Austrian Living in Today’s Lviv

  • Austrian Living  in Today’s Lviv
Issue 5, September 2008.

Throughout its time as the great eastern regional capital of the Habsburg Empire Lviv was home to all manner of  notable Austrians, not least the notorious literary figure Mr. Masoch, who gave his name to masochism. Modern  day Lviv continues to boast a community of Austrians working to maintain traditional business and cultural ties between Lviv and the Austrian heartlands of the old empire.
Hildegard Kainzbauer is a young Austrian lady who left her Viennese upbringing behind to embark on a voyage of cultural discovery in Lviv, where she currently teaches German and is active in the arts and culture sphere of city life.

Hildegard, how you come to choose Lviv? Why not Kyiv, Odesa or even Chernivtsi?

I had long had a fascination with Ukraine so when I heard that there was a vacant German-language teaching position in Lviv I applied for it immediately. I was particularly attracted by the common history shared by Vienna and Lviv. I think that Lviv has managed to hold onto its 19th century charm, whereas Kyiv is a far larger, more 21st century city.

What were your first impressions upon arrival in Lviv?

The first thing I saw in Lviv was the central railway station, and I remember being very impressed by the beautiful art nouveau architecture. It also looked very clean and well cares for, which also made a positive impression. Settling in and beginning everyday life is never easy for a foreigner coming to a developing country like Ukraine,  but fortunately I found that people I met were ready to help me out from the very beginning with everything from finding a flat to dealing with the authorities.

What does your work at Lviv’s National Ivan Franko University involve?

I aim to only teach people the German language but also to open their minds, and mine as well, to a mutual understanding of the similarities and contrasts in our two cultures. Teaching young Ukrainians in Lviv and witnessing first-hand their enthusiasm makes me optimistic about the future of Ukraine.

What strike you as the major differences between today’s student undergraduates in Vienna and Lviv?

Ukrainians tend to begin their university studies at an earlier age, going straight from school into university, whereas in Austria it is not uncommon for a student to be 19 when they begin their under-graduate studies. At that age even one year can make a big psychological difference, and as a teacher you have to adapt accordingly.
Students in western Europe tend to be more independent, partly because they are generally slightly older and partly because of the education system in the West, which often places the emphasis on the students to manage their own timetables and course modules. The culture of long-term students who never seem to graduate is not common in Ukraine, unlike elsewhere in Europe.

How close are today’s Lviv and Vienna in terms of spirituality and culture?

That’s a difficult question. In general I would say the people of both cities share a common cultural background, which is also grounded in the broader Christian tradition. Much as they do in Austria, people in Lviv revere freedom, democracy and prosperity. On a perhaps more superficial level both cities share similar architectural styles as well as a taste for street musicians and occasionally grumpy people! If my friends in Vienna ask me what the main differences are I usually tell them that in Lviv you have to be very careful about the traffic. Driving is difficult here for foreigners like me! In terms of social attitudes, marriage is certainly held in very high regard by the people of Lviv and regarded as very important for young people. In my experience most people are married in their early twenties or as teenagers. At weekends you can watch the many wedding parties being photographed in front of Lviv’s most celebrated monuments. That is not something I have never seen in Vienna.

Do you have a favorite place in Lviv?

My favourite spot is Svit Kavy. Sitting there is like being in a Viennese Coffee House.

What do you think about Ukrainian cuisine? Do you have a favourite Ukrainian dish?

I love Ukrainian borshch. It’s amazing how many varieties of borshch there are and how many different recipes. I also enjoy all the delicious cakes and pastries which are offered in the cafes of Lviv and often take visiting Viennese friends to sample them when they are in town.

How would you describe Lviv to a friend in Austria who was thinking of coming to visit?

I would tell them that Lviv is a very nice city with beautiful architecture and an easy-going atmosphere. Its an interesting mixture of western aspirations with eastern influences and therefore an exciting and stimulating
place to visit. For many its still a bit of an adventure, but it is also good value for money. The services, museums and concerts are relatively inexpensive for EU visitors but of very good quality.

What will you be during this month’s Austrian Week cultural season?

Austrian Week is a totally new event and I will be involved in the Lviv Book Fair’s efforts to support the festival. Many Austrian writers will come to Lviv and read from their works. I will also be organising a screening of films connected with Vienna. On September 26 we will need everybody’s help as we try to bake the longest strudel in
the history of Lviv. I plan to enjoy my share!