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VIENNA

How you can get vouchers to eat for free at Vienna restaurants

If you're doing your Christmas shopping in Vienna this weekend, you have the chance to get vouchers that allow you to eat for free at restaurants as part of a scheme aimed at boosting the economy post-lockdown.

Vienna cafe
The vouchers will be for use in gastronomy businesses in Vienna, from restaurants to the famous coffeehouses. Photo: Rick Govic/AFP

A total of €4 million in vouchers to use at Viennese restaurants will be given to shoppers this weekend, the city’s council and chamber of commerce announced on Wednesday.

Anyone who shops at a brick-and-mortar store in Vienna (not online) this weekend can submit their receipt to receive some of the vouchers. The council said that “at least 50 percent of the invoice amount will then be reimbursed, up to a maximum of €100” and that the vouchers would be given in €25 amounts.

Because the total amount is capped, these will be raffled off between everyone who takes part in the campaign. People who take part will have the chance to get up to 50 percent of their purchase amount back in vouchers, up to a maximum of €100.

To be eligible, your purchase needs to take place on December 18th or 19th — the retail sector has been allowed to open on Sunday to make up for some of the turnover lost during the fourth lockdown in a rare exception to Austria’s strict Sunday closing laws. 

Only receipts from shops which were closed during the lockdown are eligible, so pharmacies, supermarkets and food shops are not included. You don’t need to be resident in Vienna to take part, but just need to do your shopping in a Viennese store, and you do need to be aged 16 or over.

READ ALSO: Can I travel to Austria for tourism after lockdown?

The raffle is set to take place in January, with the vouchers expected to be valid from February.

Mayor Michael Ludwig said the initiative was a way of showing appreciation for “the retail sector, the gastronomy sector and all those who have had to wait to do their Christmas shopping so far”.

The city council has launched a website for the initiative, wiener-weihnachtszuckerl.at, though at the time of publication it simply said more information would be added shortly.

In Vienna, non-essential retail stores re-opened after the lockdown on Monday, but restaurants and cafes remain closed until December 20th, making it the last of Austria’s nine regions to re-open gastronomy.

READ ALSO: What are the current Covid rules in Austria?

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TOURISM

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.

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