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Ottakring is still not Kreuzberg
The Ottakring Street was earlier known as the most dangerous street in Vienna. Earlier means, just a short time back. The street has now shed this unflattering title after the European Football Cup in Austria and Switzerland. In summer 2008 in the Balkan mile, as the street is also called, thousands of people from different communities celebrated a festival of sports, irrespective of their being Croats, Serbs, Bosnians or Turks. The fun of football took centre stage, with no trace of danger. And it has remained the same even after the cup, although not completely owing to projects like “Reisebüro Ottakringer Straβe”, in whose framework this book has been written.
24 hours on the peaceful Balkan mile
The city book “Balkan mile. Ottakring Street. 24 hours” describes, what all happens during a day between the 16th and 17th district in Vienna. The Ottakring Street divides and joins these quarters of the city. The unusual guide narrates about the coexistence of people from different cultures and shows the advantages as well as disadvantages of migration. In other words it is roughly about: “prerequisites for an international city life, which should first and foremost keep in mind, that the migrants are an integral part of the society and an equal participation in the social, political, cultural and economical life should be made available to them, which in turn is totally appropriate for a continually evolving society and will have only benefits.” Besides many proposals and suggestions the book mainly consists of stories, stories about people living in the Ottakring Street or running a business there or both.
A paper seller as mediator
One of these people is Gerald Kerbl. Shortly after finishing his education as a physiotherapist he joined the family business of paper in the Ottakring Street. Raised in Ottakring district he is today, so to say “one of the good souls of the quarter”. Whenever there is a need of mediation between two ethnic groups he is always present. His knowledge and studies from his previous job helps him in it. In spite of his positive outlook regarding the immigrants, he still wishes for a better mixing with the natives – mainly regarding the clubs and the shops on the Balkan mile.
Competition cheers up the business
Since 1996 Dušan Stojanović has been running the Café Laby, which turns into a booming disco for around 150 youth after dusk. During the day it’s more contemplative, Stojanović, a native Bosnian, gladly indulges in conversations with his guests over a Viennese melange. From where does one come, has no meaning for him: “I never say, he’s a Croat, he is Muslim, he is a Serb. That is no longer a subject for me. I am more happy that everybody is meeting in my cafe.” Even the competition doesn’t disturb Stojanović. The better the others are, the better then he must also work and ultimately all this is good for the Ottakring Street.
“The Ottakring Street is Yugoslavian! “
Although the new image lends certain flair to the Balkan mile, nevertheless not everyone is happy. Nobody speaks German here, a 76 year old passerby narrates to the field research project “our street”. Moreover there is not even a single coffeehouse, where she would dare to go. This fear is though really unfounded. A Viennese from the neighbouring 15th district declares that in the Ottakring Street everyone leaves everyone in peace. Naturally the title “Balkan mile” does not come from danger. “The Ottakring Street is Yugoslavian! It is not Serbian; it is not Croatian or Bosnian. It is Yugoslavian! I love it!” the special atmosphere, a youth explains.
Problems along with opportunities: high labour turnover
In spite of the peaceful coexistence of diverse, to be precise rival ethnic groups from the former Yugoslavia, not everything is so peaceful in Ottakring Street. The high competitiveness is not everywhere as Stojanović wishes for. Presently 16 clubs are empty, an expert reports in a discussion, which is also mentioned in the travel guide. The high labour rate is responsible for it: many shops and snack takeaways down the shutter just after few weeks or months in operation. On one hand this is obviously a problem on the other hand others get the chance to open their own store. On the whole Vienna’s Balkan mile is grappling with change, a change towards successful multicultural coexistence. Irrespective of the positive developments of the last few years a lot still remains to be done. Gerald Kerbl also knows this: “in Ottakring, we are still very far away from Berlin’s Kreuzberg
Dika, Antonia et al. (ed.): Balkan mile. Ottakring Street. 24 hours. Local identities and global transformation processes: A travel guide from Vienna, Publisher Turia+Kant 2011, P.232. ISBN. ISBN 978-3-85132-652-9, 2011; 26,- Euro
(Teaser: Sebastian Bauer)