Coronavirus Vienna: one person’s experience of lockdown, closures – and a wonderful city, even in coronavirus times. Plus 36 pictures.
When I lived in Istanbul from 2012-16, people often asked me whether I was concerned about terrorist attacks, crime or civil disturbance.
At the end of my walk on 29 March, with wild boar effigy
‘Of course I worry about them a bit,’ I would say. ‘But the thing I worry about most is being knocked down by a taxi or motorcycle as I try to cross the street.’
Istanbul taxis are famed for their driving style
The same is true in Vienna, in the coronavirus pandemic. I’m doing what I can to avoid catching the virus: working from home, observing the social distancing rules and so on. My fear is that, as I try to avoid other pedestrians on narrow pavements, or cross unusually empty streets, my concentration will slip and I’ll become a traffic accident.
No such thing happened when I went out for a walk in Vienna on 29 March, two weeks into the Austrian government’s strict self-isolation and social distancing policy. What does Vienna look like In the Time of Coronavirus? Here are some pictures of a day out showing little-known parts of the city, and how it is coping with the pandemic.
The St Marx Cemetery was open from 1784-1874
I live in the Third District of Vienna. Last weekend I drove my car to some scenic hills and we went for a walk there; but government advice is now to avoid driving more than necessary, or walking anywhere you might need to be rescued, to damp down demand on the emergency services. So I walked out of my front door and headed south.
Joseph Madersperger, inventor of the sewing machine, is buried at St Marx
The government has closed many of the open spaces of Vienna, such as the gardens of the Schönbrunn and Belevedere Palaces, and the Augarten, to prevent people congregating there. Some popular spots which are still open, such as the Danube Canal and the Danube Island (Donauinsel) can get a bit crowded. But if you stroll out of town you can find many sparsely-populated beauty spots, such as the pretty St Marx Cemetery.
Like Highgate, my favourite London cemetery, St Marx is chaotic in places
The grassy alleyways amongst the tombstones provide plenty of opportunities to keep your social distance from other visitors – we saw perhaps half a dozen in half an hour. Mozart is buried somewhere in the St Marx cemetery, but no-one knows where.
St Marx is full of wildlife…
… and melancholy memorials to infant mortality
Continuing past the cemetery I headed to the Löwygrube, the site of an old brickworks which is now a park with fine views towards Slovakia. On the way I passed a shabby restaurant, closed since 16 March like all restaurants in Vienna, with a splendid name. I’d like to visit it when it reopens.
Truly an alluring name for a watering hole
In the 19thC in Pimlico, my London base, there was a huge pub called “The Monster”. This name also appeals to me; cats named “Monster” feature in two of my novels.
The Monster was destroyed by a parachute mine in 1941
The Löwygrube turned out to be a splendid park. It is big enough for plenty of people to keep their distance. Interestingly, whereas many Vienna parks have a “Hundezone” (dog zone) for people to “exercise” their dogs, the whole of the Löwygrube is a Hundezone – like most UK parks. This obviously has pros and cons.
An entrance to the Löwygrube
Vienna parks often alert visitors to the dangers they can expect, in lurid detail. The signs above warn (i) that in snowy and icy conditions you should keep to paths which have been treated with salt or grit, or cleared of snow; and (ii) that stormy weather may be dangerous.
The yellow sign says that the playing field and goals are off-limits because of coronavirus. You can see some dog owners observing social distancing
The Löwygrube is little known in Vienna but surprisingly extensive
The Tenth District is the most populous in Vienna, with extensive public housing and other facilities built by the City of Vienna. The Amalienbad, opened in 1926, is an architectural gem inside and out.
The main entrance of the Amalienbad
With the public housing comes public art. I liked this steel worker.
The worker’s hammer rests on a girder; he is supported by another girder which appears to project from the building
All restaurants are closed; many are trying to offer a takeaway service.
This closed restaurant in Oberlaa offers to deliver pizzas
This “lounge restaurant” also offers deliveries
I felt sorry for this restaurant at Oberlaa which had planned the menu for the entire year: a month each of herring, strudel, schnitzel, beef etc.
I eventually reached Oberlaa. The park was opened in 1974 as an international garden exhibition and features lakes and themed gardens (“Allergy garden”; “Japanese Garden”) as well as the famous Oberlaa Cake Shop, also closed for coronavirus (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
The park at Oberlaa has several large lakes
Oberlaa covers around 86 hectares, so the few dozen people I saw had plenty of space.
Spot the visitors
While strolling to and from Oberlaa I was struck by posters advertising a rich variety of mostly cancelled events.
Both of these look intriguing. NB lack of traffic
It was striking to walk for hours without seeing a single building – apart, possibly, from the Amalienbad – which was “typically Viennese”. Like many cities famous for their beauty and architecture (think Paris, Prague or St Petersburg) much of Vienna, while lovely to live in, is not particularly architecturally distinguished.
Don’t fancy either of these much
Plenty of high culture, too
I saw an explosion of signs announcing social distancing measures, or shop closures.
Instructions on social distancing, in numerous languages
A second hand clothes shop closed since 16 March
A hairdresser, also closed since 16 March
Ayhan usually offers a range of services
This Turkish restaurant makes my mouth water. It offers a delivery service
Food stores, such as this Azeri-themed bakery, can stay open
On my route back home I passed through two more parks. The first was the Dr Helmut Zilk Park, opened in 2016 on ground formerly occupied by a railway marshalling yard. Helmut Zilk was mayor when I first lived in Vienna from 1984-87. It is only around 7 hectares in size but is full of young trees and has a fantastic children’s playground – closed, like all others in Vienna, because of the coronavirus.
The closed playground in Dr Helmut Zilk Park. In the background are new developments built on former railway land
The chap in the foreground is practising his juggling – excellent exercise – while keeping away from others. The mast behind is sometimes called “the exploding doner”
This block of luxury flats, opened in 2019, is part of a complex designed by Renzo Piano
My final photo stop before returning home was the Palais Metternich, now the magnificent Italian Embassy. They had two large banners outside.
“Never give up…”
“…we are all with you.”
For anyone who wants to stretch their legs without getting too close to anyone else, I recommend a stroll around the 10th and 11th Districts of Vienna. I enjoyed it, and learned a lot about the history and character of the area. Here is a characteristic photo, near the Reumannplatz.
Note the graffiti; the nursery; and someone relaxing in the sunshine.
Vienna is a wonderful city, even in times of coronavirus. Enjoy it.
P.P.S. If you are short of things to read in your coronavirus social distancing phase, my most recent books are here.