Vienna shakes off fusty image as Eurovision carnival hits town

VIENNA (REUTERS) - Vienna hopes the final of the Eurovision Song Contest will show a new liberal and light-hearted side to the opulent Austrian capital when the jamboree of glitter, capes and power ballads hits town this weekend.

Tourists associate Vienna with classic architecture, composers, traditional coffee houses and the Blue Danube Waltz, composed in 1866 - conservative images which the city is now trying to move beyond.

It has recently begun promoting its culture and imperial history to a wider audience including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) travellers with money to spend.

Hosting Eurovision, a kitsch contest popular with gay fans - and won last year by Austria's bearded drag queen Conchita Wurst - should give that strategy a big boost.

"I have not felt any dustiness at all. I think the liberal image fits, it's not artificial," said Ralf, 49, a German graphic designer with a nose piercing who spent more than 1,500 euros (S$2,230) on his trip to Vienna to celebrate Eurovision.

"We know that in some people's minds Austria is still seen as fusty, boring and everything other than cosmopolitan," Ulrike Rauch-Keschmann, a spokesman for Austria's national tourism organisation, told Reuters.

Vienna hit the headlines this year when the famous Cafe Prueckel ejected a lesbian couple for kissing in public.

Some conservative politicians in Austria cried foul last year when broadcaster ORF picked Wurst to represent the traditionally Roman Catholic country.

But Wurst won by a landslide and in a sign of her instant popularity has since been gracing adverts for Bank Austria splashed across the city.

"I personally feel that Austria is really coming out of the dark," said 29-year-old Ciaran Tuttiett from Britain, sipping a beer at one of Vienna's public viewing spots. "They use Conchita to promote themselves. It's fantastic."

The city is also known for the Rainbow Parade and the Life Ball, one of the world's biggest Aids charity events, this year attended by stars like Charlize Theron and Sean Penn, Kelly Osbourne, Mary J Blige and of course, Conchita Wurst.

For Eurovision, it has even changed some of its traffic lights to show same-sex couples instead of the usual single, gender-neutral figure.

"Vienna is...known by some communities as one of the most open cities," said Martin Stanits, a hotel association spokesman. "But with Conchita Wurst and Eurovision, this image is finally reaching a wider audience."

Vienna's tourist office is investing 1.2 million euros in connection with the contest and hopes it will bring around 26.5 million euros in revenues and benefits.

Tourism authorities believe Wurst's victory and its staging of the show, watched by more people worldwide than the Super Bowl, will have a lasting effect on Austria and its image.

"No marketing campaign in the world would have meant such a positive image boost for the country," Rauch-Keschmann said.

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