“ I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you….”
– Mister Rogers, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
I grew up in a small town. Our neighborhood was bordered on one end by route 130 and the other by a steep road leading into the “Shades of Death.” In summer we walked along route 130 to fetch banana popsicles from the Quick Pic and in winter sled rode down the Shades of Death with Tippy, the three-legged collie, towing our gear back up the hill. The narrow stretch of grass behind the firehall served as our football field and white squares spray-painted on the road as our kickball bases. No pine tree was left unclimbed and every kid came out to play.
When I moved to Vienna, I thought my neighborhood days were behind me. But I was wrong.
Vienna is divided into 23 districts arranged in circular formation around the first as the eye of the circle. The further you venture from the center, the higher the district numbers. The district is reflected in a location’s address via the middle two numbers of the 4 digit zip code. Therefore, if you are in 1020 Vienna, you are in the second district a hop and skip away from the center of town but if you’re in 1220 Vienna, you’re quite a bit outside the city. You can identify the district you are in by looking at the street signs. Click on my post office photo above and you will see a blue sign that reads: 2., Große Schiffgasse. This means that you are in the second district on Große Schiff Lane.
Officially the second is the “Leopoldstadt.” Unofficially, it is the Mazza Insel due to relatively large amount of Jewish residents. My neighborhood, however, has two more names – “Karmeliter Quarter” referring to the square home to the local farmer’s market on Saturdays and “BoBoville” referring to the so-called “Bohemian Bourgeoisie” who call the area home. What are Bohemiam Bourgeoisie? In the US, I guess they’d be the folks driving Priuses. Bobos tend to be liberally-minded academics who once thought of themselves as hippies but now have jobs that can help them afford to buy everything organic, environmentally sound and ungodly expensive. (Who knew social consciousness was so pricey?)
Now, in all fairness, I started living in Boboland before all the other hipsters and before the birth of Boboland. I lived in this part of the second district pre-BB. BEFORE the outdoor cafes, trendy beach bars and posh restaurants started sprouting out of the ground like mushrooms after a rain and the Hop On, Hop Off buses added our neighborhood to their sites-to-see list. When I moved into my first apartment here, I was lugging coal to heat it from the place that is now an art atelier, buying milk at the Tante Emma now a Crossfit gym and treating myself every now and then to egg rolls from the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet that now houses my extremely beloved highly recommended local restaurant, “Schöne Perle.”
I lived in the second for years, moved back to the States and when I returned to the city, was fortunate to find an apartment just two streets away from my first. The second was a well-kept secret and I definitely wanted back.
But now the secret’s out. Karmelier Quarter is hip. Like a true Viennese I couldn’t imagine life in any other district because I obviously live in the best (all Viennese are convinced their district is the best). Unlike the Viennese, I can embrace our district’s changes with optimism.
The second has always offered great places to run – Augarten Park and along the Danube Canal into green Prater – that hasn’t changed. Sure, I regret that our post office has closed but I can look across the street at the graffiti’s artist new studio and be pleased. The old Chinese Schöne Perle couldn’t hold a candle to the new Schöne Perle with its Viennese cuisine, thirst quenching beer and to-die-for chocolate Susi Torte. And don’t even think you know what good pizza is until you try a wood oven baked one at Pizza Mari. You will also be hard-pressed to find more attentive personnel than the white-jacketed waiters at Skopik & Lohn, just a couple doors further down.
And honestly, I don’t miss the Tante Emma/Billa store now home to crazy people lifting thousands of kilos of weights while suspended from their toes just for fun. Two bigger and better grocery stores have opened their doors and they boast aisles wide enough to accommodate two grocery carts cruising in opposite directions. I call that progress.
But thankfully some things don’t change. True, the farmer’s market on Saturdays now sells organic cheese, farm-raised trout and special sausages, but Herr Treippl is still there like he’s been the past 20 years, with his box full of onions, his box full of potatoes and his bundles of parsley. And the young farmer on the corner who always has a smile might now have more wine bottles on his table, but they stand beside the pears, plums and apples that he’s always sold. The post office might be gone but Herr Briefträger is as busy as ever and still greets me every morning I pass him as I walk to work. The Anker bakery is still where it’s always been but is now open Sunday mornings (7am – noon) to sell fresh rolls on a day where everything else in the city is closed. The seamstress is renovating her shop but still shakes her head when I try to pay her for a minor repair job. Instead she directs me to drop some spare change into her change box with a knowing smile because she’ll need only a minute to fix the tear that would cost me an entire afternoon of frustration and needle pricked fingers. Mr. Yildiz, the shoemaker, still inquires about my last vacation and the pale plum-haired lady who holds sentry over the road still hasn’t budged from her window.
You think you live in a city, but really, in Vienna, it’s a neighborhood. And maybe not “everyone knows your name” but it feels like they might as well.
Lonely Planet Vienna’s description of Leopoldstadt: “worth more than a cursory glaince, with boutiques, delis and cafes continuing to pop up on and around Karmelitermarkt, bringing a dash of gratification to a once decidedly working class area. The market at its vibrant best on Saturday morning.”