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NATURE

Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria

Nature in Austria can be deceptively dangerous. Here's The Local's handy guide to surviving the great outdoors when you live in Austria.

Seven hazards to avoid when you're outside in Austria
Two wild boar cubs (Sus scrofa) are pictured on October 11, 2008 in the Lainzer Tiergarten, a 25 square kms growth forest west of Vienna that was constituted more than 200 years ago under Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and her son Josef II. Every year more than 500,000 people walk in the forest and watch free wild animals. The forest is also used for hunting, mostly by wardens and wealthy guests. AFP PHOTO/DIETER NAGL (Photo by DIETER NAGL / AFP)

Austria is a beautiful Alpine state, famous for its majestic mountains, stunning lakes, picture perfect meadows and nature in all its abundance. However, even the Garden of Eden had a resident snake.

There are more than a few dangers you should be aware of before strapping on your hiking boots and heading into the great outdoors. 

You could be chased by a boar, bitten by a tick, accidentally eat something poisonous or get an itchy rash from a caterpillar every time you step outside. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

Wild boar

The British ambassador to Austria was chased by a rampaging wild boar a few years ago while out walking in the Vienna woods in the city’s Lainzer Tiergarten.

Writing in his blog, Leigh Turner said he suddenly found himself face-to-face with a group of “four or five hulking adults and countless piglets”. 

He tried to walk away quietly but then said he heard a noise behind him like a “galloping horse” and turned to see a “massive wild boar”, head down, charging straight at him.

Mr Turner tried to climb a pile of tree trunks to escape, and hurt his hand. 

It could have been worse, a man in Berlin had his laptop stolen by a wild boar last year and made headlines around the world while chasing after it naked.

Ticks

Tiny little ticks may be among the most dangerous animals you will encounter living in Austria. It’s important to be vaccinated against tick borne encephalitis if you live here, especially if you enjoy hiking and being in the outdoors.

According to media reports a record of 215 illnesses and three deaths from this disease was set in 2020.

Lyme disease is also a risk factor in much of the country. A recent study found a third of the country’s ticks are infected with borrelia, the bacteria which causes Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is easily treated if caught soon after infection, but becomes more serious if left untreated.  Time to stock up on tick repellent and invest in some long trousers before heading out into the wilderness.

Another thing to bear in mind is you should wait two weeks to be given the TBE vaccine if you have had a coronavirus vaccination, according to Austria’s National Vaccination Committee

READ MORE: A promising treatment for Lyme disease

Caterpillars

Many of Vienna’s parks had to be closed last year due to an infestation of Eichenprozessionsspinner, or oak processionary moth caterpillars.

The caterpillars are covered in tiny hairs which can break off and cause itching, skin rashes and breathing difficulties.

You can find out more here (German language link), or here

Wild Garlic

A popular pastime in Austria is going into the woods to hunt for wild garlic (Barlauch), which is used in recipes for soup, pesto, bread and even wild garlic chicken Kiev.

However, what some people may not realise is that wild garlic is very similar in appearance to Lily of the Valley (Maiglockchen), which is poisonous.

The smell should help you differentiate between the two, otherwise this helpful guide (German) or this one (English) will steer you in the right direction.

Mushrooms 

Foraging for mushrooms is also a popular pastime in almost every province of Austria, as they grow in abundance everywhere. Particularly prized are Eierschwammerl (Chanterelles) or Steinpilze (Ceps or Porcini). However, it’s important not to pick the wrong kind. Of the 8,800 known species of mushrooms in Austria, which incidentally do not belong to either the kingdom of animals or plants, there are only 100 species which are edible.

You can read more about the code of conduct for mushroom pickers here or a guide on how to do it properly here. And remember the first rule of foraging: When in doubt, leave it out. 

Wolves

Wolves have returned to Austria in recent years. In 2016 the first Austrian wolf pack was established in Allentsteig, a military training ground in Lower Austria. The Wilderness Society reports a second one has been found at the Austrian-Czech border near Karlstift. 

According to the BBC Earth website, while hundreds of years ago wolves in Europe roamed around attacking child shepherds, as rabies has been largely eliminated and children are no longer put to work looking after sheep, they pose far less risk to humans today. 

Bears

Brown bears can also be found in Austria. An EU report found the possibility of accidents involving bears “cannot be eliminated” though they are very rare.

Read more: Italian bears return to Austria’s woods in force

According to the report there are bear populations in the Northern Limestone Alps, descended from three bears released by the WWF in the early 1990s and in the Karawanken along the border of Carinthia and Slovenia.

Read more: Farmer attacked by a bear in Salzburg

Lynx have been reintroduced to Austria (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

Lynx 

There are now a handful of lynx (Luchs) living in Austria, according to the Wilderness Society. They were reintroduced from Switzerland in 2011 after dying out 100 years ago.

There are differing views on how dangerous lynx are to humans. While the Lynx society says they pose no danger to humans, in Britain, the National Farmers Union warned they might attack members of the public if re-introduced to the wild, according to a report in the English Telegraph newspaper.

The lynx is a large cat with fluffy ears and a pointy beard, sometimes called the wizard of the forest. Lynx are rarely seen, and live in wild, mountainous forests away from humans, such as in the remote forests of the border regions of  Styria, Upper and Lower Austria.

A new Lynx  long-distance hiking trail through this area was recently created from Reichraming in Upper Austria via Styria to Lunz am See in the Mostviertel in Lower Austria.

German vocabulary

Ticks – Zecken 

Tick bourne encephalitis –  Zeckenenzephalitis / Frühsommermeningoenzephalitis (FSME)

Lyme disease – Die Lyme-Borreliose 

Wild Boar – Wildschweine

Lynx – Luchs

Bear – Bär 

Wolf – Wolf

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VIENNA

Everything that’s new in Vienna in December

From new energy bonuses being sent out to important trials and major events, here are the important changes, dates and events happening in Vienna in December.

Everything that's new in Vienna in December

Vienna will send €200 bonuses to help cushion rising energy costs

The City of Vienna announced more government assistance to cushion rising costs for residents.

Viennese households will receive €200 in a new “energy bonus’, as The Local reported. The administration said the bonus would benefit about two-thirds of all city homes.

Single households with a gross annual income of a maximum €40,000 or multi-person households with an income of up to €100,000 gross per year are entitled to receive the payment. 

In December, every household in the capital should receive an information letter with a password they will need to use for an online application for the bonus. Once applied for, the money should arrive within a few days”.

READ MORE: Vienna Energy Bonus: How to get a €200 payout

Influenza vaccination appointments

The City of Vienna has made available 64,000 influenza vaccination appointments for December in the city’s vaccination centres and those of the ÖGK. 

The City is investing a total of €9.9 million to be able to offer the flu vaccination campaign in Vienna free of charge again this year.  The campaign will run until the end of the year unless an extension becomes necessary due to high demand.

The influenza vaccination campaign focuses on people aged over 65. This avoids multiple exposures to Covid-19 and the “real flu”. Chronically ill people, children and health or care workers are also among the priority target groups. However, influenza vaccination is also recommended to all other people.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Vienna starts inquiry committee over Wien Energie

Starting on December 2nd at the Vienna City Hall, the City Council’s investigative commission on the Wien Energie case will meet every two weeks.

On the initiative of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), it will investigate the events surrounding the dramatic financial needs of Wien Energie that became known in the summer. The commission can summon people to testify and request documents.

They will focus on two issues.

The first concerns the extent to which Mayor Michael Ludwig and City Finance Councillor Peter Hanke have exercised their ownership rights regarding Wien Energie, which is wholly owned by the city via Wiener Stadtwerke. Specifically, the commission wants to know whether the two SPÖ politicians reacted in time and appropriately to the price increases in the electricity markets in the summer.

The second matter revolves around Ludwig’s emergency powers as head of the city, with which he granted Wien Energie loans totalling €1.4 billion. It is to be clarified whether this procedure was legally compliant and whether Ludwig should have informed committees such as the City Senate earlier.

READ ALSO: Why did Wien Energie ask for €6 billion from the Austrian government?

Terror trial continues

On November 2nd, 2020, a jihadist terrorist shot dead four people and injured more than 20 in the centre of Vienna before police forces killed him.

Now, the country is going through a complex trial involving six men who allegedly helped the shooter prepare for the attack started. The process first started in October, as The Local reported, but a final verdict is not expected until at least February.

In December, tricky trial stages are scheduled, including questioning people suspected of having sold weapons to the terrorist.

READ ALSO: Austria starts trial over Vienna jihadist shooting

Armed police officers stand guard by the area where the terrorist attack took place in Vienna, Austria on November, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

This Human World Festival

The This Human World Festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary and it focuses on the theme of human rights. In four Viennese cinemas (Schikaneder, Topkino, Gartenbaukino, Stadtkino) and two other venues (Brunnenpassage, Brotfabrik) you can watch films that deal with human rights, current conflicts and crises from December 1st to 11th. 

About 90 feature films, documentaries and short films await you – some of them will celebrate their Austrian premiere at the festival. 

The aim of the film festival is to draw attention to political and social grievances in a sensitive, stirring and occasionally humorous way.

You can read more about the event HERE.

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” is touring worldwide and the major exhibition about the wizard’s universe will get its first European location in Vienna on December 16th, 2022. The show will be housed in the METAStadt in the 22nd district (Dr.-Otto-Neurath-Gasse 3).

The ticket sale has already started on the official site of the exhibition and via oeticket. Tickets are available from € 24.90 for children (up to 12 years) and € 29.90 for adults (from 13 years).

Weihnachtsmärkte

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit. Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19th to December 26th.

The Viennese markets are drawing in thousands of tourists to the Austrian capital. Don’t miss out on all the Glüwein (even if it is more expensive this year), geröstete Kastanien and Weihnachtskugeln you can get. 

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25th) and Stephan’s Day (December 26th), December 8th, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4th, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5th, Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6th, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24th, 25th and 26th) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th, usually with a family meal.

READ ALSO: Austrian Christmas traditions: The festive dates you need to know

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – and especially in Vienna.

In the capital, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.

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