Nerys Jones

Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy Vienna

Guest blogger for Leigh Turner

Part of UK in Austria

17th October 2019 Vienna, Austria

Discovering Austria through Hiking in the Fog

“Are you getting out?”

“Yes”, I replied. “I’m getting out of the cable car.  And the Prime Minister has made clear we will leave the EU on 31 October.“

I never thought I would have to explain British Government policy whilst trying to jump out of a moving cable car.  But perhaps it helps.

Part of our job as diplomats is to understand, and influence, Austria.  That means meeting, and understanding, Austrians.  That is why I recently accepted an invitation to join a group of diplomats, politicians and business leaders at the 10th Wirtschaftswanderung (business hike) in Kitzbühel.  In its first ten years, the hike has also raised over Euro 200,000 for the ‘Netzwerk Tirol hilft’, a regional charitable organisation that provides immediate emergency support to those in need in Tyrol.

Diplomats are no strangers to networking.  But something extraordinary happens when you change the context, from the grand rooms of Vienna to the side of a mountain in Kitzbühel.  The Austrians even say that “above 1,000m everyone is “Du”” – in other words, no-one stands on formality.

Our hike takes us from Hotel Rasmushof at the foot of the Hahnenkamm to St.Bernhard Kapelle.  As we set off, heavy fog cloaks the surrounding mountains and it starts to rain heavily.  Unperturbed and in high spirits, we are united by one desire – to hike together.

We jump into the rotating cable cars.  The ride up, in damp, foggy conditions is another great opportunity for contact-building.  Before we know it, it is time to jump out again and meet someone new.

We reach our first stop on our hike.  It is still around 11 a.m.  “Beer?” one of the organisers offers. “Is there anything else?” I ask. “Schnapps!” my fellow hikers chorus.  I opt for the sports drink, which claims to have all sorts of reviving qualities.  These do not include yodelling; yet before I know it, Iam given an impromptu yodelling lesson by two local musicians: a great opportunity to introduce myself to the representatives from the Alpine emergency services.  I tell them about how the Consular team in the Embassy use social media to help raise the awareness of British visitors to Austria of how to stay safe on the slopes – a message which will become vital again as soon as the first snow falls.

Soon, it is time to start hiking again.  As we climb higher, the format provides excellent scope for in-depth, unhurried conversations.   I have interesting discussions with representatives from Cafe+Co (a regional vending provider), and ABB AG (who employ 3,000 people in 20 locations in the UK).

By now our entire party is soaking wet – including me, despite my excellent rain-gear.  We exchange soggy business cards.  But if the weather is chill, the atmosphere is warm.  We have all long bonded.

I hadn’t known what to expect when we started the hike.  I ended the experience understanding why Austrians love the Alps so much and feeling honoured to have been part of the wonderful tradition of the Wirtschaftswanderung.  I also learnt how important it is to change the context every now and again and to do things differently.  This applies to diplomacy as much as to business and politics. “Vui dabei” [totally involved], as they say in Tyrol.

1 comment on “Discovering Austria through Hiking in the Fog

  1. For the next few days we still live near Kitzbuhel. It is such a shame about the day you came that is a beautiful mountain and we go up it regularly in summer to enjoy the various alms.
    Unforunately it seems we will have to up sticks sell up ruin our lives and leave during the next few weeks as we cannot afford the Austrian Health insurance which we will have to have as the S1 form, which we use, will be dead.
    If you have any influence can you please beg the Austrian authorities to very very quickly engage with the UK to get a reciprocal health deal. After October 31st we have to leave there seems to be no other option. Then, of course even if a reciprocal health deal is entered into I presume we will not be allowed back as we will not have the correct paperwork. A catch 22 situation

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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.