Vienna: Really the worst city in the world?

Vienna: Really the worst city in the world?
Vienna from across the Danube. Photo: Paul Gillingwater
Two articles in the Austrian edition of internet magazine Vice - on why Vienna “is really the shittiest city in the world” have provoked a heated online debate and hundreds of emails from people defending their city.

Vienna regularly tops global consulting firm Mercer’s annual quality of living rankings. So, why has managing editor of Vice Austria, Markus Lust, been talking Vienna down?

“Actually, this is really a sort of declaration of love to the city, but packaged in a very Viennese way,” said Lust, who originally hails from Linz. “The Viennese are famous for complaining all the time – people are intentionally always very grumpy, we call it ‘grantig’. Something you’ll notice when you go to restaurants or cafes. It’s an attitude.”

But his articles (NSFW pictures) turned many readers into furious defenders of the city. Lust acknowledges that Vienna is a great place to live but thinks that “it also has problems, and I think we should acknowledge that – it’s more like a small town than a city, and because of that it has a bit of an inferiority complex.”

“We used to be bigger, we used to be part of an empire, a metropolis… we have 1.8 million inhabitants but we don’t rank alongside London, Paris or Berlin. But we like to picture ourselves as a world city.”

And although Viennese people are grumpy, they are also, admits Lust, very laid back. “You don’t have the buzz of New York but Viennese people know how to relax and enjoy themselves.”

The way people use language also sets Vienna apart from Berlin, Munich, or Zurich, Lust believes. “The way Austrians use language, it’s very passive – not direct. They’ll say something like, oh, it’s a little hot in here, so maybe we could open a window. You have to read between the lines with Viennese – which can be interesting, or annoying, depending on your perspective.”

Top on his personal list of pet-gripes about Vienna are people failing to clean up after their dogs, the lack of decent sandwiches (but who needs sandwiches when you have cake?), the city’s large ageing population, its torturous bureaucracy, rude cyclists, and the fact that shops close earlier than in many other capital cities.

“The bureaucracy really gets to you – the whole system was designed for a time when we had ten times the number of inhabitants than we do now, when Austria was a great empire. But we still have the same system, which is about to be redesigned but it will take time.  Just very basic things take so much time, like going to register your address… and the people in power like to play with you.”

And the elderly Viennese have the edge on grumpiness, he believes.

“It’s a very old-fashioned city – and the old people here tend to be quite traditional – they don’t use smart phones, or keep up with technology, and they disapprove of a lot of things young people do. If you’re making a lot of noise in the metro, they’ll tell you to shut up!”

He also contests that the quality of living is not as great as the Mercer study suggests.

“It is safe here, that’s true… And of course there is still some crime in Vienna, nasty things still happen. Berlin is cheaper, and there’s more going on. But Vienna will always welcome the Mercer study as it’s so good for its image.”

Mercer's annual survey is conducted to help employers work out what to pay and compensate their employees when placing them on international assignments.

The survey uses 39 criteria, such as political stability, health care, education, crime, leisure and transport. Vienna has been voted the world's most livable city five times in a row, with German and Swiss cities also performing well.

From The Local’s perspective, it has a vibrant cultural scene – concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic still sell out months in advance, and it also boasts a thriving nightlife and alternative music scene. Its legendary Habsburg-era coffee houses are just as buzzing in the low season as they are during tourist season. And its moderate housing costs, as well as an extensive and affordable public transport system make it a relatively easy place to live.

But you know, we’d much rather you listen to Vice and stay away.

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