Vienna vs London: Differences while walking the city
by Eugene Quinn
‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford’.
I was born in London and lived there for half of my life, finally leaving to marry an Austrian six years ago. My now wife and I had an interesting debate during our first 3 years together, living in different countries and wondering whether she should move to London or me to Vienna. I lost. But in fact I now like living here a lot more than my wife.
When walking around London, it still feels like home. Because of all the gardens, it is a huge city, some 60km wide. Too big, in many ways. The largest city in the EU, with 8.4m residents (Vienna is twelfth, with 1.8m people) and a difficult place to understand, even for locals. While it is not a friendly city, you are much more likely to chat with locals than in chilly Vienna. You are also much more likely to see people fighting, urinating and falling down. There is a real tension in the air, but also more of what I call Street Capital, of theatre and colour and life as you walk around.
While some people like the calm of Vienna, particularly at the weekends when some 40% of residents leave for nearby mountains, lakes and forests, I prefer the buzz and sexiness and London swagger. For me moving slowly through the city is all about people-watching, and London has many more freaks who make this an entertaining pastime. It is rarely boring. Migrants to Britain come from the whole world, so there is more visible diversity on city streets.
It is estimated that you are filmed an average 306 times per day in London, by CCTV. This is a trend which is yet to take off in Mitteleuropa.
‘Vienna would be great, if it wasn’t for the Viennese’.
In Austria, the capital city is known for its grumpiness and melancholy, and you get a sense of this while walking the streets. Locals seem introverted and full of angst. British people laugh more and take life less seriously. They stand up to drink outside pubs, so that the good cheer is more visible. British people wear fewer clothes in all seasons. They are also considerably fatter than lean and health-conscious Austrians.
I still feel a little like a tourist in my adopted home, which is a feeling I like, of still being surprised by many details. Vienna is a safe, and fairly flat city. There is more wind than in London, meaning the air quality is better. Lots of London buildings are made in red brick, whereas the primary colour in Vienna is grey. The Viennese pass each other on the right, but in London everything is more chaotic. In law-abiding Austria, the locals rarely cross roads on red lights, which the British do all the time (it is actually illegal to do so in most of Europe, and people are sometimes fined for this in Vienna). In my old home town, I rarely bump into anybody I know, whereas this happens regularly in compact Vienna.
Even if Vienna dubs itself the home of music, and people all around the world have a soundtrack in their heads when you say the name of the city, still there is very little music on the streets. In London, you continually hear loud music from buskers, cars, shops and open windows. The Viennese are much more likely to complain to police about noisy neighbours than Brits.
Both cities are beautiful and dramatic and much-photographed. And both have interesting layers of architectural history, right back to the Romans.
Though the weather in Britain is not as foggy or rainy as people around the world believe (and London is drier and warmer than the north and west of the country), Vienna has much more interesting and satisfying seasons, with snow in winter and hot sunshine in summer. In Vienna, many people walk with sticks, for greater exercise, which I confess I find quite ugly. It takes some of the fun out of strolling, reducing it to exercise.
Cycling is more common in Austria, and certainly cooler, than in Britain. And there is therefore more tension on Vienna pavements between stressed cyclists and tourists unfamiliar with cycle lanes. Beware psychopaths on cycle paths! Beware also that Vienna is – surprisingly – the dog shit capital of the world. Smoking is much cooler in Vienna, even amongst younger people, and so you smell it much more than in London, where it is a marginalised and embarrassing habit. On balance, I would rather walk through London than Vienna, but the contrasts are also part of what makes strolling both cities such a rich experience.
On the longest day, 21 June, we are making a people’s march through all 23 of the Vienna boroughs, to make connections and explore the city in a new way. It should take about 14 hours! Such a walk would not be possible in enormous London. Please join us, if you are in Vienna that Sunday.
Eugene Quinn, Walk21 Vienna Ambassador
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