk

This is where Danube begins her run through town. The barges have one dock for their cargo and the tourist cruisers have another. In the afternoon you see 26 similarly dressed and truly pale pensioners admiring a family crest hanging from a flower-adorned wrought-iron balcony, while a dapper expert in his late fifties and a fancy hat tells them the solemn story of the notable pale person who lived and died in this very building, more than a century ago.

Later you watch them return from the restaurants to the docks under the tall highway bridges, alongside major pipelines and slow freight trains, their bellies full of aged and cured meat, their thoughts floating in wine, half keeping an eye on the nearest toilet. You look up and away.

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Vienna’s earliest inhabitants were less inclined to self-restraint

An endless row of high voltage towers march into the city with a gleaming castle perched behind them, aloof on a distant hill. Giant housing projects loom gloomily across the valley, far enough away from the river. The flow is East from here but you are not even. What more than visions and blank stares can you get from this place? You can’t feel the pulse of this stern and beautiful city.

It’s Friday and the tailor on Rennweg wants to relocate to your glorious nation, or anywhere he stands a fighting chance. The thrift shop trousers you got two countries ago, fit you just perfect now and you wish him the best of luck. You pick up the rental car and get on with the tour. How far will you get from here?

Love & Loathing In Alice Springs

I had wanted her for years. I kept meeting her former lovers, still spellbound from her presence, and I knew that she was truly hot. She has golden red features and is passionately worshipped by black and white alike. So spirited is she, that yet no one has known her depth. So honestly, beautifully brutal and indifferent is she, that both women and men draw their last breath with her. And yet, I had to embrace her – I had to be inside her, if only just once: I had to go to Alice…

Now where did that image go?

What was I getting into this time?

ALICE WAS A GUY

There is no denying it; Alice Springs is a female town. And let’s be honest about it; as far as towns go, she ain’t too pretty. We love her and she will suck you in with her incredible charm, but her looks, well, they will just have to grow on you.

Her straight and barren streets get you lost in a grid of buttoned-up suburban houses and except for the feeble curves of the dry Todd riverbed, Alice is very straight and fairly boring to behold. But houses and streets and cars and shops, are only Alice’s latest layers. Before she got her name from a telegraphist’s wife, her name was actually Stuart.

That’s almost a hundred years ago now. She weren’t too pretty then, either. That was her pioneer macho phase, where suddenly thousands of desperate white men with guns and cattle and pieces of paper, decided to scratch out a living in the desert (and maybe a bit of gold).

Now where did that image go?

A landscape from just outside Alice Springs.

NO PROPERTY – NO PROBLEM

They needed a place for transport and trade, and as fate would have it, they put up a telegraph station for their “singing line”, right in the middle of a songline junction. Black fellas’ pathways have always crossed on this sacred site. White fella only slapped a bit of tarmac on them and proceeded to squat the place and call it theirs.

Trying to be a town in a desert is a pretty terrible idea. Maybe that’s why the original locals, the Arrernte people, never built a town in their tens of thousands of years of belonging to this place. They call Alice Springs for “Mparntwe” – ‘Meeting Place’ – and they don’t claim to own her, they only look after her.

On Arrernte land there are 8 different “skin-names”. Each skin is a tribe and a story about the country it belongs to. Each tribe has a right to travel, but it’s also the caretaker of it’s neighbours’ land, by way of their complex kinship structure. You are, so to speak, related to the land. No property – no problem. Different story now.

australia day

FRESH WOUNDS

The last Aboriginal family in Australia to be exposed to the wicked ways of the white man, came out of the Gibson Desert near Alice Springs only 30 years ago, in 1984. I presume they had been hiding from the slaughtering of their people and protecting their culture. When they finally came out, they encountered a world where blacks and whites live in the same place, yet in different realities.

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Beauty & The Beast Records Album In Quaint Queenstown!

I met Javi in the neatly utopian community of Tui in Golden Bay, where we were both WWOOF’ing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms). It turned out that, not only did we have a mutual friend back in Australia, we were also both on the lookout for a fellow musician to travel with. After a month of jamming around the campfire, we decided to go on a tour of the South Island – it was to be the most epic hitchhike I have ever done…

Now where did that image go?

Beauty & The Beast at the “Half Way Around The World” point of their “Friend of a Friend of a Friend Tour”

The tour could well have been called The Friend Of A Friend Of A Friend Tour, because so many times we got picked up by amazing Kiwi’s who not only transported us but also fed and sheltered us and finally passed on the contacts of their friends who in turn did the same. And so it was that a sister of a friend in Tui, offered us to stay in their family’s beautiful old town house right in the center of the quaint little tourist trap of Queenstown.

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Trying To Be A Tourist In Rotten Rotorua

Through the awesome website www.couchsurfing.com I have found a host who will put me up for free for my three nights in Rotorua. Just the same, for this is tourist-land and they sure know how to cash in on the holiday makers, eager to tick of yet another must-see destination from their list. I very rarely find myself doing that sort of thing, but this time is different; I have decided to be a genuine tourist and “do” Rotorua. At least, that is my plan…

Now where did that image go?

Rotorua is much more than just a hole in the ground, and yet holes like this one is what attracts thousands of tourists to the town every year. Judging from the smell this could be a special kind of hole…

Richard – my generous host – tells me over the phone that he unfortunately won’t be home before much later that night, but that I should just let myself into his house and “get stuck in”. I find the keys in a hidden spot and enter his dream of a house. Richard is a doctor and his solid income is nicely reflected in his dwelling: Luscious rooms full of tasteful record and book collections; marvellous kitchen with a monstrous marble slab for a table-top; class A touring bikes in one corner and a pantry full of organic foods and homebrewed beer. Getting “stuck in” has never been easier and before you can say weary traveller, I have already lit the fire, made myself a hearty omelette and slipped into Richard’s comfortable couch.

Now where did that image go?

Who needs hotels when you can stay in a house like this? For free!

Around 10 pm the incredibly trusting Richard turns up and I find myself in the odd position of being able to welcome home in his own house. We hit it off immediately and it is only the advancing night that breaks off our flow of words – Richard has work in the morning. I decide to get up early too and ride with Richard into town as he lives a good 15 minutes drive out in the hills. I wake up to yet another rainy day but determined to be a good tourist, I drag myself out of the soft guest bed to go exploring in Rotorua.

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