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“I Feel a responsibility to improve the good reputation of Hungary abroad” – Interview with Owner of Wiener Christmas Salon

There is a place in Vienna where the Christmas atmosphere reigns all year round. The Wiener Christmas Salon, which opened its doors in 2016 and even won the “Best Business Award” last year, also has a Hungarian aspect: the owner herself is Hungarian. However, Anita Gosztola is not only active in business life, but also in different Hungarian communities, and not only in Austria! She is also a member of the Budapest-based Friends of Hungary Foundation, which publishes our news site. Among other things, we asked Anita about Christmas in Vienna, about her exhibition of Empress Elisabeth, Sisi, as well as her personal story of how she opened the salon in Vienna. Interview by Dániel A. Vargha.

This article was originally published on our sister-site, Ungarn Heute.

The beginning…

“Can I open a pastry shop in Vienna?”, was the election campaign question back then, before we joined the EU. You got started, but not with a pastry shop. Why did you decide on something completely different?

I opened the first year-round Christmas salon in Vienna, the Wiener Christmas Salon, in the first district at the beautiful Franziskanerplatz. At first thought, I could say that I listened to a feeling that came from the depth of my soul, and I followed that feeling. In the second place, I have loved Christmas since my childhood and the feeling it brings. With the Wiener Christmas Salon, I wanted to convey this feeling with all the beauty and the message of Christmas. Later it turned out that opening such a salon was more necessary than ever. A symbol of faith, hope, peace, and love. The spiritual meaning of Christmas, the coming and triumph of light over darkness. Therefore, for me, Christmas is all year round!

Anita Gosztola. Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

Back to the campaign question- it was suggested that it would be easy for all Hungarians to open a business even in Vienna when the country joins the EU. Was it really easy?

For me it was easy. Everywhere I went I got help. It didn’t even take me two weeks to get started and I could already order goods with my tax number. As for the premises, I was also lucky, because there was no transfer fee and my application was considered acceptable by the owners. Within 1.5 months of submitting the application, I already knew that I owned the business.

Was the Austrian environment completely foreign to you?

Yes! Especially from a business perspective. I never thought I would own a business in Vienna one day. I used to organize programs for tourists in Vienna as a tourism expert and sometimes I went to Vienna on a private basis.

What has your experience been like? Were you able to adapt easily?

Austria accepted me easily, but I, who had reservations about myself, felt inadequate. But when success and positive feedback came, I was already able to believe without a doubt that I am really good at what I do.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

Tens of thousands of Hungarians live in Vienna, and many among them are members of various Hungarian organizations with the goal of coming together. Why is it necessary, just a few kilometers from the Hungarian border, to create larger Hungarian communities?

The Hungarian communities are eager to promote both Hungarian culture and business relations. Those who have lived here longer, 50 years or even more, have more experience. They can help us a lot in the integration process. These people form a secure base to turn to at any time. Although Vienna is not far from home, we live our daily lives here in a different yet very similar culture. Here we can exchange experiences and celebrate our Hungarian holidays together in a dignified way.

A similar organization is the Budapest-based Friends of Hungary Foundation, which works the other way around, as it tries to bring together Hungarians living in the diaspora from Hungary. As an active member of the foundation, why did you join the organization?

I am honored to be part of this community. It is always a great pleasure for me to see how successful people from Hungary experience, maintain, and pass on their Hungarian heritage.

For me, being a member of the community means being a good example and I feel the responsibility that we can improve Hungary’s good reputation abroad with our successes and values.

We have already met at several events in Vienna/Austria. Most of them were cultural programs. Is it easy to find such events in Vienna?

Yes! All associations and program organizers make an effort to promote their programs. These communities are permanent and where we like to go, we also like to participate in their events. One could say that good programs are spread quickly by word of mouth among Hungarians living in Vienna.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

Wiener Christmas Salon

The story of the Wiener Christmas Salon began in 2016. At the opening ceremony, the real Santa Claus, Joulupukki from Finland, was also there. Was it difficult to convince him to come to the opening?

It was a great pleasure for me to welcome him here with us. For many of us who were present at the opening, a real dream came true. It was not difficult to convince him to come to our opening ceremony. When I first visited him in April 2016, I couldn’t say anything concrete about the salon. At that point, it was just a plan. Nevertheless, I asked him if it would be okay if I invited him in September to attend the event on October 21st. He said yes without hesitation and kept his word. He visited us and greeted everyone in a friendly manner. We even took pictures with him. Since he speaks several languages, he had no problem speaking in German.

Most of us probably saw such a Christmas salon for the first time in the US movie Home Alone. Did the Christmas house of “Mr. Duncan” play a role in the realization of your idea? What impressions, memories, and experiences motivated you?

I have completely followed my inner spiritual world with my decorator, with whom I have worked for almost 25 years. I am very creative, and when I imagine something, I fulfill it in most cases. I wanted to create such a place that reflects my inner world, my feelings. A place that shows what exactly Christmas means to me.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

The Wiener Christmas Salon is not only a store, but also an event and exhibition hall. On the lower floor, you can find a lot of valuable, museum-like and unique decorations, as well as an exhibition about the history of Christmas. Have you ever been asked to lend exhibits for a movie shoot or commercial?

Yes. Since last year we have done many shoots, given the beauty and uniqueness of the store. The artists of the Volksoper (Vienna Opera House), Monika Ballwein, Eva Poleschinski, and A1 Telekom shot their Christmas commercials here this year, and the sponsors of the Hofburg Children’s Ball also shoot their welcome videos and photos here. But my greatest joy is having Anna Netrebko, the world-famous opera singer, among my customers. This year we even made Christmas decorations for A1 Telkom, Nestlé, and Nespresso, among others.

Do you perhaps have a favorite piece from your collection?

Yes, I have a favorite piece, and it’s a real Santa sleigh that weighs 200 kg. Of course, it is not so easy to choose from so many beautiful pieces. It is pulled by reindeer and interestingly it came from Budapest, from a family that also loves Christmas.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

There is also an exhibition entitled “Sisi’s Dresses and Christmas,” and “Sisi and the Hungarica.” It is known that the empress liked to spend Christmas at her residence in the Hungarian town of Gödöllő, which coincided with her birthday. How is this Hungarian ancestry reflected in the exhibition?

I have been researching the true history of Christmas for a long time. I have always been interested in traditions and special pieces. Sisi is also part of the Christmas story, as she still attracts a lot of attention. I found the clothes (by Mónika Czeglédy) for the exhibition in Gödöllő, Hungary.

These pieces will be a part of the Sisi costume exhibition in Halbturn next year. I am especially pleased that we were the first to present a few of them to the public.

One can further find three different “Zsolnay Sisi Sets:” mocha, tea set, and complete dinner service. (Zsolnay Porcelain Manufactory Ltd. is a porcelain and maiolica manufacturer in Hungary. Since the middle of the 19th century, the Zsolnay Porcelain Factory has been a symbol of the city of Pécs and Hungary – the editor). A video image film about Hungarika will also be shown, and the Hungarikum book will be presented. The presentation is organized by the Vienna Christmas Salon. There was also a presentation of the book Queen Elisabeth and the Hungarians. This edition by Barbara Káli-Rozmis was a great success in Hungary, published by Helikon Publishing House.

In February of this year, we also established the Austro-Hungarian Cultural Association for the Preservation of Festive Traditions, and a Vienna-based Value Preservation Agency, which are responsible for presenting Hungarian Hungarica in Austria and finding more Hungarica in the Austrian provinces.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

Last year, the salon received a very prestigious award, the “Best Business Award.” Were you surprised?

Yes, I was very surprised, but I was also very happy because this is a very nice recognition for all the work we have been doing for five years.

The Wiener Christmas Salon had to endure several lockdowns in the last almost two years of the epidemic. How much did coronavirus measures affect business?

Unfortunately, we felt the measures very much. In fact, in the last two years, the house was constantly renovated at the initiative of the owners, so we were locked outside beyond the lockdown for almost 1.5 years.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

As a Hungarian, how do you experience the current lockdown? In Austria, even vaccinated people were restricted for weeks, while in Hungary there are practically no restrictions. Do you ever return home for cultural or gastronomic relaxation?

That’s the only reason I don’t go home, but I visit my family regularly, and when there’s a business trip, of course, I have to be at home. I come from Celldömölk. The town is not far from the border.

For you, it’s Christmas all year round, because the salon is open all year round. Haven’t you had enough of the Christmas spirit by December 24? Can you still experience the magic of Christmas even though you live in this world all year round?

I can’t get enough of it. It is a great joy when I see the enthusiasm and happiness of my guests. With this daily experience, the holiday is a “double holiday” for me, and that gives me a lot of energy.

Photo via Wiener Christmas Salon

Are you spending the holidays in Austria or in Hungary?

So far I have spent the holidays with my family in Hungary. I have three godchildren and the celebration is complete with them. This year, however, I will be in Vienna on Christmas Eve and I won’t go home until the 25th.

How do you think Christmas differs in the two countries?

Austrians are more attached to traditions, while Hungarians also keep traditions but are open to new things, including the American Christmas feeling.

Photos via Wiener Christmas Salon/Anita Gosztola/Jennifer Kaiser

Featured image via Wiener Christmas Salon

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