Vienna is an incredibly safe place to live. The crime rate here is incredibly low, and what crime there is is almost always non-violent and non-confrontational — muggings are extremely rare, but pick-pocketing is not; home break-ins are not unusual, but almost never when the occupants are home; the most common crime of all seems to be bicycle theft, and then almost always when a bike isn’t locked. I feel very, very safe here (even after our neighbor had a break-in last winter).
That being said, Vienna is a major city, and it’s not impossible for tumultuous (and sometimes scary) things to happen here.
I won’t pretend to be an expert on Austrian politics, but I can say that the politics here average pretty close to what would be considered the “left” back home. They have many more mainstream political parties here than we have in the U.S., and I don’t understand all of the differences between them. From time to time, there are political protests in Vienna — some big, some small, many peaceful, others … not so much. In the past, the only protests we’ve had to take particular notice of have been an annual student protest (which has always been peaceful, but also massive and disruptive) and an annual protest that (as I understand it) revolves against the Nazi party hosting a ball at the Hofburg palace, and all of the people who believe that this either should or should not be allowed to continue (this one has the potential to get nasty). The UN is incredibly helpful, and always sends out messages telling employees when these protests are going to happen and how to avoid them. So, it’s never been a major problem, just an inconvenience.
But this year, things got a little bit more interesting for us.
This year, the far-right had their ball at the end of January, amid the usual protests. But, unlike in previous years, the days that followed saw further protests (having to do, I think, with an anti-Islam political party attempting to get a foothold in Vienna) some of which were quite contentious and MUCH larger than law enforcement had predicted. And several of which were right outside of our house.
One afternoon, the boys and I had to go through a police barricade to get to the front door of our building. I watched 23 police vans (full of police officers dressed in riot gear), drive down our street while we waited for the train near our apartment. The tension and escalated police presence lasted for days. It’s not a situation I’d ever want to be in (though everything was ok and we were never in any danger), but it’s particularly scary happening in a foreign country. Generally, getting caught in a violent protest is a bad idea. But getting caught in a violent right-wing protest when you’re a foreigner who barely speaks the language is a REALLY bad idea.
All was well, and we didn’t even see or hear anything scary happening, but it was still a little more excitement than I generally like outside my front door.