Back in Town

One Minute, A Small Change Makes a Place Wholly Unfamiliar, the Next, it Seems it Has Always Been

It is a beautiful late-summer day in Vienna, and I decide to make the most of it and take the scenic route to my parents’ apartment. Having just returned from several months abroad, I am eager to become reacquainted with the city that has been my home now for nearly four years.

So instead of exiting the U4 train in Hietzing and taking the 58 Straßenbahn through the 13th District (charming but too predictable) and landing right at my front door, I ventured on three more stations to Ober St. Veit. That way I could have a fine ten-minute walk from there to Hietzinger Hauptstraße and get my limbs moving.

As I passed the corner of Hietzinger Kai and Preindlgaasse, my mind is already ten steps ahead wondering how the everlasting construction site coming up on my left will have progressed – if at all – in my absence. This is one of the things you just have to accept in Vienna; it’s always under construction. I suppose that’s why it’s so beautiful, but too often you can’t see it for all the scaffolding.

But no! Instead of chain linked fences and detour signs, there was a finished building, already sporting various kinds of house plants and children’s toys in its windows. As if a magician had waved a wand.
As I continued on, I wondered what else had changed in this city of eternal construction sites. I had already noticed a string of new construction sites, most notably the gaping hole on the corner of Hietzinger Hauptstrasse and Preindlgasse where a family-run Gasthaus had once stood.

There are subtle changes all around me: the price of a one-way fare on the  Wiener Linien is up €.20 to €1.70; skinny jeans have become the newest “It” -item now worn by three out of five girls I pass; and, most shocking of all, Mausi and Richard (“Mörtl”) Lugner have decided to call it quits.

So, Austria’s most eccentric high society couple and stars of their own reality show, Die Lugners, have decided to end it all – after enduring 17 years of marriage, a 22-year age difference, and Paris Hilton on Richard’s arm at the Opernball! Among the students, new faces highlight the absence of familiar ones whose lives have moved on.

Still, while the warm rays of sun dance through the trees lining my path, I also feel as though I had never left. Public transport is still second nature to me, and walking along familiar paths lost in thought still lets me end up where I intended to go. Short cuts, street names, addresses are still clear in my mind, no matter how long since I last needed them. Even the changes that have occurred have already become real.

Did tickets really used to cost 20 cents less? Wasn’t that building always there?  And God knows, Mausi and Mörtl never seemed real to begin with!

One minute, a small change can make a place wholly unfamiliar, the next, one is baffled by the thought of things having ever been different.

I opened the heavy door of the apartment building. The cool entryway seems dark after the sunshine outside, and my eyes have to adjust. It seems my arrival has already been noticed, as I can hear the dog’s little paws pitter-patter to the top of the stairway, expectantly.

I am greeted with sloppy kisses, his tail going wild. And as I follow him inside to the extraordinary aroma of home-cooked Schnitzel and potato salad and my mother’s voice calling out my nickname, I am happy that there are still some things that just never seem to change.

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