Following Street Performers in Vienna – Vienna, Austria

Following Street Performers in Vienna
Vienna, Austria

I meandered around the city center for hours, fascinated by the street performers here in Vienna. My fascination is not simply with their performance, but their personality, with who they are.

A row of silver and Victorian statue performers stood at the base of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of Vienna and the center of Stephensplatz, gathering tourists for pictures. Standing eerily still, head to toe covered in silver, a young man smiled to the growing crowd, and at the height of the excitement he robotically bent over a silver boombox and out poured dance music. A break-crossed-robotic routine ensued. Later in the day he performed (minus the silver) with a breakdancing crew. The crew gathered large crowds every twenty minutes for the entire afternoon and although their act was a bit cheesy, their moves were fresh.

Just as they would finish one show, another performer would turn on music and attempt to draw the crowd his way. One such performer used the string and yo-yo mechanism called a Diablo. It was quite impressive seeing him toss the plastic yo-yo high into the air. I stuck around and watched the break dancers again, and was quite amused to see the Diablo wielder tell three crowds they were the greatest he ever had.

Tourists and locals hustling by a statue performer
Tourists and locals hustling by a statue performer
One of the best statue performers was a lady in a large, Victorian dress painted gold. Her face was also painted. She stood on a wooden box for the good part of a day. Another performer, who I had seen do a terrible show with the assistance of volunteers, was talking to the gold woman. She had finally come down off her box and took her dress off. She had on jeans and a sweater underneath. With a wetnap she wiped the make-up from her face, all the while talking to the other performer.

I started to see the comradery among all the performers. Two others who had a stall in their routines, chatted for sometime as well, like office workers do over coffee on their breaks. After the woman had finished cleaning her face and packing her things, she and what I now assumed to be her boyfriend or husband went to an ice cream stand, both of them wheeling their props on dollies. I watched them, interested in what they were doing and where they were going.

After she finished her ice cream they wheeled into the subway station in the center of the city. I followed behind them. They stopped at a magazine stand but didn’t buy anything. I followed them down the escalators and onto the subway’s platform. A train quickly arrived, as they always seem to do in Vienna, and I hopped on with them – nervous and excited, and I boarded the train behind them. The man had bleach blonde hair that I could see through the car’s glass. They rode the train to the end of the line before hopping off.

A statue robot dancer in Stephenplatz
A statue robot dancer in Stephenplatz
Improving my following technique as I went, I followed them outside. They stopped at two craft stands, but again bought nothing. I followed them again as they walked away from the station. Within minutes they made it home.

This awkward fascination of the life of a street performer had brought me to an interesting area of the city, one I would have never made it to otherwise. I found kebabs for two euros, and an hour of internet for the same price. The jewel of this area though, was the secondhand store I found. Although I found no old t-shirts, I did buy a few 45s.

Back in the city center the following day many of the same performers were there, doing the same things. I had hoped to see the silver dancer, but he was nowhere to be found. One of the statue ladies had come off her pedestal and was talking with one of the breakdancers from the day before. I wondered what they were talking about, probably the same things waiters talk about on a busy night, or bank tellers, insert any worker. For them it’s just a job.

I was distracted from reading by the clapping of a crowd that had gathered in an area of the square near an ice cream stand. As I got closer I noticed the woman I had followed the day before. She was not in gold though, but in a belly dancing costume, dancing to the rhythms of traditional belly music. Her pale skin and blue eyes didn’t take away from her charm. I scanned the crowd… and there he was. Holding a camera standing to one side was her boyfriend. As I walked away I wondered how many acts they have and for how long they have been performing on the streets of Vienna.