Leigh Turner

Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

16th February 2017 Vienna, Austria

More about that Tyrolean Squirrel’s Tail

The wind is whistling at the top of the Hungerbergbahn.  But my teacher is encouraging.

‘It’s bärig,’ she says.  ‘Innsbruck ist bärig’ (‘Innsbruck is terrific’).

I repeat; and repeat; and repeat again.

I’ve written before about the variety of Austria.  A country dissected by great mountains and steep valleys has developed, over centuries, a patchwork of local landscapes, dialects and cultures.

So it was important for me recently to visit Tyrol, the second most westerly and amongst the most mountainous of Austria’s nine provinces, and call on local businesses, official contacts and opinion formers.  I wanted to hear their views.  And I wanted to talk about UK priorities – including the UK’s decision to leave the European Union – what has become known as “Brexit”.

My visit included calls on and contacts with several important Tyrol-based companies with links to the UK, including Egger, based in St. Johann; and companies from Tyrol’s Chamber of Commerce.  All were keen to know how Brexit would affect existing or future investments in the UK.  I noted that a number of international companies had made major investments in the UK since last year’s referendum, in sectors from pharmaceuticals to banking and motor vehicle manufacture; and that forecasts for UK economic growth in 2017, at 2%, were healthy.  Growth in the UK is important for Tyrol because many British tourists visit the region – around 1.7 million overnight stays in 2016, including both skiing in winter and summer holidays in the beautiful mountain scenery.

Tyroleans are famous for their hospitality, healthy lifestyles and love of the great outdoors.  Climb a peak on a summer weekend and you may find three generations of a single family enjoying a sandwich at the summit.

When in Innsbruck I had the privilege of a call on the Provincial Governor, Günther Platter, and the Mayor, Christine Oppitz-Plörer.  Both were keen to hear about trade and investment opportunities between the UK and Austria and the impact of Brexit.  We also took the opportunity to discuss political developments in Austria.  I am sure I will be breaking no confidences to observe that developments in Vienna often look quite different depending on whether they are viewed from Innsbruck or from within the “Ring” which surrounds the First District of Vienna itself.

I also met members of the lively local Austro-British society, who were keen to hear about how Brexit would affect Austrians living in the UK and British people living in Austria. I was able to tell them that the UK is keen as soon as possible to be able to protect the status of Austrians already living in the UK, like those of other EU nationals, providing the remaining 27 member states do likewise for UK nationals living there. I was accompanied by the respected British Honorary Consul in Innsbruck, Hellmut Buchroithner OBE, who has been providing assistance to British tourists in distress and representing the UK in Tyrol since 1987.

While in Innsbruck I took the opportunity to call on students and senior staff at the University of Innsbruck; and to make an early morning call on the tiny pupils of the Cole International School outside the town.  I visited the Police Department to thank them for their support for British tourists, and to discuss migration; and had breakfast with former EU Commissioner and Austrian Agriculture Minister Franz Fischler, who offered fascinating insights into today’s Austria.  I also called on the impressive newsroom of the Tiroler Tageszeitung for a discussion.

Finally I had a lesson on Tyrolean dialect with Roberta Hofer of the University of Innsbruck.  To film the discussion we rode to the top of the Hungerburgbahn – a spectacular cable car whose stations were designed by British architect Zaha Hadid, one of the most famous architects in the world, who tragically died in 2016.  You can see the stations in the video which accompanies this blog.

Was Roberta a good teacher?  Well, she did help me to say in Tyrolean dialect: ‘The squirrel’s tail is terrific’ – ‘Der Oachkatzerlschwoaf ist bärig.’

Now all I need is a chance to use the phrase.

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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.

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