Monday, 30 November 2015

Everybody loves Christmas (Markets)

Christmas in Vienna has become a brand in city tourism. People flock to the Austrian capital from literally everywhere to get into Christmas spirit central which apparently is not located near the North Pole but rather smack in the middle of Europe.

And where do you best experience that yuletide feeling? That question has everyone pointing to Christmas markets. And there are loads of them in Vienna. A veritable industry has sprung up around these folksy collections of rustic huts. But what is the attraction of these markets? CzechAut has sent out its staff to investigate!

Our first stop was the Christmas Market on Maria-Theresien-Platz which is situated near  Museumsquartier.
photos: Melania Hudakova

You can find plenty of stands here which offer traditional Christmas food and drinks like hot punch with or without alcohol, pretzels and sweets like hot chocolate with cream. The visitors had smiles on their faces and they were going from one stand to another. Except from food stalls, there were also some which were selling hand made goods such as Christmas decorations and similar items. We even bumped into a booth selling traditional Czech cake-on-a-stick. 

CzechAut: So where are you from?
Trdelnik people: Our stand, where we offer the traditional czech ,,Trdelnik´´ is from Brno.
CzechAut: How long have you been selling here?
Trdelnik people: It´s our first year here.
CzechAut: How do you like this Vienna´s Christmas market? What are your impressions?
Trdelnik people: It goes… But we expect more people coming in here after the first advent.

We found the atmosphere really amazing and we got into the Christmas mood very quickly.

Next stop: The highlight of all Vienna Christmas markets is the one on Rathaus square, at least judging from the masses of visitors.  Every year it hosts more than 3 Millions of tourists from all around the world. Visitors don’t have to worry about not finding anything to buy because there are more than 150 booths, which offer lots of good stuff such as food, hot drinks and small cute Christmas gifts. You can also find totally unnecessary things like fake perfumes, too. If you come over you have to try the typical hot Christmas punch and the sweet doughnuts ­(„Krapfen“)  We asked a tourist from California what they liked best. 
Tourist: There’s like a lot of things to see, such as different types of booths and also the area. Is that a church?”
CzechAut: “Well, actually it’s a city hall.”
Tourist: “Yea, well, like the structure is really nice and that really tall Christmas tree.“ 

One of the most traditional Christmas markets in terms of the souvenirs and things they are selling, is the "Altwiener Christkindlmarkt" which has been on the Freyung since 1989. But the Freyung was already a market place many years before that. This Christmas market also has a 46 meter long picture of Bethlehem with Jesus and Mary in the middleThe sellers of this market run little shops and workshops with handmade products like kitchen utensils made out olive wood as well as signs and toys from an original wood carver.
Within all those shops was also a little stage for charity projects used for Christmas plays and charities  and for those who might get thirsty or even hungry there is a stall with an old Czech sweet called "Livance" which is known to be the grandmother of pancakes as well as having a place to buy many different sorts of punch, a mostly alcoholic Christmas drink. 
Our staff met a couple from Houston, Texas, and asked them about their thoughts, why people keep visiting the Austrian Christmas markets and whether they have something like this in Houston?

"-...yeah, but it’s just a four days, it’s called Nutcracker market, but it’s nothing like this, it’s not outdoor."
she told us due to her visit and her mothers visit a year ago. They also agreed that being on a Christmas market is a nice experience."Well, I think it sort of depends, where are you from, I mean, Houston is really hot, REALLY HOT, so we don’t get to experience a weather like this, so it’s kinda nice to come here." 

So now we know why tourists´enjoy those markets but what about the natives? The answer is: punch (and mulled wine). For Viennese it´s that time of the year when you meet your friends and get loaded on sweet, hot alcohol and regret it the next day. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Reports by volunteers with migrant backgrounds

Last week on 9 November 2015 our team wanted to see for themselves how it's like to be a volunteer at a refugee center. The Dusika Stadium used to be a sports center for cycling events but was closed to become a place where refugees can stay. If you are inspired by the following stories and want to go help out yourself, you can visit Dusika Stadiums Facebook Page.

photo: CzechAut
Helping at refugee camp was definitely a great experience for me. Although I spent only two hours there I met some very nice and friendly people there and I have also had a lot of fun. I was trying to do my best even if my jobs were not so exhausting. My first job was to sort clothes according to size and gender and later, me and my classmates were helping to serve dinner for refugees. We could also help by teaching refugees some german words and show them how to say the words properly. At the end I felt very happy because of meeting those people.

After we were divided into two groups (I was apparently in the group with our professor), organizer took us to the gym, where the families were accommodated. The first group was working in this place, so we went back to the first place after they had been assigned to their job. Our job was to hand out some supplies, for example toothbrushes and toothpastes. Also they were bringing their dirty clothes to put it into the washing machines. Many of them couldn’t speak English, maybe just some words or phrases, so the communication between us consisted more of the gestures than words. Overall the people were really nice and thankful for every help.

photo: CzechAut
The refugee camp Dusika Stadion is divided into two camps: in the gym are families and in the main Stadium hall are men. We were given orange signal vests and could begin to help. With my classmates we sorted winter clothes into cardboard boxes in the family camp. Meanwhile some refugees came to ask for clothes that they needed. Then I helped in the men camp to hand out hygienic products. They have a possibility to wash their clothes too. People there were nice and they thanked us for everything they got. Some of them could speak very well English and some of them learnt German too. It feels good to know, you helped someone who needed it. 

photo: CzechAut

I was personally really excited to be there and help a little bit. My impressions were really good and we had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people from different countries. The fact that all of them were sleeping on the ground or in tents was really sad for me. First we were sorting out the clothes and then we were serving them dinner. Almost at the end we were helping one guy with German. I am really glad that we had the opportunity to be there because we could see how it really is and form our own opinion about it. It was really emotional for me but we also had a lot of fun.

We had a really great time there.