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Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic

Which city is the best place to live? While Hamburg and Vienna frequently topped the charts in previous years, both cities lost significant ground in an annual ranking.

Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic
People go for a sunny walk in Hamburg in late May as the city began to open up after seven months of lockdown measures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

In the most recent Global Liveability Index by the British Economist group, European cities have become noticeably less attractive due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vienna, Hamburg and other major European cities such as Prague, Athens and Rome fared significantly worse in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking than in previous years. Other German cities also made big drops, such as Frankfurt (-29) and Düsseldorf (-28).

READ MORE: Why is Vienna no longer the ‘most liveable’ city in the world?

New Zealand, Japan and Australia, on the other hand, gathered significant ground.

Vienna was top of the EIU ranking from 2018 to 2020. Now the Austrian capital has dropped to 12th place. Germany’s northern city-state of Hamburg even slipped 34 places to 47th.

Only two European cities made it into the top 10 in the rankings – Zurich (7th) and Geneva (8th) in Switzerland.

What accounts for the big drop?

For the ranking, the EIU uses criteria such as stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure.

The EIU cites the “strain on hospital systems” and the resulting “stress on healthcare” as two of the main reasons for the weak performance of German and Austrian cities this year.

The pandemic has also had a particularly strong impact on the cultural sector and general quality of life in Europe, it wrote in the report. 

Other reasons behind Hamburg and Vienna’s decline this year include restrictions on local sporting events, educational institutions and restaurants, bars and cafes.

While both Germany and Austria fared relatively well in the first wave of the pandemic, both struggled to keep case numbers down in the second and third waves. 

Germany introduced a one month “lockdown light” in November, which was continually extended and sometimes made stricter until mid-May, when states began to reopen public life again

Austria also introduced various on-and-off shutdown measures starting in October, including curfews from 8pm or even periods when no one was allowed to leave their homes for 24 hours. It also began to significantly open up again in late May.

READ ALSO: Has Austria picked the right strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic?

However, other factors unrelated to the pandemic also played a role in the Economist ranking. The authors of the report also looked at the quality of the road network and public transport, level of corruption and religious restrictions.

Yet Hamburg still scored high in other quality of life rankings for 2021. It was named the ‘Green City of the Year’ by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. 

A full 45 percent of the harbourside city is devoted to parks and forests, said the centre, who also awarded it extra points for using sustainable construction materials and creating ‘green jobs’.

Every year from 2009 to 2019, Mercer’s Quality of Living survey named Vienna as the best place to live in the entire world.

 
 
 
 
 
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It’s rationale was similar to that of the EIU: The city’s infrastructure, public transport network, clean water supply, healthcare and – last but not least – cultural and leisure activities helped it play a leading role in the worldwide ranking. 

So where are the ‘most livable cities’ now?

The title of “most livable city in the world” this year went to the New Zealand port city of Auckland. The EIU explained its selection by citing its success in containing the pandemic as a key factor. 

“New Zealand’s tough lockdown subsequently enabled rapid relaxations and allowed citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to live almost as they did before the pandemic,” the report read.

The biggest improvement in the ranking was achieved by the capital of the U.S. Pacific island and state of Hawaii: Honolulu got the spread of the coronavirus under control particularly quickly and therefore climbed 46 places in the ranking to 14th place.

The Syrian capital Damascus, on the other hand, remains the city where life is most difficult due to the ongoing civil war, according to the study.

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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

The five best places for stargazing in Austria

If you live in a city, chances are light pollution is stopping you from seeing many of the stars in the sky. But there are many areas in Austria where you get completely dark skies and can enjoy stars and constellations in all their glittering glory.

The five best places for stargazing in Austria

Unsurprisingly, there’s generally less light pollution in the Austrian Alps and away from urban areas.

Night skies in Europe are reportedly getting some six percent lighter each year, with Austria’s skies exceeding this average by six to eight percent. Yikes.

“If it carries on like this, then by 2040, there will be the first few areas where you won’t be able to see any stars at all with the naked eye,” Stefan Wallner, astronomer at the University of Vienna told Austrian newspaper Kurier.

You can see just how bad light pollution is in your area here.

Fortunately, Austria has so-called star parks (see below) where they are making a conscious effort to keep light pollution down to a minimum.

It’s always a good time to check the skies out, but it should be particularly special from August 11th to August 13th with the Perseids meteor showers – possibly the most beautiful night of the year for stargazing as you should see between 50-110 ‘shooting stars’ per hour!

You might need to set your alarm, though, as the best time to see them is between 9pm and 6am, looking to the north-east.

No telescope? No problem. We’ve put together a list of the best places across Austria where it’s dark enough to see stars even with the naked eye.

Sternenpark Naturpark Attersee-Traunsee, Upper Austria
In 2021, this park was certified as Austria’s first star park by the International Dark Sky Association.

This means everyone in the area makes it their job to keep light pollution at very low levels – you’ll struggle to find any brightly lit buildings or advertising hoardings here. Street lighting is kept to a minimum, too.

You can find out more in the video above (in German).

The park offers many different trails and discovery tours, as well as photography workshops for beginners and more advanced snappers, and other creative courses, such as natural drum-making.

Durrenstein hut to Locatelli hut by night

The Dürrenstein wilderness area is Austria’s first World Natural Heritage site. Photo by Mia Battaglia on Flickr.

Ybbstaler residence in the Dürrenstein wilderness area, Lower Austria

Fans of stargazing can stay in this chalet on the 1,343-metre-high Ybbstaler Alps, in the Dürrenstein wilderness area.

Unesco declared Austria’s only wilderness area the country’s first World Natural Heritage Site in 2017 – giving it the same protection as the likes of the Dolomites and the Grand Canyon.

Given its position and protection, it’s easy to spot the milky way and zodiacal light (that faint white triangular glow you see just after sunset or before sunrise), as well as thousands of stars, with the naked eye.

And it’s a great place to spend a bit longer, too: there are 3,500 hectares of wilderness to discover via tours, excursions and hiking trails.  

Visitors can explore the wilderness area on guided tours and excursions, which also provide a view of the Rothwald, or on the official hiking trails.

Hohe Dirn Star Park, Upper Austria

Grab your torches and something and reach for the stars – and the milky way – at the 1,100-metre-high Star Park observation point in the Upper Austrian municipality of Reichraming.

They also hold special events and public observation evenings (see above video) where you’ll get a short intro to the starry night. They’ll point out key constellations, answer your questions on astronomy and, depending on conditions, you might be able to see some objects up close with a telescope.

You can register for the next ones here.

Frauenberg and Hochtor

The summit to the right is the Hochtor, part of the Gesäuse National Park and the highest mountain in the Ennstaler Alps in Styria, Austria. Photo by Bernd Thaller on Flickr.

Gesäuse National Park, Styria
This 12,000-hectare national park in the mountainous region of Upper Styria extends over Admont, Johnsbach, Weng, Hieflau, Landl and St Gallen – Jonsdach was recently found to be the darkest place in Austria, so you know the views are going to be good here.

It’s said that people have even been able to see the milky way here without a telescope.

As well as stargazing opportunities a-plenty, they also have exhibitions, a photography school, and climbing, cycling and boating routes.

Plus, there’s a designated camping area.

telescope in front of mountain residence

There’s no light pollution on the Emberger Alm. Photo by Sattleggers Alpenhof

Mountain residence with observatory, Carinthia
If you fancy spending more than an evening with the twinkly ones, then how about a star-watching holiday?

Sattleggers Alpenhof on the Emberger Alm in Carinthia offers just that – there’s a mini observatory at 1,800 metres, a weather-proof star-watching hut with a retractable roof, astronomy photography workshops, and crucially, very dark nights with no light pollution.

waiting for the stars in grossmugl

Waiting for the stars at Großmugl. Photo by captain.orange on Flickr.

And Vienna (!)
Even if you’re in Vienna, all is not lost.

Just outside the city, you’ll find the Georgenberg Sterngarten observatory.

They hold lots of events for star fans, including tours, lectures, observation evenings, shooting star nights and picnics under the stars.

There’s also the Großmugl star walk just 30 minutes from Vienna.

The path is suitable for all ages – it’s about 1.5km long and has information boards all along it describing the phenomena you might see in the night sky.

And what about if it’s raining? Then head to the planetarium!

Austria’s largest planetarium allows you to stargaze whatever the weather.

There are events for young and old star-spotters alike, including watching the spectacular Perseids meteor shower (12th August, 2022) and private tours.

You can even dine under the 9,000 twinkling stars. Prices start at €149 per person.

The Urania Observatory, Austria’s oldest – yet most modern – observatory is also in Vienna. Thanks to a super-powerful automatic double telescope you can still observe the skies despite the brightness of the city.

And if you’re wondering when the best time to stargaze is, you better set your alarm clocks, as it’s between 2-3am, ideally during a new moon.

Happy stargazing!

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