Blown away by the music

Observations on opera

Authorities in Vienna are planning to drive drunks and drug addicts from the city's main underground station, Karlsplatz, by the judicious use of the music for which the city has become renowned - opera.

For years, Vienna's homeless and down and outs have used the station as a social club: begging, hanging out and taking drugs in the underground walkways. Despite regular police crackdowns, petty crime has continued to soar. Social workers and CCTV have had little impact.

Now, the local council has a new tactic. Loudspeakers will pipe opera and classical music into the station, providing a calming, refined soundtrack and, officials hope, a gentler solution to the problem. "These sorts of people are not fans of such music. We believe they will not hang around," a council spokesperson said (perhaps a trifle snobbishly). But the "marginalised groups" will have a place to go. Special quiet rooms will be provided inside the station where they can gather, unharassed by Mozart and out of sight of the general public.

But there is more to it than that, says councillor Ursula Stenzel. "Vienna is the centre of classical music. Karlsplatz is near the opera house; it should be a place of art, but at the moment it is just a place of drugs. We want to do something to honour Viennese culture and the ambition of this place."

There is much to be proud of: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Johann Strauss, Junior and Senior, spent their formative years in Vienna. (What they would make of having their music deployed to ward off troublemakers is an interesting question.)

However, classical music was not always the preserve of the elite. Strauss Junior, the "Waltz King" was popular with all classes of Viennese society and conducted sell-out concert tours in Europe and America.

Today, tickets for the Vienna Opera House regularly sell for more than £100, and dinner jackets and diamonds are de rigueur. Still, for those unable to afford it, there is always Karlplatz station.

This article first appeared in the 02 April 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Africa: How we killed our dreams of freedom