Austria is not renown for Thanksgiving or patriotic fanfare, but they sure as hell know how to thank the people that make their country great. I was lucky enough to see this first hand at a special President’s event: ‘Austria Says Thank-You’ or ‘Österreich sagt Danke’.
The event was put on by the Federal Ministry of Labour last weekend as a thank you for all the volunteers who helped during the horrific Hochwasser (high water flooding) that hit Austria earlier this year. The Hochwasser floods were extremely catastrophic for large parts of Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Any country placed along the Danube was at risk from flood waters that reached over 8m high and smashed all previous records for flood levels. Homes were destroyed, lives were lost and the summer of 2013 started with a wet and rainy disaster. To get a scope of the damage and impact, you really have to see the photos:
We were very lucky, living in Vienna, away from the worst-hit parts of the Danube and our families were in safe areas. Understandably, after the peak of the flooding there was a hell of a lot of clean-up to do. That’s where the amazing Austrian spirit comes in.
Thousands of people offered to help – of course because this is Austria, everything was extremely well organised by some incredible volunteer organisations. The one that S and I are closest with is Team Österreich, a volunteer offshoot of the Red Cross. What they do is very simple – you register your details with them, and they send a text or email when they need help. No obligations, just a straightforward way to help those who need it. S had his first experience with them in the aftermath of Hochwasser.
The weekend after the worst of the flood, hundreds and hundreds of people met at 6:30am on a Saturday morning, offering their manpower to clean the cities and areas destroyed by the flood. Team Österreich co-ordinated everyone into organised groups, assigned them to the necessary areas and provided food for the day. The volunteers were sent where they were needed most – to buildings that had flooded, and streets where mud and debris had collected:
(All images of volunteers taken from Team Österreich’s Facebook page, you can ‘like’ them here)
Clearing mud from….everything.
It was a mammoth effort – made possible by organisations like Team Österreich, Caritas, the Rotes Kreuz and many many more. Their efforts, organisation and co-operation with the authorities made it possible for people to make a real difference, and do so safely. Without them, the Emergency Services would have been hampered in securing the safety of affected areas, and individuals would have endangered themselves by trying to access flood affected areas individually.
This was impressive enough in itself, then, last weekend, we got to be a part of the best thank-you event I’ve ever seen. The Federal Ministry for Labour & Social Affairs hosted a rock star event to award the volunteer organisations. Complete with the Austrian President, full scale stage lighting and giant TV screens, a celebrity host, catering, an über-cool warehouse venue and kickass award trophies for each volunteer organisation. Every volunteer was invited up on stage to have a group photo with the President when their organisation was given an award. Yep, we met the Austrian President on a casual Saturday morning – I was beyond impressed. Look how cool it was:
Huge Warehouse Venue at Marx Halle
A very spunky volunteer who you may recognise…
Delicious catering put on for the volunteers
General Secretary of Rotes Kreuz, Dr Werner Kerschbaum, with the Presidents Thank-You trophy
S up-close to the Prez and Barbara Stöckl (Austrias Oprah!)
It was an unbelievable and unexpectedly awesome event – free food, drinks, beer, coffee and some wonderful speeches from the President and hosts, who revealed that over 3.3 million Austrians are volunteers. In a country of just 8 million that’s pretty damn impressive. They proved that even if Austria has nothing to do with Thanksgiving as a holiday, they can definitely put on a feast and spread the loving and thankful spirit for people who deserve it most.
If you’re keen to get involved with Team Österreich, check out their website here http://apps.teamoesterreich.at/. They always need volunteers, particularly in Vienna to help run their donation ‘supermarkets’ every Saturday night. Food is donated by supermarkets weekly and needs to be collected in vans and setup for distribution to the less-fortunate every week. Team Österreich does the orgnanising, they just need your hands and help. Particularly during the holiday season this is a worthwhile way to spend a few hours of your Saturday. Who knows, you might even spot S or myself down there!