How to Work (and Survive) in Vienna

Getting my creative work done while on the road will always be delightful and challenging at the same time: Every new place has its own advantages and disadvantages, and it always takes some time to find out about them.

Having spent five weeks in Vienna now, I can honestly say that this is a great place to work, live and travel. Here’s why – and some thoughts on how to tackle your creative work in this marvelous city!

An Ode to the Coffeehouse

Wanna get things done in an elegant atmosphere with as much inspiring input and as little distraction as possible? Be sure to give the traditional Viennese “kaffeehaus” a try! While you’ll have to learn to decipher lots of weird coffee specialty names (Here’s the best dictionary I could find online!), you can spend a great couple of hours there among like-minded people, brainstorming a project or outlining your next writings.

In some of these coffeehouses, the age-old literary culture still is alive, and you can almost feel the spirit of writers like Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus when you’re sitting at one of the small tables next to a window, contemplating your words while observing the bypassers or the elegant (and often entertainingly arrogant) waiters in their dress coats.

There’s no music to distract you, only the other guests around you talking in their strange Viennese dialect. And while the prices aren’t really cheap in the more central areas, it’s absolutely okay to just order one coffee and spend hours hanging around, reading newspapers or writing in your agenda. This may feel weird especially for Americans who are used to get thrown out of a place after finishing their meals or drinks – but it’s actually part of the coffeehouse tradition!

Cheap Connectivity

As it turns out, calling a German phone number from my Austrian cellphone is cheaper than calling a German phone number from my German cellphone from within Germany!1

Apparently, there are few countries with such a competitive telecommunication landscape as Austria. Plans offering 1000 voice minutes, 1000 SMS and 1000 megabyte of data will cost as little as 9 euros a month.

For short-term visitors, SIM cards and 3G sticks are inexpensive, easy to get and don’t even require any kind of registration.

There are also free wi-fi spots available in Vienna, like in the courtyard of the Museumsquartier.

One Golden Rule: No 11 oz. Schnitzels Before Work

Viennese cuisine is both tasty and heavy. If you want to explore it, better don’t plan to get much stuff done afterwards! Eating the largest schnitzel in the world or one of the inexpensive and yummy pizza slices that are for sale everywhere will hopefully leave you satisfied, but probably also a little too full to really focus back on your work once you’re done.

Talking about work and delicacies: What is great to let the work day phase out with some light writing or brainstorming are spritzers: White wine with sparkling water can be found everywhere; from the most deteriorated snack bars to the finest restaurants. (And, of course, in the coffeehouses!)

Don’t Get Yourself Killed (by a Car)

Vienna is probably one of the safest cities on this planet. It’s so chilled and relaxed you almost wonder if it can be for real.2

The only major danger seems to be the city traffic. Honestly, Viennese drivers are hands down the worst I have ever seen. Neither in Bogotá or Bangkok, Rome or San Salvador did I see as many traffic accidents as here! Apparently, everybody wants to get everywhere fast, so be sure to not stand in the way.

To move around, public transport is a great option. Subways, buses and cable cars serve the whole city and operate regularly during the day. At night, certain routes will close and you might have to wait a bit longer for “nightline” connections. A monthly ticket costs about 50 euros.

Sundays for Real

In most parts of the Western world, shopping hours aren’t really restricted anymore. Even in Germany, supermarkets will now often be open until 10pm or midnight. Things are different in catholic Austria, though, where it can be hard to even find an open restaurant on a Sunday evening in some parts of the country. While you will find lots of options in the more touristy areas of Vienna, planning ahead and getting anything you need before Saturday afternoon could be helpful, so you don’t have to starve.

This experience of a “real” Sunday has another notion, of course: It reminds us that while workdays may be for work, it’s also important to have days off, dedicated to leisure and idleness. Being in Vienna to get work done can be great, but being here to simply lay back and relax a little will always be an integral part of sustainable creativity, as the wise artist Michael Nobbs calls it.

Inspiration is Everywhere

Rarely have I been in a city as inspiring as Vienna. Just watching the people can be amazing: The public here is an interesting mix of old-established Viennese couples, snotty youngsters, immigrants from the Balkan States, Japanese tourists, struggling artists, new-rich opera-goers and impoverished bohemians.

Apart from that, is there anything they don’t have around here?

  • Baroque castles and parks? Check.
  • Ongoing intellectual discourse in coffeehouses, universites and beyond? Check.
  • UNESCO World Heritage sites? Check.
  • Major international organizations, like the UN and OPEC? Check.
  • Immigrant culture? Check.
  • Stunningly beautiful architecture ranging from classicist to modern? Check.
  • Well-deserved fame for music, fine arts, and theatre? Check, check and check.
  • All in all, one of the highest-ranking cities for quality of life worldwide? Check!3

The Bottom Line: If you’re struggling with finding input for your creative work, taking a walk around Vienna will most likely provide you with the spark of inspiration you were waiting for!

  1. To be more precise, it costs about nine times less to make the call from Austria! I should probably inform a cartel authority or something about that! []
  2. Until someone grabs your purse at the Naschmarkt, maybe… Yes, pickpockets are everywhere, even here! []
  3. Okay, I will be totally honest with you: I miss Ocean access and a more tropical climate. Especially in late October. And even more especially as I’m sitting here with an unpleasant cold! But then, this is how life is, and our heating is doing wonders! []

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