WORLD TRAVEL NEWS ARTICLE
VIENNA 2016 – BEYOND THE POMP AND PAGEANTRY
Wien Tourismus / Lois Lammerhuber
By the time the Emperor heard the news that his heir apparent, Archduke Ferdinand, had been shot in Sarajevo in 1914, he had already weathered three tragedies: the death of his 2-year old daughter, the suicide of his son and the stabbing of his wife, Elisabeth (or ‘Sisi’) by an Italian anarchist in Geneva. By the time Franz Joseph died in 1916 the Habsburg Empire was in turmoil. After defeat in World War I Vienna was in economic ruin, shorn of its hinterland territories. ‘Austria went to sleep a giant and woke up a dwarf’ commented writer Heinrich Steinfest about the fall of the 645-year-old Empire.
Although a century has passed since the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the aura of the great imperial monarchy is still palpable today, with reminders of bygone splendour around every corner. The Habsburgs left behind the Hofburg (Imperial Palace), epicentre of the great power from 1278-1918 and residence of emperors and empresses. The huge complex includes major museums exhibiting the vast personal fortune of the monarchy. On the verdant fringe of the city the Belvedere was the summer palace of prince Eugene, visited today for its wonderful collection of art (including Klimt’s legendary painting of The Kiss) and west of the city centre stands Schönbrunn, the former summer palace and magnificent grounds of the imperial family.
Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud
In 1865 Franz Joseph gave orders for the city bastions to be razed to the ground to make way for the Ringstrasse, the showpiece boulevard encircling the city centre. It was unparalleled in terms of urban planning, with grand public buildings, private palaces and imposing residences for wealthy citizens and the burgeoning bourgeoisie.
The world famous Staatsoper (State Opera House) was the first public building to open; then followed the Rathaus (city hall), University, Parlament, Burgtheater, Natural History Museum and its architectural twin, the Kunsthistorisches, home to a vast collection of artistic treasures accumulated by the Habsburgs. Magnificent palaces were built by Jewish entrepreneurs and bankers, who held exclusive ‘salons’. Among them was the Palais Leiben-Auspitz where writer Berta Zuckerkandl hosted her literary salon, attended by the likes of Klimt and Mahler (it is now the elegant Café Landtmann) and the Palais Ephrussi , which belonged to the once fabulously wealthy Jewish banking dynasty, the Ephrussi - ancestors of Edmund de Waal who tells of his family’s survival in Nazi-occupied Europe in the bestseller ‘The Hare with Amber Eyes’).
Literary and musical life flourished, balls were held in grand venues and festive processions took place along the Ringstrasse. Still today social events and demonstrations take place on Vienna’s most famous street: and in winter glitzy balls are still an important part of Viennese life.
BREAK WITH TRADITION
The Habsburgs may be omnipresent but Vienna is about the new as well as the old. The end of the 19th century marked the first major break with tradition when a group of artists, headed by Gustav Klimt, founded the Secession Building in Vienna to promote their avant-garde art. The temple-like building, crowned with a golden dome of laurel leaves, and nicknamed ‘the golden cabbage’ caused a furore when it opened in 1898 but is now regarded as a key work of Art Nouveau. The basement is decorated by Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, based on Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and depicting human desire for happiness - a far cry from Klimt’s earlier works when he was regarded as a pillar of the establishment, working on public buildings for Franz Joseph.
"Wiener Secessionsgebäude" by Greymouser - Own work.
Klimt’s travels to Italy, and particularly Ravenna with its Byzantine mosaics, inspired Klimt’s ‘golden phase’ culminating in ‘The Kiss’. The glittering erotic portrait is the climax of a wonderful collection of his works in the Upper Belvedere. One that has been sorely missed since 2006 is the much-admired Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Anyone who has seen Simon Curtis’s film Woman In Gold (2015), starring Helen Mirren, will be familiar with the story of the late Maria Altmann’s successful reappropriation of the portrait which had been plundered from her family home by the Nazis. Other big attractions of the Austrian Gallery are works by Klimt’s contemporaries, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka.
One of the world’s largest art complexes, the MuseumsQuartier met with stiff opposition when it first opened in 2001 but is now one of the city’s most popular rendez-vous. Just a stone’s throw from the imperial grandeur of the Ringstrasse, it was converted from the Imperial Stables, to become a centre of modern and contemporary art. A spacious piazza with alfresco cafés and colourful cult loungers (or enzi) gives access to several museums, among them the MUMOK museum of modern art, a striking grey basalt cube, the Kunsthalle Wien contemporary art gallery and the superb Leopold Museum which gives an overview of all the major movements in modern Austrian art, including Klimt and a whole floor dedicated to Egon Schiele.
OLD VERSUS NEW
In the ancient core of the city, right opposite the city’s medieval cathedral (Stephansdom) stands the post-modernist steel and glass Haas. The reflections of the church spires can be seen in the gleaming glass of the building. This business and retail centre was the work of maverick architect Hans Hollein (1934-2014), and although it was hotly disputed at the time of construction (1990) it is now a more or less accepted as part of the scenery and enjoyed for its cafés, shops and DO&CO top-floor restaurant with fine views across to Stephansdom. Hollein also designed the controversial ‘flying roof’ of the Albertina Museum.
The city today continues to evolve and move with the times. Bold new buildings have joined the cityscape, the contemporary art scene is booming and the metro (U-Bahn) offers a 24-hour service at weekends reflecting the revitalized nightlife scene. You can choose between efficient public transport (metro, trams and a swish new central station), the City Bike Scheme (public bikes to rent) or take one of the touristy Fiakers (horse-drawn carriages) which clip clop their way around the cobbled streets of the old town.
Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud
CITY OF MUSIC
Vienna and music go hand in hand. No other city has been home to so many composers of international renown. Some, such as Schubert and Strauss were born here, others such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Brahms and Mahler chose to live here. It boasts the world famous Staatsoper (Opera House), the Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna Boys’ Choir and numerous renowned venues where classical concerts are held. As a visitor to the city you will invariably be approached by Mozart look-alikes in frock coats, touting tickets for concerts. Apart from attending performances (and the choice is huge) you can visit Mozart’s house, now a museum, have a guided tour of the Staatsoper or take a high-tech voyage of discovery into the phenomenon of music at the House of Music – where sounds become visible, organ pipes may be walked on and visitors become virtual conductors and composers.
Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud
TAKE A BREAK
If you have had your fill of culture, Vienna offers plenty of antidotes to sensory overload. A visit to a Viennese Kaffeehaus with a kaleidoscopic range of coffees and creamy gateaux is de rigueur. Traditionalists head for Café Sacher in the eponymous hotel, famous for its Sachertorte created by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Metternich. Alternatively try one of the city’s convivial Beisin, informal style restaurants serving Viennese specialities or one of Vienna’s Heuriger (wine tavern, see below).
Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud
Green spaces and parks are plentiful, both in the city centre and beyond. Choose from the Ringstrasse parks, largest of which is Stadtpark where you’ll find the gilded statue of Strauss the Younger playing his violin; or cross the Danube for the extensive Prater Park, famous for its 1897 Ferris-wheel (Riesenrad), immortalised in the film The Third Man. On warm evenings head for the Heuriger or wine taverns on the hillsides of the Vienna Woods where you can sip Viennese wines under the stars.
Wien Tourismus / Christian Stemper
For rich history and glorious art, music and architecture few cities can match Vienna. Combine this with all the amenities of a modern metropolis and it is small wonder that the city is consistently number one in the Mercer’s international Quality of Living Survey. The Viennese are proud of their city’s heritage and enjoy a cultured appreciation of all life’s pleasures.
For lots of helpful information please visit https://www.wien.info/en
The following airlines fly to Vienna:-
Adria Airways / Air Canada / Air New Zealand / airberlin / All Nippon Airways / Austrian / Brussels Airlines / Continental Airlines / Croatia Airlines / Egyptair / LOT Polish Airlines / Lufthansa / Luxair / NIKI / SWISS / TAP Portugal / Thai Airways International / Tyrolean Airways / United Airlines / US Airways.
Transfer to Vienna City centre is easy by City Airport Train which departs every 30 minutes and the journey time is just 16 minutes. Please click on http://www.cityairporttrain.com for more details.
Just to make sure that lovers of fine food do not miss out, here is an example of a Sachertorte.
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