The Fifth Column: July 2013

Opinion | Vindobona | July / August 2013

High Tide for Harel? 

A chiaroscuro drama is unfolding behind the scenes of the Hundertwasser exhibition (Japan and the Avant-garde), just ended with a jolly champagne breakfast in the grounds of the Belvedere. It is now clear that the much-loved Austrian eccentric, known for his ascetic lifestyle, was in fact worth a fortune.

Along with his colourful paintings – many of which have mysteriously vanished – were millions of Euros’ worth of prime real estate in Venice and New Zealand. Now battling for her share is Hundertwasser’s illegitimate daughter Heidi Wasserblum, 30, who was systematically kept away from her father while he was alive, and after his death persuaded to give up her legal right to half his fortune by Hundertwasser Stiftung director Joram Harel.

This was in return for €140,000 and, "as a special gesture of respect", a Hundertwasser painting from Harel’s personal collection. There was nothing left, Harel explained, but debts, inter alia a big unpaid dentist’s bill of €12,206.13. I liked that little touch: 13 cents.

What is it about the word Stiftung that has me checking for my wallet?


Austrian Eagle Flies Off 

Not easy, being Federal Chancellor, especially in these days of Twitter, Facebook and so on, which when it comes down to it are pests in the ether. Werner Faymann has had it up to here with the lively spoof Facebook page under the name of Werner Failmann. This is still going strong, despite having been hurriedly matched with a "real" page, serviced by a team of dutiful bureaucrats.

But one special irritant has now gone forever. For press photographers, the Austrian eagle decorating the background of Faymann’s press conferences was an irresistible plaything (see photo). Last month it was painted over "for optical reasons", just in time for press conferences about the UN/Golan débâcle, explaining why Austrian troops had to leave after nearly 40 years.


Knowing a Gentleman by his Shoes 

The diligent, athletic, clean, in fact altogether shiny new defence minister Gerald Klug, 44, is the target of some nosy questions about his private life. He describes himself only as single and childless, living in a hotel during the week.

Austria evidently deserves some proper answers about this too-good-to-be-true son-in-law type. How come his shoes are so brightly polished? Does he, by implication, have an adoring, shoe-shining girlfriend? Or several? Or does he just call room service after his 12-18-hour days?

The Teflon ex-trade-union official has no trouble deflecting such impertinence. He cleans his own shoes, he says. The ordentlich way, apparently, is first to take out the shoelaces, brush off any dirt with a hard brush and so on and on, till we reach the essential finishing touch, just before we get to the (N.B. wooden) shoe-trees: "Now work in colourless shoe-polish into the leather soles and polish them too." Is Klug really an alien, as some have speculated? You decide.


One-Armed Bandits for the Ringstraße?

Nor does Vindobona foresee a brilliant political future for Alfred Gusenbauer, 53, former Socialist Chancellor whom successor Werner Faymann blocked from the plashy fens of the European Commission. Then again, the former VP of the Socialist International has amassed some €3million consulting for the German gambling firm Novomatic and for autocratic Kazakhstan.

In an uncomfortable interview with the weekly Falter in June, he was asked, "What next?" He’d continue to work for Novomatic long-term, said a tight-lipped Gusenbauer: "In    Kazakhstan we’re talking three-year contracts, renewable." Falter: "How often?" Gusenbauer: "Until there’s a full democracy? No, that’d be a job for life."

Until Hell freezes over or Kazakhstan resembles Switzerland, Gusi has plenty to do. Along with others, Novomatic is slugging it out for licences: There are plans for huge investments in acres of green baize at the Vienna Intercontinental and the Palais Schwarzenberg.

"Vienna is crying out for an international hotel-casino," says Peter Hötzinger of Century Casinos. You could have fooled Vindobona, who remembers exactly that kind of improbable claim by gambling firms closing in on Miami Beach. In the end they got Atlanta. Enough said?

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