Football and Boy Racers in Heiligenstadt

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Facebook flashed up with ticketing information back in March about the end of season Derby der Liebe. First Vienna FC were hosting Wiener Sport-Club – in the Regionalliga Ost (Austria’s regional third tier). I bought grandstand tickets to the game with friends, held on the final Friday in May. Both clubs are “sleeping giants” of Austrian football. Wiener Sport Club were back-to-back Austrian champions in the fifties – and once beat Juventus 7-0 in the European Cup. First Vienna last played in Liga Zwa in 2014, are six times national champions and played in the UEFA Cup.

It was the first live football game I had attended in three years. I had a ticket to Austria vs England (friendly as a warm-up for EURO 2020), which never took place. That match was moved to Middlesborough in 2021 ahead of the rescheduled EURO 2020. I had a ticket for NS Mura vs Tottenham, but Austria was in lockdown, so I didn’t go. I hadn’t been to a live football match since attending a WSC friendly against Celtic in Summer 2019.

Geocaching has taken me to both club’s grounds over the last couple of years. It felt good to be in a packed grandstand with friends for an end of season game. It was a sunny early evening as I knocked off from my office in town, and trundled along the 37 tram route to Hohe Warte. There was a buzz to it – the title was won already, and this was the end of season celebration. The main stand, out of bounds the last time I was at the ground, was heaving with supporters. There was a crowd of over 7,200 at the game.

Getting a beer – a perennial struggle

The bars were struggling with demand, so we ordered 2-3 beers at a time. We sat in the aisles, as our numbered seats were occupied, but it didn’t matter. The fans set off their blue and yellow flares, and the game got underway in evening sunshine. By the time the match concluded, a 2-2 draw, it was chucking it down. We stayed to finish our beers during the presentations with the party in full swing, celebrating First Vienna FC’s promotion back to Austria’s second flight (Liga Zwa / Zweite Bundesliga).

We left the stadium in search of a bar, but after the sixth cancelled Uber, we walked down Heiligenstädterstrasse. The bars are very few and far between, so we settled to people watch at the BP garage. It was, in hindsight, an inspired mood. We arrived to a domestic argument from two clearly well-lubricated arguing lovers. We raided the fridges of beer (this being a garage with a supermarket, cold beers were readily available) and then settled down. We had front row forecourt-side tickets to watch a glorious spectacular of subcultures. All laid on before our eyes, pastiches of a lifestyle that we dads don’t see.

The not so fast, and somewhat furious – views from a forecourt

With petrol prices so high, although many cars were parked on the forecourt, only one person fuelled. Most popped into the shop, a social hive among a certain age group. For some, with their souped up modest cars, it was a meeting point with friends to drive around in convoy around the city, music blaring. Others eked out social budgets, buying alcohol to lower their spending in the clubs. Others stocked up with energy drinks to mix with the bottles they had in the car. Occasionally a car from a vastly different price class on diplomatic plates would arrive. It would leave shortly after with a litre of milk, some bread rolls and other convenience-priced groceries. One guy rolled up in a large, liberally dented Lincoln. He shuffled into the shop and back to his car, so close to the shop that he blocked the doors.

On the other side of the road, angry young men were getting ready to thunder up to Kahlenberg. This has become a popular pursuit. Cars idled at the kerb, with dropped suspension, blacked out windows, stickers containing the “crew” Instagram address. I checked out a few of the pages – most were lonely new car pictures. We middle-aged dads scratched our heads about the mathematics of running such cars. We wondered how we would afford those kinds of wheels with our steady dad jobs (and steady children outgoings).

The repayments and insurance must have been mind-bogglingly high. The cars were, after all, on the more exciting end of things than our sensible family cars. Some young men were out to impress the girls (most were probably teenagers) and had dressed up for the occasion. Others were the getaway drivers, phoned and told to “get out of their pit”. Wheelspins leaving the forecourt were par for the course.

Carwash culture and child labour

For us, there was a certain illicitness that appealed. Stood on the forecourt, drinking beers (some of our party also having a cigarette) and breaking just about every forecourt rule unwittingly. The pandemic has fuelled this subculture. Petrol stations became notorious (socially distanced) social spots during the first lockdown. Garages are also a social hub for car-washing. Austria doesn’t allow on street car-washing (due to stringent laws about waster water disposal). Consequently, a Sunday morning car-washing culture exists at many suburban garages. And many cars sport multiple magic tree air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, or crosses. National identities are firmly on display as foils on blacked out windows or on personalised numberplates, with SRB, BIH, HR, RC figuring frequently.

Carwash culture is a far cry from my parents giving me 20p to wash the car every now and again. In the late 1980s with a bucket and sponge and some Turtle Wax car shampoo was what I had. I won’t entrust this task to my children in the future. Carwashes do a far more thorough job than I was ever capable of. However, I do vacuum clean the car at home in our garage regularly. That helps erase the vestiges of a sandy playground visit or children encountering a muddy puddle. Maybe not driving is why I don’t get so excited by cars. The excitement dwindles every time I fill up the family car – current prices are around €2.30 per litre of Ultimate Diesel.