Welcoming the Expats

Opinion | Vienna Review | December 2012 / January 2013

It was an overflow house at the Semper Depot on Lehargasse in the 6th District on Monday, 12 November, as some 450 internationals gathered to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of the Expat Center, a project of the Vienna Business Agency (Wirtschaftsagentur) to ease foreign nationals adjustment to the city.

Already a dramatic space, the former back stage warehouse for Theater an der Wien was set in motion by mobile light murals of iconic Vienna, which rotated slowly between the handsome wrought iron balconies of the building’s fin de siècle industrial chic. At the tall white café tables, groups gathered, remixed and gathered again, as wait-staff balanced trays of Sekt and nibbles agilely through the thickening crowd.

The usual round of speeches – from Wirtschaftsagentur director Sabina Ohler and Vice Mayor Renate Brauner and others – were brief and lively, even entertaining, complete with interviews with several gab-gifted Expats, a Falco impersonator, and scenes from the award winning musical Elisabeth. The engaging MC was himself an Expat, Jim Libby, moderator of Hello Austria, Hello Vienna on ORF and co-founder of the improv theatre group, The English Lovers.

Then the huge doors behind the stage opened on a vast room reinvented as a Kaffeehaus and a Heuriger, where feasting and conversation went on for hours – a happy coming together of colleagues and friends, old, rediscovered, and newly found.  All in all, a great evening, other than the inexplicable and repeated rudeness of a young blonde city staffer, who perhaps didn’t understand that this was an evening where the foreigners were among the guests of honour.

Expat Center manager Friedrich Bruckner reports that some 2,500 internationals have to date taken advantage of the gratis counselling services of the staff, and over 5,000 have come to events at their flexible space at Schmerlingplatz 3. And judging from a very informal survey among attendees at the Semper Depot event, this is one case where "free advice" is worth far, far more that you pay for it.


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