Welcome to Wien, Or Why Didn’t You Know This Already?

I never feel quite at home anywhere unless I’m in Brooklyn until I have found the local swimming pool. David and I have been in Vienna for an eternity three weeks now, so we thought it was time to figure out how we could avoid becoming obese from the schnitzel and schlag where we could do some laps. Vienna, like Munich, supposedly has a million public pools (check out this incomprehensible website), which are never open open all the time. Our first two searches came up short: the pool right up the block (yippee!) is a demolition zone closed until December 2012. The one a little ways down the road turned out to be for naked sauna-ing not for swimming. Then we ended up here:

We were so far west, I swear we were almost in Paris out of the city limit. (As a side note, our tram driver got into an accident on our way there, so we got to witness him picking up the woman whose car he totaled how Austrians deal with car insurance forms.) The pool, it turned out, was actually more like an amusement park: It had one of those curly Q slides you find at Six Flags (David went down it, followed by a six year old); an outdoor wading pool; a pool for lane swimming; a naked sauna area (you had to pay more for this, and no, we haven’t been yet, and I will will not keep you posted); and, of course, a bar and a hot dog stand. The Viennese are experts at the combo-platter approach to things. Take, for instance, this:

A cafe/CD/record shop/business of some kind. We sat there for three hours, and not a single other person walked in. The espresso maker — which was literally one you might buy for yourself at Macy’s — was in a corner, next to a tiny fridge. Despite the lack of foot traffic, there seemed to be at least 45 a dozen people on staff. Or take this:

A bar and restaurant/hair salon. So if you hate your haircut, just get drunk. Or get drunk and cut your hair. Anyway, I digress: the pool. Unsatisfied with our experience in Paris out west, we went in search of another one. Instead we ended up in hell here:

See that blue ball flying around? There were about four doing the rounds, each part of its own game of water polo. Then add teenage boys canon-balling off a diving board, other kids careening themselves into the pool off every possible ledge, parents throwing their kids around, old women doing water ballet along the sides, and the smell of cigarette smoke wafting in from the folks tanning out on the lawn. This made swimming in Munich — which I once found frustrating — feel like making my way across this:

This is where David and I swam this summer, days before our wedding in the Catskills.

My surprise at the chaos I encountered in the Munich pools had to do with the fact that it seemed so un-German. Everywhere we went — post office, passport agency — there was a clear system — except in the water. In Vienna, this is not the case. Everything is a mess extremely fluid — rules and systems are vague, hidden and generally unclear. You are expected to be telepathic know things. The how is less important. Even when you get someone on the phone — whether it be about how to obtain a visa or a health insurance card — the person on the other end will talk at warp speed act like she’s telling you how to spell your own name. (Have I mentioned that I was more than two weeks into my job when I found out that I had an office and that a health insurance card had been ordered for me?) I recently learned from a friend that if you want something done — for instance, some gadget fixed at the local Radio Shack — you basically have to order the person behind the counter to do it, despite his claim that it can’t be done. His refusal, it turns out, has nothing to do with your gadget and everything to do with his mood.

I have a lot to learn. In related news, I bought my first new yoga mat in eight years. I will be unrolling it in our apartment. Without a pool to call home yet, I’ll try finding my way not in the company of Austrians on land.


PS: If you haven’t seen our stint as Jewish celebrities, click here. We are currently the most-read story on the site. Yay, love.

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3 thoughts on “Welcome to Wien, Or Why Didn’t You Know This Already?

  1. Joanna

    I hope you found the Amalienbad as soon as it re-opened. That was my survival schwimmbad for my first year in Vienna. Also having an insane time with the language. Let me know if you want to meet for a swim!

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