From a debate that revolved around reducing the heat-free regulation for the animals from 35 to 30 degrees, a fundamental discussion broke out about whether the horse-drawn carriages “Fiaker” (the term refers to both the horse-drawn carriages and their drivers) , are still contemporary. A self-proclaimed baron, Viennese local politics and business associations form up against animal protection organizations and federal politics. Right in the middle: a Viennese cabaret artist who wants to ban cars in favor of carriages.
Since 2016, the horses have been free from heat at temperatures above 35 degrees and the debate about lowering the limit has been going on for almost as long. There have always been statements from state and federal politicians that they want to lower the temperature limit to 30 degrees, but this has not happened so far.
“For reasons of animal protection, you should think about whether you should expose a horse to this stress,” said Federal Minister Johannes Rauch to the ORF, re-starting the annual debate, which since then has no longer just been about a heat-free regulation, but about something more fundamental turns.
“Apart from the heat, the question arises as to whether the use of cabs in a big city is still up-to-date at all. I think that’s a bit out of date,” the minister continued. He would welcome a discussion about whether Vienna could do without Fiaker altogether.
The Viennese politicians reacted cautiously: “Personally, I would regret it very much if there were no more carriages in Vienna, they are part of the cityscape,” said Vienna’s Lord Mayor Michael Ludwig (SPÖ). They are not only a symbol of the city for tourists, but also for many Viennese: according to the politician, who has had his picture taken feeding the horses in the past.
“As before, we want to concentrate on talking about the heat limit, so far the proposal for a ban has not been an issue in any of the discussions that have been held,” said a spokeswoman for the city councilor responsible for animal welfare, Jürgen Czernohorszky (SPÖ), surprised by the initiative that to ban traditional trades entirely.
Animal welfare organizations, on the other hand, welcome the minister’s initiative. “It’s finally time to put an end to this anachronism forever. Traditions that are preserved on the backs of living beings simply have no place in the 21st century,” says the animal welfare organization “Four Paws”. A petition by the organization calling for better conditions for the horses found 80,000 supporters in 2021.
The lowering of the temperature limit to 30 degrees failed in recent years due to a confusion of competences. The city of Vienna refers to the federal government, 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 would have the legislative power to enforce the heat regulation.
A spokeswoman for Rauch’s ministry, who does not wish to be quoted by name, told the Tagesspiegel: “Vienna has the competence, does not use it and does not claim to be responsible.” would take a long time, he wanted to advance the debate with his ban push. “It’s a ping-pong of competences between the city and the federal government and in the end nothing happens,” criticizes Veronika Weissenböck, campaign manager at “Four Paws”.
Tereza Hossa, 27, takes a provocative position because of his job. She calls for a complete conversion of traffic to carriages: “There are still means of transport that are not pulled by horses, which is incredibly backwards,” says the satirist in an interview with the Tagesspiegel.
In view of the environmental problems caused by combustion engines and rising energy prices, the Fiaker is “the ideal environmentally friendly alternative”. Parallel to her cabaret career, she finished her veterinary studies in October. She is currently pausing her veterinary career, writing on her second program and is part of the ensemble of the “Carolin Kebekus Show”.
Every summer, as surely as “Amen in prayer”, the debate about the Fiaker comes, says Wolfgang Fasching calmly. “The Fiaker-Baron, in person on the line,” he reports on the phone. The man is considered a Viennese institution, for decades he has been driving lazy passers-by through the Austrian capital with a twirled beard and a fine hat. Minister Rauch has certainly driven a Fiacre secretly, suspects Fasching and doubts his expertise: “The proposal speaks for his incompetence. The minister has no idea about horses,” said Fasching.
He takes good care of his animals, if only out of self-interest. Last November, one of his horses collapsed on Vienna’s Stephansplatz. According to Fasching, the reason was a cross stroke. At the time, he 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 endure the heat in the meantime. “A class question,” says Tereza Hossa, who causes a lot of squabbling in the “horse community”. The city’s other famous animal attraction, the horses of the Spanish Riding School, stand in the shade and have free run in the Burggarten, while the Fiaker horses work on the hot asphalt in midsummer.
Hossa has lived in Vienna for seven years and contradicts the “Fiaker-Baron”, who says that the majority of his customers are German, which is why the outcry is greatest there. The Germans would “reserve the horses with their towels in the morning like they usually reserve the loungers by the pool”, but a ban would also hit the Viennese hard: “I would no longer know how to get from A to B and would no longer be mobile. All traffic in Vienna would collapse”.
Fasching, like many other supporters of the Fiaker, points out that the horses don’t mind the heat. He relies on the Viennese veterinarian Isabella Copar, who sees no basis for a 30-degree regulation. “The horse is a steppe animal that can withstand the heat,” says Fasching. Veronika Weissenböck from the animal protection organization “Four Paws”, on the other hand, considers Vienna to be an “asphalt desert, not a steppe”.
Even for tourists it is too hot in midsummer to be driven around in horse-drawn carriages. “Vienna is a classic steppe, especially if you’ve never seen a steppe before,” says Tereza Hossa.
However, temperatures are not the only argument for a ban. The spokeswoman for Rauch’s ministry said: “It’s not just about the heat. The stress, the exhaust fumes, the traffic noise, that’s anything but ideal for a flight animal.”
As an alternative, she points to electric vintage cars that are used to drive tourists around New York. This could also compensate for the jobs lost as a result of a ban. She accuses the veterinarian Copar of conflicts of interest because she works as a veterinarian for two Fiaker companies.
Just recently, a Fiaker had an accident in Vienna when a car tried to overtake the carriage and collided with the team. The coachman was seriously injured in the hospital, the shying horses had to be caught again and suffered minor injuries.
Animal protection organizations took this as an opportunity to plead again for a ban. “The accident shows once again that inner cities are not a habitat for horses,” says Weissenböck. The fact that horses in big cities will be involved in traffic accidents in 2022 is “a shame for Austria”, writes the “Verein gegen Tierfabriken”.
The Vienna Chamber of Commerce is opposed to a ban and calls for a round table of business, Fiaker companies and politics. The animal protection organizations were not invited. “So the table isn’t really round,” says Veronika Weissenböck. Vienna without a carriage is like Venice without a gondola, says Markus Grießler (ÖVP), chairman of the tourism and leisure sector and member of the Vienna State Parliament.
The carriages are part of the “expected Vienna experience” and would make the city more attractive. Hossa therefore does not believe in an imminent ban: “For many, Sisi, Franz and the Fiacre belong to the Viennese cityscape like the Eiffel Tower to Paris. One wants to preserve this feigned imperial feeling”.
“If the carriages were no longer up-to-date, they would no longer exist,” the Chamber of Commerce elaborated in a press release on the final argument that it is a basic law of the economy. The animal rights activists do not want the market to regulate it wait, they announced further protest actions in view of the approaching hot summer months.
Cabaret artist Tereza Hossa brings robot horses into play as a solution to the conflict. E-Fiakers are also more heat-resistant. Possible consequence: Less work for her as a veterinarian.