If you asked me which metropolis was at the best to get a good whiff of the new Europe, I would, without blinking, offer up one name: Vienna.
"Ah well, Wadhwa, you're biased," you might say. Good wine, good food, the home for excellent coffee and coffee houses (ever since, as historic folklore has it, the Turks left behind a few bags with coffee beans after the failed siege of Vienna in 1688), home of the Lipizzan stallions and their Spanish Riding School and a city where you may -- if fancy and time take you -- travel by horse carriage.
Well, it stands to reason that the horse-loving, coffee-gulping Frau Wadhwa loves Vienna. But trust me, it's much more than that!
Admitted, the old capital of the Habsburg Empire does have a bit of a head start with yours truly. And I could wax profusely about its old-world charm, its grand imperial palaces, its beautiful churches, its quaint coffee houses and to-die-for cakes. But, alas, let's leave that for another time, shall we?
If you take the time and stroll through the narrow alleys of old Vienna, past the Fleischermarkt and Griechenbeisel, past old Orthodox churches tucked away the corners of small squares framed by oriental rug sellers and Russian artist shops, then you get a few pointers as to what both old and modern Vienna is all about.
Vienna, more than any other metropolis in Europe, is a bridge between the old Europe (or the old EU) of the West and the new Europe of the East. The bridge between saturated, mature economies like Germany, France, Italy and the UK and the fast emerging booming ones like Russia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.
And in that role, Vienna is both completely new and amazingly old. It is as if the old links of the Habsburg Empire, which once embraced the better part of the Balkans straight to be borders of the Ottoman Empire of the Turkish Sultans, were being revived. And Vienna sits smack in the middle of Austria. Austrian banks stretch deep into the central and eastern European markets. Austrian companies go a-shopping in the old "K-&-K" lands with gusto.
"When the Iron Curtain fell, Europe began rediscovering old neighborhoods and old neighbors," Hannes Androsch, former Austrian vice chancellor, finance minister and CEO of one of the country's premier banks, Creditanstalt, told me at one of the many CEE (Central & Eastern Europe) investment conferences in Vienna this week.
Why Austria and not Germany? "Well, simple", says the ex-finance minister and now entrepreneur at large and corporate consultant. "At the time, Germany was much too preoccupied with her own reunification. Germany had no time to explore the possibilities of the new, near East of Europe. Austria did."
And does still, it seems. There's no city outside the CEE region where you hear so many eastern European languages, find so many restaurants with Balkan, Eastern European, or Asian specialties. And there's no place from where Emirates flies to more destinations -- 90 destinations from Vienna (or so the ads say)! So, apart from the links into CEE, there are also quite a number of international organizations based in Vienna. OPEC is only one of them.
But forget the economic, banking and corporate aspects of Vienna. It's a refreshingly enjoyable metropolis, with old-world charm and modern spirit, a place for the young and the old. It has a heartbeat, rather than a fast pulse. It is a place to live as well as to work.
In short, if ever in Europe don't pass it by.
(Proof how much Frau Wadhwa enjoyed it, that's me procuring one of the world-famous Sacher-Torten (the chocolate-and-Marille-jam tart of the Hotel Sacher) to be eaten by a small party of friends at the Rancho Wadhwa this weekend.)
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