( dpa ) - "I urgently need shoes to go with my two ballgowns - one is silver, one peach. We have five more balls this season and the ones I have now are killing me after a few hours," a slightly harried customer announced, entering a Vienna shop.
This scene, observed in a small shop specializing in dancing shoes is typical of the Austrian capital these days. The ball season is in full swing, focusing the city's attention - and wallets - on the nights waltzed away in gilded halls.
This year's season, theoretically from November 11 to the early summer is very short - in fact cramming the large majority of the 450-odd balls taking place in Vienna into the few short weeks between New Year and the end of carnival on February 5.
It can safely be said that the Viennese are mad about their balls - from the high-brow Opera Ball to the rather pedestrian Chimney Sweeps' Ball or the gay-lesbian Rainbow Ball. At the same time, those events are developing into an increasingly important business factor. About 54 million euros (78 million dollars), 6 per cent more than in the previous year, will be made in the ball business this year.
More and more tourists are attracted by the annual waltz-fest, about 12 per cent or 35,000 of this year's ball-goers come from abroad, Vienna's tourist board said. Brigitte Jank, head of the capital's trade chamber, said balls are booming like never before.
"Especially bookings from abroad rise continuously," she said.
Why? " Vienna knows perfectly how to blend tradition and zeitgeist. No other big city continued to develop its historical heritage as intensively as Vienna did," believes Maximilian Platzer, organizer of Kaffeesiederball (Coffee Makers' Ball), notably Vienna's most popular ball.
But it is not just the big picture of ball economics that needs to be taken into account - it is all the small stuff that makes balls such an important business for Vienna.
Managers of hotels, fancy boutiques, shoe shops, hairdressers, taxi companies or restaurants, not to forget dancing schools or costume rentals grin gleefully during the ball season.
Yet, even less obvious suspects profit - for example the city's sausage stalls, thanks to the well-loved tradition of ending a ball night with a late-night/early morning sausage.
More than once, visitors wandering the streets of Vienna in the early morning were struck by the sight of elegantly clad men and women thoroughly enjoying themselves over a grilled sausage and a can of beer. In Vienna, balls are both big business and a way of life.
At the shoe shop, about 20 minutes and 150 euros later, a happy customer leaves the shop, proud new owner of a pair of three-inch- heeled silver-cream dancing sandals, ready to dance away another night.