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LIVING IN AUSTRIA

The downsides of Vienna you should be aware of before moving there

There's no lying: Vienna is a great city to live in; it often tops world quality of living rankings, and for a good reason. But there are certain downsides that you should know about.

vienna, pratter
Vienna is big touristic destination also during summer months (Photo by Anton on Unsplash)

Vienna is a beautiful, multicultural city. There is plenty of history, beautiful architecture, many green areas and everything is nicely connected with its public transport – available for as little as one euro a day for residents who purchase the yearly ticket.

The Austrian capital is constantly topping rankings of best cities to live in, and it’s affordable too, especially when considering the rental prices not only for other European capitals but even inside of Austria.

Saturated markets make it tough for renters in touristic cities such as Tyrol and Salzburg.

However, not all is perfect in the imperial city. Here are a few things you should know when moving to Vienna.

It’s not known for its friendliness

While Vienna ranks top for the quality of life, it has also shown up in international and expat ratings as the world’s “least friendly city”.

The Viennese grumpiness is famous even among Austrians, and if you bother a local, they will let you know. However, people are also very private and extend the courtesy of giving you your privacy, which can be confused as unfriendly.

It’s also not easy making friends with the locals, especially if you arrive in the city not knowing anyone to help bridge that connection.

Housing can be expensive – and very difficult to find

Affordable housing is one of the advantages of living in Vienna, but that can be tricky. The ridiculously low rents you hear of are usually because of either state housing, very old contracts, or both.

People who are just moving into Vienna usually can’t benefit from either offer and will end up with much higher rent or taking forever to find an affordable place.

READ ALSO: Property: How to find a rental flat when you arrive in Austria

Making matters worse, the moving-in costs are very high in Austria’s capital. You usually pay two to three (sometimes more) months’ rent as a security deposit, then you probably will need to pay for the brokerage fee (unless you are lucky to find one Provisionfrei place) of two months’ rent.

You might also be asked to pay for an Ablöse, which could include furniture or reparations that a previous tenant made to the house.

Finally, first rent is paid upfront, so it’s not uncommon for people to spend almost a year’s worth of rent before ever setting foot in a new place.

READ ALSO: Renting: Austria to scrap brokerage fees from 2023

That’s not even counting the costs of furnishing a new apartment or paying for bills such as heating and electricity.

They speak German, sort of

Well, duh. Austria is a German-speaking country. Although learning new languages is always a positive thing, German has a well-deserved reputation for being very difficult.

Between the different cases or learning if an inanimate object is masculine, feminine, or neutral, it can be difficult.

Although most Austrians, especially in Vienna, can speak English, they are not known to willingly do so. Many expats have tales of when their Austrian acquaintances decided “they should’ve learned German already”.

When you finally do learn a bit of the language, you also realise that not only Austrian German is different from the Hoch Deutsch you might learn in a course or an online app, the Viennese also have a particular dialect that, while it’s not nearly as complicated as Vorarlberg or Tyrol regional accents, presents its challenges as well.

READ ALSO: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

You might get by with English or a broken version of German for a very long time in Vienna, though, but it won’t be pleasant. And, as mentioned, the Austrians will let you know you are not doing well enough.

Xenophobia and racism

There is no going around this: despite being a fairly historic multicultural city, Vienna still suffers from cases of xenophobia and racism.

The civil group Zara, which works to dismantle racism in Austria, received almost 2,000 reports of systemic racism in 2021. These are not just the countless instances of people suffering in their daily lives with comments and actions in the streets, but allegations of systemic racism, including cases within the Viennese police.

Almost every single foreigner in Vienna will have stories ranging from them being told they were “good immigrants” to cases of physical violence.

(Here’s a link where you can find counselling centres for racism cases)

Smoking

Austria, and Vienna in particular, is a smoker’s paradise. Only recently has smoking been banned in indoor public areas (and there are still groups trying to bring it back), and people are still very much into it.

You will smell it everywhere, at any time. Taxi drivers smoke inside their cars (though not with you in them anymore), doctors will smoke just outside your door before a house call, parents smoke in children’s parks (some of them even had to add “no smoking signs”), and people still smoke inside their homes with all windows closed – it’s a cold country after all.

And speaking of which…

The weather is insane

Obviously, Austria has cold winters; after all, skiing is the national sport.

But Vienna is a big city, you won’t see beautiful mountain snow scenery here. Instead, there will be Gatsch, that muddy snow that has the power to ruin your day.

Or your endless night, since the Viennese winter is famous for being long and grey, with very few sunny days.

As for summers, they are hot. Extremely hot. The I’m-getting-scared-about-global-warming type of heat. Many Viennese skip town (and country) altogether, especially as heatwaves become more common in Europe.

Bureaucracy and taxes

This can be challenging. Even though Vienna aims to be a more welcoming city for businesses, with expat centres offering free advice to startups, the whole country is founded on bureaucracy.

Things need to be done by mail (even when you want to go online, your government-issued password will arrive in the good old post), most government workers are not even allowed to speak English with you and sometimes reading about Austrian laws and regulations feels like walking into an unbeatable maze.

And then there are taxes.

EXPLAINED: What is Austria’s church tax and how do I avoid paying it?

One of the reasons why Austria can afford such an extensive social system (and it is good: from public transport to social housing, parks, and the many social payments) is precisely because you pay a lot in taxes.

If you are a self-employed person without a company to pay its part into the system, then, well, be prepared to pay up. Social security payments can eat up almost a third of your earnings, and then you’ll still have to pay income taxes.

A small-town vibe

Don’t ever say this to an Austrian, but if you come from a country with big cities, even the capital Vienna (six times larger than Austria’s second most populous city Graz) can feel like a small town.

There are entertainment options, but nothing compared to European metropolises like Paris, London, Berlin or even neighbouring Budapest. New restaurants and bars are not easy to come by, and, notoriously, the country closes down on Sundays (and after work hours).

Since shops and supermarkets are not allowed to open on Sundays, even the busiest commercial streets seem like ghost towns during those days.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about supermarkets in Austria

Austrians will fiercely tell you this is part of their defence of the quality of life, that workers are entitled to a day off, and that Sundays are for families or going outside. But when you are left with an empty fridge on a Sunday morning, that can be tough to swallow.

It is still worth it

Despite all of this, Vienna is still one of the best cities in the world to live in.

It might be hard to make new Austrian friends, but they will be live-long adventure partners once you do. Finding a place downtown might be tricky, but you can also look around all over the city because the public transport is so good and Vienna so safe that there are really no bad neighbourhoods.

Once you start learning German, it’s easy to see how much fun the language can be. I mean, it’s a language that calls a hospital a “sick house”, an ambulance a “sick car”, a nurse a “sick sister”. It’s like playing with Lego blocks and building something unique. Or being ridiculously specific and describing a feeling like wanderlust or fernweh.

It’s also a multicultural city. About a third of its residents are foreign-born or with a “migration background”. Walk the streets of Vienna, and you will hear languages and see people from all over the world.

READ ALSO: Six of the best things to do in spring in Vienna

The weather is crazy, but nobody enjoys each and every season quite like an Austrian. The city is wholly theirs, and there are several options (free, outdoors, in nature) to enjoy yourself all year round. The small-town vibe makes it so that you can recognise your neighbours, you can ride all over town and enjoy every part of the city or, of course, hop on a bus or train and be in a different country in minutes.

There’s no redeeming quality when it comes to all the smoking or the bureaucracy (and, of course, the racism) – sort these out already, Vienna!

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WEATHER

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

With violent storms becoming increasingly common in Austria, here’s how to protect yourself (and your home) this summer.

Wild weather in Austria: How to protect yourself during summer storms

Storms are a regular occurrence in Austria during the summer months, but the strength and frequency seems to be increasing.

Overnight on Tuesday, June 28th, both the Pöllinger and the Treffner rivers in Carinthia burst their banks causing widespread flooding, mudslides and damage across the region.

Reports on Wednesday morning said the villages of Treffen am Ossiacher See and Arriach (Villach-Land district) were still metres under water and several people had been rescued from the deluge.

READ ALSO: Who to call and what to say in an emergency in Austria

According to ORF, emergency services were still struggling to reach some areas and there were unconfirmed reports of missing people.

A Tweet from Unwetter-Freaks said: “Bad pictures from #Arriach in #Kärnten , which was hit by several storm cells last night. According to ORF, the place is currently cut off from the outside world and cannot be reached by the emergency services.”

Earlier this week, rural areas in Upper Austria were also hit by storms (overnight, June 27th) bringing torrential rain and hail the size of golf balls, which caused extensive damage to crops and grassland in the key agricultural state.

READ ALSO: 23 essential articles to help you navigate life in Austria

The Klaus reservoir had to be drained of 200 cubic metres of water to avoid flooding and trees were brought down across the province by wind gusts – some up to 91 km/h.

The Kronen Zeitung reports the storm caused damage to around 16,000 hectares of agriculture land, with insurers estimating the cost to be up to €6.5 million.

One Tweet showed the size of the hail on Monday night and read: “In the night we had ‘light’ hail.”

Storms then hit the region again on Tuesday night leading to a lightning strike on a hay barn in the Mühlviertel and the flooding of an underground car park in Linz.

With the summer season far from over and the possibility of more wild weather in the coming months, here’s how to stay safe during storms in Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: When and where to avoid driving in Austria this summer

Check the weather report

It might sound obvious, but checking the weather forecast should be at the top of the list of summer storm preparations.

Unlike in the past, weather reports are now typically reliable, and apps like Bergfex and Accuweather are well-known for providing detailed forecasts and weather warnings.

However, long-range forecasts can change quickly, so if you’re planning a camping or hiking trip, be sure to check the weather between 24 and 48 hours before to avoid being caught out.

Additionally, the Österreichischen Unwetterzentrale (Austrian Severe Weather Centre) has regular updates about storms and weather forecasts for Austria and users can sign up for email and SMS notifications.

Stay indoors

According to the organisation, Die Helfer Wiens (The Helpers of Vienna) one of the biggest risks during a storm is being hit by a fallen tree or flying debris.

For this reason, they advise people (and pets) to stay indoors during a storm and close all windows and doors. 

If staying in a tent or campervan, it’s also a good idea to seek shelter in a building (if possible) until the storm has passed.

However, if you are outside during lightning, the Austrian Red Cross says the best approach is to crouch down into a ball to reduce the amount of contact you have with the floor.

READ MORE: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Stay away from the cellar

Cellars and underground car parks can quickly become flooded during heavy rain – as seen in recent storms in Upper Austria and Carinthia, and last year during violent storms across Austria.

Flash flooding can happen quickly (the clue is in the name), so stay away from cellars and underground spaces during a storm and call the emergency services if you suspect a flood in your home.

Remove plants and furniture from balconies

Having plants and flowers on a balcony is a lovely way to brighten up an outside space, but they risk being damaged during a storm.

To safeguard your pots and lovingly-planted flora, move them inside – especially during a thunderstorm with strong wind gusts and lightning.

The same applies to any outdoor furniture that could be damaged by wind or hail, like cushions, decorative objects and sun umbrellas.

Park cars under shelter

Hail is one of the leading causes of dents to bodywork on cars and damage to windscreens, both of which can be costly to repair.

If hail is forecast during a storm, park a car in a garage or under shelter, if possible. 

If strong wind is expected, then avoid parking a car under trees as debris, or even the tree itself, could end up landing on the vehicle.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: How Austria banned everyone from the forest for 123 years

Don’t go into the forest

Whether walking or driving, the best advice is to stay from the forest or areas with lots of trees during a storm.

While sheltering under a tree can protect from rain or hail, lightning or strong wind can bring down trees. This makes the forest a dangerous place to be in a storm.

But if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of being in a forest when a thunderstorm hits, stay away from low branches and tree trunks and crouch down low. Place any walking sticks or metal poles away from you and stay away from metal fences.

Avoid risky activities

Certain outdoor activities are especially hazardous if there’s a lightning storm. 

Any activity in an open area or that puts you into contact with water or metal is strongly advised against. So that means fishing, swimming, boating, cycling and golfing are out until the storm is over. 

Keep torches and candles ready

Power cuts are common during storms, so keep a stock of candles and torches ready in case you end up without electricity for several hours.

It’s also a good idea to have a portable USB charger to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of battery during an emergency.

Who to call in an emergency

These are the numbers to call if you need help from the Austrian emergency services during a storm.

122 – fire service (Feuerwehr).

133 – police (Polizei).

144 – ambulance (Krankenwagen or Rettungswagen).

120 – ÖAMTC emergency breakdown service.

123 – ARBÖ emergency breakdown service.

140 – mountain rescue.

Finally, 112 is the single European emergency number, whose operators will direct you to the relevant services. This number can even be called on a locked mobile phone without needing the pin.

Find out more with The Local’s guide on who to call and what to say in an emergency.

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