I am reprising this post I wrote for BookPage blog earlier this year upon publication of the second novel in my Viennese Mystery series, Requiem in Vienna. It explains, in part, how I came to use Vienna as a setting for much of my fiction. Vienna of the 1960s and 1970s was a schizophrenic city: living in both the post-war and Cold War era.
It took me two, maybe three weeks to figure it out.
At first I thought it might be a shopkeeper I did occasional business with. That would explain why he looked so familiar. The butcher on Langegasse or the wine merchant in the Altstadt. He had the same general features: slight build, medium height, light brown hair and eyes, gray overcoat. Nothing stood out. A figure that blends into the background.
I would catch sight of him across the Josefstaedterstrasse on my way to the language institute where I taught; see his reflection in a store window on Graben and he would quickly turn away; pass by him leaving the Stadtbahn station, his back to me, his head buried in a day-old issue of the Kurier. Once I actually came upon him talking with my building portier, a guilty look on both their faces.
This was the Vienna of several decades ago. It was still the Cold War. Foreigners living in Vienna fit into a risk
category for the state police, anxious to protect Austria’s neutrality. It did not help that a childhood friend, also living in Vienna at the time, had become involved in a nationalist cause in Yugoslavia.
Still, until I discovered that I had my very own watcher, I had been living in another make-believe Vienna of schlagobers and Mozart. I had believed the tourist propaganda of the city of dreams and waltz.
My watcher stayed with me for over half a year, until I moved on for a time to Greece. Returning to Vienna the next fall, I no longer saw him or sensed his presence. But it was a wake up for me. I began to look at the underside of Vienna after the watcher; seeing the city as not only beautiful, but also treacherous. It is a vision that has remained with me, informing all of my writing about Vienna.