Meeting at the Grill

The coming of spring not only brings beautiful weather, but also the hunger for companions and a nice, juicy steak

Austrian-style barbeque

Austrian-style barbeque, which differs from its American counterpart | Photo: Alexandre Hofman

As spring rolled into Vienna this year, everything turned from gray to green, in the luminous tone that only happens in April, making the outdoors the place to be. All over the city, chairs and tables appeared out of nowhere on sidewalk Schanigärten and were instantly occupied, as the worlds of Kaffeehaus and Beisl moved outside.

In the 22nd District, it was more do-it-yourself, and anyone who had a balcony, a courtyard, or a back garden began grilling a small feast out in the fresh, gentle air, rejoicing in the warmth. With every sort of sausage available, chicken, and tender ribs simmering on the hot grill, how could even a dour-faced Austrian not smile and feel slightly more alive than they had over the course of the winter?

I was invited to one such barbecue by my roommates; Anna, Alex, and Marco. Here I plunged into a tradition so familiar to me as an American, yet with some Austrian twists. I was curious to see how this outing would differ. For one thing, my roommates had better manners than they perhaps would have in the States, and the whole production was certainly shorter.

The spot we decided to claim was a patch of grass in the sun-drenched courtyard between our two houses. We sat down at an old wooden table with two benches on either side and lit the charcoals on the mini-grill, waiting until they were smoldering nicely. The smoke rose and the sun shone as we feasted on sausage, Nudelsalat, and ribs.

With little English, my hosts reverted to German halfway through the evening, leaving me to enjoy the scenery and chow down on the succulent mixed grill. Despite the language boundaries, though, we were connecting nicely as we do everyday, perhaps merely by the fact that we are all alone here in Vienna; they were also strangers to the place, they explained, even if they came from Graz, Salzburg or Berlin.

Soon filling up on the grub and the beer, each of us basking in the glory that was springtime, and with no hint of the winter blues, the mood became more and more mellow. The sun slowly began to set and the temperature began to drop, so we rebuilt the fire in the grill, this time with some spare wood. The logs burst into flame and I, like any seasoned camper, brought out my guitar and offered my humble serenade on into the evening.

It was a perfect respite after a painfully long winter and reminded me happily of home in, surprisingly, many ways. The Austrian barbecue contained the same basic elements: a generous amount of satisfying food, good fellowship, and a bit of music. The only missing ingredient was the beef: In the U.S. a typical U.S.D.A prime sirloin is almost always center stage at the gathering; here we had chicken and sausage. Perhaps this small tragedy was due to the cost of beef here, which is significantly higher than in the U.S. Or maybe they just like it this way.

Elsewhere in town, spring was bringing the glorious flowering trees of the Stadtpark into full bloom, and in fact every park, big or small, in Vienna is a little paradise of astonishing flora. Along the Alte Donau, the sheltered walks are pungent with the smells of new growth. Now rimmed with the pleasing sight of wooden docks and piers pulled out of storage, flocks of boats seem to appear from nowhere, as do bicycles and baby strollers laden with picnic baskets in search of the perfect spot. In the seductive ambiance of spring, I have rediscovered another a long neglected pleasure, sitting and simply enjoying the sun and greenery all around me.

I also purchased a bike, just days after the barbecue, and joined the throng of cyclists that wheel through town all day. Many people, in fact, have started biking and running again. They are all around me, breathing an air of refreshment into the lungs of the city. The water, sun, trees, and sky glow in the aura that has swept into town. Summer is a long season here, with temperatures already in the 20s centigrade. And right now, it feels as if these gentle days could last forever.

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