From the Editor: The Homecoming

Opinion | Dardis McNamee | September 2011

The paper you hold in your hands is historic! This is the first issue of the New Vienna Review, now in partnership with the Falter Verlag, forming The Vienna Review Publishing GmbH, and launching this small, non-profit paper into the larger world of professional publishing in Austria.  It is a good time.

Vienna is more international than ever. Thirty-three per cent of Viennese today are foreign born. Most of these foreigners, who have made a home in Austria, have long involved stories to tell: often byzantine sagas about professional goals or the longing for adventure, of loves found and lost, languages butchered, loyalties tested –about new challenges, and old fears. And along the way, small victories, new insights and gradually, a feeling of belonging.

One of these stories is my story.

And thus it was, on a sunny afternoon in early June, that I made my way over to the courtyard of Vienna City Hall for the Fest der neuen WienerInnen – the Celebration of new Austrian citizens who live in Vienna.

It was a mild day, and people arrived in dresses and suits straight from work, some 400 in all, and found their way in under the large tent covering one end of the open square, past the dozens of tables decked in linen and crystal for a gala dinner, and onwards into the Volkshalle at the far end. Ushers guided them to long rows stretching out to fill the ceremonial hall, where they took their places by district.

The invitation had gone out to over 2,000 people – all Viennese who had become Austrian citizens between May of 2010 and May 2011.  Stricter laws had meant many fewer citizenships in 2010, down 20% in Austria over 2009.  But the first 6 months of 2011 were already double the same period the previous year. So maybe things are easing up again.

Somehow, it doesn’t feel that way to those on the receiving end. The stories always involve Kafkaesque tales of lost documents, changing regulations and contradictory advice, of one office telling applicants the exact opposite of what they were told in another. And always, always, always one more piece of paper. My own tale involved a lost passport in a stolen handbag, and new rules that appeared to deny even a copy of the permanent visa I already had. Hundreds of hours of paperwork, applications, appointments, documents and support letters, changes of status, new forms, new categories, and endless hours of time. That it should have ended so well is joy indeed.

Now as we launch this new venture, we find ourselves in another tangle, as the visa rules for foreign correspondents in Austria do not seem to apply to us. These are ancient privileges afforded all members of the foreign press working in the country with the oldest press association in the world – the Presseclub Concordia – that celebrated its 150th anniversary last year.  We are an Austrian newspaper in English, that by definition needs the language and cultural skill of international journalists, and therefore there is no "by the book" for us.

Still, foreigners here learn how to solve problems. We’ll figure out how to solve this one too. Because this is part of being at home in Vienna.

Other articles from this issue