Life on the Streets of Vienna is More Colourful than You Would Expect

On The Town | Victoria Oscarrson | October 2007

The possesions of the“Bag Lady” (Photo: Victoria Oscarrson)

Her living quarters are the 1st District of Vienna near the University off Schottentor.  She has good taste.  During summer, it was easy enough to sleep with a blanket in one of two covered doorways to modern buildings in this locale and poop in the bushes.

With autumn, it is more difficult.  Her apartment began with two large metal shopping carts and stuffed plastic bags hooked by rope to a bicycle stand, her Parkplatz behind a temporary white enclosure used to close off the street from the construction nearby.  Plastic bottles are treasures and not because of the Euros they could bring.

She covers her precious refuse with a worn brown leather jacket tightly, so no one can or would try to enter. Should we think of her as an archeologist? Or an ecologist out to save the world?

One Sunday evening at dusk, the makings of her belongings were strewn all over the street from the wind and rain; her person was found carefully reconstructing the damage to her home, bottle by paper by bottle.  Now she has four carts and five bags in this Parkplatz, not to mention the one that travels with her on a daily basis. The police have come to visit her sidewalk armchair on the curb to try to get her to relocate, but to no avail.

She does not hurt anyone.  She speaks some English.  She looks ragged and greasy but does not seem to smell, and lives her life without a permit and is somehow accepted.

There are others in the neighborhood, in particular, "the Writer," as wide as he is tall, in his 40s perhaps, who spreads out during the day occupying two Rathaus Park benches with his bags of life surrounding him.  At close analysis, he has a rainbow of colored pens and all kinds of books and paper.

One day, he finished what appeared to be a few sentences and then left his spot to put something defiantly into a large garden waste bin, which this writer retrieved out of curiosity.

It was a workbook on mathematics, fully filled out with diagrams and formulas for systems -- even the blank pages and inside covers were full.  When asked what he was writing, he responded "Deutsch" as if insulted to be disturbed with such a question.  Maybe he’s crazy. He could also be a genius.

Then there is "the Sleeper," whose pillow is a large Ikea bag stuffed with perhaps clothing and/or paper and who does smell dreadful, for which there is not much more to say.

The lady with her street apartment may soon be on the move for winter with her five carts.  She was spotted recently resettling a few bags near the Burggarten by two heating vents.

Other articles from this issue

  • Visit to the Heartland

    A Trip to “Bush Country” Reveals a Surprising Attitude Towards the Political Establishment
    News | Chris Newman
  • The Illusionist

    How Europe’s Largest Magic Store Makes a Business Out of Slight of Hand
    On The Town | Paul Krauskopf
  • Food Price Pressure

    Europe-wide Supply Pressures are Making Food Costs Rise Sharply
    News | Jessica Spiegel
  • The Kosovo Card

    The U.S. is Preparing to Recognize Kosovar Indendence, Irrespective of the Consequences
    Opinion | Charles Tannock
  • All articles from this issue

    the vienna review October 2007