"City of Enigmas"

  • "City of Enigmas"
Issue 5, September 2008.

Andreas Wenninger heads Lviv’s Austrian Culture Centre. He is one of the most well-known and long-established
members of the Lviv international community.

“I can still remember eight years ago, when I tried to buy my first ticket for the train from Vienna to Lviv, watching as the Viennese railway office employee searched in vain for “Lemberg,” the Austrian name for Lviv, on a map of modern-day Austria. I explained to him that it was actually now known as Lviv and was located in West Ukraine. He finally found my dfesitnation, still listed under its Soviet era Russian-language name of Lvov. This lack ofrecognition
is now a thing of the past, thanks to the information breakthrough that accompanied the 2004 Orange Revolution.
The publicity generated by the Orange Revolution did wonders for awareness of Ukraine in general and Lviv in particular among Austrians, and yet today only a few could tell you much about the history of the city.
However, those Austrians who have ventured eastwards have fast become passionate fans of Lviv as they explore its Habsburg past and revel in the many architectural parallels in has to Vienna. Many visitors, after having embarked for Ukraine somewhat skeptically, find themselves becoming vocal advocates of the city upon their return to Austria. Today it is much easier for Austrians to come to Lviv. They do not need a visa and can take advantage of daily direct flights.

Howewer, as well as a Habsburg heritage, Lviv also has a Soviet legacy which continues to colour everyday life. Such contrasts cannot fail to strike a exotic note, creating such curious combinations as the elegant Habsburg Empire hotel designed by celebrated Austrian architects Helmer and Fellner which is now managed in a quintessentially Soviet manner. The low quality of service which visitors still encounter in many ticket offices, coffee shops and other retailers offer a window on the old days of the planned economy, while street life can often be blighted by miserable faces and unfriendly stares. There are contrasts everywhere. Near to shiny bright new banks and high street buildings you can here village people singing timeless folk ballads, while next to the rows of battered old Soviet-era Volga cars you will also find rows of top-of-the-range Lexus, Hummer and Porsche models. Lviv is a city of contrasts and that is what makes it so appealing to anyone who craves something fresh and original. You can easily feel at home in Lviv, but remains always a dangerous and unpredictable Eastern city. When you have explored the architectural pearls of the city and sampled the questionable pleasures of the often
authentic Soviet service standards you can sit down and ponder the great Lviv mystery of the age: How can so many girls on such amazingly high heels move about so gracefully and rapidly along the city’s ancient cobbled streets.”