// approaching stadlnova ////

Record of a journey through the in-betweens of Vienna and Bratislava, towards the sense of the possible.

km 0,000 Stadlau

Entering the REx 2528 „Marchfeldwiesel“, my train. At present not exactly the most swift train connection, the Marchegger Ostbahn once used to be a major railway line. Opened in 1870, over decades it provided the rail connection between Vienna and Budapest, also featuring the legendary Orient Express. The fact that our weasel is currently riding Austria's longest straight railway track tells a lot about the morphology of the territory we are passing through. It is the westernmost spur of the Eurasian Steppe, the great wide open, for Austrians associated with a primal fear of sorts.

km 0,725 Wien Erzherzog-Karl-Straße

This is so nowhere
, I once thought after having left my train from Bratislava to Vienna at that stop, still quite far from its final destination Südbahnhof. Somehow this suburbia captured me, and soon I found myself immersed in a Ballardian cityscape of large scale retail infrastructure, post-industrial brownfields, and shops that used to be, all nerved by the tentacles of commuter corridors. Suddenly, standing in front of a former secessionist cinema, now inviting to bet and win, I felt like discovering traces of some pre-suburban community long since gone. Actually it was back then, when I firstly imagined a fictive suburb between Vienna and Bratislava, a sort of neutral space enabling the two cities to confront each other at equal level. Back in the train I notice a group of young Spaniards sitting behind, obviously getting excited about their trip to Bratislava.

km 3,981 Wien Aspern (under construction)

My gaze follows a dead end railway track to the right, almost entirely conquered by weeds. Somewhere over there, in the middle of a former airfield, once there will beat the heart of the city of the future. According to its vision, right here Aspern - Vienna's urban lakeside should become home for 20.000 people until 2025. The accompanying brandbook does not only offer an incredibly detailed outlook on the everyday life of an exemplary future inhabitant of the development, but also nothing less than a clearcut frame to juxtapose things that might seem incompatible elsewhere. (1) Like one wouldn't have to choose between career or family but could have carreer + family, and one wouldn't be forced to decide between committee meeting or yoga session but would indulge in committee meeting + yoga session. An awkward orchestration of hip urban leisure time trends like bicycle activism or guerilla gardening should invite the desired target group to acquire new cultural connotations with the location. Staged around flashily decorated shipping containers carrying the logo of Vienna's urban lakeside in the middle of the windy former airfield, that spectacle should lure potential future inhabitants out of their gentrified inner district comfort zones. Given these attempts of creating juicy perspectives of groundbreaking new lifestyles to emerge at Vienna's north-eastern edge, investors remain rather tentative. Critics claim that the concept of the development, placing emphasis on living and office spaces, is doomed to fail: What about manufacturing facilities? And the leading industries? Given that, why doesn't the brandbook simply promise a future where one wouldn't have to struggle deciding between shopping or sleeping, but could have it all at once with shopping + sleeping? Meanwhile, the management of the adjoining GM-engine-plant made one hundred of its contract workers redundant, though assuring its will to maintain its permanent employees. (2) Somehow it seems likely that Vienna's urban lakeside doesn't count on such neighbors.

km 19,478 Siebenbrunn-Leopoldsdorf

Vast heaps of sugar beet, and a factory. Marchfeld, the lowlands between the rivers Morava and Danube are known as Vienna's breadbasket and region of market gardening. A century ago it was still common even for farmers from the western Slovak region Záhorie to sell their Sauerkraut in Vienna. Like the grandparents of my supplier of crunchy root vegetables in Bratislava, Mrs Cilka from the market on Žilinská Street. The merry travelers in my train seem as if confronted with the limits of their Lonely Planet Travel Guide. I'm surprised by the fact that they are obviously thumbing through an edition for Central Europe, featuring Slovakia and Austria alike.

km 22,676 Untersiebenbrunn

My memories about this place are rather vague. Usually trains between Vienna and Bratislava don't stop here, but once, it had to happen. Actually the train got stuck near Untersiebenbrunn, stuck for more than an hour in a typical Marchfeld kind of nowhere, with no human settlement in sight. It was an early January evening five years ago, after my christmas vacation back home, I was excited to return to Bratislava, and then stop. The conductor announcing an engine breakdown, and that we would have to wait for a new one, which was just about to approach to literally save us. But from what? After almost an hour of waiting, I felt this was no way worthy of a train connection between two Central European capital cities in a supposedly booming region branded as Twincity (3), Centrope (4) or whatever. Even though hardly anybody living between here and there would consider her or himself a proud citizen of these abstract regional constructs, their promises still remain out there : The Twin City model empowered by the close proximity of Bratislava and Vienna holds unbelievable hidden potential. [...] The area of Vienna–Bratislava will enjoy great success in terms of competition as a production locality with other European agglomerations, if it strengthens further its economic integration and the forces of both cities are united. (5) Meanwhile our Marchfeldwiesel is gaining speed.

km 27,120 Schönfeld-Lassee

Tall yellowish concrete silos, just like around any other station after we have left behind Vienna. They are the only landmarks around, bearing the gable cross logo of that influential banking group, with shares in a diverse range of more than 700 companies still determining much of material Austria's fate. The head of this conglomerate, Walter Rothensteiner, is a dinosaur in the group's business. Unlike his predecessor, he isn't a hunter, but still knows what the beet looks like (6), as he once revealed in an interview. The apparently still thriving international division of the bank group could be considered as one of quite a few recent examples, where Austrians seem to have successfully overcome their fear of the great wide open. Along the track I notice piles of rotting onions and occasional hectic rabbit movements. Still, that doesn't seem to be enough of a reason for a hint of excitement from my Spanish fellow travelers.

km 35,606 Marchegg

Separated from Bratislava only by the river Morava, the historic Austrian town of Marchegg is a maverick of sorts. Apart from the nearby, recently opened footbridge, which has provided a fair share of international fame, thanks to an American action hero having almost become its eponym, only a single track railway bridge is connecting here and there. Otherwise, the town could well develop into a suburb of the Slovak capital, like some Austrian towns located in the southern borderlands. Well, otherwise it could atually flourish, like Hainburg, Wolfsthal or Kittsee, just a bit south, where people from Bratislava are fulfilling their dream of an affordable family home. Marchegg, though, even seems a bit oversized for its just about 3.000 inhabitants, while some 750 years ago, it was supposed to become the biggest city of eastern Austria. Reminders of this failed utopia by its founder, King Ottokar II of Bohemia, are the remains of the massive eight-meter-tall town wall, of which the Wiener Tor (Vienna Gate) is in quite good condition, while the Ungartor (Hungarian Gate) lies in ruins. The trains are calling three kilometers from the very town at Marchegg Bahnhof,, a location bearing the dreary ambience of a place of transit, only appreciated by few. What is more, it got it's dubious share of international attention in 1973, as the site of a terroristic act. Two Palestinians took hostage of three Jewish emigrants, being on their way from former USSR to Israel, and the customs officer Franz Bobrik. With no hero in sight and after strenuous negotiations, the Austrian government finally decided to grant the demands of the hostage takers. Then-Chancellor Bruno Kreisky agreed to close down a refugee camp, established to support Jewish emigrants on their way to Israel, and to permit the hostage-takers to leave towards the Middle East. What a glorious proof of applied Austrian nekonfliktnost(7)! While we are leaving Marchegg Bahnhof, the Spaniards have fallen asleep.

km 37,910 National border Austria-Slovakia

We are crossing the river Morava, the meadow-lands of which are considered a stork paradise. The railway bridge is lined with the tattered remains of what used to be a major connection a century ago. Sadly my fellow travelers miss the welcoming committee of seemingly intact concrete bunkers, topped by Volkswagen's smoke stacks on the Slovak shore - an obviously fertile ground for any investor's wet dreams, with industries booming and urban developments sprouting. Like the nearby Bory, a whole new suburban district projected by the infamous, nearly all-encompassing PENTA investment group, placing emphasis on the motto 'shopping first', with Bory Home supposed to follow after the completion of Bory Mall. (8) How could one dare to question paradigms of economic growth, with the Volkswagen plant having almost doubled its car production in 2012? The German car manufacturer is now considering to produce hybrids in Bratislava, an investment that would create hundreds of new jobs in Slovakia (9), and their CEO Albrecht Reimold claims that Slovaks are just more enthusiastic. (10) All that might still appear like an investors' playground, seducing with promises like VW's Offroad Parcours in Devínska Nová Ves: We believe that the adrenalinpacked fun and unreal lifelike situations will mobilize your team and encourage all its members to relaxed cooperation. (11) But then, who is in the team?

km 41,530 Devínska Nová Ves

I get off the train. Feeling kind of numbed by the drab journey, I'm starting to wonder about the occurrence of Robert Musil's sense of the possible (12) in the peripheries between here and there, while the Spanish travelers dream on towards Bratislava.

Stadlnova, November 2012


(1) http://www.aspern-seestadt.at/resources/files/2010/9/17/1170/brandbook-english-version.pdf Retrieved 2012-12-11.
(2) http://wirtschaftsblatt.at/home/life/timeout/motor/1239754/index Retrieved 2012-12-11. Own translation.
(3) http://www.twin-city.net Retrieved 2012-12-11.
(4) http://www.centrope.com Retrieved 2012-12-11.
(5) http://visit.bratislava.sk/en/vismo/dokumenty2.asp?id_org=700014&id=1098&p1=2511 Retrieved 2012-12-11.
(6) http://wirtschaftsblatt.at/home/nachrichten/oesterreich/1267261/Walter-Rothensteiner_Es-gibt-keine-gruene-Krake Retrieved 2012-12-11. Own translation.
(7) Slovak for inability to handle conflicts
(8) http://www.bory.com Retrieved 2012-12-11.
(9) http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/47995/10/volkswagen_considering_producing_hybrids_in_bratislava.html Retrieved 2012-12-11.
(10) http://www.handelsblatt.com/unternehmen/industrie/vw-in-bratislava-die-slowaken-sind-begeisterungsfaehiger/6592014.html Retrieved 2012-12-11. Own translation.
(11) http://www.offroadvw.sk/experience Retrieved 2012-12-11. Own translation.
(12) Musil, Robert: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften. Erstes und zweites Buch. Neu durchgesehene und verbesserte Ausgabe. Reinbek: Rowohlt 2003.