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Austria to spend billions on making rail network greener

Austria will devote 17 billion euros ($20bn) to greening its rail network despite a historic budget deficit caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced Wednesday in its 2021 budget.

Austria to spend billions on making rail network greener
An international train linking Bolzano and Innsbruck passes on a bridge over a highway near the border between Austria and Italy after it reopened on June 16, 2020 in Brenner, Austria. AFP

Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler, from the Green party, hailed the money as the “biggest rail package Austria has ever seen”.

The Greens have been in a coalition with the centre-right People's Party (OeVP) since the beginning of the year.

Part of the new plan for the railways is a target to make the network carbon neutral by 2035 through electrification.

Even though Austrian governments — and the OeVP in particular — are normally advocates of balanced budgets, the package presented to parliament on Wednesday by OeVP Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel foresees a budget deficit of 6.3 percent of GDP due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite this, spending on climate and environment-related projects is projected to grow by around a billion euros over three years.

A further 95 million euros will also be dedicated to a flagship project of the Green party, the so-called “1-2-3” transport ticket.

This would enable users to buy an annual ticket valid for travel on all public transport in their region for one euro per day, in two regions for two euros per day and throughout Austria for three euros a day.

Adam Pawloff of Greenpeace Austria welcomed the extra investment in climate goals as “a step in the right direction, even though more resources would be needed to meet the Paris climate targets”.

But the budget contained no steps towards a promised reform of the tax system to encourage more environmentally sustainable behaviour, he pointed out.

The WWF agreed that the lack of such reform was the “blind spot in this budget”. The current measures would not be enough for the government to reach its declared aim of making Austria carbon neutral by 2040, it added.

At present 67 percent of Austria's energy is supplied through fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.

The Greens and environmental NGOs have been pushing for a tax on carbon emissions, but the OeVP have proved resistant to the idea.

In June the government had said it wanted to introduce a minimum price of 40 euros for flight tickets as well as a tax on flights under 350 kilometres (217 miles) but no further details on this have been announced.

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Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts

Catch the very tail-end of the wine season and autumn foliage in one of the lesser-explored corners of the Austrian capital: Mauer.

Explore Austria: Mauer, a charming wine-hiking spot on Vienna’s outskirts
Beautiful views and cosy taverns await you on the edge of Vienna. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Wine-hiking is an autumn must-do in Austria, and although the official Wine Hiking Day (Weinwandertag) that usually draws crowds has been cancelled two years in a row during the pandemic, it’s possible to follow the routes through beautiful scenery and wine taverns on your own.

Mauer in the southwest of Vienna is one of the routes that is mostly frequented by locals.


The footpath takes you through scenic vineyards. Photo: Catherine Edwards

You can reach this part of the 23rd district using Vienna’s public transport, and you have a few options. From the Hietzing station on the U4 line, you can take the tramline 60 or bus 56A. The former will take you either to Mauer’s central square or you can get off earlier at Franz-Asenbauer-Gasse to start the hike. If it’s too early in the day for wine just yet, you could start your day at the small and charming Designo cafe (Geßlgasse 6).

Otherwise, the residential area itself doesn’t have much to see, but keep an eye out as you wander between the taverns later — there are some beautiful buildings.

To start the hike, head west along Franz-Asenbauer Gasse, which will take you up into the vineyards, growing some red wine and Vienna’s specialty Gemischter Satz or ‘field blend’, which as the name suggests is a mixture of different types of grapes.

Photo: Catherine Edwards

The paved road takes a left turn, but the hiking route follows a smaller path further upwards. Here you’ll have magnificent views over the whole of Vienna.

If you stick to the official hiking route (see a map from Weinwandern here) you can keep the whole route under 5 kilometres. But more adventurous types don’t need to feel limited.

You can also follow the Stadtwanderweg 6 route (see a map here) either in full, which will add on a hefty 13 kilometres, or just in part, and venture further into the Mauerwald. If you do this, one spot to aim for is the Schießstätte, a former hunting lodge offering hearty Austrian meals.

EXPLORE AUSTRIA

In any case, you should definitely take a small detour to see the Wotrubakirche, an example of brutalist architecture from the mid-1970s built on a site that was used as a barracks during the Second World War.

Not far from the church is the Pappelteich, a small pond that is not only an important habitat for local flora and fauna, but a popular picnic spot for hikers. Its only water supply is from the rain, and due to climate change the pond has almost dried out in recent years, prompting the city to take action to boost its water supply by adding a permanent pipe.


The church is made up of over 150 concrete blocks. Photo: Catherine Edwards

What you really come to Mauer for, though, are the Heuriger or Viennese wine taverns. 

The most well-known is Edlmoser (Maurer Lange Gasse 123) which has previously been named as the best in Vienna. Note that it’s not open all year so check the website, but in 2021 it should be open between November 5th and 21st, and is also serving the goose that is a popular feature on Viennese menus this time of year.

Tip for translating Heuriger opening times: look for the word ausg’steckt, which is used by those taverns which aren’t open year round. They will also often show that they’re open by attaching a bunch of green twigs to the sign or front door.


Buschenschank Grausenburger. Photo: Catherine Edwards

Also worth visiting are cosy Buschenschank Grausenburger (Maurer Lange Gasse 101a), Heuriger Wiltschko (Wittgensteinstrasse 143 — located near the start of the hiking route, this is a good place to begin your tour) and Heuriger Fuchs-Steinklammer (Jesuitensteig 28).

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