After ten years on the move – some 25 countries, five universities across three continents, three passports, countless apartments, all personal belongings in one backpack and friends scattered all over the world – I’m now embarking on a whole new adventure: building a home.
Wanting to neither stay in Berlin nor return to Ljubljana, yet longing for aspects of both, Vienna offered the perfect compromise. But a home is more than a place to live, and it takes time for new roots to grow in foreign soil.
I'm far from alone in this endeavour. Half of Vienna’s residents have a migration background, meaning that they are first- or second-generation migrants. While the ongoing hysteria in certain political quarters would make you think that Vienna welcomed its first foreigner in 2015, it was always a city of migrants. In the 19th century, the Gründerzeit that gave the city many of its iconic buildings, over half of the Viennese population didn't speak German.
Not that German is of much use when confronted with the peculiarities of the Viennese dialect, which combines a cheerful disregard for clear pronunciation with a penchant for accidental poetry and a vocabulary assembled from all corners of the Habsburg Empire. Even us Slovenes have left our mark. If feeling peckish in the afternoon, the Viennese sit down to a jause, which stems from the Slovenian word “južina”, and if you're a bit of a cheeky bastard you might be called a “Schlawiner” – though the linguists can't quite decide whether that refers to the cheeky Slovenians, Slavonians, or just Slavs in general. But don't worry, what was once a pejorative is now a term of endearment, so you're much better off being a Schlawiner than a Koffer. (And no, I’ve still not managed to find out why being a suitcase is such a bad thing.)
If anyone had told me five years ago that I would end up living in – and loving! – Vienna, I would have laughed in their face. Like many people who've never spent time in the city, I thought of Vienna as square and boring, a relic of history useful only as a postcard backdrop.
In fact, it’s Vienna’s juxtaposition of imperial tradition and multicultural modernity, spiced with the city’s fervent devotion to strong social policies, that makes it the one place I want to call my home. Vienna is the Opera and the cabaret, silent disco and the Donauinselfest, the world’s largest free music festival. It’s lavish imperial palaces and the rent-controlled municipal buildings that house a quarter of all inhabitants. It’s overpaying for bad coffee so you can spend three hours reading newspapers in the shabby splendour of a traditional coffeehouse, grabbing a mouth-watering Sarajevo burek on the way from work, an Ethiopian restaurant across the street from a Tibetan café. It’s horse-drawn carriages and e-scooters, three-thousand-euro Lederhosen in the first district and the multikulti Brunnenmarkt street market in the sixteenth.
Of course Vienna's not perfect. While being a global leader in quality of life, it was also voted as one of the cities most unfriendly to foreigners. But the foreigners in question are the “expat” members of InterNations, (Who gets to be an expat and who's a migrant, you ask? That's a question for a whole other article.) who mostly complain about the difficulty of the German language and the grumpiness of the Viennese.
Me, I feel right at home here. Perhaps it's the fact that, like Slovenians, the Viennese consider complaining their birthright and national sport. Best quality of life or not, a true Viennese will always find plenty to complain about! Wiener Schmäh, the dark and poetic humour that the Viennese are famous for and that strikes some foreigners as rude and cranky, delights me to no end. The darker the better! There’s only one problem: all the best zingers come from the feisty old ladies, whose Viennese dialect is so thick that I’m lucky to decipher one word in five.
But not to worry – since I no longer have to fit all of my belongings into one backpack I am now the proud owner of a Viennese-German dictionary. By the time I’m a feisty old lady myself I’ll make short work of any Schlawiner or Koffer that gets in my way!
As the daughter of globe-trotting journalists I filled my first passport with stamps from five continents before losing the last of my baby teeth, and at eighteen I emptied my piggy bank and went to explore the world on my own. Since then I spent about three years travelling – the first solo trip to Asia at eighteen was followed by an overland trip from Iran to Indonesia a few years later, plus a couple of shorter trips fuelled by my SCUBA diving addiction – and the rest working towards my degrees in anthropology and global studies, which gave me a great “grown-up” excuse to move first to Berlin, and later to Buenos Aires and New Delhi. These days home is somewhere between Vienna and my mum’s kitchen in Ljubljana.