COVID-19 in Austria

Translated from an ORF article, journalist: Sinan Ersek

The ability to adapt to uncertainty, meaning not being able to predict the future, not being in control, prompted new behaviors and demanded for adaptation and at times drastic change in Austria like anywhere else.

Regarding the political reaction to the pandemic, restrictions came early and were extremely rigorous. The public would not have co-operated and accepted the strict measures, had it not seen the worrying pictures and concerning data from neighboring Italy.

Additionally the “Ischgl-Gate” and other ski resorts in the Tyrolean Alps made it clear how rapid the exponential growth of the virus really was. In comparison, the capital of Vienna with, around 2 million inhabitants, accounted for roughly 2,300 (officially) infected cases. A proof of a strong West-East gradient. 

It appears that “The Hammer and the Dance “ has been extremely well followed. The chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, very quickly and unmistakably stated: “Soon each one of us will know of someone who died from the virus“. Austrians accepted and understood this martial warning. Soon thereafter the people started to waltz again, a small relaxation of measures here, another exception there.

Kurz united the majority of Austrians under the idea of protecting everyone’s health and economical stability. Balancing Life and Livelihood. Concrete information, including negative information, has been communicated in a crystal clear and honest way. Informing the public via daily press-conferences about processes, expectations, and consequences including back-up plans outlining what will happen if plans should not develop as expected.

The general public was never under the impression that they had been insufficiently informed. This culture of honesty and trust enabled everyone to think, talk, share, and make informed decisions. 

From a medical point of view, Austria has different prerequisites than neighboring Italy or Spain. Over the past 40 years considerable investment went towards the health care system. It could very well be the trust in this system that is the reason for the notorious Austrian “Gemütlichkeit“. Even if Austrians love to whine and complain, deep down they trust and know that all will be fine and that the system will back them.

The acceptance of authority (in this case of a young and charismatic Sebastian Kurz) enveloped varieties of interaction. No Anti-lockdown protests occurred like in various other countries and even those who did not vote for Kurz, accepted his leadership.

It might be worthwhile to mention that the patience and acceptance rate of the public may be explained by the spatial and geographical structure of the country. Austria is still a rural country. Even in Vienna, the only large city, numerous green spaces prevail, including parks, the so-called “Schrebergärten“ (similar to community gardens), the surrounding Vienna woods, fields and bike paths along the Danube.

 

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Austria’s New Government

What does Austria’s political future look like?

Austria’s political landscape in the past

For the last few decades, Austria’s government was comprised of a coalition of the top two parties, the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ). The political landscape included a slew of other parties, with the most dominant ones being the left Green Party (Die Grünen) and the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).

 

The ÖVP won the 2017 election, having the greatest number of seats and followed by a widely publicized national and international outcry, formed a coalition with the right-wing populist FPÖ.

 

The scandal in 2019

On May 27th 2019, Austria´s chancellor Sebastian Kurz from the Austrian People’s Party was removed from office in a vote of no confidence among legislators after a secretly recorded video was published. In this critical video the FPÖ’s leader Heinz Christian Strache was caught offering political favors to a young woman they believed to be the niece of a wealthy Russian oligarch, advising her how to increase Russia´s influence in Austria. Headlines were dominating the news all over the world and Austria had to prepare for a new election in the fall of 2019.

 

Re-election in fall of 2019

However, the scandal of the so called “Ibiza-affair” had not affected former chancellor Kurz majorly during the re-elections, whereas right party had to take a big hit on votes. Previous FPÖ leader Strache had to resign from office as he was criticized widely. Sebastian Kurz’s party ÖVP once again won the election with 34.55% of all votes followed by the SPÖ with 23.89%. 3rd came the FPÖ with 17.20% despite losing about 10% compared to the former election. On the other side, Die Grünen benefited greatly from this scandal, but also from the world-wide more traction-gaining climate movement, finishing with 14.08%. The remaining percentage points were split among the NEOS (8.44%), the JETZT (1.04%) and other parties (0.80%).

 

Coalition & goals for the new government

Recently, the news came out that the ÖVP decided to start a new coalition with Die Grünen. Now what does that mean for Austria’s future? On paper, it´s a significant political shift since the left party Die Grünen will replace the right FPÖ in this coalition. The coalition deal includes that Die Grünen will head 4 ministries, among other things, the environmental and justice portfolios. On the other side, the peoples party will hold onto the rest of the Ministries, including the Interior, Defense and Finance Ministries. The influence of Die Grünen can be seen with environmental goals. Austria will seek to be carbon neutral by 2040 and put a price on CO2 emissions. Beginning 2030, all of Austria’s electricity is to be produced by renewable energy sources and air-travel will become more expensive in order to make railway transportation more attractive. Also to mention, despite the tax cuts, the new government doesn’t plan on new debt. Conservative priorities include plans to expand a headscarf ban for girls under 14-years-old.

 

Kurz mentioned in a statement that this is an ideal coalition because he believes he brought together the best of both worlds. At the end of the day, such a coalition hasn’t been seen before in Europe, so therefore the world is watching and curious how chancellor Sebastian Kurz will get along with Werner Kogler the head of Die Grünen, only time will tell.

 

Watch the videos from interim-Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein:

Skiing in Austria

As we write this, lots of snow is being dumped over Austria and all appears in a magical white blanket. Winter in Austria is different to Colorado, with snow usually staying on the ground from November until early March. While warm days in the winter in the 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit are very common in Colorado, they rarely happen in Austria. Instead it usually stays below 40 degrees Fahrenheit with a high humidity that sends chills into your bones. But on a day with blue skies and snow covered mountains it’s beautiful.

In Austria, outdoor activities are considered a must with skiing being the national sport! Nearly every kid learns skiing from their parents or while going on week-long ski trips with their schools. Regions encourage skiing by offering low priced tickets, often combined with year-long other outdoor tickets – for example Tyrol’s Freizeitticket for 500 euros per year. It includes summer activities such as gondola rides to go hiking, museums entries or swimming in lakes and outdoor pools. Nature is one of Austrian strong suit and there is probably no Austrian who doesn’t marvel in the nature’s beauty!

Skiing as a national sport is ingrained by everyone watching the ski races with Austrian athletes usually dominating the sport, from ski jumping to downhill racing. Athletes are the true heroes in Austria enjoying celebrity status similar to Peyton Menning or the likes! Skiing goes way back to the 1900 in the Alpine region. Some Austrians also immigrating to Colorado and helped make skiing popular in the Vail area, bringing some of the typical vibe and building hotels and restaurants. And next time you are skiing in Colorado, check out some of the lifts or gondolas and see if they are branded with “Doppelmayr”, an Austrian company and one of biggest ski lift providers, if not the biggest. Plus famous brands like Atomic, Blizzard, Fischer and Head are internationally well known. In Austria tourism plays a major role and winter tourism is responsible for an impressive 5 percent of the GNP (General Net Product) of Austria. Agriculture, for a comparison, sums up to something around 3 percent.

 

 The most known region to go skiing is probably Tyrol. If you stay in Innsbruck, the main capital, you can get a ski pass that covers 8 ski areas surrounding the city, all connected to the center by an efficient bus service and reachable within 30 minutes. Famous ski areas are Ischgl, St. Anton am Arlberg and Serfaus or of course Kitzbühel for the famous Hahnenkamm race each January, attracting more than 50,000 fans to the slopes of Austria’s biggest annual sporting event.

Snowboarding has gained traction similar to Colorado. Nordic or cross-country skiing is popular too with low prices for using the slopes.
If you think skiing is just for the summer, think again! Thanks to glaciers such as the Tux glacier, skiing is even possible all year round! And prices are by far more favorable than in Colorado with day tickets around 40 EUROS (about $45).

While Colorado offers powder, Austria’s snow is usually more wet, so it’s a bid harder to ski, BUT: Austria offers huts on top of the mountains with fantastic, usually home-cooked meals! Many people just take the gondola up, skip the skiing altogether to lounge in a chair, enjoy the sun and treat themselves to a delicious meal. Après-ski is also a very important part of the entire experience, usually starting already in the early afternoon!

If all this doesn’t convince you to plan your next ski vacation in Austria, read more on this page.

Austrian Tradition: Christmas Cookies!

The Christmas time is always a magical time in Austria. It’s getting colder outside and people love to spend more time at home. Baking cookies is one of the big traditions in this season and families get together and spend a weekend creating delicious cookies from scratch. Recipes are handed down from one generation to the next and many have their own “secret recipe” or at least tips that already grandma used to make the perfect cookie! Kids are getting involved at a very young age too and are finding delight in getting their hands dirty while kneading dough or using cookie cutters for precious creations. It’s a fun family activity!

Some cookies are more common then others, but here we want to focus on maybe the three most famous ones:

Vanillekipferln

 

Known as “Crescent almond cookies”, it is a favorite of most people in Austria. Delicious, crunchy with an almond taste and – of course – lots of sugar! It’s make out of short pastry.

Image Credit: Copyright Österreich Werbung Harald Eisenberger

Linzeraugen

Loosely translated as “Linzer Eyes” – referring to a town in Austria called “Linz”. Some legends say that it is actually not connected to the town but rather to a Viennese baker named “Linzer”. Whatever the origin, it dates back to the 17th century! It’s two pieces of chewy cookies, with the upper piece have a whole in the middle – the “eye” Some prefer even 3 wholes and a special Linzeraugen cookie cutter tool is available to make this easier! They are “glued together with jam – usually black current.

Image Credit: Copyright Tirol Werbung Janine Hofmann

Kokosbusserln

 

The name is incredibly sweet and means “coconut kisses”. It’s a super simple recipe that you can finish in 10 minutes! Main ingredients are egg whites, sugar and coconut flakes, flour & butter.

Image Credit: Copyright Austria Tourism NY