There’s more to Salzburg than The Sound of Music

Returning to Salzburg last week, for the first time since Covid, I’d almost forgotten what a beautiful city this is. I’ve been here umpteen times, but each new arrival takes my breath away. An ornate cluster of domes and spires, set against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks, it’s implausibly picturesque, like the setting for a movie – which is apt, because for most Britons it’s still synonymous with that kitsch classic, The Sound of Music. Salzburg does have its schmaltzy side, but it’s also a highly sophisticated place, a city of classical music and antiquities, and it’s this blend of highbrow and lowbrow which makes it so appealing. You can

Austria is becoming a nightmare for the unvaccinated

Salzburg, Austria Across Austria, the streets are alive with the sounds of drums and cow bells. Ever since the Austrian government announced a vaccine mandate in November 2021, with vaccine refuseniks set to face fines, potential bankruptcies and possible prison sentences from February this year, demonstrations against the proposed measures have not ceased. You can see why their fears are justified. Just a few days before the vaccine mandate was revealed, the authorities also stepped up their war on the unvaccinated by announcing that a new lockdown would be introduced – but that it would only apply to partially vaccinated and unvaccinated people. While these measures only lasted a short

The fifth wave could break Macron

The fifth Covid wave has started in Europe. Some governments are already imposing lockdowns and wage cuts for the unvaccinated as hospitals are filling up. Mass protests against restrictions are popping up, some peaceful like in Austria, others turning violent like in the Netherlands and Belgium. A nationwide lockdown in Germany is unlikely, but local lockdowns may happen if hospitalisation rates continue to shoot up. Some patients in Bavaria have already been sent to Italian hospitals due to under-capacity, a reversal of what happened in the first wave. France is still counting on getting through the fifth wave with no restrictions. With only five months to go before the presidential

Ross Clark

Europe gripped by a fifth wave

How quickly things change. Just a month ago many EU countries were being praised for keeping some Covid restrictions in place, in many cases operating vaccine passport systems. By contrast, Britain was being attacked for removing most Covid restrictions in July. The UK suffering elevated infection rates ever since, leading to predictions that we could be back in lockdown by Christmas. Now, many EU governments are panicking as infection rates soar — and protesters have taken to the streets to oppose new lockdowns and, in the case of Austria, compulsory vaccinations from next February. What is the situation in the worst-affected countries? Austria Current number of people recorded as infected: 144,442 —

Austria will regret mandatory vaccinations

So, Austria’s experiment to persuade more people to get vaccinated by placing the unvaccinated in lockdown didn’t last long. A week, to be precise. From Monday, the entire country will be placed under stay at home orders and other restrictions — this, after it seemed that the era of lockdowns was over. But perhaps more significantly is Austria’s announcement this morning that from 1 February next year Covid vaccination will be compulsory, with large fines for those who refuse to be jabbed. Remarkably, in doing so, Alexander Schallenberg’s government is taking a step that even the Chinese Communist party considered going a bit too far — back in April, when some

The trouble with Austria’s vaccine passport plan

Are vaccine passports being used in other countries in an attempt to cut Covid infections – or to try and boost vaccine take up by curtailing the social lives of those who refuse? The latest change in policy in Austria would appear to confirm that for them, it’s the latter. From today, access to restaurants, bars and any event with more than 25 guests will be limited to people who can prove they have been fully vaccinated, that they have previously recovered from Covid or that they have had one jab and a negative PCR test. In four weeks’ time, only the double-jabbed and those who can show they have

Love in a cold climate: Snow Country, by Sebastian Faulks, reviewed

In the months before the outbreak of the first world war, Anton Heideck arrives in Vienna. Family life offered him the prospect of a job in his father’s meat factory, but he goes to the big city to start a career as a writer. What he finds is Delphine. They fall in love, move into a flat, then a house in the countryside outside Vienna; but when war breaks out the fragility of their happiness is brutally exposed. Snow Country moves from this doomed love to post-war Vienna, and to Lena, the daughter of an alcoholic part-time call girl. Lena eventually goes to Vienna, where she comes close to following

Austria’s ‘Islam map’ is dangerous

Austria’s government has unveiled a map detailing the locations of mosques and other Muslim associations all over the country. The publication has been swiftly condemned by Austrian Muslim groups, including the Muslim Youth Organisation which announced a lawsuit in response. But Austria’s government is so far refusing to back down.  The ‘Islam map’ is a project of the government-backed Political Islam Documentation Centre and the University of Vienna. The map has been designed ostensibly in response to growing Islamist radicalism in Austria, especially in the aftermath of November’s Vienna shooting. It marks a continuation of chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s self-proclaimed fight against ‘political Islam’. But whatever the intention, the map is unlikely to do much other than to ensure Austrian

Germany’s border controls risk an EU rupture

On Sunday, Germany halted most travel for those moving between the country and its neighbouring Czech Republic and Austria. After the South African variant was found in Austria and the British variant was detected in the Czech Republic, Germany designated these regions as ‘virus mutation areas’ and announced the measures on its east and southern borders on Thursday. Initially, the German government wanted to avoid any new border controls after briefly bringing in restrictions last year. However, the fear of aggressive variants and their threat to the end of lockdown in mid-March has exceeded any concerns over the negative fallout from border controls.  It seems these border closures might not be Germany’s

Europe’s cities are becoming a refuge for Islamist extremists

Britain’s terror threat level has been upgraded to ‘severe’ this week, following jihadist attacks in both France and Austria. Raising a terror alert is not enough though to stop more attacks. The government’s security and bureaucratic response to terror is always playing catch-up and constantly on the defensive. And unless we take the time to understand the enemy, we cannot force it into retreat and defeat. We must first of all be honest. Our country and compatriots depend on us getting this right. The threat we currently face is not about racism – which is why Christian Nigerians or Hindu Indians do not become terrorists in the West. It is

I went to hell and back to meet my new granddaughter

Wolfsegg, Austria I have finally understood what’s wrong with the modern world: motorways. These dehumanising slabs of asphalt covering our continents are Prometheus-like chains that lure us into non-stop movement and uniformity. But before you start screaming that you’ve been isolated for months and would give up a night with Jennifer Lawrence to roar down a highway, let me explain. It all began when Alexandra and I decided to visit my daughter and the new baby in Austria. It was my idea to drive there, the Swiss-German-Austrian borders having opened that very day. When the wife suggested a chauffeur, I said no. When the son assured me that I’d get

Swanky, stale and sullen, the summer music festival has had its day

‘Festival?’ said Nathan Milstein. ‘What is festival?’ I had naively asked the most immaculate of violinists where he used to play in the summer and he looked at me as if I had proposed an unnatural act. ‘Before the war,’ said Nathan, offering a glimpse of paradise lost, ‘Volodya and I would stay at Senar for six weeks with Rachmaninov.’ Volodya was Horowitz, his best friend. ‘In those days,’ he continued, ‘we liked to spend time with composers. A composer was someone you could talk to. He knew philosophy, literature, lepidoptery. Rachmaninov could name all the butterflies around Lake Lucerne. He liked me better than Volodya, maybe because I was

Tuning up to Linz

You never know who you might meet on a river cruise. It was my 89-year-old father-in-law, Noel, who first recognised a tall, professorial man only a few years younger than him remonstrating with an uninterested official at Munich airport about a pre-paid taxi to Passau, where we were due to board our ship. ‘That’s Humphrey Burton,’ said Noel. ‘We worked together at the Beeb, though he was far more important than me.’ Noel is forever modest but you could argue that Burton was the Melvyn Bragg of his day — a description I later put to him but one from which he recoiled not exactly in horror, but certainly in

For the love of operetta

It’s the lederhosen that grabs you first. Two gents were walking down the street ahead of us in full Alpine rig: long socks, collarless loden jackets, and hunting hats decorated with what looked like shaving brushes. Among the flowerbeds and fountains that surround the main theatre of the Bad Ischl Lehar Festival a posse of young women crossed our path, all wearing embroidered dirndls and laughing. By the time we took our seats in the auditorium, we were grappling with a deeply un-British notion: that none of this was ironic. We weren’t at Glyndebourne any more. But if you love the much-mocked art of Viennese operetta, a forgotten spa town

High life | 28 June 2018

Schloss Wolfsegg   I was watching two very old men slowly approaching the open doors of the Pilatus airplane I was leaning against when it dawned on me that they were the two pilots who were about to fly me to my daughter’s wedding. The one called Willy extended his hand, as did Alex, a short guy who looked as though he was in his nineties. ‘Ah, Herr Tennisman,’ he said, referring to a match I had won more than 50 years earlier when I was on the tennis circuit, ‘wie geht es?’ Willy then told me that Alex had retired from flying airbuses 30 years before, and now flew

Austria is back on the political map – and Austrians are nervous about it

Summer has arrived early in Vienna and the city of Strauss and Schubert has never looked lovelier. The parks are full of students, basking in the sunshine. The elegant cafes along the Ringstrasse are full of debonair businessmen and businesswomen, making contacts, doing deals. You could almost be back in the Habsburg Empire a hundred years ago, when Vienna ruled over a Reich that stretched from Trieste to Transylvania. However despite its prosperous appearance, all is not well here in the Austrian capital. The bad news for the Viennese is that Austria has become important again. Throughout the Cold War, surrounded on three sides by the Iron Curtain, Austria looked

Is Sebastian Kurz Germany’s most important politician?

Who is the most important politician in Germany? Angela Merkel? No, it’s the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. Merkel remains a colossus on the world stage, but domestically her power is much diminished. Meanwhile German eyes are on Kurz, the world’s youngest national leader, as he strives to bridge the gulf between centrists and populists – and between east and west. Despite their vastly differing ages (Merkel is 63; Kurz is just 31), the German and Austrian Chancellors actually have quite a lot in common. They’re both leaders of centre right parties in prosperous Central European nations, where immigration is a growing concern, and the far right is on the rise.

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz should be praised for refusing to ignore the populists

Today the world’s youngest leader takes his place at the top table of European politics, as Sebastian Kurz becomes Chancellor of Austria at the age of just 31. However the toasts in Brussels (and Berlin) will be distinctly muted, for Kurz and his centre-right People’s Party have formed a controversial coalition with Austria’s hard-right Freedom Party – a party shunned by centrist parties throughout the EU. It’s a sign that populism is alive and well in Central Europe. So is this new government merely an Austrian anomaly? Or does it mark the advent of a Pan-European trend? The specifics of this coalition may be peculiarly Austrian, but the generalities reveal

How Russia stands to profit from Austria’s new government

Yesterday, Sebastian Kurz, the leader of Austria’s conservative People’s Party, announced his intention to form a new coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). The Austrian far-right have been in federal government before, as recently as the mid-2000s, and narrowly lost last year’s presidential election (which had to be re-run). While the opening of coalition discussions may come as little surprise, it is seen with extreme scepticism by many in Austria and abroad – some worry that such a right-wing coalition will clamp down on civil liberties, others that it might estrange Austria from allies inside the EU. In Moscow, in the meantime, the response to today’s announcement is

What drives populism?

What has led to the rise of populism? The conventional answer involves inequality, flattening wages – and general economic malaise. In Europe, one year after the vote for Brexit, Martin Wolf of the Financial Times claimed that the global financial crisis had ‘opened the door to a populist surge’. In America, thousands rushed out to buy J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a coming of age story about down-and-outs in poverty stricken Kentucky, as a blueprint on the Trump voter. Yet this take is deeply misleading. If populists only required economic hardship to thrive then they would be rocking in Portugal and Spain while collapsing in states that have had some of