Dinner with the president
KOR8 contributor Norbert Mersich spoke with former Austrian president and Josefstadt resident Heinz Fischer about the 8th district and high-ranking dinner guests. I meet the popular elder statesman at his office in the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens in the 3rd district.
Von Norbert Mersich
Following their retirement from active politics, Heinz Fischer and the former UN Secretary-General established this institute to promote the Sustainable Development Goals on a global level. But today we are focussing on more local topics.‘Looking out of my apartment I can see the Theater in der Josefstadt on one side and on the other side there is the garden where Gustav Klimt had his studio a hundred years ago.
’ This location proved to be convenient in more ways than one: ‘When our children were little, we could go to the theatre, come home to look in on them in the interval and still be back in time for the second act.’ When he was president of Austria, Mr. Fischer often invited visiting heads of state and other dignitaries to his home. ‘That was always a sign of personal respect. My wife did the cooking and we set the table together. There was no other staff. I was often told by others that these private invitations left a strong impression. German president Steinmeier is a personal friend of ours so it was natural to invite him and his wife.
We also had the president of Kazakhstan as a dinner guest once. He was surprised to see that I actually lived in a rented apartment. I welcomed him in and there was no one else there except for my wife and myself. We had an aperitif and then sat down to eat. President Nazarbayev was stunned that this was even possible. He later told another European president that we had received him in our home as if he were a brother or a relative, it was that informal.
Another of our guests was the president of the Chinese parliament: He was a gentleman in his early 80s – and that very afternoon the lift didn’t work. In the end, security agents carried him up to our fifth-floor apartment and he also loved the private atmosphere. Some guest also liked to browse our books.’ Mr. Fischer’s daily errands aren’t very spectacular: ‘I go shopping or to the post office in Maria Treu Gasse or to Café Oberlaa. If I have things to do at the parliament I’ll just walk the six minutes down Josefstädter Strasse. And I enjoy Saturday afternoon strolls through the district.’ His favourite restaurants in the district include Schnattl and Fromme Helene, a popular hangout for actors.
What would the former Austrian president do if he were district chairman for a day? His answer sounds like sage advice to politicians today: ‘If it were only for one day, I wouldn’t do anything. I would sit down with people who have the relevant expertise and ask their opinions and develop ideas but I would definitely think about it and act afterwards rather than acting immediately only to regret that something wasn’t properly thought out.’