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CHRISTMAS MARKET

Wristbands, fences and 3G: How will Christmas markets look this year in Austria?

Christmas markets across Austria are set to go ahead this year, although exactly how things will look has been a bit up in the air. Here’s what you need to know.

People walk during the twilight at Vienna's famous shopping Mariahilfer street decorated with Christmas lights on December 18, 2019 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
People walk during the twilight at Vienna's famous shopping Mariahilfer street decorated with Christmas lights on December 18, 2019 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

As it stands, the finalised regulation is still yet to be passed. However, as at October 26th, most of the important details have already been laid out. 

The following relies on hospitalisations and in particular ICU capacity staying relatively stable. 

As per the government’s new five-level Covid rules, measures can be tightened if ICU capacity dwindles. 

A spokesperson from the Vienna mayoral office told news outlet Kurier on Monday, October 26th, that they were hoping for the best. 

“We are assuming that the Advent markets will take place,” a spokesperson said. 

More information about this is available at the following link. 

UPDATED: What is Austria’s new 5-stage Covid restrictions plan?

Christmas markets all across Austria must be 3G compliant

Christmas markets are set to go ahead across the country, with a requirement for proof of 3G (vaccination, recovery from Covid-19, or a negative test) compliance in order to enter.

This is the case even though Christmas markets largely take place in outdoor areas. 

‘3G Rule’: How to prove you have been vaccinated, tested or recovered from Covid in Austria

Christmas markets will open up in several locations on November 12th, including the Weihnachtstraum at the Vienna Rathaus, the Weihnachtsdorf at the Alten AKH university campus, along with the markets at Stephansplatz and Spittelberg. 

The Türkenschanzpark will open on November 13th, the Weihnachtsdorf on Maria-Theresien-Platz on the 17th, and the Weihnachtsdorf at Belvedere Palace on November 19th. 

Both the Altwiener Christkindlmarkt auf der Freyung and the Weihnachtsmarkt vor dem Schloss Schönbrunn will open up on the 20th of November. 

When handing down the new measures, Austrian Tourism Minister Elizabeth Köstinger said there would be “virtually no restrictions for those who have been vaccinated” and encouraged anyone who wants to take part in winter sports to get the jab. 

How will this be enforced? 

By Christmas time, Austria will have had six months to get used to the 3G Rule and how it works. 

But while this is relatively easy to enforce in bars, restaurants and at other events and venues, the historic nature of Christmas markets can make things a little more difficult. 

The majority of Christmas markets may be fenced in order to ensure that everyone inside is in compliance with the 3G Rule, with a person’s 3G credentials checked upon entry. 

The government however is aware that fencing or other forms of barriers are difficult or impossible elsewhere, for instance in Graz, where the entire old town would need to be fenced off. 

In this case, markets will use a ‘wristband’ system, where people will need to visit a number of points to get a wristband showing that they are 3G compliant. 

From there, random checks will be carried out to ensure that all in attendance are compliant. 

Those in attendance who are not properly complying with the 3G Rule face on the spot fines. 

READ MORE: Austria to introduce on-the-spot fines for breaching 3G rule

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For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

READ ALSO: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at tickets.oebb.at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.

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