Have you ever taken the high road? Vienna’s longest municipal road is appropriately named “Höhenstrasse.” It is almost 15 kilometers of cobblestone that snakes along the city limits, separating the urban life from the forest and meadows. The tedious task of laying fifteen kilometers of cobblestone was approved to battle the mass unemployment that plagued Austria after the First World War. The use of heavy machinery was severely restricted, resulting in over 600 employees from 74 different companies working on the road. It was the first road in Vienna designed exclusively for motor vehicles and cyclists. Many hiking trails run parallel to the Höhenstrasse for pedestrians. The cobblestones stretch from Leopoldsberg in the nineteenth district to Marswiese in the seventeenth taking you to Kahlenberg, Cobenzl and Hermannskogel. The views are breathtaking.
The road planned as economical relief has remained a recreational centerpiece ever since. Now nearly a century later, the Höhenstrasse is once again providing relief to the inhabitants of Vienna in times of crisis.
A worldwide pandemic spread through European populations in the spring of 2020. The infection rate and death toll increased every day but it wasn’t until Italian hospitals became overrun that neighboring countries realized severe measures were needed to control the outbreak. In Austria, this meant closing everything in a hard lockdown. The images of these drastic measures are still vibrant in our memories. Deserted city streets and abandoned playgrounds draped in caution ribbon created a haunting backdrop to the controversial panic throughout the world.
We needed fresh air and exercise. We needed to clear our anxiety-infested minds. We needed the high road. We took to the hiking trails along the Höhenstrasse in a one meter distanced procession. Our children sloshed through the muddy forest picking wild garlic, reclaiming their carefree childhood. The view was breathtaking.
The pandemic subsided that summer. We didn’t know what the winter had in store for us but instinctively we kept to the high road, our Höhenstrasse. We frequented the wine taverns of Kahlenberg, Cobenzl and Salmmansdorf to sip wine face to face with friends we hadn’t seen in months and watched our children run through the meadows together. The sun’s warm rays, the grassy scented breeze and that view, that view, it all made us giddy with normal life.
Then came autumn. The forest dazzled us with red and golden leaves but the sunny days and cool nights started to breathe the fear of a second wave from a pandemic that would not end. We stayed there, on the Höhenstrasse, to soak each other up along with the last of the sunny autumnal days. Acorns, chestnuts and endless other treasures were gathered by our children. Their pockets rattled with the bountiful season. We drank up the sweet Sturm while undertaking the impossible task of predicting what the pandemic had in store for us next. Our golden view was optimistic.
Then the pandemic swept back in with the winter winds and renewed intensity. The lights of the festive Christmas markets were never lit as we rearranged our holiday celebrations. Gifts were mailed, the turkeys smaller and new traditions found. We bought Punsch with a side of Snaps at Cobenzl. Sipping it while we walked through the naked trees of the forest, we wondered what the new year would have in store for us. We were exhausted. Rearranging and reinventing had become boring but the High Road still captivated us. The snowy hillsides on either side of the cobblestone were dotted with children and their sleds. We were all children again, waging war with snowballs. We became a part of that incredible view. As if we were trapped in this perfect, beautiful winter day in a snow globe because every day was now the same.
Now it has been a year. It’s getting harder and harder to predict that life will return to normal because remembering that life is getting more difficult. That life with elegant balls, rock concerts, city marathons and children’s Christmas concerts is way back there behind the empty playgrounds draped in caution ribbon. We do know how to reinvent ourselves now. We do know how to be flexible and maybe, just maybe we even know how to make sourdough bread. We will take all these new skills with us into whatever the next normal life is. The Höhenstrasse will still be there for us. The wild garlic will sprout up every spring. The butterflies will dance across the meadows. The leaves will turn gold and red and winter will come regardless of the chaos we create in the urban world. The view will be breathtaking.
Cynthia Keeler is a mother of two living in Vienna for the past ten years. She is a long-time VFN member. Occasionally she does some creative writing. You can find her short stories here: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/author/cynthia-keeler/#