German Immigrants Struggle To Make Sense Of The Viennese Lifestyle

After many years of mostly ignoring the problems immigrants face, Germany finally introduced state subsidised language and integration classes a few years ago. Now it seems that many Germans, who have left the country to pursue happiness abroad, would themselves like to be able to profit from such measures. And German emigrants find themselves hardest hit where they least expect it: moving to neighbouring Austria is turning out to be quite a challenge for many Germans.

Recently, the number of Germans living in Austria has doubled. Each year 20 000 new arrivals cross the border to take up residence in the attractive Alpine country which boasts an internationally renowned cuisine and an overall high standard of living.

But things don’t always run smoothly. In Vienna, a self-help group has formed, in which exiled Germans try to teach each other survival tricks for life in Austria. Apparently many unsuspecting expatriots are taken aback by the linguistic differences between the two countries and do not only struggle to understand the Viennese dialect, they are also majorly confused by the unfamiliar culinary vocabulary and the finer points of Austria’s complex administrative and bureaucratic jargon. To use the words of one helpless new arrival: “Seidl, Spritzer, Krügerl, Fisolen, das kapiert doch keiner” – and “nostrifizieren, urgieren, retournieren” seem to cause just as many problems.

But maybe the biggest challenge – and a complete shock for Germanocentric former inhabitants of the regions north of the river Main – is the fact that Austrians aren’t overly fond of Germans. Branded “Piefkes” (after the author of a triumphant piece of marching music composed to mark Prussia’s victory over Austria in 1866) Germans often meet with considerable hostility when entering the former Hapsburg empire. They are seen to be arrogant representatives of a nation whose international influence now exceeds Austria’s and are criticised for expecting everything to be the same as at home, ignoring Austria’s separate identity.

It may be a start, suggests the group’s organiser, if Germans struggling to integrate into Austrian society and feeling disconcerted by the “Piefke”-bashing they encounter, became more aware of key dates in the history of Austro-German encounters.

They could start with 1978, which – unbeknown to many Germans –  saw Austria’s legendary 3:2 football victory over Germany take place in Argentina. The match has a firm place in Austrian public memory and is referred to as the “miracle of Cordoba”. To casually bring this up in conversation might score points with Germanophobic Austrians.

But ultimately the successful integration of exiled “Piefkes” into Austrian society will not only depend on Germans finding out more about their host country and learning to respect Austrian culture as different from Germany’s. Austrians will have to find it in themselves to tolerate people who ask for “Käsekuchen” instead of “Topfentorte” in Viennese coffee houses   – and maybe even to admit that Landskrona 1990 was also an interesting event in the history of football.

Click here to read more about this topic in Die Zeit.

To find out more about Germans studying in Austria look up our 2011 blog entry.

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