Could be wurst: Vienna sausage stands push for UN recognition

The fare at Leo's Wuerstelstand, Vienna's oldest operating sausage stand (Joe Klamar)
The fare at Leo's Wuerstelstand, Vienna's oldest operating sausage stand (Joe Klamar)

From top bankers and politicians to students and factory workers, Vienna's popular sausage stands heaving with bratwurst and meaty delicacies are a longstanding cultural legacy they hope to have recognised by UNESCO.

The owners of 15 stands in the Austrian capital have formed a lobbying group and applied last week to have the "Vienna sausage stand culture" inscribed as intangible cultural heritage by the UN agency.

"We want to create a kind of quality seal for Vienna sausage stands," said 36-year-old Patrick Tondl, one of the association's founders whose family owns Leo's Wuerstelstand -- Vienna's oldest operating sausage stand.

"At the sausage stand, everyone is the same... No matter if you're a top banker who earns hundreds of thousands of euros or if you have to scrape together the last euros to buy a sausage... You meet here, you can talk to everyone," he adds.

High inflation driving consumers looking for affordable meals, plus a new wave of vendors with updated flavours, have helped keep the stands busy.

Tondl's great-grandfather started their business in the late 1920s, pulling a cart behind him and selling sausages at night.

The family's customers have included former chancellor Bruno Kreisky, recalls Vera Tondl, 67, who runs the shop together with her son Patrick.

Leo's is one of about 180 sausage stands in Vienna today, out of a total of about 300 food stands, selling fast food at fixed locations and open until the early hours, according to the city's economic chamber.

Whereas the number of stands has remained similar over the last decade, more than a third have changed from selling sausages to kebabs, pizza and noodles, a spokesman for the chamber told AFP.

- 'Momentum' -

But sausage stands have seen a "mini boom" in customer numbers recently, according to Patrick Tondl.

Many have been drawn back to the stands by high inflation, where a meal can be had for less than 10 euros ($11) with lower overheads than restaurants.

New stand operators have also brought a "bit of momentum", said Tondl, bringing the likes of organic vegetarian sausages with kimchi.

Tourists are already drawn in droves.

"When you come to Austria, it's what you want to try," 28-year-old Australian tourist Sam Bowden told AFP.

The cultural legacy of Vienna's sausages is far-reaching, including the use of the term "wiener" for sausages in the United States, which is believed to have derived from the German name for Vienna, Wien.

However Sebastian Hackenschmidt, who has published a photo book on the stands, said the legacy of the "Vienna phenomena" is more complex.

He says that for many in multicultural Vienna, the sausage stands hold little appeal -- equally for the growing number of vegetarians -- and their universal appeal is something of a "myth".

"Vienna is a city in great flux... With the influx of people, cultural customs are also changing," Hackenschmidt told AFP.

Some 40 percent of Vienna's two million inhabitants were born outside the country, where the anti-immigrant far-right looks set to top September national polls for the first time.