The idea of partner cities (Historical tidbit: In North America, those relations are described as sister cities, while the Soviet Union called them brother cities) was born in the wake of World War 2. The idea was to bring different cultures together, so that major military conflicts like the one that just ended might be prevented in the future.
Seeing how World War 3 still hasn’t arrived, one might argue that the idea probably wasn’t all that bad – at least it hurt no one. The level of intensity in the contact between partner cities varies from place to place – from exchange programs and real cultural bonding to superficial and merely economical contacts, and today, with the European Union, many see the idea of partner cities as an artifact of a time long gone, back when people hated each other because they came from different places.. hmm, I’d really like to write that sentence one day without even a hint of irony in it.
Vienna’s partner cities are Zagreb, Warsaw and Belgrade, and, since 2005, Tel Aviv. This is quite an exotic mix, seeing how partner cities are normally chosen due to similarities. Most of the cooperation is on an administrative level – for example, there’s a cooperation between the civil defence groups of Vienna and Warsaw – and some go a bit deeper. Last February, the second annual “Vienna Days” took place in Zagreb – a mix of a cultural festival and a technology fair. Of course, the fact that Austria is the biggest single foreign investor in Croatia adds to this good relationship – but I don’t (want to) think it’s all about the Euros.
Economic reasons just tend to work well as a catalyst for social advances – at least sometimes. If you take a look at the ads of the Austrian railway company, they slowly start to include cultural events outside of Vienna – instead of “A scenic trip along the danube to St. Whatchamacallit, including coffee and cake”, you see information about jazz concerts in Prague or museums in Sopron.
Even if it’s quite late, I’m hopeful that we can finally realize that the iron curtain is gone – hipsters already realized this in the late 90’s of the last century and made Prague a hot spot back then. With some luck, the image of a grey, ugly, depressing Europe east of us, and the accompanying stereotypes and prejudices, will be gone some day soon.
And since the last passage was so full of pathos, here’s something cute: There’s not only partner cities, but also partner districts. And upholding the idea that we are eternally neutral, 8 Viennese districts have partnerships with places in Japan, while 6 districts teamed up with provinces, cities and districts in China – the first district even has partners in both countries.
And before the inevitable food jokes come: I could find an Austrian restaurant in Tokyo, creatively called Heurigenhaus (Doesn’t get very good ratings however, at least that’s what I think – my Japanese is only slightly better than my Sanskrit), and as for China, if you happen to be in Hong Kong, you can enjoy fine Austrian dining and a selection of Austrian wines at the – hang on to your seats – Mozart-Stubn.