Words by: Ryan Child
On the Dachboden dancefloor a slight figure with thinning hair and arms like bones is ruling the world. We are on the top floor. He’s pointed. A moustacheod surrealist, spinning a 6ft blonde girl like silk as the music floats through the bar and out to the city below.
Outside a girl jigs and laughs to me through the glass, smoking a thin cigarette and dressed in black. I had fallen for her two weeks before, somewhere between Hastings and Bristol.
Greenhouses and a Chinese Pyramid
The day before, at Gatwick Airport, a tiny Chinese woman knocked into me.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“I beg your pardon?” I said, before a bizarre 10 minutes.
In that time Susie Wong tried to recruit me into a weird pyramid scheme, touched my knee a lot and took a selfie. Two and a half hours later we were in Vienna.
The conveyor belt of humans conveyed over to the airport baggage claim, I said goodbye to Mrs Wong and looked for Emiliana.
At departures she’s standing there smiling softly. The Austrian, not Susie Wong, thank god.
We ride in her yellow car, past a thousand buildings and white smoke spiralling up into the air.
“Is not just all smoke and concrete, my city,” she says, constructing sentences like they do on the continent.
In the garage, under her apartment, there’s a beautiful old Saab 900 Turbo, in white, blanketed by dust.
In the morning the Viennese sun columns through and we get up and go to the zoo.
By now the fresh sun is running well through the autumn air. Every lamppost reads ‘Es Ist Zeit’ (It is time), the slogan of the slick-backed Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s young immigration minister seeking to win October’s general election.
A dog agrees with the slogan as he leans up against the post, while further into the Schönbrunn Gardens we come across the Palmenhaus Schönbrunn.
Opened in 1882, within a Baroque garden created to match Versailles, this steel greenhouse is an epic set of Meccano, designed by Roald Dahl and built by Wallace and Gromit, with pulleys, ropes and bells, green steel and huge panes of glass.
Inside there’s a 350 year old olive tree, apparently, but I wanted to see the Pandas up the road. Ironic, obviously, because no animal better represents the exact opposite of the functional, well built and robust Palmenhaus Schönbrunn.
You can hear the peacocks crowing on helium as you enter.
Beyond the big green gates, a bright red ball is kicked and chewed on big black paws. He’s playful and tragic. You want to cry, really.
Zoos are a strange thing. Vienna is known to be one of the best in the world, but you still can’t forget polar bears walk 70km every day in the wild. And that red plastic balls aren’t their natural playmates.
I cheered myself up with a beer and a huge fried piece of garlicky bread called a Langos, watching the African rhino sniff the ground. The Langos is delicious, Hungarian and what your hangover always wanted.
The best bit of the zoo is a huge tropical house, where butterflies that flutter and plants that can kill you sweat peacefully together. There are those miniature frogs from the tips of blow darts, as well, plus birds dressed in bright red. Not flamingos, although those spindly legged freaks are here too, near the exit. We passed them after buying some expensive cheese from the farm shop and nearly being killed by a squirrel. Luckily I was there to bravely ward it off.
Food and Drinking in Vienna
Later that day we caught the tube, which costs €2,20 for anything up to a 90 minutes journey, into the center for dinner.
Straight away you notice the stillness of the air. This is a calm, confident town, where the ambulances turn their sirens off at 10pm, Royal Lipezanner horses train artfully and the culture is old.
As the light fades you start to hear the refined songs of this city center, changing in tone from the Vienna State Opera House down to the smokey bars.
We walk past Mozart and into Plachutta, a traditional restaurant with bowties and napkins worth more than your socks. I’m half way through a bottle of Die Weiss when an Austrian couple joins us, friends, not randomly.
Elena is a doctor. Thomas is training to be an architect. We start talking about Sebastian Kurz, the 31 year old leader of the Austrian’s People Party.
“He’s being strong on immigration and that’s getting far right votes, which means he will probably win the election,” Elena said.
Thomas, in green, said nothing had been done in the past decade between two parties who could never agree. In Austria a coalition is mandatory. Maybe that would change.
Two weeks after I left Kurz became Europe’s youngest leader. He is expected to form a coalition with the far right. This is a country seeking something new. Or maybe something old. Time will tell.
I order another Die Weiss, a fizzy wheat beer that puts the lager we drink in the UK to shame.Then the Wiener Schnitzel arrives.
It’s been soaking in milk for a few days, I’m told, which explains the incredible tenderness. Emiliana and Elena share a broth of Veal and vegetables, Tafelspitz, while Thomas ate liver.
I had no idea how important food is in Austria, or how good the wine they make is. In fact, I didn’t even know they made wine. Welschriesling, for the record, is white wine even a beer drinking idiot can appreciate.
Eating and drinking is everything in Vienna. It’s the main attraction and the star of the town, despite what the pandas and Mr Kurz might say.
Viennese Street Food
By midnight the Old Fashioned needed refilling and so did my stomach. We watched the final throes of our jazzed up hero and took the elevator out of 25 hours hotel.
The wailing opera singers had gone to bed by now but sausage stands stay open for most of the night. We found Würstelstand Zur Oper (Sausage stand at the opera) by the grace of some higher being. And it is here, after a night out, where you can pay €5 for a huge Wurst and some mustard and a beer to go with it. Rarely have I fallen into an uber, woken up a little hungover and then left a city so culinarily content.
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