Eugene Quinn is a Londoner who lives in Vienna. He is an urbanist, a DJ, one of the founding members of the social intervention group Space and Place. He is a rebellious optimist, as he puts it himself. One of his projects is the Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations. Inspired by An Intimate History of Humanity, a book by the English philosopher Theodore Zeldin, he tries to bring people together and give them the chance to have meaningful conversations about how they see the world and about life in Vienna.
Where did you get the idea to do something like this? What made you think that people who do not know each other would happily sit together for a meal and talk not only about what it means to be a foreigner or a native in a city or in a country but also about their life and sometimes even about their hopes and fears?
Vienna is not a city which welcomes strangers. The locals are shy, intellectual and full of angst. It can be difficult for incomers to make friends, or understand the soul of the city. But I know that there is lots of curiosity amongst the Viennese about the international community here – specially the U.N. office – and so we wanted to create a forum where insiders and outsiders meet as equals. In an age of right-wing intolerance, we wanted to send out another message – that Vienna is engaged and modern and open to the world. And for travellers, there is a fashion to go beyond the cliches and discover the real life of locals, instead of Sissi and Schnitzel.
Our urban culture group Space and Place explores the soul and identity of contemporary Vienna. We celebrate the city in all its modern complexity. I find the coffeehouses an important part of our evening (we have moved between 5 different cafés), because so many radical and avant-garde movements in art, literature, architecture, psychoanalysis and music were developed in these brown, intimate, bohemian spaces. We want to tell some new stories about our home town, and open up new dialogue.
Read the entire interview as a PDF.