What is the first that comes to your mind when you hear the word „Ottakring“? Let me guess!
Alined nightclubs with some strange, blaring music along the famous „Balkanstrasse“? I know, at first glance, the music does sound like some Turkish melody. However, this is actually Balkan music, which in the last few decades represents everything but our tradition. It is a weird mishmash of Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, and a lot of other cultures. Through its lyrics, this music celebrates whores, criminals, drugs and easy money.
Staggering teenagers who are leaving these clubs at 5 a.m. have just one thing in their minds – to be as much as possible like heroes from those songs. Girls aged 16-17 regularly have their long, stiletto nails done by professional nail artists, color their hair blonde, dying for a higher income so that they can afford a pair of silicon boobs. Each of them secretly yearns to be noticed by a famous MC Stojan or some other singer that sometimes performs in these clubs, or even to be the special guest in his next music video. Their boyfriends are somehow (God knows how!) succeeding in persuading their parents to get bank credits so that they can afford luxury cars. Of course, they park those cars in front of the clubs along „Balkanstrasse“ in order to show the world how fancy, crazy and speedy their lives are. And can you just imagine how their peers in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia look on them when they go home on vacation! Oh, God, how envious they are!
Do you know what happens when Monday comes? All those teenagers start their working weeks at 6 a.m., not at all shiny and glamorous as the weekend was. They get back to stuffy factories, cash desks in BILLA or BIPA, and – in the best case scenario – their jobs as office assistants. All this happens because none of these kids’ parents explained them that life in Austria can offer them so much more than just nightclubs in Ottakring – an excellent education, chances for improvement, chances to escape from the capsule named 16th district. Since that did not happen, these kids are just gonna repeat their parents’ destinies by doing the same boring menial jobs and cursing Austrians for having so much better and easier lives than they have. Only once or twice a year will they get into their luxury cars and go home to their fatherlands in order to prove to others that they succeeded in life. Their one and only satisfaction are those two or three weeks in a year before they come back to lead their miserable life again.
When Monday comes, Ottakring becomes sad and lonely. That small hint of life that was inside of it, moves to factories and cash desks in BILLA. Just here and there on the sidewalk, some small piece of a broken glass shines, letting us know that someone was here last night.
However, a long time ago, Ottakring was not so utterly sad. It was not half-naked girls’ and „alike MC Stojan“ shaved boys’ residence. In the days of my early childhood I used to come to Vienna pretty often, although at that time, I could not imagine that someday I was going to live here. At that time, Ottakring for me was a synonym for something wonderful, warm, cheerful and gentle. It was like a piece of Balkans’ bright side in the middle of a big, busy, and – although beautiful and adored – from time to time for us, foreigners, also a cold Vienna.
As a child, I was regularly visiting my uncle and aunt, who came here looking for a better future in the early 1980s. I still remember how they let me squeeze between them in their king size bed at nights because I was afraid to sleep alone. In the morning, they were busily leaving the house without taking a minute or two for each other. An uncle and aunt were working hard for their whole life in order to ensure a better future for their kids and grandchildren – a good education, better standard and acceptance in society. At weekends, they were not wandering the streets of Ottakring. They were not standing out in public at all. On the contrary, they were giving their best to fit in the society they were part of, in a decent manner. They have learned German, but not to ask strangers about their personal life – in a word – to integrate into Austrian culture. They were hiding their orthodox beads under their sleeves and were not getting religious tattoos all over their bodies like heroes from the beginning of my story. Still, in the warmth of their home, they were cherishing their tradition, right in a manner, one should do that – modestly, with their family and dearest friends.
Nowadays, we still celebrate all orthodox holidays in their house. On these occasions, we spend time together, laugh making jokes, and feel happy and grateful because we managed to retain our tradition in a foreign country. We watch Serbian TV programmes and listen to our traditional music, which is not at all like that blaring from the clubs in the Ottakringerstrasse but rather embellished with harmonica.
In the 16th district, thousands of families similar to ours, coming mostly from ex-Yugoslavian countries do exactly the same.
During our celebrations, I often sit and look through the window of their apartment, situated in the beautiful, old, pre-war building with circle stairs. I gaze at a flower shop located on the other side of the street. It is surely there for more than 40 years. If someone broke that flower shop, the neighbourhood would never be the same. Places like this are not replaceable like clubs in the Ottakringerstrasse, because they have a soul. From time to time, I visit that shop. The same seller that was there 10 years ago kindly wishes me a warm welcome. The only difference is that she was an attractive vamp at the time and now is a sweet, white-haired lady.
For me, Ottakring is not a Sodom and Gomorrah in the Ottakringerstrasse. For me, it stands for a family, warmness, smiling lady from the flower shop and beautiful, old buildings. It represents all that is not visible at first glance. I simply wanted you to know that something wonderful, genuine and charming is also there and that it is– for sure – very similar to things that you also love and respect.