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In Austria, Vienna’s horse-drawn carriages feel the heat

As much of Europe stifles under record high temperatures, Vienna's "fiaker" horse carriage drivers fear for their future with animal rights activists turning up the heat.

In Austria, Vienna's horse-drawn carriages feel the heat
A coachman of horse driven carriages (Fiakers) passes by Hofburg palace in Vienna.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

At the stables of one of the Austrian capital’s leading fiaker businesses, driver Marco Pollandt explains how the animals are coping with increasingly hot weather and how much time off they enjoy.

Rights activists want horses to stop work as soon as temperatures hit 30C (86F) and not 35C as under current rules — a demand that fiaker or carriage drivers say will destroy their centuries-old profession.

“We can all live with the 35C but going down more is actually not good for the horses, and we also have to discuss the economic results of this,” Pollandt tells AFP.

The 28-year-old Viennese says horses trained to pull carriages need the exercise, while their caretakers need the income.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

On hot days, fiaker drivers ensure the horses drink enough, while the places where they wait for customers are shady in the afternoon.

“The climate is changing and it’s getting more and more hot,” Pollandt says.

“And of course it makes a difference if we have seven days a year that we are not allowed to ride or if we have 30 days a year we are not allowed to ride.”

High demand

Pollandt — who used to work in gastronomy and started to offer dining in a fiaker five years ago — has been running a website to inform people about the horses and the carriage driving profession. He also runs stable tours offering a glimpse behind the scenes. 

A coachman of horse driven carriages (Fiakers) prepares his horse at the stables of a leading fiaker business prior leaving stables for daily tourist tours in Vienna, Austria, on July 13, 2022.(Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Three hundred horses still pull carriages through Vienna, past the town hall and other tourist sites, generating thousands of jobs, he notes.

“I realised no one actually explains to people how everything works,” says Pollandt pointing to strict regulations and regular veterinary checkups to keep the horses fit.

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

Hurt by Covid lockdowns and travel curbs since 2020, business has picked up again swiftly this year.

But activists say the animals suffer in the big city especially in scorching temperatures.

“This work is clearly linked to animal suffering. The horses are sometimes in the sun at 34.5C and working.”

Buckets of water, rest in the shade and caring coachmen but no summer break for the famous cabs of Vienna, despite the heat wave and the pressure of animal defenders. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“They are exposed to noise, exhaust fumes, traffic and of course stress,” says David Fenzl of the Association against Animal Factories.

In June, city officials considered the demands to enforce stricter regulations, but in the end decided to delay lowering the temperatures under which horses are not allowed to work, pending a study to be carried out next year.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

So for now, fiakers can ride on — unless temperatures exceed 35C, as predicted later this week.

Scientists say heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change.

Britain and France went on unprecedented heatwave alerts this week as southwest Europe wilted and ferocious wildfires devoured more forests.

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VIENNA

What’s on: Five things to do in Vienna this weekend

Vienna is full of events, places to visit and great new restaurants to try out. So if you are overwhelmed with the possibilities or just wondering where you can find a musical about a famous British novel, here are some ideas.

What's on: Five things to do in Vienna this weekend

REBECCA

There are few better ways of learning German than just getting immersed in a book, play or movie in the language – but one that you are very familiar with the story and characters.

Vienna now has the perfect opportunity for those who want to practise their German by following the stories of the ‘new” Mrs. de Winter, her wealthy husband, the sinister Mrs Danvers and the infamous Manderley.

Rebecca, based on the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier, premieres at the Raimund Theater on Thursday, September 22nd, and people can experience the musical thriller live from Tuesday to Sunday.

You can find more information here.

Vienna central cemetery

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Vienna’s central cemetery

The Wiener Zentralfriedhof is one of the largest in the world and certainly the most well-known in the Austrian capital. It is the resting place of famous people such as Beethoven and Falco, but its landscape is also home to impressive flora and fauna (you can even see deer grazing by).

The Zentralfriedhof is particularly interesting during the moody autumn months when leaves turn yellow and the light is even more beautiful. You can visit every day from 7 am to 6 pm, but tours and certain parts of the cemetery have different hours.

You can find more information here.

(Copyright MA 49 / Fürthner)

Weinwandertag

During an early autumn weekend, thousands of Viennese and people from other parts of Austria participate in the city’s Wine Hiking tradition, which is precisely what it sounds like: walking around vineyards and trying out different wines and food.

It’s a great way to celebrate the arrival of autumn (and the new wine season) in a very Austrian way: outdoors, with friends and family, and with traditional drinks and food. You can take four different hikes (each with varying choices of routes). The trails are senior and child friendly.

You can find more information here.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Al Zaytouna Restaurant (@alzaytouna_restaurant)

Al Zaytouna

Al Zaytouna, which means “the olive tree” in Arabic, is one of the best restaurants for those seeking Lebanese cuisine in Vienna. There are many choices of dishes, including vegan and vegetarian, prepared with tasty Mediterranean herbs and olive oil.

Classic Arabic desserts finish off the night perfectly. The lovely-decorated restaurant (complete with a Schanigarten) is located in the 3rd district.

You can find more information here.

Austria’s Oktoberfest, the Viennese Kaiser Wiesn, is back. (Pressefotos © Stefan Joham)

Vienna Oktoberfest

Vienna’s largest Oktoberfest, the Kaiser Wiesn in Wiener Prater, is back with festivities, beer tapping and live acts.

From the opening until October 9th, the Kaiser Wiesn is open daily from 11:30 am – the Kaisernacht starts at 6:30 pm in the three large festival tents and offers a varied programme with national and international music and pop acts.

You can find more information here.

Do you know any other cool events happening in Vienna during the weekends? You can email us at [email protected] to share your tips and suggestions.

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