Homeless in Vienna
On a trip to Jordan and Lebanon (in 2013), I had options for flying. One option was non-stop back to the US, or stay a night in Vienna. Seeing Vienna as a stop excited me and it turned out to be the cheapest option. Being a Beethoven fan, I had longed for many years to visit Vienna and now was my chance.
Booking a Room
While waiting to leave Jordan, I went online to book a room at a hostel in Vienna. The layover would be 16 hours and I figured getting a little sleep would be nice. Long story short, I had no money in my checking account (transfers in Jordan didn't exist at ATM's) and all I had was about $25, enough to take a train into town, get something to eat, and take the train back. No worries I figured, thinking God would hook something up in Vienna.
Upon arriving to Vienna, to put it simply, I was exhausted. I was with a team visiting a refugee camp and we left on separate flights from Amman. Everyone's flight was in the evening, mine the next afternoon. Not having much money, I stayed overnight at the Amman airport, at a Starbucks. We had spent the day before at the Dead Sea, in 100° heat, a quick dinner, and then to the airport. I was stinky. Trying to sleep, I was a bit paranoid in being alone, and I was bothered by a fly that would land on my face. 15 hours later, I was on my flight to Vienna.
In Vienna, it was about 8pm when I found a the train into town. The train was about $15 roundtrip, leaving me with $10 cash for a night on the town in Vienna. I put some Beethoven on (Mass in C) my headphones for some mood music.
Arriving in town, oh my, the beauty of the city just struck me. The sun had already gone down, but there was still a slight blue glow low on the horizon. In the distance I could see a tall, glowing white tower spiking into the sky. I didn't know where to go for anything, so I headed for that.
In the Back of My Mind
As I was making my way, I was at a crossroads. it was getting dark and despite the beauty of the city, I was thinking about "I need a place to stay tonight." But I was also in sensory overload. The streets became sort of a maze to me, and I didn't want to get lost from the train station.
I Look Like a Bum
It started to also dawn on me that the city felt a little more upscale than I had expected, and then there was me. I had a trip beard going on which looked rather bum-ish. Then I had baggy pants, a dark hoody, and a backpack. Most of the people there were dressed nice, clean-shaven, no bags, and didn't look like they'd been awake for 2 days (stinky). The lure explore outweighed my thoughts on my appearance.
I finally found what the large white tower was. It's a huge cathedral at the center of the old town. And when I say huge (I don't think my pictures do it justice) I mean huge. My head had to be tilted all the way back to see all the way up. It was amazing. I was trying to figure out the name of it, but all the writing on the outside was in German, and was also hard to read if I could see it. Circling around, I found the entrance by following someone who looked like they were sneaking in. Finding a spot in some pews, I stopped to relax a minute. After a short prayer to Jesus, I stood up just as I was getting sleepy. Security came by to say the church was closing for the night.
Leaving, I still didn't know where I was or where I was going. So I asked someone, "where am I?" and they said the place is called St. Stephens Cathedral.
That Which is Golden
Soon I found myself in the midst of a bunch of great-looking cafes, but they looked like they would be expensive, Passing by many, I saw a glowing sign of something I could afford...the golden arches of McDonalds (sorry to all you foodies). After eating a burger, which I must admit was mighty good, I went back outside to walk. Fatigue hit me quickly but I tried to push on to exploring the city and was just amazed at the architecture.
At 11pm fatigue set in and I felt done. The bustling streets began to quiet down. Many of the sites I wanted to see were all dark. Depression started hitting me. I was in an amazing city but I was physically done. The lights were out and I was in the street. I went back to the cathedral to sit on a bench there and sleep. For safety I thought at least I would be in an open square.
It Just Felt Cold
Near the cathedral, I saw a homeless man sleeping on front of a store called Humanic. He was the first I had seen. At least I wasn't alone. I sat hoping to fall asleep. A few minutes passed and I felt the cool breeze I was previously enjoying. However, it just felt cold. I was starting to wonder just how cold it would get. Each way I turned to face, the cold would hit me differently. I figured if I could just fall asleep I wouldn't notice the cold.
As I began to doze off, a lady came up to me to ask me something in was in German. I just shrugged and asked if she spoke english. She chuckled and shrugged at me, and walked off. After that, I couldn't sleep. By this time, it was only 11:30. I felt a panic wondering I how was I would last til sun-up. After sitting there a bit, I looked and saw the golden arches of McDonalds again. It was the only place open...warmth.
I went in for some coffee (and a couple cheap burgers...I admit). It was warm and had a comfortable seat. I noticed one lady in there who sat alone, not eating or drinking. She was in there when I first came through a couple hours before. I was wondering if she too was homeless. As I sat there eating slowly, I think I fell asleep in my seat. I don't remember anything between looking at her and feeling a hand push me, finding my face down on the table. I was told I was not allowed to sleep there. Then the place was closing and I had to leave.
It's Night, but Day is Coming
I looked at the clock in hopes hours had past, but then it was only 1am. I was more sad. It was too cold so sit on a bench, McDonalds was closed, and my legs felt done. I was thinking of just heading back to the airport to sit and sleep, but I felt like I would miss out on Vienna.
At my lowest feeling, I felt a spoken encouragement that it's night, but day is coming. That gave me a little energy to just keep walking. It became enough energy to circle most of the city (old Vienna) a few times. About 5 laps of the city took me a few slow hours. It was dark, but I just loved the buildings. I would just stand and look for a while. Time passed without much thought.
I found cool parks, even one dedicated to Beethoven, but it was too dark to see anything. I found a beautifully lit opera house, but it was closed for closer inspection. Further, I found Franciscan plaza called Franziskanerplatz, but the church there was closed. However, there was an interesting statue of Moses still lit up, at least for a couple minutes while I was there. The lights went out quickly.
I was doing ok, surprisingly, but then a problem hit me. Being dehydrated from the day before (100 degrees at the Dead Sea) I felt a need for the WC (bathroom). Problem again...where?!
After searching for an hour, I finally found a hotel lobby and did my business. Back outside, I could see the night sky returning to a faint blue hue. Morning was here. The night was finally over and I had the city to myself. The streets were empty. I could walk and stand anywhere for a photo...and I did. The fatigue had lifted and I just felt a new day as the city slowly awoke.
Now that the sun was coming up, I could think of many places I had seen in the dark and wanted to photograph in the light. Knowing my way around now, I was on a mission. From parks, lights, alley ways, statues, and even ducks, I was in sort of a paradise. I'll let the pictures speak.
Back to the Airport
Making my way back to the train station, I saw a lady sleeping at the backdoor steps of St. Stephens Cathedral. I wondered if it was the same lady I had seen in the McDonalds. So I walked up to place a couple euros next to her head, but she heard me approach (my silent batman skills were lacking). She barked at me, but I just showed her the coin and said "coffee!" I set it down and just walked away. Walking away, a few minutes later I saw the real lady. She was sitting in a crowded bakery, but she sat alone.
Jesus In Vienna
I began to think or understand (I think?) what it must be like to be truly homeless. You have nowhere to go. The temperature is what it is. Need to use WC? You want someone to talk to? For me, I knew it had all been temporary. But for her? I had a plane ticket and a few dollars. I had friends who seek me out and sacrifice for me. But what about her? In a sense I knew I was taken care of by God, and in my limited understanding, I know she is too. But, I couldn't help but now think I was given a brief glimpse into the feeling and the responsibility I have in helping my fellow neighbor. It's fine to say God looks out for her and others, but maybe God wants to use us just as much to help others as He helps us? Vienna wasn't too bad a place to be homeless, at least for one spring evening. But there are places far scarier and real people are there? In all my wanderings that night, I now see that I met Jesus at the end of that night, and Jesus wasn't just my plane ticket out of there, He was the person sitting alone and cold, hiding alone in a crowd.
One Last Stop
On the train to the airport, I made one stop. It was an old graveyard where Beethoven is buried. My time was a bit short and I didn't know where to go. Taking the long way around in the graveyard, it gave me some time to reflect on my night. Most of the graves I saw were very old, from the 1700's and on. They were quiet, of course. It made me wonder how these people sort of built the city I was looking at, but they were gone. So many names I knew nothing about and I wondered who they were.
Upon finding Beethoven's grave, I could tell you who he is. It's amazing to me that a deaf composer has such a legacy, but that's not what I know him for. I know him for his passion to pursue his art, to pursue beyond his suicidal thoughts, beyond his frustrations, beyond the criticisms of his contemporaries, all with an abiding sense of God being with him. I can't compose a lick of music, but in my own way, the inspiring take away has been to stay with God, even in dark nights. The depression is real and the circumstances are real, but so is hope. It's cliche, but waiting for the next day, it's so worth it that I can't begin to describe the feeling of cold going to warm, dark to light, dead to life, and from deafness to hearing.
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” - Luke 16