About the beauty of Vienna. What a special fascination this city exerts and how it deals with its clichés. What carpets in one of the most important design museums in the world can tell us about time. And why accessibility is a right and has nothing to do with almsgiving.
Michael Sicher: Mr. Kettner, you have been Director of the Vienna Tourist Board since 2007. What is the fascination of inspiring people from all over the world to come to Vienna?
Norbert Kettner: For me, it's a very intrinsic motivation. I grew up in the countryside. I can remember my first big, really big city was Paris. I simply stood at the Arc de Triomphe and saw twelve car lanes come together and end in a fourteen-lane roundabout. For me, that was pure happiness and the beginning of my fascination for the city, for the concept of the city.
Travelling has always been an important point for me. This absorption of other impressions, of other cultures. And then personal evolution. When you're young, you think, "That's weird or strange." Then at some point you have this evolution to say: "It's not automatically worse or better anywhere, but it's different." I find that exciting. It is the motivation for me to say: "Yes, I am proud of my city. With Paris, I consider Vienna to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world." That is what I want to show.
Also to share the quality of life, to share the cultural offer and also a motivation to ensure the ventilation of the city. I also think tourism is very important for science and for the openness of a city in general. I don't want to live in a place that is self-sufficient. I wouldn't stand that.
During the pandemic, one of the most difficult processes for me was the renationalization and re-provincialization of the discourse. The fact that we gave up on Europe from one day to the next was terrible for me. I feel that I contribute to the ventilation of the city with my modest means, and that is also my motivation.
Michael Sicher: We are here at the MAK, the Museum of Applied Arts, which is the first and oldest museum on the Ringstrasse. What makes it so special? Why did you choose it as your favorite place, especially the carpet collection we were in earlier?
Norbert Kettner: I think it's one of the most important design museums in the world, which is often overlooked in Austria. Then it is a very exciting building, the first museum on the Ringstrasse. And it has some truly globally significant collections, such as the carpet collection, among others. Josef Frank, a very important designer who had his peak time in the 1910s to 1940s, but left Austria in the 1930s for political reasons, said: "Craftsmanship is so important because the speed of production of a workpiece affects the pace of life of the user." A craftsmanship or design piece that has been built with a lot of time is used differently than a fast industrial product. He deliberately called the oriental carpets because the knotting of these millions of knots is particularly slow. And because the product absorbs this slowness of production and - I believe - releases it again when you use it. The room of the carpet collection is almost a sacred space. I am not religious, but there are secular spaces that exude an almost sacred mood. I think that's just beautiful there.
Michael Sicher: What does time mean to you personally?
Norbert Kettner: Always having too little. To have to work hard on yourself, especially when you get older, to deal better with time. This illusion of still believing that some things can be dealt with at fifty-five as quickly as at twenty-five and then having to say to yourself, "You can't do it in the same time anymore." And I find, to find peace with one's own transience. That sounds much smarter now than it is in my reality, but I think that's very important. This also helps not to take yourself so seriously.
Michael Sicher: If we look at the time of Vienna after the opening of the Ringstrasse in 1865. How would you describe the path of the city of Vienna since then? Also, with a peak into the near future.
Norbert Kettner: The way I see it, we are currently living in the fourth Viennese Modernism. The first was the great liberal era. With the construction of the Ringstrasse and the Vienna Mountain Spring Pipeline. When one realized - not only because you were a philanthropist, but above all because of cholera - how important fresh water and infrastructure are for a city.
Then there is the great, classical Viennese Modernism in art, which was not a political one in Vienna. Viennese Modernism, Art Nouveau and so on did not have the ideal of changing society, but simply making the world more beautiful. Which is also legitimate. There were great achievements during this period, such as the re-municipalization of urban services, the tram, public transport, the great plan of Otto Wagner - the great urban expansion plan - which was then of course no longer implemented after the First World War.
Then the third Viennese Modernism with the Red Vienna. It was very much about how to improve the life of the individual. With housing, the focus on not doing things that do not help the individual too. Before that, the big picture was more like how to organize the fifth largest city in the world. Then the huge setback with fascism and national socialism. Unbelievable how high the drop height was. And how terribly the city - apart from human suffering - was intellectually hit. A city where Jewish life was so important in the intellectual sense, but also in the economic sense. We suffered from this great re-municipalization until the nineties.
With EU accession and eastward enlargement, we have found a new role and must actively embrace it: How do you turn a city with a high quality of life into an even more sustainable city? We are already very sustainable, but I think there is no way around thinking: What does a metropolis of the twenty-first century look like? I see this as the fourth Viennese Modernism. Here we must tackle.
Michael Sicher: Is there a metropolis that serves as a model for this?
Norbert Kettner: I always hesitate because we talk a lot about city marketing here. For example, Copenhagen is often mentioned in connection with cycling. But there is also the fact that in percentage terms there is less car traffic in Vienna than in Copenhagen. This is always concealed. In Vienna, the match was never bicycle against public transport, but public transport against car. A match that is the right one. Mobility in the city should cover public transport, which I think is very important. Even people who can't jump on the bike have the right to get mobility. This only works via a well-developed public network that is accessible. There is no way around mobility.
Michael Sicher: Vienna also serves some clichés. From the Heurigen to Sissi. But what is the character of Vienna for you personally?
Norbert Kettner: I think it's very important to deal with your own clichés in a playful way and to allow them. I don't think much of a cramped pseudo-modernity. Rather, I find the coexistence of cliché and modernity, reinvention of clichés, pop-cultural charging of clichés exciting. I think that's so nice in Paris too. This juxtaposition in architecture and also to know where you come from.
You bow to the past, but you are not lying on the ground. And you always have in mind: What will happen today and tomorrow? I find the playful approach, the laisser-faire, very exciting. I am a supporter of the French universalist principle of equality, namely indifference. I find indifference in living together exciting. Namely, not indifference in the sense of ignorance, but simply let others be. There are, and here I am very technocratic, legal foundations, there are standards that must be adhered to. Especially when it comes to accessibility. This has nothing to do with emotion. That is a right. And in the hotel industry or in the hospitality sector in general, this should become even more of a standard. If someone comes in a wheelchair, then there is simply a procedure of how this should work. This also has to do with service quality and service design. You have to get there.
Especially when we talk about topics such as accessibility, there are standards that must be adhered to. People affected by impairments need enforceable rights. That sounds insanely technocratic, but I just think it's much more exciting how you organize life together.
Michael Sicher: You have positioned Vienna very well for the LGBT community and are now positioning Vienna as a luxury destination. Apart from the activities of the Vienna Tourist Board, what do you think is necessary for a city in order to position it even more in barrier-free tourism?
Norbert Kettner: Do something and don't just talk about it. Do not see the matter as a philanthropic side project, but as a central momentum of further development that is everywhere. A very important aspect of this is social design. Vienna has a huge tradition in social design. The community buildings were social design. It's about design making people's lives better. This is a central aspect of design. Not what the finish ultimately looks like. It's about simplifying people's lives. And that must be at the center, at the greatness of a society. What does politics do, what does urban development do to make people's lives better? Then you can look at what certain groups need. It is not about almsgiving; it is about social justice. Everyone has the right to participate in social life. This is how a civilized society must function.
Michael Sicher: You love to travel and travel a lot. What are you most looking forward to when you return home?
Norbert Kettner: It used to be said: "The bread from ‘Anker’ and the Viennese mountain spring water." There really is something special about this good water.
I have to say that I am always overwhelmed by the beauty of Vienna. It really is something that is still breathtaking for me. One often forgets in which beautiful environment we live. And often you are amazed and say to yourself: "Wow, this is all part of Vienna?"
I think that wine does something with the mentality, with the gentleness. Wine grows where the climate is gentler. There is wine culture and beer culture. I like to drink both. In moderation. But Vienna is of course already a city of wine culture. It just makes something special. But the beauty, the culture, these are things I appreciate.
And increasingly also supposedly spiteful topics such as the sheer functioning of a city. Where, when you get around the world a lot, you only realize what a huge value it is that a city simply works.
Michael Sicher: If you get a visit, how would you put together a tour of Vienna?
Norbert Kettner: If someone has never been here before, the highlights. The first district, the Ringstrasse, the Belvedere, Schönbrunn. The Wurschtelprater is always on the agenda. I find this exuberance, the shrill, vulgar, ordinary incredibly refreshing. That also belongs partly in a city. A bit of a Las Vegas feeling. And it always goes into the green too. This can be the cottage or a Heuriger.