“There’s a better life, and you dream about it, don’t you?” – “9-5” lyrics, Dolly Parton
If you spend more than a week in Vienna, and especially if you have a car here, you are likely, at some point, to notice that the Houdini-like parallel parking skills required from Sunday night until Friday morning in Vienna’s single digit districts are no longer needed for the magical 48 hours from Friday afternoon until Sunday. Because “der Berg ruft” Austrians weekly, come Friday, there’s no more resisting that primal call. No one in this city seems to be a true geborener Wiener except maybe Richard Lugner. Nope. And most definitely not the ones who drive their own cars. Those are the Zuagroaster, who come TGIF day, line up in their weekly convoy to head back to the “provincial” roots – the little villages far and wide along the A1 stretching from St. Christopher to St. Lorenz.
Eventually, if you’ve been here long enough, you too may become infected with the weekend desire to get out of Döbling. In that case, here are some things you should know about venturing out for a weekend:
- The Autobahn is not THE Autobahn
Ah, yes. Names can be deceiving. You’ve dreamt about the Autobahn ever since Auntie Em gave you your very first cherry red matchbox Porsche and your Uncle Hank mentioned that there is a special place in this world where drivers can speed along 8026 miles of straight, pot-hole free highway and not get a ticket – the German Autobahn. And in Austria, the symbol designating the highway might look like the sky blue signs with white racing lines on the German sign, and the Austrians might even call the A1 the Autobahn, but do not mistake the A1 for the Autobahn of your Nikki Lauda dreams. Germans recommend that you keep a speed of 130 km per hr (80 miles per hr) on their Autobahn. Austrians REQUIRE you maintain a speed of 130 km per hr or even less in some zones.
2. The Ugly Walls
All those ugly walls along the highway aren’t meant to obstruct your view of the rolling green fields of St. Pölten and the golden arches of the next McCafe, they’re called Lärmschutzwände, Sound Protection Walls, and meant to act as sound barriers between the highway and villages.
3. Geisterfahrer (Ghost Drivers)
Driving along, listening to Carole King sing her heart out on Radio Oberösterreich, for the second time in one trip, you’re passing Amstetten and already feeling your pulse sink. Then a loud voice interrupts Carole’s lovesick lamenting with a heart-stopping “Achtung! Achtung! Alle Autofahrer!” and you hear the words “Geisterfahrer” and notice all the cars, even the German drivers, merging to the far right lane and no longer passing. “Ghost Driver?” you think. You turn to your passenger seat to check if Ichabod Crane has joined you to brace for an upcoming encounter with the headless Pinto driver heading your way. But hopefully Ichabod can tell you that a Geisterfahrer might not be headless (brainless perhaps, but not headless) but should definitely get your pulse pumping because he’s (it always seems to be guys, sorry gentleman) actually a nitwit who managed to enter the Autobahn going the wrong direction and something in his frontal lobe hasn’t set off any alarm bells to motivate him to pull over and end his little adventure. Or maybe the Lärmschutzwand (see above) doesn’t give him space enough to do so. An Austrian phenomenon. I guess we must have “Ghost Drivers” in the US too but for the life of me, I have never heard of or witnessed one. Maybe they all have a healthy fear that such behavior in a place like LA could provoke road rage sufficient to draw the Ghost Driver’s death wish to a timely Glock-filled end.
4. Radio Oberösterreich
I recently found myself trapped in a car in which the driver insisted on listening to Radio Oberösterreich for the length of time it actually came in on the radio. This ended up being a torturous stretch from somewhere before Mondsee until about Haag. First we listened to some song by Carole King followed by an interview with a real live geborener Welser who explained to us why he has always and will always live in Wels and why Wels is THE place to visit. Yes, he knows all the Welser in town but if he ever feels the need to get away from it all, there’s plenty of woods around where he can escape for a few hours. Noticing the beckoning Wels sign ahead (fate?) I naturally suggested we give into destiny’s call and see for ourselves what Wels could do for us. My suggestion was ignored and the journey and radio experience continued. From Wels we listened to Dolly Parton’s 1980 hit “9-5” which the radio, obviously surprised as us to be playing such music, displayed as “Milly Parton.” I couldn’t resist commenting that Radio Oberösterreich must be the only station on earth that still played Dolly Parton, only to be countered with some Dolly Parton trivia about the insurance policy on her two greatest assets. Ah, the conversation topics that Radio Oberösterreich can inspire. Dolly was followed by a more modern tune for Radio Oberösterreich – “Millionär” – from die Prinzen from a mere two and half decades ago but then we were catapulted back half a century to the Hollies’ “I’m Alive.” What long forgotten nuggets were bound to be unearthed next? What decade would we land in? Our Radio Oberösterreich encounter crescendoed into a guest interview for the Linzertorte program – a researcher specializing in the fascinating field of fruit flies. Who knew that fruit flies have a grand advantage over other living species due to their “compact brain” that measures ½ mm wide and 1/3 mm high. Sadly, however, this was the point that Radio Oberösterreich faded and we had to bid the hodge podge of Radio Oberösterreich Pfuiti Gott. One question won’t give peace, though: who is the target audience of this novel station?
5. Rest Stops – the Price to Pay
Be sure you have 50 cent coins packed for your trip or you’re liable to get a rude awakening when you make an urgent stop along the way only to find yourself confronted with a turn stile blocking your path to the WC. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
6. The “W” in your license plate
“W” plates are for those who live in “W” and frowned upon beyond the city walls. I have a dear friend who has been dating a guy who lives in the countryside (for Viennese anything beyond the 21st district qualifies as countryside but he lives a bit further away than Liesing). As a sign of his seriousness about her and their relationship, said guy has agreed to move from his comfortable life of Supermega Spar aisles, US-sized parking spots and friendly folk who Griaß di everyone, to an uncertain future in the big city in a yet undecided district of Vienna. The willingness to forfeit his countryside license plate for a Viennese one, however, is about as big of a commitment as a girl could demand of her Lederhosen darling. I’ve known folks who have lived and worked for over a decade in Vienna, but somehow, they just can’t bear the final break with their home town by dropping a single letter like a B or E or L, O, T,U or Y to go from a place like the WB (Wiener Neustadt-Land) to plain old lonely “W” (Wien).
W driver in the countryside? Watch your speed and if you screw up and take a wrong turn, no worries, the locals will expect nothing less from a “W” driver.
7. Sunday & Holidays – Wochenendfahrverbot
I love this rule. In Austria, Germany and Switzerland, tractor trailer trucks (LKWs) are not allowed to drive on Sundays and public holidays. In Austria, the Verbot starts on Saturday at 3 pm and lasts until Sunday 10 pm. Trucks also aren’t allowed on the road between 10 pm and 5 am in general. Don’t have a hissy fit, though, if you happen to see a truck out at 11 am on a Sunday morning. There are some exceptions to the rule, like for trucks carrying perishable food and those assisting other vehicles or clearing the roads.
8. Return to Vienna on a Sunday
If you’ve gone away for the weekend, I strongly urge you to try to get back into town sometime before 6 or 7pm or you are liable to be forced to park somewhere in Niederösterreich. Also, if you are constantly suppressing the fact that stores are closed on Sunday and return to find that you cannot suppress from your stomach the fact that your fridge is completely empty, you can always make an emergency food run to a gas station or to one of the grocery stores at the train stations. But I would only recommend that if you’re truly desperate because there are a lot of foreigners in the city in denial about stores being closed on Sundays and they all throng together in a mess of elbows and grocery carts at the Prater Billa on Sundays. Remember, you can always order pizza. And if you’re nervous about doing so over the phone in German, order online over www.habhunger.at
Bring a little of the Outing Home to You
And if you want to escape and can’t manage to unparallel park your car, you can always bring a bit of that countryside home to you: http://radio.orf.at/player/radioplayer.html?station=ooe. In fact, if you are in the US and don’t believe that there is still a station somewhere in the world rocking 9-5, give it a try. You might like it. And learn something fascinating about fruit flies.