5 min read

Walking in Vienna with Olga Yakimenko

On walking in Prater Park, eating nice cakes at Café Landtmann, London's "hot breath", Vienna's ghosts, a trip to San Francisco.
Walking in Vienna with Olga Yakimenko
Photo by Ali Nuredini

I met Olga for the first time in an online Interintellect salon in the pandemic. A few years later I met her in person at St Giles House, in Dorset, at the Realisation festival. Since then we had a few conversations on the city as a character, on the genius loci of places, on how we move and think through cities.

It's a great pleasure to publish Olga's urban stories and her thoughts on Vienna on The Flâneurs Project.

Please tell us a bit about yourself, where do you live now, where have you lived before, and about any creative projects that you are passionate about.

I was born in a country that no longer exists (USSR, now Ukraine), already a foreigner with my Russian parents, and was to remain a foreigner for the rest of my life: I moved to Cyprus at an early age, then moved to Russia at 12 (where I technically spoke the language, but otherwise stuck out) until going to Austria for a couple of years as a student in my late teens. After Austria, I returned to Moscow to study design, worked as a newspaper correspondent in the arts and culture section, and then completed my degree in the United Kingdom. I stayed there for a decade in spite of spending almost all of those years in dehumanising conflict with the Home Office, and finally moved to Vienna a month before Brexit was finalized in January 2021.

Throughout this time, I learned about art and retrained as a film-maker, working as an editor, videographer, producer and director. Things got weird in 2020 during the pandemic, when I began paying attention to narrative mechanics and the perception of vision and sound.

Having spent time working in science communications, I worked on cultivating my own theories of how people respond to stories, and resolved to create work that had a positive impact on audiences. At the moment, I am developing my first feature film: a sci-fi neo-noir about love, death, and consciousness set in modern-day Vienna.

aerial view of high-rise buildings
Photo by Paavel Liik

What is your favorite street / area in Vienna and why?

I set up home in Vienna in close proximity to 2 places I cared about: the Danube river, and Prater Park (largest park in the city; after being used as royal hunting ground in 1560, it was made accessible to the public in 1766, although hunting was not nixed until 1920). I frequently go on long walks and runs to think, feed crows, and watch water ripples.

What café and restaurant have you visited the most often in your city?

I'm most fond of 2 restaurants: a local joint named brösl ("crumbs") where they serve local and seasonal food (and where one can sit in the quiet street on warm days; such a pleasure!), and Café Landtmann, where I sometimes go to meet with family (they have very nice cake, and allegedly somewhat fancy clientele, although I wouldn't know).

Café Landtmann, Vienna

Please share a serendipitous moment from a walk.

I once performed a magic ritual with a friend in Hampstead Heath on my 35th birthday, the details of which cannot be shared. :-)

What city brings you deep joy whilst walking?

Now that I no longer live in London, walks there feel different, more exotic – there is a greater degree of separation.

Every great city is haunted. Just how many ghosts you will see as you walk through the city depends on how much life flourishes in the present. Even after the rise in property prices (and feelings of gloom) and Brexit, London continues to exert a kind of psycho-magnetic field for me: everything is significant, beautiful and terrible at once.

I can sit on a hill in Hampstead Heath and watch people walk their dogs from a distance, and it won't be immediately apparent that it isn't 1880 anymore. Even during the years I spent quaking at the fear of being kicked out of the country, when I walked through residential streets, it didn't matter if I felt glum or small – I never forgot that I was alive, partly because I could feel London's hot breath, waiting to swallow me up like a starving dog.

I like living in Vienna, but the ghosts are less translucent here – the past rules over the present. To me, Vienna is a city of the dead. Thankfully, despite believing that I deserve to die, I have enough life in me for three people, and so for me it is ideal to be in a place that is less alive than me. But that is because I have work to do. If I did not, I'd feel differently.

landscape photography of Big Ben under white sky
Photo by Ugur Akdemir

What is your personal definition of the flâneur / flâneuse?

I do not have one! But I suppose I see the flâneur as a kind of hyperchameleon – taking on the colours and contours of the areas that she walks on and through.

What part of the city you live in would you like to re-enchant and why?

I regularly re-enchant Prater, and Danube Island as I walk through them. One small daydream I nurse is to one day create strange objects in the woods so that young people may find them, and speculate on their mysterious nature. The world is ambiguous and strange and forever mysterious – but this mystery requires constant renewal, conscious effort on the part of the people who recognize its importance.

Unfortunately it appears that despite Vienna's glamorous reputation, not very many efforts have been made to take note of its older, more eldritch customs; this is probably in great part due to the history of its architecture (large parts of the city were established at certain points, punctuating the history, with not much else happening in the few gaps that are left). I see ghosts everywhere I go, but not enough. Give me more spirits! Who haunts where?

Danube Island is a recent construction: it is the result of a major re-working of the city from the 1970s, when a canal was dug through Vienna out of flood-related concerns. The displaced earth was used to create a long, skinny island in the Danube... and I want this island to be much, much more magical than it is. I've been feeding crows there as well as in Prater, so perhaps my crow army will assist me in this task one day...

empty road between high rise buildings during night time
Photo by Nenad Milosevic

If you could name a street, what name would you choose?


If you could move to another city tomorrow (and have every expense covered, job security, a new home) what city would you choose, if you had to go with your first gut instinct?

Gosh... "London" is a tempting response, given the main issue of living there is the nosebleed prices. But I'll be a little more creative and choose San Francisco, because I think that's where many of "my people" may be found. I'm lonely here. Vienna (and Austria more generally) pushes weird people out like the body rids fingers of splinters – they are foreign materials. Once I run out of beautiful work to do, I don't know what I'll do with myself.

San Francisco bridge
Photo by sally crierie

Thank you, Olga! I cannot wait to see you again in person in The Hague in July and to plan a San Francisco 🇺🇸 trip with you!