Tag Archives: Vienna

Maximilian Mauracher

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Vienna: the cultural capital comes of age

Once sedate Vienna is reclaiming the creative spirit of its fin-de-siècle heyday with a host of exceptional new luxury hotels and intriguing attractions

Rose-hued tangerine clouds roll out high over the city of Vienna like a Turneresque sunset. The fiery sky forms a canopy that extends from the Belvedere Palace to the east, across the gothic towers of Stephansdom cathedral, to the Rathaus, the town hall, in the west.

Continue reading Vienna: the cultural capital comes of age

Edible cities: how urbanites can grow their own food

A new book showcases ways of growing fruits and vegetables in flats, on balconies and inside abandoned buildings

Going green: plants can be grow in the most unexpected of places

Going green: plants can be grow in the most unexpected of places

Living in a city often means being cut off from the source of one’s food – unless you’re lucky enough to have a garden.

But there are other ways to grow your own fruit and vegetables, even in the confines of a tiny flat. A new book, Edible Cities, celebrates the urban individuals who have embraced growing their own – be it through a balcony garden, or more unconventional means.

Many of them are adherents to the idea of ‘permaculture’ – sustainable agricultural practices that are based on nature’s own processes.

In this extract from Edible Cities, three individuals from different parts of the world explain how they have brought nature into their homes.

Vienna: an inside garden

Tomatoes climbing a window

Where there is light, there can be veg. This domestic project in the heart of Vienna shows how this can be made true even in very little space.

Idea: Doris S. (36) runs a bookshop

Place: 60m2, south facing 2-bedroom flat, top floor of an old tenement block, 2nd district, Vienna

Project: Indoor crops

What inspired you to create your edible flat in the middle of Vienna?

Doris S: “I learned from my grandmother how much fruit, vegetables and herbs can be grown in a garden. I still remember the taste of freshly picked fruit in my childhood. These days, the stuff I buy at the supermarket never tastes as good as that. In my city flat I used to have cress, parsley and basil in pots, which I threw out as soon as they were harvested. Then I watched some videos about urban gardening in New York, which showed that I could do things differently. So I bought big planters and put them on every available surface – on the windowsills, above radiators, on shelves. I painted the planters white which made them look good in my flat. Then I filled them with soil partly from outside, partly from a garden centre, and sowed tomatoes and lettuce.”

What does your indoor garden mean to you?

DS: “It’s great to always have something growing in my flat. Tomatoes are climbing up inside the window like a curtain made by nature. It’s like being in a garden. I also like knowing where my food comes from. I don’t have to buy dried herbs any more, the air in the flat is better and more moist in winter. The tomatoes deter mosquitoes, so I don’t get any of them in the summer now. I thought it would be a lot of work, but it works almost by itself as long as I remember the watering – and the big pots don’t dry out very quickly.”

Do you compost your kitchen waste?

DS: “Yes, and it means I don’t have to replace the soil in the pots nowadays. I simply dig in the scraps or mulch them with fallen or cut-off leaves. It all rots down and I can go on harvesting. My flat gets an awful lot of light, which means I get up to four tomato crops per plant, each year. After each harvest I cut the plants back to a third of their size. I also grow chives and cabbage, and all sorts of herbs.”

Switzerland: a balcony garden

View from the balcony

This is something of a classic for city flats that have no access to a garden but do have a balcony of their own. The planting opportunities shown here should encourage anyone to try the same on their own balcony.

Idea and implementation: Fabienne Frölich (45), theatre promoter, and Markus Poelz (36), permaculture designer

Place: Eisengasse, Basle, Switzerland

Project: Balcony crops

Fabienne’s balcony faces North, so there is not much sun to play with here. Rainwater captured from downpipes is not an option, and the neighbourhood is very tidy-minded, so most of the surrounding balconies look very sterile. Problem or opportunity? Fabienne Frölich’s delightfully designed garden is the visible result of her love relationship with permaculture designer Markus Poelz, whom she met via Facebook.

Markus, what is your background?

Markus Poelz: “It started in my childhood. I grew up in a small village near a lake, where people were always used to producing their own food, timber and firewood. The village had a sawmill, a flour mill and my mother’s little grocery store where she sold produce from the surrounding area. In a way, it’s always been permaculture. I did many different jobs and came to permaculture as a profession in 2002. That was when I had the chance to help with the establishment of the nearby Berta project [Berta is a holiday resort for disabled people and their families, offering activities in nature.] Later I attended courses with Permaculture Austria and Permaculture in the Alps (PIA). The experience of working on a complex project like Berta helped me develop my own practice. Three years ago I moved to Basle and wanted to find out how permaculture could be applied in the city. Fabienne’s balcony was the start. More projects have come up in the meantime, for instance an alpine permaculture farm and some large-scale agricultural businesses. Organic and biodynamic farms are reaching their limits of productivity, so permaculture is the next step.”

Fabienne, how did you end up with a permaculture balcony?

Fabienne Frölich: “I joined a permaculture Facebook group, where I met Markus. When he saw my balcony he suggested turning it into a permaculture garden. There was no soil, so we had to start from scratch by making compost. We also had to put up a screen, because the neighbours don’t want to see a mess from their windows.”

In brief, these were the steps to create Fabienne’s fairy garden:

Screen: Willow branches were gathered outside the city and stripped of leaves. If you have metal railings you can weave them between the bars as shown in the picture, or turn them into a hurdle. This also serves to shelter the garden from the wind.

Soil: Old baskets and other containers were lined with cardboard and filled with a mix of shredded garden waste, leftover bits of willow, dust from the vacuum cleaner (including lots of cat hair!), old soil from flower pots and hay. A few worms were also added. A few months later the mixture had turned into excellent compost.

Floor: Initially, Fabienne spread leaves gathered in a nearby forest, later she added pebbles. This makes for a very pleasant texture when stepping onto the balcony barefoot.

Planters: Custom built trays house standard flower pots, without damaging the building fabric.

Irrigation: A plastic bottle turned upside down and filled with water can be put into the pots. Other options are commercial drip irrigation or medicinal drip-feed bottles.

Plants: Mostly shade tolerant herbs and vegetables. Potatoes were tried without success, due to the lack of direct sunlight. A selection of plants:

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Vervain (Verbena officinalis)

Mint geranium (Tanacetum balsamica)

Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii)

Mustard cress (Lepidium sativum)

Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis)

Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris)

New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides)

Parsley (Petroselinium crispum)

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Lettuce (Lactuca sative)

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica)

Celeriac (Apium graveolens)

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)

Welsh onion (Allium fistulosum)

Sun-loving herbs were placed on the kitchen windowsill, which catches more light.

Fabienne’s small but impressive garden is completed by beech logs with shiitake mushrooms, an insect hotel and a herb dryer made from left-over willow branches.

Fabienne: “The best thing was when I harvested my first own crops – those little potatoes were the best I’ve ever had, and I was pleased as punch.”

Vienna is ‘the capital of spies’

More than 7,000 secret agents and spies are currently working in Vienna, more than in any other city, according to a new book by Austrian investigative journalist Emil Bobi.

Bobi believes the city is popular with spies because “if something strange happens that cannot be explained, and if diplomatic complications and espionage are at play, then it’s just accepted as the Austrian way,” he told the ORF.

His book Die Schattenstadt (The Void) addresses the question of why the Austrian capital became a stronghold for international agents, long before 9/11.

He claims that foreign secret agents hold important positions in embassies, international organisations and corporations in the city – but that they are only here for the purpose of acquiring and transmitting secret information.

He says that Austria’s state police are aware of this, but do nothing to stop it. Spying is only punishable by law in Austria if it is aimed directly at Austria. If foreign governments wish to spy on other foreign states in Vienna that is perfectly legal.

Recently reports emerged suggesting that a US spy who worked for German foreign intelligence had been meeting with CIA agents at the US embassy in Vienna.

Former police officers and politicians, as well as cabaret artists and psychoanalysts are employed as agents, Bobi claims.

Vienna has the best quality of life - and Baghdad the worst

Siegfried Beer, director of the Austrian Centre for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, at the University of Graz, agrees that there are at least 7,000 agents based in Vienna, working in embassies and international organizations.

Bobi says that one reason spies feel so comfortable in Vienna is that “the so-called real Viennese operate in the private sector in the same way as intelligence agencies do.”

“Spies love being sent to work in Vienna, because of the high quality of life, and its geographical location. Some even return here once they retire,” he added.


Austria has been an international spy hub since the late 19th Century, when people from all parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire flocked to the city.

Bobi says that the Viennese are steeped in a culture of espionage. “In the market places and streets one could hear more than 40 languages. The Viennese were always busy getting to know strangers and trying to figure out what they wanted.”

The disintegration of Austria-Hungary and the political turmoil in Central Europe after World War I led to more and more secret services basing themselves in Vienna.

Top 10 family-friendly city apartments around Europe

Barcelona apartment
This Barcelona apartment comes with cartoon doodles on the walls, toy boxes and an indoor hammockYes, a city break with the kids can be enjoyable, if you stay in child-friendly pads like these – from a Barcelona apartment with toys galore to Budapest with babysitters


With a comic-strip-print sofa, cartoon doodles on the walls, toy boxes, and an indoor hammock, this small but sleek apartment has been designed with kids in mind. There’s no television, but the owner Mavi runsmammaproof.org, a blog about exploring Spain with children in tow, so she’ll have plenty of ideas about how to keep the nippers entertained. Guests can even use a brand new Bugaboo Bee 3 during their stay, the perfect vehicle for transporting sleepy little ones to Gaudí’s Park Güell (15 minutes’ walk) or his Sagrada Família (20 minutes).

kidandcoe.com/destinations/gracia/the-torrent-de-les-flors-residence. From €95 a night for up to five people


Berlin apartment

Voted best for kids by i-escape last year, these two-bedroom apartments are in a 19th-century block in Berlin’s bohemian Prenzlauer Berg district, within walking distance of dozens of child-friendly cafes and twokindercafes (play cafes): Onkel Albert on Zionskirchstrasse, and Das Spielzimmer on Schliemannstrasse. The owner, Simon, lives in the block with his family and is on hand to share tips on Berlin, recently proclaimed Europe’s most family-friendly city by home rental website Housetrip.com. Simon recommends the children’s museum Machmit, a five-minute tram ride away, and the Moritzhof children’s farm at the Mauerpark, with pony riding and a petting zoo. English-speaking babysitting available.
i-escape.com/brilliant-apartments/kids. From €132 a night for a family of four


Paris apartment

Close enough to the action but in a quieter residential area that is dotted with leafy parks and playgrounds, laid-back cafes and boulangeries, this two-bed apartment is a favourite with families. The number 76 bus takes you to the Louvre in 20 minutes and, if the kids behave themselves, afterwards to the Jardin de Tuileries next door. Here you can hire model boats to sail on the lake (€1 for 30 minutes). Trains from the RER station (10 minutes’ walk away) take you to Disneyland Paris within an hour.
homeaway.co.uk/p89542. From £400 a week for four people, minimum seven-night stay in peak season

Palma de Mallorca

Paris apartment

Next to its food market, Mercat de l’Olivar, in the buzzy pedestrianised old town, five minutes’ walk to a park and an indoor pool, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better-situated family apartment in Palma. It’s only a 15-minute walk to the beach and there’s an ice-cream shop on the corner too. There are two apartments – contemporary Lotus and Bougainvillea, more shabby chic – both with two bedrooms and sleeping up to six people. The owner, Zaretta, lives next door and is happy to share tips, let you borrow children’s books, DVDs, and a bucket and spade for beach days. The apartment is double-glazed and has a lift, although there are a few steps to climb first.
homeaway.co.uk/p438979. From €120 a night for up to six people


Amsterdam apartment

Parents of toddlers beware: most apartments in Amsterdam come with steep, narrow stairs. Many also come with balconies. That’s why this spacious stair-free, balcony-free two-bedroom apartment is such a find. It’s ground floor but, thanks to the high ceilings, skylights and large windows, feels more like a loft apartment. It sleeps four comfortably but can accommodate six, or eight with the sofa bed. The location is great too – a short walk to the city’s largest park, Vondelpark, where kids can clamber about at the old-school playground and sample child-pleasingpoffertjes (mini Dutch pancakes) at Groot Melkhuis cafe.
airbnb.co.uk. From £148 a night for four people


Budapest apartment

Kids will love rummaging around in the fancy dress cupboard in this large four-bedroom ground-floor apartment, with high ceilings, a large open-plan lounge and kitchen and access to a central courtyard garden. The apartment owners can arrange babysitting and an English-speaking kids’ day camp. They also run a minibus business, so can do airport pick-ups, city tours and get you discounts on family attractions, including Aquaworld(17 pools, 11 slides) and the hire of a bringo hintó, a four or six-man pedal-powered vehicle for exploring Margaret Island, a landscaped park in the middle of the Danube with a small zoo, playgrounds, and a musical fountain.
housetrip.com/en/rentals/5452. From €98 a night for seven people (10 with sofa beds)


Vienna apartment

Children aged five and under can stay for free at these two funky ground-floor apartments, which can be joined together via an interior hallway for larger families (nine maximum). They’re just a five-minute walk from the city’s 3,200-acre Prater Park, home to one of the world’s oldest amusement parks with rollercoasters, bumper cars, a ghost train, maze, go-carts, trampolines, mini-golf, and Vienna’s famous giant ferris wheel. Also nearby is the traffic-free campus of the University of Economics, perfect for letting little ones run wild – and it has a toddler-friendly cafe. Another smaller park is just across the road. If the kids still aren’t tired, back at the apartment there’s a little front yard, lovely wooden toys, finger puppets and a rocking horse.
praterloft.at. €100 a night for four people


Rome apartment

This pretty three-bedroom apartment is five minutes from the Vatican and the Piazza del Popole and is even closer to two beautiful parks and arguably Rome’s best ice-cream parlour, Gelateria dei Gracchi. Tech-crazy kids, meanwhile, will be begging to go to Vigamus, the video-game museum, which is nearby. The owner, Audrey, used to live in the apartment with her son and daughter and they have kindly left behind many of their favourite toys and games, tidied away in boxes in their bright and cheery bunk-bed room.
homeaway.co.uk/p1187828. From €149 a night for up to six people


Lisbon apartment

Little ones will love catching the funicular to these small but charming hilltop apartments in Lisbon’s Pena district. Both have two bedrooms (one double, one twin) and spectacular views: across tiled rooftops and the river to the Rossio, Lisbon’s main square, or from Travessa to the ruins of Igreja do Carmo, Lisbon’s gothic monument to the city’s 1755 earthquake. Both apartments are packed with local antiques, but also have wooden train sets, jigsaw puzzles, children’s books, DVDs, and beach toys. The family-friendly beach, Santo Amaro, is a 30-minute train ride away.
sawdays.co.uk. From €85 a night, five-night minimum booking in peak season


Prague apartment

Even the children will appreciate the magical views from these elegant riverside apartments, looking across the Vltava to the Charles bridge and the city’s famous castle. These spacious and well-equipped apartments are on the first and second floor, accessed by 600-year-old spiral sandstone steps, but don’t worry, there’s also a private lift. Close by is the Kampa Park, which has a great playground for little ones and is home toHergetova Cihelna, a restaurant which does a lively Sunday family brunch with a kids’ corner, toys, professional babysitters and children under 1 metre tall eat for free. Each week there’s face-painting and entertainment, from magicians, pirates or Batman.
ownersdirect.co.uk. From €114 a night for four people

NSA spying in Vienna detailed at Chaos meet

NSA spying in Vienna detailed at Chaos meet

According to a report in the Austrian news daily Der Standard, Möchel had made extensive use of the documents revealed by Edward Snowden, the former systems administrator and defense contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton who allegedly leaked NSA and CIA secret archives.

The documents show that the American National Security Agency operates a robust presence in the Austrian capital, and with good reason.  Despite Vienna having a population of only 1.75 million people, the city is home to more than 17,000 accredited diplomats, many of whom work in the various international organizations, including the United Nations, IAEA, UNIDO, CTBTO, OSCE and OPEC.

That means nearly 1 percent of Vienna’s population have diplomatic status – and a significant portion of those are likely to be spies, according to Austrian investigative journalist Emil Bobi, who estimates that there are more than 7,000 spooks living in the city.

As a result, the NSA has plenty of monitoring to do in Austria’s capital, especially considering that the oil-rich Arab states meet regularly in OPEC, and Vienna has long been the centre for East-West spy activities.

According Möchel there are currently three major NSA stations in Vienna. The most obvious one is the US Embassy in Vienna’s 9th district, with its roof-based monitoring antennas, similar to many other embassies around the world, according to Snowden’s revelations.

The second major station is positioned on upper floors of the Internationales Zentrum Donaustadt (IZD) tower, overlooking the Vienna International Centre, which is the third-largest home for United Nations-affiliated organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency.  It’s responsible for electronic surveillance of important UN-related activities, as well as coordinating SigInt from other foreign embassies.

The third location is the so-called “NSA Villa” in Pötzleinsdorf.  According to Möchel, the villa was previously tasked with collecting more analog forms of intel, based on older technologies, but this is largely being phased out, and staff are being relocated to the IZD tower.

Each of the three stations are connected by a secure broadband network, with a radio tower in Exelberg serving as a relay station.  Much of the operational processing takes place in the IZD tower, says Möchel.

According to Möchel, the NSA’s Special Collection Service EINSTEIN/CASTANET  is located on the top floor of the U.S. embassy in Berlin and elsewhere (Special Collection Service).  This is not a transmitting antenna system, though it can be used for transmitting/illumination/RF flooding/etc.  This is a wideband microwave SIGINT (bug repeater, telco microwave backbones, WiFi, GSM/cellular, satellite up/downlinks, GBPPR, etc.) collection system.

He added that the tower recently added more air-conditioning plants, indicating that additional computers were probably installed, and mobile phones often fail to operate there, suggesting that localized jamming or other security measures may be employed.

Möchel doubts that the NSA has much interest in Austrian internet traffic, since most such traffic flows through Frankfurt, where a joint US-German operation searches through it for anything of relevance.  However, the Snowden documents strongly suggest that the NSA has successfully infiltrated the mobile and data networks of Telekom Austria on occasion.

Siegfried Beer, director of the Austrian Centre for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies, at the University of Graz, agrees that there are at least 7,000 agents based in Vienna, working in embassies and international organizations.

Bobi says that one reason spies feel so comfortable in Vienna is that “the so-called real Viennese operate in the private sector in the same way as intelligence agencies do.”  Former police officers and politicians, as well as cabaret artists and psychoanalysts are employed as agents, Bobi claims.

“Spies love being sent to work in Vienna, because of the high quality of life, and its geographical location. Some even return here once they retire,” he added.

Austria has been an international spy hub since the late 19th Century, when people from all parts of the Austro-Hungarian empire flocked to the city.

NSA using Austrian networks

The National Security Agency (NSA) may have used Austrian networks “to map the internet”, including those of Telecom Austria (TA) and the University of Vienna.

According to a report in Der Standard, which cites documents leaked by former US intelligence employee, Edward Snowden, Austrian telecommunications networks may also have been used by the US secret service for espionage activities.

Through the use of the spy program “Treasure Map”, the NSA is attempting to fend off cyber espionage and computer attacks on any device connected to the internet, in any place and at any time.

For this the NSA has the data lines of Telecom Austria and Vienna University in their sights. However speakers from both institutions told Der Standard they had found no suspicious devices or data traffic.

Documents released by the NSA, which referred to the use of telecommunications network, TA, appeared in the German news magazine Der Spiegel on Monday.

According to TA spokesman Peter Schiefer, the NSA might use their data lines to screen the entire network.

A Vienna University network, part of the scientific ACOnet and internet switching node Vienna Internet exchange (ViX), were also explicitly mentioned in the secret service documents.

The node used by the University’s Central Information Service (ZID) was mentioned as a possible listening post in Austria shortly after the NSA surveillance scandal broke.

Over 100 companies, including Facebook, have set up their own technology. Michaela Bociurko from the Central Information Service says however that the University of Vienna has no evidence “of a secret service misusing their equipment” for their purposes.

Back in July it was revealed that the NSA had targeted an employee of the University of Salzburg. The internet address of a server operated by the man was found in the source code of the NSA surveillance program “XKeyscore”, with the user and network administrators of an anonymization network “gateway” being spied upon.