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Thursday, May 20, 1999 Published at 18:20 GMT 19:20 UK

World: Europe

A secret affair in Austria

You can have your kuchen and eat it in Vienna

By Joanne Gilhooly reporting from Vienna

It is a city made for love, but if it is a discreet flirtation you are after, Vienna has that, too.

Techtel Mechtel is Austria's first dating agency catering for extra marital affairs.

Watch Joanne Gilhooly's report
It is known here as a "side spring", an extramarital fling for those who have become a little bored with their husband or wife but who do not want to break up the happy home.

So they turn to Techtel Mechtel who, for a six-month flat fee, offer introductions to suitable candidates - there are already 1,500 clients on their books.

[ image: The agency has no intention of long term matchmaking]
The agency has no intention of long term matchmaking
The agency's Renate Horzer says hers is a friendly family-run business - with no intention of long term matchmaking. Indeed she maintains that a little side spring can help a marriage:

"After a certain time, 20 years or so, a relationship fades a little - there are no butterflies in the stomach any more - that's quite natural - but you don't want to split up.

"We find that our agency can sometimes breath new life into such a relationship."

Dates on demand

It is a sign of the times - with mobile phones and breakneck schedules, the slow build-up of a relationship is being dumped for dates on demand.

The agency believes around half of their couples decide to meet again - but if not, it is a quick cup of coffee and goodbye - rejection without tears.

[ image: There are already fifteen hundred clients on their books]
There are already fifteen hundred clients on their books
For its supporters this extra marital entertainment is an efficient and pleasant distraction from the strains of everyday life, but not everyone is happy.

The Catholic church has called for a ban, saying such agencies are just exploiting those experiencing marital problems, in a country where the divorce rate is nearly forty per cent.

Caecilia Lipp of the Austrian Catholic Family Federation says: "Everything is short term and immediate and people don't want responsibilities.

"So, they say to themselves 'I don't want to be duty bound to anything. I can go to an agency and buy a relationship like buying any other kind of product or service and I don't have to be burdened by it.'"

'Moral weakness'

Christopher Hofinger from the Institute for Social Research and Analysis says: "I think the Austrians are not liberal on the oustide, on the surface, there is still a facade.

"If you go around Vienna you see a lot of beautiful facades, and if you go into these houses you see they are not as beautiful inside as they are outside."

For its critics, Techtel Mechtel is simply legitimising a moral weakness, but the agency insists they are simply reponding to age old romantic instinct - in a modern context.

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