Red Herring Keller

Red Herring Keller

Photo of a old building in Stammersdorf Vienna

3.  Red Herring Keller

By Andrew Nash

Episode 1: Vienna Woods    … Episode 2: Bunker Business

They’d been careful, they hadn’t left much sitting around, Pat made sure of that! But, watching the burglars, it suddenly dawned on them, their project might have more impact than they’d written in the grant application.

They’d proposed a “positive” social networking app designed “to make people’s lives better by freeing them from doom-scrolling in mainstream social media,” nice, but, well, you know, this part needs to be improved, and we don’t think this will work, but here’s a little money to get going. Wishy-washy and idealistic, sure – but now they had to deliver.

Historic photo of childern's outdoor swimming pool in Vienna Margarethen GurtelEnter Sibel, stage left. Andrea had taken her grandmother on one of their regular visits to the Waschsalon Museum. When Sibel overheard Oma Schmidt talking excitedly about growing up in Karl Marx Hof and summers splashing around in Kinderfreibäder, she couldn’t resist introducing herself and asking Frau Schmidt endless questions about life in Rote Wien. Sibel was an architect obsessed with the Gemeindebau housing projects.

Andrea was steeped in the spirit of Rote Wien, but somehow, she’d missed the architecture connection. For her Red Vienna was social programs like the new baby welcome packages (which Oma Schmidt brought up frequently with her favourite Enkelin) and education programs like the Volkschule.

Sibel’s questions were about the physical spaces, but, somehow, maybe the way Sibel asked them, Oma Schmidt’s answers were always about feelings and how they’d been a community – during some very tough times as she reminded them. Listening, Andrea suddenly saw what was missing from their app – the physical connection.

Sibel came for coffee the next day and never left. Her enthusiasm for planning spaces that encouraged real-world interaction bubbled over and soon the wishy-washy app wasn’t.

The app would help people share stories and ideas for places in Vienna. Chairs would be set-up in these places to encourage real discussion. They called it “Digital Gemeinde Bau” (digital community building) and asked people to describe what Rote Wien would do today. The first story was Oma Schmidt talking about community in the Karl Marx Hof.

But, back to the bunker. Andrea told them about Franz’s call and asked whether anyone else heard anything – although it was hard to focus as they watched the burglars going through their stuff. Philipp started saying something, when suddenly the burglars gathered around the short one and looked closely in a notebook he was holding. After heated discussion they left in a hurry.

Pat snickered and said, “Ha, they took the bait. I planted a red herring in that notebook, and they found it. They’re probably on their way to an abandoned Weinkeller in Stammersdorf. They’ll have a lot of fun searching that old Keller!”

“Nice, but you really are crazy you know?” replied Andrea.

Philipp added “My kind of crazy though. You should have seen the two guys who chased me! I’m glad they’re off on a goose chase. But, Andrea, what gives, why are they after us?”

“Well, I’d meant to tell you sooner, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Someone’s interested in our new physical place idea for the app. A couple weeks ago a guy called asking lots of questions and whether we’d thought about selling the app.”

“Wait” Adrian snapped, “you got an offer and didn’t tell us?”

“Yeah, sorry, I mean he was pretty unspecific, it didn’t sound like an offer at all. Now I’m beginning to wonder. One more thing, he mentioned the Metaverse.”

Suddenly the penny dropped.

Read episode 4: The Physical Network

Bunker Business

Bunker Business

Photo of an anti-aircraft tower (Flakturm) in Vienna Augarten.2.  Bunker Business

By Andrew Nash

Read episode 1 of the story here: Vienna Woods.

Pat hurried over and handed Andrea coffee. They’d humoured Pat with her drills, but she’d saved their asses so often with her secure messaging, open-source, and back-ups, why not a little cosplay every now and then? Besides, there was a great Italian bar around the corner.

This couldn’t be that grey empty room, could it? A few sips did the trick – Pat’s coffee was strong and as bitter as the anti-vaccination fight. But Andrea’d deal with the coffee later –she had bigger problems.

Everyone looked up when she came in, expecting her to explain, but, of course, Andrea didn’t know what was happening either. “Thanks for coming in so early guys” she said, “let me get organised and then let’s talk at the table.”

The bunker had been connected to one of the anti-aircraft towers built during World War II. The huge reinforced concrete towers were practically impossible to destroy, so they were simply re-purposed or abandoned.

Less known were the tunnels for secretly moving soldiers and supplies between towers and bunkers in nearby buildings. The tunnels had been filled-in, but many bunkers remained. Most had had their doors bricked over and were soon forgotten. But, one day, helping a friend move, Pat had found one.

The door was hidden behind the cellar stairs and easy to miss. Secret cellars were just Pat’s thing, so she returned that night. Pushing open the door with a flashlight she saw a large windowless junk-filled room with several decades of dust and cobwebs. Pat rented an office upstairs the next day and, without saying anything – it was better that way – cleaned out the bunker to use as a safe space.

Faces turned back to laptops. Andrea did a silent roll call, Pat, Michael, Adrian, Maria, Sibel …

Reading her mind, Pat said, “Philipp noticed he was being tailed and is trying to lose them.”

This was getting scary. While she’d believed Franz, she hadn’t expected this. A denial-of-service attack, a hacked database, a false landing page – sure, but being stalked by real people? Pat pulled off her blond wig and smiled, “Aren’t you glad we have a bunker?”

After plugging in her laptop, Andrea looked around the table and thought what an odd group. They’d come together slowly, doing student projects at the TU, friends of friends joining, others dropping out, always self-selecting for that magic combination of social democratic convictions and technical expertise – worlds apart from those just in IT for the money.

Pat’s gasp jarred Andrea’s stroll down memory lane – “Someone’s broken into our office at And look! Check out the size of those guys!”

Phillip, rushing in finally, exclaimed, “I rode by the office on my way. There was an SUV with suits parked there too!”

“Yeah, welcome back Austin” replied Maria – a huge Austin Powers fan – “They’re on the big screen now. We got up early just to watch’em rummage through our office.”

A single thought went through everyone’s mind, “What would the burglars find?”

Read episode 3: Red Herring Keller

Vienna Woods

Vienna Woods

Illustration of person walking through dark tunnel with mobile phone.

1.  Vienna Woods

By Andrew Nash

Ring. Ring. Slowly Andrea realized it was the hotline. Why tonight? Although many forgot Mayday as social democracy struggled to find meaning in a neo liberal world – she still believed, and still celebrated. Ring. Ring. The phone wouldn’t answer itself.

They’re coming after you. Look out. Click.

He’d been careful, using static generation to thwart voice recognition, probably a historic pay phone in some forgotten corner of California. But she recognized him.

Franz. Why, of all people, Franz? He’d left them for the buzz of Silicon Valley and promise of stock options. While never central to the project and he probably wouldn’t name names, she was paralyzed by memories. Franz had been more than a colleague. He’d even asked her to come along to California, but, like her grandmother, Andrea was too stubborn to give up the dream.

Enough memories. This was serious. Franz might have left them – and her – but she knew him well enough to know he wouldn’t be kidding. Time to move.

They’d prepared. Patricia had drilled them while they’d hoped the moment would never come. Paranoid Pat, they teased, but like the best security geeks, she had it in her blood. Andrea reached for the burner.

Ping. Ping. Ping. Philipp looked at the clock. Not a drill. Andrea would have warned him last night at the Rathausplatz Mayday celebration. They’d been seeking beer-inspired wisdom: How had the right become so good at social media while the left remained clueless? Which led to shop talk and more beer.

Philipp replied to the Signal message asking how he liked his new refrigerator with a one. He was on his way to the bunker. He didn’t notice them until he was unlocking his bike. Damn, Pat was right. An SUV across the street with two guys in suits. At 3 AM, in Favoriten?

He answered the Signal reply asking how satisfied he was with the refrigerator delivery service with another one. In other words, he was being followed and would take evasive actions.

Andrea was luckier, she didn’t see anyone following her, but took a roundabout route just in case. Not only had Pat taught them how to notice tails, but how to lose them. Bikes were perfect for escaping through Vienna’s maze of narrow streets and squares.

When Andrea got to the bunker, she almost didn’t recognize Pat, who, of course was in disguise and already executing the crisis plan. The bunker had been built in the second world war and forgotten, now it was filled with the smell of coffee brewing and the light falling from a bank of monitors.

The first priority was protecting their infant application. They’d started building it as part of a grant they’d received from the city of Vienna’s digital humanities program. They hadn’t told the city how they’d planned to leverage the project into a new – secure and private – socially responsible social media platform. Their bad.

Now someone important had noticed and didn’t like it one bit. …

Episode 2: Bunker Business

First published 21 November 2021 in New_Public’s Flash Fiction contest.

Flash Fiction – Vienna Woods

Flash Fiction – Vienna Woods

Art from Lisbon Metro station

Hundertwasser tile art at Oriente Station, Lisbon Metro.

I’m thrilled to have been selected as a winner in the Flash Fiction contest organised by New_Public. My story is about an idealistic group of programmers in Vienna who are developing a new social networking app … and are now being pursued by … who?

It’s part one of the story, if there’s enough interest I’ll write and publish more episodes in this blog.

The idea of using stories to describe alternative futures isn’t new. Last year I worked on a proposal for using a story-writing process to explore possible futures in the City of Vienna’s Digital Humanities Call for Proposals, but I couldn’t find any interested partners. So, I thought I’d write my own story, Vienna Woods was the result.

I hope you enjoy it.

New_Public is a project from the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Media Engagement and the National Conference on Citizenship. According to the website “New_ Public is a place for thinkers, builders, designers and technologists like you to meet and share inspiration.”

Small things

Small things

Photo of Vienna Museumsquartier courtyard filled with large tent

It’s a small thing but …

Art-Austria has set-up a huge tent in the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) courtyard for a three-day art show exhibiting Austrian paintings and art. So far, so good. But …

Why here? The MQ courtyard is one of the most beloved open spaces in Vienna. It’s packed all year round. The tent takes up most of it. And, although the event only lasts three days, set-up began a week earlier and take-down added another day or two, so the courtyard is occupied for almost two weeks in mid-summer when we’re all itching to be outdoors post Covid.

Vienna Museumsquartier on a pleasant summer day

MuseumsQuartier is one of Vienna’s most pleasant outdoor spaces.

Sure, it makes sense to have an art show in the middle of several wonderful art galleries, but were there no other options?

How about in front of the MQ? While this is also popular open space it’s less used because of unpleasantness caused by traffic flowing by on the Museumsstrasse.

How about in an existing building? It’s not as if Vienna doesn’t have any perfect indoor spaces for an art show. Especially now with hotels and conference facilities empty due to Covid.

Furthermore, tent needs to be heavily air conditioned to protect the art – wasting much more energy than an existing building.

And the air conditioning ruins the remaining courtyard with noise, blowing hot air, and perhaps particulates (are they diesel generators?).

Think about this in connection with society’s goal of creating more sustainable and livable cities, and you’re left scratching your head.

MQ Vienna courtyard summer 2021

MuseumsQuartier setting for “Who rules the dance floor?” contest 31 July 2021.

So, yes, the Art-Austria tent is a small thing, perhaps someone balanced the negative environmental and urban livability issues against the benefits, but maybe not – and that’s the problem: many small things add up to an uninhabitable world.

UPDATE: On July 31 the MQ hosted Who rules the dance floor? … look at how much better this event suits the space than the Art-Austria mega-tent. There’s nothing wrong with having events in the MQ courtyard, they should just be more sensitive to the environment and setting.

Wiener Grantig: New Bus-Tram Stop Signs

Wiener Grantig: New Bus-Tram Stop Signs

Photos of old and new bus stop signs in Vienna

Vienna’s old bus/tram stop sign on the left and new sign on the right.

UPDATE: 14 January 2021

Of course the Wiener Linien, the public transport company that makes Vienna the world’s most livable city, has very good reasons for the new signs. (I should have known given the overall excellent quality of the Wiener Linien public information.) I just saw a video about the Wiener Linien’s new signs on LinkedIn that describes their advantages:

  • Signs designed with strong involvement of accessibility community;
  • Barrier free (type size, contrast, audio information, big red post);
  • Video displays that provide route information, schedules, transfer points, walking distances, changeable with an accessible button;
  • Information consistent with the WienMobil Vienna multimodal trip planning app

As they say at the end of the video, the new signs provide more information, more comfort and are more barrier free. Again, the Wiener Linien shows why they are the leader in all things public transport. I can always see the old signs in the wonderful public transport museum Remise Vienna transport history museum.


The Viennese have a reputation in Austria of being grumpy (“grantig” in German). They are also, justifiably in many cases given the city’s beautiful historic buildings, parks and public spaces, not particularly enamored with change.

After living here 13+ years maybe I’m finally becoming Viennese. I’m really grantig about the new signs being used to designate bus and tram stops (Haltestelle).

Screenshot from BusMeister game showing bus stop improvements

BusMeister game bus stop improvements panel.

The old signs are simple, low tech, instantly recognisable, useful (most have attached garbage cans as shown in the photo) and clear. Note how the old tram signs are oval and outlined in red while the bus signs are half-oval and outlined in blue. I was surprised that the game designers who created my BusMeister game actually knew this difference and incorporated the half-oval signs into the game. And, of course, the old low-tech signs are also consistent with Vienna’s historic feel.

The new signs just seem blocky (in contrast to the old signs’ simple elegance). Sure they include the real time display (which is on a separate pole at many stops with the old signs), they clearly show the stop name, and they use more up-to-date fonts, icons and corporate design. But, hey, I’ve become old fashioned.

There’s no question in my mind that the Wiener Linien (Vienna’s public transport company) is the finest public transport operator in the world, but I just wish they would keep the old signs!

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