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Thank You Vienna

From Tyrol to Vienna

I arrived in Vienna at Schwechat airport on a cold, bleak, rainy afternoon. It was 22 November 2010. Walking down the stairs from the airplane, the first thing that hit me, was how cold it was followed by the realization that my open-toe sandals were not very practical. I pulled my thin cotton safari jacket tighter around me. I remember marveling at how clean and spotless everything looked — that fascination has stayed with me.

So, not only did my feet get a bad start, but my German language skills were also next to zero apart from a few swear words (don’t care to repeat!) that I picked up from my Tirolean husband. I was coming to start a new life with a two-year-old who spoke Swahili and English only. And things were about to get worse, I was dropped into the deep end. My first few months were spent in a tiny village in western Tirol at my in-law’s house. Talk about culture shock! They were welcoming and we had a good relationship probably because neither of us could understand or communicate with the other. In German they say Liebe geht durch den Magen (A way to a person’s heart is through their stomach), in my case it was, Integration geht durch den Magen! Luckily, my mother-in law was a great cook and, being a food aficionado myself, we hit it off. One of first dishes I learnt to make was Käsespätzle (spätzle with cheese and fried onions) and my favorite, Kartoffelrösti (grated potatoes formed to a pancake and fried in a big pan) with apple sauce. I was amazed at the amount of smoked meat that was eaten and have since become hooked on Speck (pork) cut into thin slivers … yum! And I wonder, how did I survive all those years without dark bread?

Everywhere in Austria is beautiful, but the mountains, they are special. Rugged, ancient, dignified, and untouchable, they stand majestically. Pulling the curtains away from the window always took my breath away, I had to pinch myself, it was so beautiful. As a child my parents would hang up wall calendars from Swiss Air in our kitchen and those photos looked just like what I was experiencing — it was so surreal!

Once I spoke German, a whole new world opened up to me. I moved to Vienna and discovered I loved the bigger city too. Over time and the more I travelled, I learnt to cherish what I have here. It has lots of green areas to hang around, one of best public transportation systems, excellent health care and in comparison, it is still a relatively safe city not to mention the various options in culture — theater, operas, music, museums, etc. They say Vienna is not Austria and that is true, but nowhere else is the history and culture of Austria more present than in its capital city.

Coming back from Italy this summer where I had a wonderful time, I had a cathartic moment and surprised myself thinking “It’s so nice to be back home!”.

Although I felt welcome at my in-laws and in the little village in Tirol where you were greeted by everyone, even strangers on the street with “Grias-enkk” (greetings to you), I was frustrated at not being able to communicate back. I had a lot of time then and took to watching afternoon talk shows on TV. Even if you didn’t quite understand everything, you got the gist of what was going on. So, I proudly thank Arrabella Kiesbauer for being my first teacher in German! This is tongue in cheek, but in Tirol you will not learn German, so I had to look for other sources. If you can say Oachkatzlschwoaf (squirrel), consider yourself halfway there.

Language paves the road to friendship and respect. I learnt that my initial opinion of the Austrians being cold and unfriendly wasn’t true and after a Glässchen (a small glass of wine) or Schnappserl (a shot) initial inhibitions dissolve and if you don’t watch out and continue with the drinking you may end up dancing the polka! Austrian punctuality and work ethic impressed me. They work hard but hey, they also know how to enjoy life — think Octoberfest, Fasching celebrations, Saturday mornings at a traditional coffee house, or enjoying the last warm rays of sunshine at Heuriger (traditional wine bars) sipping Jungwein (new wine) with friends.

Be open for new experiences and go with the flow, you'll be surprised where you end up. It's all about the journey and not the destination! And although difficult, learn the language of whatever country you're living in. Only then can you truly immerse yourself in its uniqueness.


Tess Burmester was born in Kenya, has lived and worked in Tanzania, and is currently in Austria. She has a degree in Business Administration and International Travel Operations. Apart from working with the United Nations (U.N.) most of her life (International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Atomic Energy Agency), she also worked as a dog-walker, in a car-hire company, and with an International Travel Company in Kenya. Tess is married and has a son and two dogs that require a fair amount of exercise — walking her dogs is one of her favorite ways to pass the time. She’s passionate about animal welfare and the environment and has done some voluntary work with the Neon Green Network (charity working to connect NGOs, business, public institutions and members of the public) during “Die ERDgespräche”.


Vienna Makes You a Better Person

I came to Vienna for the first time as a tourist in 2006. I loved it! It was the most efficient city that I had ever visited ... beautiful and full of history! And not in my wildest dreams, could me, a countryside girl from Brazil, have even dreamed of such luck. But life has its own plans ...

Working as a translator, I was a leave taken by the wind.

When it blew me to Vienna, it was mind-blowing! It’s a shiny gem right in the middle of Europe. Located as such that you can take the night train and wake up in Paris, Frankfurt, Venice, or Rome. A Magnificent collection of palaces from various eras makes the center of Vienna stunning. Parks and bike routes traverse central parts of the city and art is part of its everyday life. Everything works to perfection: the social integration AMS helps you with a German course. The education you have been wanting to pursue? That is also covered! The choices are many in English or German.

When you move to Vienna you quickly feel like part of a society that cares about everyone, expat or not.

It’s difficult to choose what to be grateful for... everything works on the clock. The metro and train systems make your life so easy that it’s silly to buy a car. The weather is great in summer, and winter comes with a charming white Christmas! The architecture of Vienna is so rich, a walk in the trendy part on the Danube Canal with its many paintings on the wall calms down your soul. Even taking the tram to work is such an enchanting ride. Parks are everywhere! And so is art. The former summer residence of the Habsburgs, Schönbrunn Palace and its garden with free access as well as Prater Park will make your weekends magical. With theaters and museums for every taste, you are never bored in Vienna! And the best part, its save! I am so grateful that I can walk freely at any time.

Vienna makes you a better person! It brings organization into your life and planning for a better future. If you are willing to work hard, life is fun in Vienna!


Cristina McAlpine is a mother of two, translator, and cancer survivor living in Vienna.

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