Norbert Conti, head of Österreich Institut, has Austrian identity, Italian name, education from Spain, lived in Bolivia, loves Budapest and learned Slovak in Prešov. Now he lives in Brno and thinking of settling down here. After all, Vienna is just around a corner…
What brought you to Brno?
That was kind of a coincidence because I saw the job offer for Österreich Institut when I was working as a teacher at university in Slovakia at that time. I knew it was my last year in Slovakia and I had a chance to come to Brno, so I filled in the application and got the job. I already knew Slovak and the “German speaking world” in the Czech Republic, that helped too.
Before that you lived many other places in the world, isn’t it?
Before that I have been teaching German in Hungary in Budapest for a year, in London for half a year. I also studied in Spain and worked in Bolivia for over a year.
To all those places, how do you compare your experience living in Brno?
It is hard to compare Bolivia to European countries. Every country was a unique experience and I always knew I am coming for a certain time only. Just in Slovakia it was for longer and now I am feeling I am settling down. I enjoy Brno very much and not only because it is close to Vienna.
Back to the question, how would you compare living in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic?
I went to Budapest because it was my dream city. I like to speak Hungarian and could live there. Just at the moment the politic circumstances in Hungary are not the best. And as I am getting older I prefer a smaller city than Budapest. In Slovakia I lived in Prešov, Eastern Slovakia and I would not want to live there, four and half years was quite fine but enough in the end.
Do you feel closeness between Austrian and Czech, Slovak or Hungarian nature?
Definitely, we don’t share the language, but with Hungarians and Czech people and to a certain extent with Slovak people we share more common mentality than with Germans who we do share the language with. I left Austria at the age of nineteen and spent a big part of my life abroad. I can live anywhere but it would be hard to come and live in my hometown Graz. It is too small. I could imagine living in Vienna because it’s multicultural city.
Was there anything difficult coming to live in Brno?
When I came in January last year the weather was really bad for a couple of weeks, travelling by car wasn’t the nicest thing even though better than in a big city. Sometimes Brno feels quite small. Everybody knows everybody. I am not a sort of person who likes that. Another thing which is I think difficult is finding a flat for a reasonable price. If you want to live somewhere near the city centre the rents are pretty expensive. It’s not terribly expensive compared to Vienna or Prague but it’s not that cheap either. You have to look hard to find something reasonable. Concerning the authorities I have always made good experiences. Just last week I went to Finanční Úřad and they were really nice, trying to help even if it takes long time. But I speak Slovak so that helps a lot.
What could be improved in Brno?
I think there is not much you can improve. Public transport is great, probably the best I saw in Europe. And there are lots of initiatives like the Expat Centre or groups with culture active people so I think for a town the size of Brno it’s very good.
Where do you meet people if you want to socialize?
I go out usually and meet friends of friends. More often it’s foreigners but I have Czech friends too. And I am in touch with Austrians living here.
I have to say I don’t meet that many Austrians. Considering we are so close to the border and to Vienna…
There aren’t many Austrians living here. Some have a partner from here, some come and teach German and I got to know some people who just enjoy Brno. They live here alone. One friend told me he likes it better here because he doesn’t understand what people are talking on a tram. In Vienna he didn’t like travelling by bus and hearing people talking nonsense. So he prefers to live in Brno.
What do you miss in Brno?
Mountains. I do a lot of cycling and what I do miss is to go up a real mountains. Because here you have just hills. I miss the real mountains. I can’t think of missing anything else. I can get everything or Austria is very close. Well, the one thing that is quite bad is my experience with medical care in Brno. If you have an European insurance card you still have to pay in advance. When you register with Czech insurance you don’t have to pay but my employer is Austrian. The first time I went to the doctor I didn’t feel quite well and they said no, you have to go down to cashier to arrange your payment and then you can come here. That’s the point Czech republic could improve. Most German speakers I know go to Austria if they have a health problem.
Do you have a favourite place in Brno?
One of the best places for me is Kraví hora, the swimming pool. In summer or winter it doesn’t matter. When you go swimming in the morning and the sun rises you can see the whole city. Another of my favourite place is Avia restaurant. I like to go for lunch there.
Any Austrian restaurant you would go to when being homesick?
I go to Austria then. I have to say that the Austrian food is basically the same. We stole from Czech cuisine and Hungarian cuisine. We don’t have much on our own really.
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