A Fiaker horse carriage is on its way to deliver food packages during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria April 8, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

VIENNA – Under coronavirus lockdown, one aspect of modern Vienna might look familiar to victims of plagues past – horse-drawn carriages are delivering meals to those most at risk during the pandemic.

So-called ‘fiaker,’ derived from the French term ‘fiacre,’ have been a feature of Vienna’s life since it was the capital of a vast empire. Now they live off tourism, their often bowler-hatted drivers offering tours of the city center from stands at landmarks such as its cathedral and the former imperial palace.

With Austria now under lockdown, some drivers are helping to provide free meals to the elderly, who are particularly threatened by the coronavirus outbreak.

“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,” said Christian Gerzabek, a part-time fiaker driver and a local official in Vienna’s 13th district for the conservative People’s Party.

“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 added.

Tourism stays at hotels are banned, and the InterContinental Vienna hotel has no guests. Still, it is providing free meals to the elderly in its neighborhood, Vienna’s third district, just outside the city center. 

Gerzabek and two other fiaker drivers have joined the effort to deliver the 250-300 meals a day the hotel prepares, which are also transported by car and bicycle. As of Easter Monday, the target group will switch to medical staff on the night shift at a nearby hospital.

“This is a great initiative! Thank you very much!” one recipient, Gabriele Gleilinger, who has an auto-immune disease and stays at home, told Gerzabek as he delivered her first meal.

—Reuters