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OPINION & ANALYSIS

ANALYSIS: Is Vienna in good hands with ‘crisis manager’ mayor Ludwig?

No Austrian politician has become more disputed and exposed to the public than Michael Ludwig, the mayor of Vienna. But as his political opponents grow could the city's so-called "crisis manager" yet come out on top?

austria Michael Ludwig Vienna mayor
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig (C) speaks during the opening of a mobile flu vaccination station "Impfbim" located in a tram in Vienna, Austria, on October 1, 2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

‘Pandemic not over’

“Once again I’d like to stress that the pandemic isn’t over,” Michael Ludwig tweeted in September 2021. “The pandemic is not over yet. We are staying on the safe side,” he posted end of May 2022. Like a mantra the city governor would also repeat this statement at the SPÖ Vienna State Party Conference on 28 May 2022, where Ludwig was confirmed as the capital’s federal leader with 94.4% of all delegates.

His most fervent supporters – close party members and Austria’s SPÖ chief Pamela Rendi-Wagner, a trained epidemiologist – keep applauding what Ludwig in his own words calls “the Viennese way”: a path that is supposed to be totally different from the national approach in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. And a path that has involved much stricter measures than in the rest of Austria and Europe: mandatory PCR tests at public outdoor pools for six-year-olds, for instance, or guest registration and “2G” restrictions (only admission to vaccinated persons and those who have recovered from a COVID infection) in Viennese hotels and restaurants.

READ ALSO: ‘The pandemic is not over’: Vienna keeps mask rule in public transport

All these measures were strongly criticised by some economic representatives and ÖVP politicians in particular. They have now been lifted, although FFP2 face masks still need to be used on all public transport in Vienna. Such measures still outrage an increasing number of social media users who blame Ludwig for keeping the health crisis alive to consolidate his power.

In an interview, former Minister of Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger accused the Viennese government of harming Austria’s hospitality and tourism sectors in the long run with its strict Corona policy. Indeed, the capital was hit much more badly than the other eight provinces, with almost 57% fewer hotel bookings than in 2019. Köstinger also questioned the efficiency of Vienna’s testing strategy in relation to high infection numbers.

But what do the Austrians think of Michael Ludwig, who ranges among the ÖVP-Green government’s toughest opponents? According to a survey by the Linz Market Institute, Vienna’s mayor would have been re-elected by more than 50%. This survey, however, was carried out beginning of 2022, before a series of scandals and crises started to tarnish Ludwig’s reputation as a trustworthy “crisis manager”.

An image made of concrete

Just a few days after the poll was published, activists revealed a monument in front of Vienna’s city hall: a concrete image of Michael Ludwig as a clear sign of protest against his climate and environmental policy. Protesters (many of them from the “Fridays for Future” movement and Greenpeace) turned out in force as the mayor insisted on building a highway and a tunnel that was supposed to cross the Lobau, a nature reserve at the Danube. Ludwig remained unimpressed. Like in the Corona crisis, the governor wants to rely on his own team of experts, emphasising that there are no feasible alternatives. Meanwhile, parts of the SPÖ’s base are openly opposing the governor’s hardline policy.

In social media, the number of Ludwig’s critics currently far exceeds his supporters and those in favour of his cautious and considerate “Viennese way”. With the ongoing war in Ukraine and an alarming inflation in Austria, this trend doesn’t seem to be reversed.

Many Austrians have started to wonder why the SPÖ was calling for national incentives to reduce rising costs of living while Vienna’s governor hadn’t offered solutions to bring down rising electricity, heating and housing expenses. One poster in the “Standard” forum also asks why the mayor, who “couldn’t be fast enough to give a press conference right after the federal government had finished their consultations,” was then making himself scarce. Only this week did Ludwig announce any measures to counter rising energy costs.

Is Ludwig able to manage future crises?

In the Austrian capital, the Social Democrats are still perceived as an open-minded and social party standing up for equal rights and opportunities. Members of ethnic minorities and the LGTBQ community feel safe with the SPÖ-run city government. This perception hasn’t changed since Michael Ludwig came into office in May 2018. However, some may now disagree after the governor’s friendly meeting with Turkey’s disputed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul this month.

The Austrian daily “Der Standard” called the consultation a “diplomatic dilemma”, while the reactions of the Kurdish minority and online posters were far less diplomatic. “Is he just overestimating himself by giving cynical, somewhat provincial signals to potential AKP (Erdogan) voters in Vienna, or is it something else?” sociologist Kenan Güngör wonders. One poster suspects that Ludwig’s main motivations for this trip were to gain Austro-Turkish voters, outperform Chancellor Karl Nehammer (who visited Russian President Putin) and prepare himself for leading the federal SPÖ one day.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How Austria’s new finance measures could benefit you

With the rising inflation, many Austrians have lost faith in politicians who keep struggling to find efficient solutions against increasing prices and living expenses.

Soon after the federal government announced “climate bonus” payouts of up to 500 Euros per household this year, Michael Ludwig finally also promised an “energy bonus” of 200 Euros for more than 650,000 Viennese households. Will this suffice to calm an array of opponents and voters who have already turned their backs on the SPÖ?

It may, in the end, depend on the solutions Ludwig and his party are going to offer and communicate to the public. One thing is for sure though: The rhetoric of a permanent state of crisis alone isn’t going to be enough anymore.

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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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