Nazis Versus Anarchists Versus Cops Versus Street Cleaners

Sounds like a great HBO miniseries! Spoiler alert: the street cleaners win.

Last night Vienna endured what has become an annual tradition. The Austrian Freedom Party, also known as neo-Nazis, hosted their “Akademiker Ball” at the Hofburg Palace in central Vienna. It blows my mind what kind of obnoxious people would want to attend such an event, but they do, every year.

And, every year, protesters besiege the Hofburg. Everyone from the Green Party to Austrian student groups to those roaming bands of European professional anarchists who seem to make a career out of protesting events like this.

If I were Austrian, I’d be really embarrassed if no one protested this event. Someone certainly should. We are talking Nazis, after all. But it does get a bit out of hand. And Austrians really don’t like that.

I live right downtown, so I saw a lot of the preparations for the protests, and the aftermath. Austrian cops are Bad Ass. They are big, well-protected, well-armed, and they have some pretty fancy riot control gear, too. We saw portable water cannons and tank-like riot vehicles headed downtown earlier in the week.

Clearing out Stephansplatz last night. Photo from

About half of what is called the “Innere Stadt” was blocked off by later afternoon yesterday, and about 2,000 cops were deployed. Even journalists were not supposed to enter the cordoned-off area, for their own “protection.” I am sure this had nothing to do with the pepper spray and batons the cops were carrying. Nope.

The police announced that it would be illegal for anyone to wear, or even carry, a hat, scarf, hoodie, or anything else that could be used to cover the face in the cordoned-off area from yesterday afternoon until today. (I inadvertently violated that ordinance myself–but give me a break, it was like 25 degrees out there.) Of course, thousands of young Austrians promptly posted photos of themselves with crazy headgear on Facebook, Tumblr and other forums. God bless the young’uns.

In the end, according to a local news website, about one million Euro in property damage occurred, mostly to shops and cars parked on the street. Only 15 people were arrested, which seems odd to me, but my German is not very good, so I may not have grasped every detail of the local reporting.

A shop on the Graben last night. Photo from Der Standard.

The truly amazing thing is that by about 10 AM this morning, when I went out for my daily walk, there was almost no sign that anything had happened! Barricades were tidily stacked out of the way, streets were swept clean, damaged cars had been driven or towed away, and shop windows were either already repaired or in the process thereof. I mean, these people get it done.

So, Vienna street cleaners for the win, once again.


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