Interview Burghauptmann Mag. Sahl, 17. June 2020
1. Mr. Sahl, you were appointed for the position of a castle captain for the first time in 2010 and have been head of Burghauptmannschaft Oesterreich (BHOe) since then. What are the tasks of this subordinate section of the Ministry for Digital and Economic Affairs?
Die Burghauptmannschaft Österreich ist vor allem für die Erhaltung und bestmögliche Nutzung der historischen Gebäude zuständig, die im Eigentum der Republik stehen. Wir, also die BHÖ, sind auch im Grundbuch als Eigentümer der Liegenschaften eingetragen. Dazu gehört zu allererst natürlich die Hofburg Wien, als flächenmäßig größtes zusammenhängendes, historisches Bauwerk in Europa. Wir reden hier von Profanbauten – denn der Vatikanstaat als sakraler Bau ist schon noch größer als die Hofburg Wien. Zu den anderen Kulturschätzen, für die die BHÖ zuständig ist, gehören unter anderem die Hofburg Innsbruck, mehrere Palais in Wien, wie das Belvedere oder das Winterpalais des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen – das heutige Finanzministerium – aber auch solche Dinge wie das Bundesbad Alte Donau oder die KZ-Gedenkstätte Mauthausen. Unsere Gebäude sind äußerst vielfältig und dienen den unterschiedlichsten Zwecken. Was einerseits die kulturelle Fülle der Österreichischen Geschichte beweist, andererseits die MitarbeiterInnen der BHÖ vor große Herausforderungen stellt, und auch immer für Überraschungen gut ist.
And it is always good for surprises. So, a hidden space was discovered during the refurbishment and redesign of the Ministry of Finance, which was not visible on any blueprint. Our specialists have succeeded in integrating this space into the new museum. In addition, two beautiful stucco ceilings were uncovered while working in one room - and both were worth preserving. Destroying one of them was no option and therefore one ceiling was "relocated" with great sensitivity to another, equally sized, room. In such cases, we intensively work with other experts, such as colleagues from the Federal Monuments Authority. But of course also with specialised construction companies and craftsmen. A project like the Ministry of Finance needs enormous resources: financially, in terms of planning and work, but also in terms of the time frame. After all, it took 10 years from the original planning competition to the completion in 2012. A long time that was used in the best possible way when you look at the result. This has also been noticed internationally! And if you take into account the increase of costs, we stayed within the budget planned almost to the Euro. Apart from various special requests that nobody could have foreseen.
1.a. Die BHÖ ist demnach eine Dienststelle mit besonders qualifizierten MitarbeiterInnen?
Yes, BHOe is a highly specialised section with excellent employees, who go the extra mile in order to do their best. In addition to maintenance of the historical building stock, BHOe also has other tasks, namely the appropriate use of the estates it manages. In other words, the management and care for the properties or buildings. This includes the leasing of state rooms to museums and other cultural institutions as well as the rental of business premises, offices and apartments, plus the support of users in questions such as the provision of telephony services. Just one example: my staff managed the installation of a new telephone system for a State Secretariat in the Federal Chancellery virtually over the weekend. Do you remember how long it took you to get that done? Exactly!
Oder als anderes Beispiel wurden bei der Übersiedlung des Parlaments ins Provisorium am Heldenplatz die Plenarsaal-Einrichtung mit rund 70 Tonnen innerhalb von drei Wochen in den Redoutensaal eingebaut, d.h. die Elemente wurden in einer Lagerhalle zusammengebaut und mit Hilfe eines Kranes durch die Fenster in den Saal gebracht. Dort wurden sie so zusammengesetzt, wie man sie heute im Fernsehen sieht. Die größte Herausforderung bei der Umsiedlung war aber die neue Zuteilung der Räume auf die bestehenden NutzerInnen und das Parlament. ….. Aber meine MitarbeiterInnen haben sie gemeistert.
Personally, I see Burghauptmannschaft Oesterreich as a service provider with customers - i.e. our users, the other federal administration services, the government and of course the visitors to our historic buildings. When I entered the office of castle captain in 2010, hardly anyone had a clue what BHOe really stands for. It was also not clear what it was needed for. My matter of concern was and is to strengthen the image of BHOe internally and externally; and to show how important these built cultural assets actually are for Austria and its people. And if we think ahead, this meaning extends far beyond our borders. After all, these historical monuments are also important for Europe and the European Union. In recent years, this has become fairly clear in the initiatives of the EU Commission.
2. Since you are addressing the image of the BHOe: In your function as castle captain, you have introduced a number of innovations with a strong external impact - for example a congressthat has taken place annually since 2012. Or the engagement of the BHOe in EU projects.
Well, I have already pointed out that the positive perception of the BHOe is very important to me. And all these activities mentioned serve to make public the good work done by the BHOe staff. But the whole thing actually started differently: namely out of a desire to learn from others - from experts at home and abroad. That was the original idea behind the Congress for the Use, Management and Maintenance of historically significant buildings.
Training and further education, including knowledge management, were the central issues and it soon became clear to me that it came down to a question of personnel. You have to imagine that we deal with given positions: if an employee retires, I can only allocate the position after the person is actually gone. It then takes six to nine (!) months to get a new employee. And after that it takes another several months for the induction phase. This sometimes confronts us with insurmountable challenges, as the entire knowledge of the departing employee is lost for the organisation before we have a successor! I kept thinking about it - especially after a change in law in 2012, when the responsibility for the basic professional training of employees was assigned to the respective ministries. However, it quickly became obvious to us that the issues relating to the sustainable and adequate maintenance of historic buildings were also insufficiently considered in the relevant ministry - then Ministry of Economic Affairs.
2.a. What did you do in that situation?
So we discussed ways to fill existing and expected knowledge gaps. This resulted in the European Congress for the Use, Management and Conservation of Historic Buildings, but also things like EU projects and engagement in other European initiatives, such as the Heritage Label or Voices of Culture in the Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.
You see, I am an enthusiastic manager and as such I want to shape and implement. Something that was not the major priority in the BHOe team until 2010. This gave me the opportunity to take action and show initiative - which fully suits me and complies with my temper. So I looked at the situation and wondered what we can do. Of course I also got advice from others, because I admittedly had no idea about EU projects at the time...
But I was interested in the idea and it quickly turned out that something can be made of this, especially in times of tight budgets. Before the European Heritage Label was awarded, we were also asked who would have “final governance” within the area of the Imperial Palace Vienna – in other words who is responsible and has the creative power here. Therefore I considered the establishment of a user board as necessary and useful. Until then, the users were practically left to themselves - everyone dealt with challenges in their own good-or-not-so-good way. Now concerns are discussed with the user board, common needs are raised and also fulfilled as best as possible.
Es gibt eine Gemeinsamkeit, die vorher eindeutig gefehlt hat. Und das hat auch zu einem Zugehörigkeitsgefühl bei den Organisationen geführt – sozusagen zur Formung der Hofburg Wien Familie. Das wird durch die neue Website für das EHL, also das Kulturerbe-Siegel, das der Hofburg Wien 2015 auf unseren Antrag hin verliehen wurde, weiter gestärkt werden. Hier sind nämlich alle NutzerInnen entsprechend dargestellt oder zur eigenen Homepage verlinkt. I gfrei mi drauf!
In order to get this far, however, a lot of preparatory work had to be done. For example, we consulted some already available studies or even had them carried out for us - for example a research done by Prof. Mikunda, which provided us with valuable insights for the design of the new website. We developed and introduced a guidance system and built a common visitor centre that opened in 2018. But also joining EU-wide networks, such as the former informal and now formal network of EHL sites, or the network ECHN - European Creative Hub Network - supports our efforts to establish the Imperial Palace Vienna as a unity. We didn't even have to set up a “HUB”, as our user board had already implemented something similar. You see, I'm not going to get bored.
2.b. Lets go back to the congress once more: for what reason is the BHOe organising a congress?
The idea for the congress was more or less spontaneous, when we were looking for an opportunity to exchange experiences. As I said, we originally wanted to learn from others. However, this quickly turned into a different situation: namely that others wanted to learn from us! So the logical conclusion was to create a platform for exchange and mutual learning. The European Congress for the Use, Management and Conservation of Historic Buildings was born. The first two years were rather modest - mainly colleagues from the ministries and the Federal Monuments Authority Austria came together. But then the number of registrations increased and in recent years we have had up to 250 participants from home and abroad.
Of course, the EU projects have fueled our “internationality”. I remember well that at the first congress only our Portuguese friend Pedro Vaz, architect of the Portuguese Presidential Chancellery, was the only non-German speaking participant - he for sure had the full support of the translators! And he had quite a good time even in the evening after the congress.That has changed dramatically, because for several years we have been inviting lecturers and contributors to a social programme, e.g. the Otto Wagner Schützenhaus restaurant on the Danube Canal, one of our objects. The lecturers are increasingly coming from the EU, for example representatives of cultural heritage organisations such as EUROPA NOSTRA, or from monument offices in Germany. We also had experts from the Dutch digitisation agency or project partners such as the National Trust England or the Spanish Association of Cultural Heritage Managers. We have managed to turn the small learning event from the beginning into an internationally known and popular event that proves and disseminates the expertise of BHOe.
Nevertheless, the congress never was a permanent “event” right from the start. We have - and we still do today - always decided from year to year whether a congress will be feasible. It is firstly considered and checked whether there are relevant topics, whether the capacities are available and the costs are affordable. The next congress was only announced and carried out on the basis of these considerations.
However, I admit that we have reached a certain level of know-how today and that the congress is also being specifically requested by our previous participants. We can't get out of this that easily! We are also increasingly using the congress to disseminate our projects and their results. We have to do that for EU projects according to the contracts, and there our own congress comes really handy. However, in 2020, this malicious virus thwarted our ideas and plans. This means that a full-fledged congress can no longer be implemented this year – we lack a few weeks of planning time and preliminary work. That is why we decided to hold three thematic events instead: one for each current project, that is for EHL and the EHL@Network, the Horizon 2020 PRO-Heritage project and - this is particularly exciting - our new pilot project FLIP2 "INCREAS".
2.c. One more question about EU projects: What are the reasons for getting involved in EU projects?
As I said,
haben wir für Weiterbildung kein wirkliches Budget zur Verfügung. Gleichzeitig kann ich meine MitarbeiterInnen nicht einfach zum WIFI schicken, da dort nichts Spezifisches für sie zu finden ist. Also bleibt uns keine Wahl, als selber aktiv zu werden. Klassisches Dilemma: großer Bedarf, aber kein Geld! Da wurde ich 2013 auf die Chance hingewiesen, dass mittels geförderter EU-Projekte eine Umsetzung meiner Vorstellungen möglich ist. Und ich war gleich dabei! Die ersten Versuche waren nicht gleich erfolgreich, aber mit Beharrlichkeit haben wir 2014 ein Erasmus+ Projekt gestartet.
Mit MODI-FY – ich gestehe, dass ich den vollen Namen nicht auswendig weiß – konnten wir eine zertifizierte Aus- und Weiterbildung für InstandhaltungsmanagerInnen entwickeln, die internationalen Standards entspricht. Gemeinsam mit so hochkarätigen Partnern wie National Trust England, National Trust Slowakei, der Portugiesischen Präsidentschaftskanzlei – Sie erinnern sich, Pedro Vaz – der ECQA, einer österreichischen Zertifizierungsorganisation wurden Online-Module und Vor-Ort Kurse erarbeitet, die für eine Zertifizierung notwendig sind. „Alte Hasen“, also MitarbeiterInnen mit Jahrzehnten an Erfahrung, haben jetzt die Möglichkeit, ihre Vorkenntnisse anerkennen und sich nach einem Prüfungsgespräch zertifizieren zu lassen.
This way, we achieve purposeful training and further education for BHOe employees and can document the existing knowledge and keep it in the organisation. And after the project work was so successful and exciting, we immediately continued and got involved in other EU projects. We have been invited to some as partners. We applied for others ourselves and I have to admit that our success rate is increasing. In 2019 we started the Horizon 2020 project PRO-Heritage, a project that deals with the topic of energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy for historic buildings. Relevant trades, some of which are threatened with extinction, are presented with best practice examples and used for further training purposes. Here too, learners are rewarded with certificates, which has a positive impact on their professional careers. And since 2019, BHOe is the coordinator of the EHL@N network and works together with 28 other EHL sites on a common branding.
For all of these projects we now have our own website, where all projects can be found, namely www.projektwelt-burghauptmannschaft.eu. www.projektwelt-burghauptmannschaft.euHave a look!
Oh, and then on June 15th, a few days ago, our first pilot project started. We are particularly proud of that! Indeed, it is something special to be able to carry out a pilot project for the EU Commission. And we obviously already have a good reputation: After all, those responsible for the pilot have inquired about us internally – asking those responsible for the network. And since the feedback was positive, we can now define and document the new European sector for historical building culture and creative industries - among other things. We have learned a lot since the first application for an EU project, have grown together and accepted the challenge of managing an international project in English. And that in addition to the normal work tasks.
Now is the time to put our project results into practice. But I'll tell you more about that in the next interview.