From the debate about limiting the heat-free regulation of animals from 35 to 30 degrees, a fundamental debate has erupted about whether horse-drawn carriages, “Fiaker” (the term refers to both horse-drawn wagons and their drivers), are still contemporary. A self-styled baron, local Vienna politicians and business associations are formed against animal protection organizations and federal policies. Right in the middle: a Vienna nightclub artist wants to ban cars in favor of gigs.
Since 2016, horses have been free from heat at temperatures above 35 degrees, and the debate over lowering the limit has been going on for nearly a long time. There have always been statements from federal and state politicians that they want to lower the temperature limit to 30 degrees, but that hasn’t happened yet.
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Federal Minister Johannes Rauch told the ORF, to restart the annual debate, which has since been no longer about hotter – freedom to regulate, but about something more fundamental turns.
“Apart from the heat, the question arises whether the use of taxis in a big city is still up to date at all. I think that is a bit outdated.” He would welcome a discussion about whether Vienna could do without Fiaker entirely.
Vienna politicians responded with caution: “Personally, I would very much regret if there were no more rickshaws in Vienna, it is part of the city scene,” said Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ). It is not only a symbol of the city for tourists, but also for many residents of Vienna: according to the politician, who in the past took his photo feeding horses.
“As before, we want to focus on talking about maximum heat, the ban proposal was not an issue in any of the discussions held,” said a spokeswoman for the city councilor responsible for animal welfare, Jürgen Chernorsky. (SPÖ), surprised by the initiative that bans traditional crafts altogether.
On the other hand, animal welfare organizations welcome the minister’s initiative. “It is finally time to put an end to this anachronism once and for all. Animal welfare organization Four Paws says tradition preserved on the backs of living creatures has no place in the 21st century. A petition by the organization calling for better conditions for horses found 80,000 supporters in 2021.
The city and the federal government are responsible
Bringing the temperature down to 30 degrees has failed in recent years due to the confusion of efficiencies. The city of Vienna refers to the federal government, and the federal government in turn sees the city as responsible. According to a 2017 ruling by the Austrian Federal Constitutional Court, the city of Vienna will have the legislative power to enforce thermoregulation.
A spokeswoman for Rauch’s ministry, who did not wish to be named, told Tagesspiegel: “Vienna has the competence, does not use it and does not claim to be responsible.” It would take a long time, he wanted to push the wheel forward. Discussion with ban payment. “It’s a ping-pong of competencies between the city and the federal government and in the end nothing happens,” critic Veronica Weissenbock, campaign manager for Four Paws.
Teresa Hessa, 27, takes a provocative stance because of his job. It calls for a complete diversion of traffic into carriages: “There are still non-horse-drawn transportations out there, which is incredibly counterproductive,” says the satirist in an interview with Tagesspiegel.
In light of the environmental problems caused by combustion engines and rising energy prices, Fiaker is the “ideal eco-friendly alternative”. In parallel with her cabaret career, she finished her veterinary studies in October. She is currently on pause for her veterinary career, is writing for her second show and is part of the ‘Carolin Kebekus Show’ group.
Every summer, as surely as with “Amen in prayer,” says Wolfgang Fasching quietly, the Fiaker controversy comes up. “The Fiaker-Baron, in person, is on the line,” he says over the phone. The man is considered an institution in Vienna, where for decades he has been driving lazy pedestrians through the Austrian capital with a rolled-up beard and a thin hat. Minister Rauch surely led the massacre in secret, suspicious of Fashing and suspicious of his expertise: ‘The proposal speaks of its own incompetence. ‘The minister has no idea about horses’, said Fasching.
He takes good care of his animals, even if it is out of self-interest. Last November, one of his horses collapsed in Vienna’s Stephans Square. According to Fashing, the cause was an accidental clot. At the time, he had described the horse as a “corona victim”, and the inflammation was due to the lack of tourists and the resulting lack of exercise.
Not all horses have to stand the heat in the meantime. “A class question,” says Teresa Hessa, who causes a lot of squabbling in the “equine community.” Other popular animals in town, the Spanish Riding School horses, stand in the shade and do free runs in Burggarten, while Fiaker’s horses run on hot asphalt in the middle of summer.
Hausa has lived in Vienna for seven years and contradicts Wicker Baron who says the majority of his clients are German, which is why the anger is greater there. The Germans were “locking up the horses with their towels in the morning as they usually reserve deck chairs by the pool”, but the ban would also affect Viennese hard: “I will no longer know how to get from A to B and no longer mobile. All traffic in Vienna will collapse.”
Fasching, like many of Fiaker’s supporters, points out that horses don’t mind the heat. It is based on Viennese veterinarian Isabella Cobar, who sees no basis for regulating 30 degrees. “A horse is a steppe animal that can withstand the heat,” Fashing says. On the other hand, Veronica Weissenbück of the animal protection organization “Four Paws” considers Vienna “an asphalt desert, not a steppe”.
Even for tourists it is too hot in the middle of summer to be driven in horse-drawn carriages. “Vienna is a classic steppe, especially if you’ve never seen a steppe,” says Teresa Hausa.
However, temperatures are not the only argument for a ban. A spokeswoman for Rauch’s Ministry said, “It’s not just about heat. Stress, exhaust fumes, traffic noise, that’s not ideal for a flying animal.”
Alternatively, it refers to the old electric cars that are used to drive tourists around New York. This can also compensate for functionality lost as a result of a ban. The vet accuses Cobar of conflict of interest because she works as a vet for two Fiaker companies.
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Recently, Fiacre had an accident in Vienna when a car attempted to overtake the wagon and collided with the team. The bus driver was seriously injured in the hospital, had to catch the shy horses again and suffered minor injuries.
Animal protection organizations have seized this as an opportunity to once again demand a ban. “The incident shows once again that the inner cities are not home to horses,” says Weissenböck. The fact that horses in major cities were involved in traffic accidents in 2022 is “a disgrace to Austria,” writes Feren Gijen Tervabriken.
The Vienna Chamber of Commerce opposes the ban and calls for a round table of Business, Fiaker Companies and Politics. Animal protection organizations were not invited. “So the table isn’t really round,” Veronica Weissenbock says. A Vienna without a cart is like a gun without a gondola, says Markus Greisler (ÖVP), head of the tourism and leisure sector and a member of the Vienna state parliament.
The carriages are part of the “Expected Vienna Experience” and will make the city even more attractive. So Hausa does not believe in an imminent ban: “For many, Sissi, Franz, and Fiacker belong to the scene of Vienna like the Eiffel Tower in Paris. One wants to preserve this fake imperial feeling.”
The Chamber of Commerce clarified in a press release on the latter argument that this law is a fundamental law of economics: “If the wagons are no longer up to date, they will not exist.” Animal rights activists have announced more protests as the hot summer months approach.
Cabaret artist Teresa Hessa presents the role of robotic horses as a solution to conflict. E-Fiakers are more heat resistant. Possible consequence: less work for her as a vet.