Vienna’s Horse-Drawn Carriages are Delivering Free Meals to Seniors

Delivering meals while there are no tourists is helping neighbors in need.

Apr 20, 2020

(Popova Valeriya / Shutterstock.com)

Vienna’s iconic horse drawn carriages – called fiakers – have been repurposed to deliver free meals to the city’s at-risk population, mostly seniors who are isolating at home. The carriages have been a feature of life in the Austrian city since the days of the empire, hundreds of years before the advent of automobiles.

Once the city’s main taxi service, according to Virtual Vienna, the fiakers are now a popular tourist attraction. With their drivers wearing distinctive bowler-hats, the horse-drawn carriages have been a popular mainstay of the city center with stands located at historic landmarks including the Imperial Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

Now, with Austria under coronavirus lockdown, there aren't any tourists to use the carriages and some of the drivers are pitching in to help with the aid effort.

"There are no tourists, there is no business at all, and therefore they're all at home. But the horses still need to move around," Christian Gerzabek, a part-time fiaker driver and a local official in Vienna's 13th district for the conservative People's Party told Reuters.

"My idea was to combine the practical with something good for people who need it... It's also a bit of a signal that despite all this we are here for people and glad to do our bit," he said.

Gerzabek and two other drivers, Reuters said, have paired up with the InterContinental Vienna hotel which is using its kitchen (even though there are no guests staying there) to provide free meals to the elderly and medical staff around its city center neighborhood

The people who are receiving meals are really appreciative. Gabriele Gleilinger who has an autoimmune disease told Gerzabek after receiving her first meal, "This is a great initiative! Thank you very much!"

With New York City also on lockdown, the Central Park horse-drawn carriages also do not have tourists to take on rides around the park according to CentralPark.com. But some of the horses are now vacationing in the Pennsylvania Amish country.

Frank Riccobono, the owner of New York City Horse Carriage Rides, chose to send his horses to farms in Pennsylvania according to The New York Post.

In mid-March, the entire industry made a decision to put our horses on furlough, and I sent my eight horses to Lancaster County on March 19. They are on a farm, grazing and eating grass over 100 acres. They need to be exercised daily and this was the best decision for their well-being” Riccobono told The New York Post.

While this industry is often criticized by organizations that call for the ethical treatment of animals, this is an example of a company that is concerned about the welfare of its working horses. In fact, Riccobono, sends his horses to the same farm every year during the required six-week furlough.

“I’m really missing my horses. My daily routine was to go to the stables on West 52nd Street, groom them, work my shift as a driver and spend more time with them…I will be going to the farm to visit them soon. But right now, we are just riding out the storm,” Riccobono said.

While other tourism industries may not be as out-of-the-box as using fiakers for food deliveries, many hotels and resorts are donating their unused food to food banks and other NGOs to help people impacted by the shutdowns. The Disney resorts, according to a post on the Disney Parks Blog, donated food from Disneyland in California to Harvest Food Bank of Orange County. They are far from alone.

Taking care of people (and animals) is something that is happening around the world. It shows that people, even in the worst of times, are capable of acts of great kindness and they are finding creative ways to do so.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.