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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

‘Problem animals’: Why are wolves disappearing across Austria?

Despite numbers shrinking in recent years, some are arguing Austria has an issue with "problem wolves".

‘Problem animals’: Why are wolves disappearing across Austria?
Wolves are disappearing in Austria. Why? Photo by Thomas Bonometti on Unsplash

Wolves have made a comeback in Europe over the past decades. There are an estimated 17,000 across Europe. 

However, in Austria the numbers of wolves are shrinking. In 2020, there were believed to be 40 in 2020, down from 49 in the previous year, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

Where are Austria’s wolves? 

Wolves disappeared from Austria in 1882, after the last Austrian-born wolf was shot by hunters. Following this, wolf sightings were rare. However, in 2016, wolves returned to Austria with puppies being born again for the first time in more than a century, in the native pack in Allentsteig in Lower Austria.

After that, the number of wolf packs increased to three. In addition to the one in Allentsteig, there were others in Harmanschlag and Gutenbrunn (also in Lower Austria). Another pack was suspected to be in Vorderweissenbach in Upper Austria.

With numbers decreasing, could wolves could disappear from Austria again?

Austria is surrounded by countries with wolf populations. According to World Wildlife Fund wolf expert Christian Pichler, there are more than 100 in Slovenia and Switzerland, 400 to 500 in Germany and 1,000 to 2,000 in Italy. Across Europe there are around 17,000. “Austria will never become wolf-free,” he says, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

Austria’s Agricultural Councillor Josef Geisler agrees, and claims that in nearby Italian Trentino, around 100 young wolves are born every year. 

READ MORE: Seven hazards to avoid when you’re outside in Austria

Are people shooting wolves?

While wolves are a protected species, it is believed some farmers may have killed wolves. In 2019, for example, a dead wolf was found in Sellrain in Tyrol with its head cut off, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

Isn’t that illegal? 

According to Section 181f of the Criminal Code, killing protected animals in Austria can result in up to two years imprisonment.

Why don’t farmers want wolves in Austria?

Newspapers report there have been an estimated 250 wolf attacks on sheep and goats last year in Austria

While environmentalists support the return of wolves, farmers say they are attacking their sheep and creating danger for hikers, often speaking of “problem wolves”.

Austria’s Agricultural Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP), says if no action is taken to control wolves in Tyrol, cultivation will cease in local alpine pastures, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper. 

So what will happen now?

The Agriculture Minister has added her voice to Austria’s Agricultural Councillor Josef Geisler (ÖVP), and says it should be easier for farmers to shoot wolves. Geisler said earlier in the year that Austria should follow Finland’s example, where culling wolves is allowed, the Austrian press agency  APA reports. 

Most recently, the Tyrolean state parliament decided to change the Tyrolean Alpine Protection and Hunting Act to make it easier for the problem wolves to be removed.

Specifically, a five-member specialist board of trustees (“Wolf-Bear-Lynx”) is to decide independently how to deal with these animals. 

Are the rules around hunting wolves the same across Austria? 

There is no Austria-wide regulation, because wolves are classed as game, which falls into the areas of nature conservation and hunting and is therefore a matter for the federal states.

However, the state conference of agricultural experts recently decided to set up a working group on the subject of wolves: The legal framework for dealing with problem wolves is to be standardised and improved. Experts from the federal states are to define parameters for the designation of pasture protection areas.

What about the European Union?

The European Union does not want to change protection of wolves in Austria. Regional “wolf-free zones” are not possible, it said, according to the Wiener Zeitung newspaper.

According to the newspaper the EU recently assessed the conservation status of wolves in Austria as “unfavourable to bad”. However, in Finland, the protection of wolves has been downgraded in order to protect reindeer populations, according to the Austrian press agency APA.

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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

How to drink coffee like an Austrian

If there's one image that comes to mind when you think of Austria, it's probably the grand interior and delicious aroma of a traditional coffeehouse.

Waitress carrying coffees in a Vienna cafe
There's an etiquette and special language to drinking coffee in Austria, but even as a non-native you can pick it up. Photo: WienTourismus/Peter Rigaud

The Austrians love their coffee. While they might not rank among the top five coffee consuming nations in terms of quantity drunk (the Scandinavians have that honour), that may well be because here, it’s all about quality.

The story goes that coffeehouse culture first came to Vienna after the Siege of Vienna in the late 17th century, when a local named Georg Franz Kolschitzky used coffee left behind by the Turkish invaders to set up the first coffeehouse. Kolschitzy is honoured by a street and statue that you can see today in Vienna’s fourth district (Kolschitzkygasse; the statue is at the intersection with Favoritenstraße).

But like many great stories, it’s not actually true. Vienna owes its coffeehouse tradition to the Armenian Johannes Diodato, who was granted the honour of being the city’s only trader allowed to sell coffee for some years. Once this was relaxed, the coffeehouses soon spread. 

That’s actually later than coffeehouses arrived in countries like neighbouring Germany and Italy, but something about it took off in Austria. Over the following decades, new trends were adopted here which have become synonymous with the Austrian coffeehouse, including providing newspapers to encourage patrons to linger over their drinks, and serving hot food.

Until 1856, women were not allowed in coffeehouses unless they worked there, but today they are a meeting point for people from all parts of society, tourists and locals alike. Here are the keys to unlocking this aspect of Austrian culture.

Take your time

As mentioned above, coffeehouses started offering newspapers as early as the 1720s, and the tradition is still going strong today, with newspaper tables for you to browse from.

A common grumble from foreign residents and visitors is that Austrian customer service can be slow, but try to look at it from another perspective: waiting staff want to allow you to take your time.

In contrast to countries like the UK, where there’s a clear distinction between cafes serving hot drinks which usually close around 5pm, and bars and pubs that stay open later serving alcohol and warm food, a coffeehouse is somewhere you can stay well into the evening, and there’s often musical entertainment at the grandest venues. It’s not about getting caffeinated and rushing on with your day; you go here to feel gemütlich (cosy).

Although tap water is not always free at Austrian restaurants, in a coffee house you can expect a small glass of water with your coffee, with a spoon placed over the top to indicate that it’s fresh. Waiters will often top this up during your stay. 

We’ll add a caveat though. This applies to the traditional coffeehouses, while Austria also has plenty of smaller, modern cafes, where you may indeed be asked to leave if you have been sitting for a while and haven’t ordered food. 

The newspapers are generally laid out on a table with convenient wooden holders. Photo: WienTourismus/Peter Rigaud

Soak up the history

One reason Austria’s coffeehouses are so much more than your average cafe is their artistic associations.

Mozart and Beethoven performed at coffeehouses in their day, and in the 19th and 20th centuries, writers worked and socialized in these institutions as well as intellectuals like Sigmund Freud and politicians like Trotsky and Lenin.  There’s even a specific term, Kaffeehausliteratur, to refer to the works of literature penned in the hallowed halls of the coffeehouse.

Austrian modernist poet Peter Altenberg supposedly considered Cafe Central his home to the point of having his laundry sent there, and the cafe considers that it and Altenberg were pioneers of cashless payments, since he would pay his tab with the work he’d written on a napkin during his stay rather than cash.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for coffee culture. Post-war, new kinds of eateries and meeting venues sprung up and many coffeehouses closed as locals found them outdated. Ever prone to dramatics, the Austrians call this time Kaffeehaussterben (the death of the coffeehouses) but luckily many of the institutions survived and underwent a revival a few decades later.

Today, even Unesco recognizes Viennese Coffee Culture as Intangible Cultural Heritage, calling them “places where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill’.

In Vienna, you’ve got no shortage of historic coffeehouses: Café Central, Café Sperl, Café Hawelka, Café Landtmann and Café Ritter are just five of a long list of venues steeped in history. Because of that, there are often queues to enter during tourist season, but there are spots just as stunning that tend to escape the worst of the crowds, such as Café Jelinek and Café Westend. 

Austria’s other cities have plenty to offer too, from Salzburg’s Café Tomaselli which has a claim to being Austria’s oldest, to Café Traxlmayr in Linz, to charming Café König or the local branch of Café Sacher in Graz, to Café Munding in Innsbruck and many more in between.

Café Landtmann in Vienna. Photo: WienTourismus/Christian Stemper

Note that the older coffeehouses are more formal than your typical cafe; expect to see waiting staff wearing black tie, but know that there is no dress code for guests.

Alternatively, in the bigger cities you are never too far from a branch of Aida, a chain that aims to recreate the experience of the traditional coffee house on a lower budget with less formality and is recognizable from the large amounts of pink (the logo, the decor, the staff uniforms).

The other main Austrian chain is Oberlaa, more of a Konditorei (patisserie) than a coffeehouse but still sharing many of the same traditions — our tip is to try the one near Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, also called Café Dommayer, for a coffeehouse experience.

Know the lingo

In traditional coffeehouses, (male) waiters should be addressed as Herr Ober as a mark of respect; unfortunately there’s no clear equivalent for female staff. Tourists aren’t expected to follow this etiquette, but here’s the vocab to understand the menu and make your order in German if you wish. 

When making your order, know that you need to be more specific than “ein Kaffee, bitte” (a coffee, please). 

A kleiner Schwarzer is an espresso and a großer Schwarzer is a double. If you want milk with your coffee, it’s a kleiner or großer Brauner.

A Verlängerter is an espresso with hot water, so a bit less strong.

An Einspänner is a real Austrian classic, an espresso topped with whipped cream.

A Wiener Melange or just Melange is very similar to a cappuccino, made of coffee and steamed milk (sometimes whipped cream too, such as the Aida Melange), and slightly less strong than a cappuccino.

Feeling like something a little more fancy? Austria has you covered. 

An Überstürzter Neumann means you’ll get a cup of whipped cream, served with a double espresso to be added at the table. 

A Wiener Eiskaffee is more than an iced coffee; it’s a delicious mix of vanilla ice cream, espresso and milk. 

A Mozart Coffee is a double espresso topped with whipped cream and served with brandy.

A Maria Teresa is a double espresso with whipped cream, orange liqueur and orange zest.

Outside the older coffeehouses, these days of course you’ll find more modern cafes in Vienna too, where you can find your flat whites, caramel macchiatos and alternative milks. 

Eating sachertorte at Café Sacher is on many an Austria bucket list. Photo: WienTourismus/Paul Bauer

Don’t forget the cake

Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) is the Austrian way to relax, akin to the Italian pausa caffe, English tea break or Swedish fika. Each coffeehouse has its own specialties, but there are some classics you will usually find on the menu.

Some of the most traditional cakes include the Sachertorte (a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam), the adorable Punschkrapfen (like a French petit four with a tasty rum flavour) and Apfelstrudel (apple strudel) or Topfenstrudel (a strudel made with Topfen, a type of cream cheese that is extremely Austrian).

The Dobostorte (caramel) and Esterházy (almond) layered sponge cakes are technically Hungarian rather than Austrian, but they’re still a common and delicious feature on most menus.

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