Green room - Issue 125 - Magazine | Monocle

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Stadtpark is a public garden in the centre of Vienna. It is verdant and lush, with tall trees, flower beds and manicured lawns. At one end stands the Kursalon Hübner music hall in all its faux-Renaissance splendour; in the centre of the park is a goldplated statue of composer Johann Strauss the younger. For Armin Thurnher, co-founder and publisher of Viennese weekly Falter, Stadtpark is the perfect setting in which to take a break from writing. There is just one problem: it’s too popular. “I like Vienna’s green spaces and gardens,” he says, eyeing a gang of tourists. “If only there weren’t so many other people around.”

If the parks here are crowded, Thurnher has only himself to blame. Shortly after Falter launched in 1977, a campaign began against the city’s restrictions on people sitting on public lawns. The new publication got behind it, making the case that more public space would improve quality of life. It worked. “Vienna was much stricter in the 1970s,” he says. “Now it’s an extremely public city with a tradition of communal living – and its parks are like living rooms.”

Peeling off the main pathway, we make for the less-tramped areas of Stadtpark. A favourite walk of Thurnher’s is to follow the path of the Wien River, which flows through the green, dividing the park in two. The afternoon is warm and after a while we stop under the shade of a tree. Getting the best out of Vienna’s well-used green spaces is about finding pockets of tranquility. “I come here when I need a little distraction from my work,” says Thurnher. “As a writer I can tell you: creation requires recreation.”

From a young age Thurnher showed an ability to observe his surroundings and channel them into his work. When it comes to his ethos of media brands forging strong ties with cities, a formative influence was a brief spell in New York at Wagner College. He caught the tail end of the Summer of Love in 1967 and left the following winter. The experience was revelatory. He devoured such titles from New York’s independent media scene as The Village Voice and The Realist, in which he saw a template for Falter. “That trip put me ahead of my peers,” he says. “Even so, we didn’t know anything about running a newspaper when we started.”

They soon learned and Falter became a must-read for Viennese, with stories ranging from investigations into Austria’s interior ministry to sexual abuse at the Vienna State Opera’s ballet academy. “Austrian society has become much more liberal in the past 40 years partly, I hope, thanks to us,” says Thurnher. That’s why he’s not too worried about the rise of the Austrian right. “We have to be patient,” he says. “Younger generations don’t take kindly to anti-European, nationalist ideology.”

Tacking back to the main path in the spring sunshine, Thurnher casts an eye over people gathered on the grass. “This is the opposite of the private Austrian garden,” he says, smiling. “In a park people learn not to get on each other’s nerves.”

The CV:

1949 Born in Bregenz in western Austria
1967 Studies in New York at Wagner College
1977 Co-founds independent weekly Falter in Vienna
1988 Issues of Falter confiscated on the orders of Austrian president Kurt Waldheim over its reporting of a lawsuit centring on his Nazi past
2009 Publishes his first novel, Der Übergänger, about pianist Alfred Brendel
2019 Publishes his second novel, Fähre nach Manhattan, based on his US trip during the Summer of Love

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