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A place of second chances

Same same, but different. Rarely has this old saying been truer than at Magdas hotel in Vienna, a home away from home – for both travellers and refugees alike.

Walking closer, the old sign announcing a retirement home for elderly persons suffering from dementia is still visible, just lurking behind the newly installed hotel sign reassuring people that, indeed, they have come to the right place.

It’s a busy Sunday afternoon, one of those crisp spring days, and magdas hotel is hosting a design market. There’s an energetic mix of cool electronic music, delicious food, creative folks and lots of lovely vintage finds, together with art prints, accessories and a number of other lovely bits and pieces that were donated by local designers. With more than a hundred artists contributing to support a good cause at magdas hotel, it’s obvious that their mission and social business approach have touched upon a topic as present as ever.

The hotel itself is a story of second chances. Just as the now closed retirement home was given another chance to be filled with life and laughter, the story of magdas’ employees is just as often one of a second chance.

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A multicultural mix

Five professionals are currently guiding their colleagues through the art of everyday business. What sounds almost trivial is actually a small miracle in the making: magdas is currently employing people from 16 different countries, the vast majority of them former refugees that endured the unimaginable, and now look to build a new, independent life in the Austrian capital.

At the hotel, refugees from different backgrounds and countries, no, continents, are working together, now fully integrated into all hotel operations.

With the help of ngos and volunteers, the inclusion reaches beyond the hotel’s walls – not only do guests often take away the message of greater openness, but also the hotel’s employees often face their surroundings with a greater sense of belonging and purpose.

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Part of the building is used to host an assisted living community for unaccompanied minors, which makes the building as international as can be: travellers from all corners of the world are living next door to refugees, and upon arrival, they are welcomed at the hotel by multicultural staff, alongside a good pinch of Viennese charm.

Once you enter the hotel, you’ll see a huge wall filled with photos and, as they say, every picture tells a story. In magdas’ case, the pictures are portraits of their employees, and if you ask the staff, they will happily tell you the most incredible tales of perseverance and newfound hope.

No matter whether the origin of the magdas staff is Guinea-Bissau or Armenia, the common belief is that – with the chance of having a job and thus being further integrated into society – the former refugees have found a place to settle down and call home.

Michael Landau, the president of Caritas Austria, the charitable organization owning the hotel, stands by his call: “If you live here legally, you should be allowed to work here legally.” What sounds so basic and logical is often a matter of years and years of waiting for permits and papers. The possibility to work and actively integrate and contribute to society is one of the key aspects of successful integration. The importance of this project can, therefore, not be underestimated. With its clear strategy and focus, magdas hotel is a project that came into realisation at the perfect time.

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Gaining recognition

The positive connotations are making waves, as Magdas hotel has been nominated and awarded with several prestigious certifications and trophies within its mere 14 months of existence. The hotel isn’t only looking for already trained professionals, but Caritas, with its many ties amongst local and global ngos, also puts an emphasis on proper training and education of their personnel – if so necessary.

But it’s not only ngos coming in to help and train – this is a real community project. In the beginning of the hotel’s operation, people from all over the city were invited to pitch their ideas, to lend a helping hand and to share their knowledge. No matter whether tables for the garden had to be built, or concepts for events or spaces had to be found – everyone was invited to share some insights.

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Like family

The one recurring word when speaking to people involved in the project is a powerful one: family. Almost everyone – be it an employee, with or without a migration background, volunteers or guests staying at the hotel, all were emphasizing that to them, Magdas hotel feels like a big, open family where all new arrivals are treated to the warmest welcome in town.

First and foremost a hip, cool hotel, Magdas’ social business approach certainly opens new possibilities to enrich the hotel’s offering to guests.

Service and insider tips for tourists? Sure! In which of the 24 languages spoken among the employees would you like to get those? Fancy a cooking workshop for Syrian meze led by Syrian cooks? Absolutely!

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In addition to that, rooms and facilities at the hotel can also be used as temporary workplaces, as conference rooms or to host an event in a multicultural setting. The establishment is seeking to go beyond the usually restrictive structures of a hotel, in order to adapt to the needs of their guests.

So, no matter whether you’re looking for a delicious brunch, dinner or a hotel stay, Magdas hotel is definitely the place to visit in Vienna, because one thing is certain: you’ll never get bored here. And now you’ll have to excuse me, I really need to get shopping for those lovely little design pieces here at the market today.

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