Belgrade Students in Vienna

Last week was a very intensive and interesting week. It all started around Easter when I got an email with the question if somebody had interest in hosting some students who are planning to come to Vienna for an excursion which is part of their study in spatial planning. As I’m quite an enthusiastic CouchSurfer, I promptly wrote back and agreed to host one or two students.

First days
Last Sunday evening the serbian delegation arrived at Westbahnhof where I welcomed them. 17 students, a professor and some assistants came to Vienna, two of the students, Marko and Milan, stayed at my place. During the week there was a dense program with lectures and field trips and as host I was invited to join their program. On Monday I had some lectures of my own that I didn’t want to miss so I joined them only in the evening when their field-trip through Vienna and over the Kahlenberg led them to a wine-cellar in Klosterneuburg. Going there with my bike was nice, although I now have to say it was not a good idea, as it started to rain in the evening. So I had to ride back slightly drunk, wet because of the rain and nearly blind as my bike-light stopped working after some hundred meters. Exhausted as I was I slept really well – what I needed more than I expected.

Dürnstein and Krems

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Tuesday was the best day of the week – a field trip to Wachau, one of the nicest regions in Austria. This is situated in western Lower Austria (the province around Vienna) on the Danube. We first went to Dürnstein, a lovely town famous for having kept King Richard Lionheart in prison from 1192 to 1193. At the train station we were greeted by the major of Dürnstein, Mrs. Barbara Schwarz. We were invited to the city hall were Mrs. Schwarz talked about the pros and cons of being a World Heritage Site (which Dürnstein as part of Wachau has been since 2001). Renovating is expensive, developing is difficult, the city is degrading to some kind of museum (most of the old shops have closed and became touristic facilities like souvenir shops and snack bars). As Mrs. Schwarz is also chairwoman of the Arbeitskreis (work group) Wachau, ecology was another topic of her talk. Our program later brought us to the danube bank where Prof. Werner Kvarda, who spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday with us, talked about ecology. He introduced us to the trinity of sociology, economy and ecology which always should be considered. Prof. Kvarda had lots of anecdotes which he was very willing to tell us. One was the highway which was built in the 1960s through Dürnstein. It should have been built on the river bank, but because of the intervention of the population it was moved to a tunnel under Dürnstein. He said that this was one of the first successful civil participation events.

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Donauuniversität Krems

Later we went back to Krems, where we took lunch at Donauuniversität Krems, a new, small university. On a tour through Krems Prof. Kvarda explained us the magic of pattern language, which defines recurring patterns in a city. A door is some kind of pattern (an entrance to a building) as the building also is some kind of pattern too (as place to live, as place to keep safe from weather, …) and also meeting spots on public places (it’s not totally random, there must be something special about the place – maybe it’s safe from the wind or the sun is shining a lot). You should observe how a place works to do a planning as you have to know the rules.

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One of the highlights of the field trip was the visitation of Gozzoburg (Gozzo Castle). Gozzo was an important lawyer in high medieval times which built this castle around 1250. The castle is very special as it is the only gothic and non secular building north of the alps. Gozzoburg has recently been renovated (some renovation works are still going on) and been opened to the public. As the castle has been used for social housing before they had to remove all the installed fittings (e.g. additional walls and floors). The treasures discovered are really overwhelming: In one room they found an original wooden ceiling which dates back to 1254 and is in perfect condition. In another room they found interesting frescoes with shining colors. After a staged introduction to the Middle Ages, where an artist presents how it was to live at those times we had another lecture. We learned about challenges and strategies of economically marginalized regions (like Waldviertel, which Wachau is a part of). The train trip back was a little adventurous as part of the catenary had been damaged by a lightning stroke. So we had to change trains once and the train had to call at some level crossings. This was a very exhausting day but I really enjoyed it.


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On Wednesday we had to get up early again (at 6 o’clock in the morning). Our destination for the day was Bratislava. The connection of Vienna and Bratislava is very special as both are federal capitals and only lie about 50km apart. As both cities have been parted by the iron curtain for most of the second half of 20th century the connections – the physical and the social – have to be rebuilt. In the morning we had several lectures at the spatial planning department of the university. There we learned about initiatives which shall connect both centers. Currently there are – beside the Danube – some not adequate rail lines and a highway. The rail lines shall be improved and a motorway connection shall be built. As part of this initiative the Twin City Liner, a speed boat on Danube which travels at 75 km/h was introduced which directly connects the city centers of Vienna and Bratislava. After lunch we had a guided city tour starting at the top of the castle hill and leading through the city center of Bratislava. What is remarkable about Bratislava is Petrzalka, a city quarter which has been built in the 1960s for about 120.000 inhabitants.

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View on Petrzalka

After the tour we went back to Vienna where we had the rest of the day for our own desire. I joined some of the students for a tour through Würstlprater.

The last days
On Thursday there were lectures again. This time in the Vienna Town Hall by Kurt Puchinger, the head of the Viennese planning department. He talked about managing growth in developing Europe and developing initiatives in vienna. On Friday the topics were various transportation projects, primarily in south eastern europe, e.g. the Danube. On Saturday morning it was time to say and kiss good-bye at the Westbahnhof.

We for sure spent also some time informally. We went for a beer on Wednesday evening and on Friday evening we went out together and finally ended at a student party in university of technology.

Concluding, this was a very interesting opportunity to get to know some spatial planning students from Serbia but also from Austria. Sometimes I felt a bit excluded when they were chattering in Serbian, but it’s understandable that it’s harder to talk English and there’s for sure not every time the will for that. I also often switched to German when we were in a mixed group. It was fun to show them around Vienna and talk about the country where I live in and compare it to their city, Belgrade. I think this really improved the experience of their stay. I hope to see some of them again at some time in my life. Maybe I’m going to visit Belgrade soon – we will see.

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