The Beggar in the Park

The people we see every day become part of our world

These two buskers are a fixture in Margareten’s Bruno-Kreisky-Park | Photo: Andiy Korinny

There are a few days in the middle of spring when the first sunny days have already faded in the dozens of parks across the city of Vienna, along with the first flowering of the pink-white magnolia and cherry blossoms.

But the real warm season is still to come. On weekends in particular, these parks are lively places when the weather is clear, full of reading and pick-up football, boisterous children and their kerchief-ed mothers and quiet conversations of the elderly. They are almost empty, though, on the raining weekdays, when only the dog owners slowly walk stooping among wet trees and benches, poised to clean up after their pets. On such days, the air here smells of new growth and wet animals, the damp wood chips in the flowerbeds.

The Bruno-Kreisky-Park is one of these small parks, and I cross it twice a day on my way to the office and back. It lies in the corner of five districts, bordered with Schönbrunnerstraße, Margareten Gürtel, the U4 line and the Wien Fluss. The eastern exit of the U-bahn station Margaretengurtel goes five meters around an electronic information stall and through a bicycle path straight to the main lane of the park, which is only 100 meters across in this direction.

In the early evening as I go home from my office, I usually meet a peculiar person exactly at the same place where I have met him hundreds of times before during the last two years. Honestly, the encounter is nothing special – he is just a beggar, and I don’t even know anything about him.

Today he took several newspapers from the box at the entrance of the station, spread them on the floor next to the elevator and sat up on this pile at the edge of a puddle, crossing his legs in the way nomads do. His hair is dark and grey. He has a brown wrinkled face shaven at least a week ago, a dirty brown jacket, which could hardly protect him from the rain, jeans, white tennis shoes and a shiny new uniform cap with the insignia of the “ÖBB S-Bahn.” In front of him, there is a plate with several coins on it and in his hand, he has a little pipe, in which he is blowing the only tune he can. Hundreds of times per day and hundreds of days per year, he plays the Waves of the Danube, which is certainly the most famous Romanian waltz tune.

He is not too old, maybe around fifty and he is definitely not Austrian, because sometimes he disappears for a few weeks, which means he has to leave the Schengen zone for a certain period to come back soon. I suppose he is from one of the South European countries with a free short-term entrance to the EU. When he returns from his home country he is notably clean, dressed in a new jacket and it is quite clear that somebody has taken care of him.

Sometimes he sleeps sitting on the floor, but more often he smokes, drinks beer or cheap wine and communicates with his friends, beggars like him. The amazing thing is that the area I live in is not on any tourist routes and the people who walk in and out of the U-bahn station are roughly the same audience everyday, which means somebody gives him money regularly otherwise he would go somewhere else. Once I saw an old lady call the police to take him away, but the next day he was back. When the subway attendants in yellow vests come by, he moves few meters out of the station, but comes back as soon as they leave.

I have become accustomed to his presence, so much so that when I see him now, I don’t feel pity. Usually I don’t even think of him, but sometimes his appearance turns me to contemplating on the vicissitudes of life, starting from the Russian proverb, “No one can be safe from poverty or prison” to the realization that this guy is the most famous person in my district.

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