Show me a significant body of water and I’ll find you the legend to match it. Whether it’s the Bodach spirit who supposedly haunts the Scottish loch near my Grandmother’s house or the dragon that was killed by the river in Brno, our ancestors’ livelihoods were so entwined with the water that it became a part of the stories that explained who they were.

There aren’t many European bodies of water as significant as the river Danube. It runs through ten countries and four capital cities before it empties into the Black Sea. Even now, Vienna, Budapest, Bratislava and Belgrade…


On experiencing traditions as an outsider, and the universal smell of vanilla.

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

It’s December 2014 and we’re making cookies.

There’s a familiar smell of cinnamon and cloves but I am a long way from home. Our kitchen isn’t a kitchen but a classroom in a language school in Vienna. We’re not a family but a class of homesick German learners following recipes in a language we barely spoke in the summer to make cookies we’ve never heard of. It’ll be next year before I can spell Weihnachtskekse (Christmas biscuits) first time.

We’ve also been tricked. They said this was part…


They might just get eaten by goats

Nothing says Christmas in Vienna like watching the Viennese bring their trees home on public transport. Spotting the biggest Christbaum with the smallest Oma on the busiest train is practically an Advent sport.

But, 3 weeks later, we strip off the decorations, grab the tree by the scruff of its trunk, and drag it back to where it came from. Nothing says January like a a pile of crispy Christbaum carcasses in the rain.

‘But where,’ I think, as I hack the lower branches off our tree with secateurs that are too small for the job, ‘do the trees go…


Vienna’s uneasy relationship with its most prominent wartime relics

Vienna’s skyline with Stephansdom, the Rathaus, and Karlskirche to the right Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

The skyline of the centre of Vienna hasn’t changed much in 75 years. Stephansdom, the Rathaus, the Riesenrad, the green baroque dome of Karlskirche, the neo-gothic towers of the Votivkirche. But alongside the spires and the metalwork, there are six concrete monoliths hunkered among the city’s rooftops.

Each one is over 40 meters tall, windowless, and with walls three meters thick. You can glimpse them between the houses as you stroll down Vienna’s main shopping street, or as the bus drives you through three of the city’s residential districts. …


On the value of salt, French royalty, and Austria’s most notorious art theft

Salt made Austria rich.

In a country without gold, silver, or even a port, salt deposits from the prehistoric sea under the alps was a precious resource for trade. People received their wages in salt. The city of Salzburg and the Salzkammergut region of the country both take their names from the so-called white gold.

It’s easy to forget this when you stand in Spar, listening to Europop on the supermarket radio and weighing up boxes of salt that cost less than 2 a kilo. But, in…


Why Vienna’s residents took a stubborn bird to heart

There should be more statues of animals in the world.

Edinburgh has Greyfriars Bobby, an unassuming statue of a Skye Terrier that guarded his master’s grave for 14 years. His nose is kept burnished by tourists who touch it for luck.

Tokyo has the Hachiko, a statue of another good boy that watches the crowds pour in and out of Shibuya station. …


Sorry, millennials. We’re not the first generation to go mad for indoor gardening.

The Victorians made the world smaller. They industrialised. They streamlined the telegraph and the postal service. They invented the telephone. They went out into the world and explored for queen and country and they travelled for fun. They brought the world back to Britain and put it into their homes.

Among the more popular (and less morally questionable) souvenirs were the plants the Victorians collected.

The mid 19th century was the first time that tropical plants could thrive indoors in the UK. Improvements in engineering and glasswork…


And the city’s most popular running spot has had a facelift.

To a Scot like me, who would happily batter and deep fry any foodstuff that came her way and keeps fit by wrestling umbrellas in the wind, the Austrians are a nation of serious exercisers.

They like to hike and are blessed with some beautiful places to do it.

They’re keen Nordic walkers and use the poles as a stretching aid before and after their workout.

Every other park seems to host a Sunday morning yoga class.

Even in the middle of Vienna, there are a hundred and one…


After 150 years of planning, the Austrian capital has exactly zero functioning cable cars, but they don’t let this hold them back.

Year after year, Vienna is voted the most liveable city in the world.

Of course, no one is quite sure what ‘liveability’ means. The surveys talk about controlled rents, museums, a vast amount of green space per head and low crime statistics. If you asked a local, they’d crow about the water quality or the fact that Viennese customer service is so grumpy that you never have to make small talk with anyone in a shop.

The journalists…


How Vienna turned a landfill with a dark history into one of its biggest public parks

Linie29 Wikimedia Commons

It’s 2019 and everybody loves plants. But before Instagram inspired a thousand apartment jungles, before we gave our snake plants the appreciation they deserve for oxygenating our bedrooms and promoting restful sleep, the city of Vienna had already recognised the link between green spaces and wellbeing. ‘Soziales Grün’ or the Social Green Space has been a buzzword here for decades.

In the early 1960s, mostly recovered from the war, Vienna undertook what was at that point its most ambitious social greening project. When the…

Mairi Bunce

Copywriter, literature grad, incorrigible sweet tooth, collector of Austrian historical trivia, pub quiz champion.

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