The city is gray and the Danube is anything but blue. There are no
blazing boulevards, no picturesque artists’ quarters and the Spanish
Riding Horses are not even Spanish.
So why go to Vienna? Quite simply, because the City of the Waltz is
forever young…forever fair. This ancient,
tradition-steeped, crown jewel of Austria, long the capital of a great
empire, exudes charm and class from its austere pores.
Vienna is a look into history, a dream, and an illusion. Vienna
is music in the air. Vienna is schnitzel,
strudel, and schlag (whipped cream).
Gathered in concentric circles around Stephansdom (St.
Stephen’s Cathedral), and surrounded by the romantic Vienna
Woods, this city of 1.6 million inhabitants covers an area of 160
square miles. The impressive Gothic Stephansdom, located
on the Stephansplatz in the heart of baroque Vienna, is considered the
center of the city. There is an excellent panoramic view
of the city from cathedral’s bell tower.
realization of Simon Wiesenthal’s dream of erecting a memorial for
the Austrian victims of the Shoah
(Holocaust). This unique place of remembrance combines Rachel
Whiteread’s Memorial and the excavations of the medieval synagogue
with the Museum of Medieval Jewish Life to form a
commemorative whole. The inauguration took place on
October 25, 2000.
in the form of library shelves with books upon them. The two
concrete doors have no handles. Around the bottom of the monument are engraved
the names of the places in which 65,000 Austrian Jews were put
to death during the Nazi regime.
AGAINST WAR AND FASCISM
The vast Hofburg (Imperial) Palace complex, formerly the seat of
the Habsburg monarchs, is a complex of buildings from the Gothic
period to 1913. Of particular note within the Palace are:
The Hofburg Chapel (Burgkapelle) is used for performances of the
famous Vienna Boys’ Choir (Wiener Sangerknaben) founded in 1498 by
Maximilian I. Originally constructed in 1296, it was modified
150 years later on the orders of Friedrich III.
Der Amalienburg (Amalia Wing) houses the Imperial
Apartments. Guided tours start on the second floor, but there are 74
steps to climb to that second floor.
Schweizertor (Swiss Gateway), the old gateway completed in 1552, is
a masterpiece of renaissance art.
Schatzkammer houses an inestimable collection of jewels as a
part of the Imperial Treasury.
Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School) is the last
stronghold of the classic haute ecole of riding where
classical horsemanship is still cultivated in its purest
form. If you cannot make it to a performance of the famed
Lipizzaner Stallions, try to attend a morning training session.
As if the Hofburg Palace was not mind-boggling enough, we went on to Schonbrunn
Palace. This former summer residence of the imperial family was
named after a spring found on the site. Gloriette, the
Neo-Classical façade backdropping the palace, is the crowning glory of
the palace gardens. Gilded coaches, sleighs and sedan
chairs, used to transport the imperial family, are housed in the Coach
Museum, the former Winter Riding School.
Staatsoper (The Vienna State Opera House) is one of the world’s most
important opera houses. It is the magnificent
setting for the annual Opernball (Opera Ball),
Vienna’s most elegant and talked about social affair that takes place every
year on the last Thursday before Lent. I still recall rubbing
elbows with England’s Prince Phillip at the Vienna Opera Ball some three
decades ago. Cinderella at the Ball!
|VIENNA OPERA HOUSE|
of the best investments you can make in Vienna is the purchase of
a Vienna Card. It allows you to take any underground, bus
or tram for a period of 72 hours and to enjoy many attractions at
Our Vienna Card took us to Hundertwasser House, an off-the-wall public
housing building created in 1985 by
Friedensreich Hundertwasser. This off-beat artist, whose Jewish
mother signed him into the Nazi Youth Party to save the family
from suspicion, created Hundertwasser House as an outcry against what
he called soulless modern architecture. Reminiscent of Gaudi,
this building is a melange of onion domed cupolas, bright bands of color,
irregular windows, mosaic patterned ceramic tiles, uneven floors, and
trees growing out of apartment windows.
The nearby KunstHausWien, a museum presenting the works and
philosophy of Hundertwasser, is also the place to
lunch. The restaurant is a green oasis amid an urban
concrete desert. You can walk on an uneven, animated floor, sit on
any one of 100 different style chairs, and dine on one of many tasty
Austrian specialties. In the adjacent gift shop, you can buy a pair
of unmatched socks, Hundertwasser’s trademark.
Using the Vienna Card, we zipped over to Prater Fairground for a
20-minute ride on Das Wiener Riesenrad, the
Giant Ferris Wheel that was constructed in 1896. In
1945, all 30 of the wooden cabins were damaged or destroyed by bombs
and fire. Hand in hand with the reconstruction of
the city, the Giant Ferris Wheel was also
reconstructed. Fifteen of the thirty cabins remain and
have been turning without interruption since 1947. It is said
that if you have not taken a ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel, you have
not been to Vienna.
GIANT FERRIS WHEEL
The Giant Ferris Wheel was immortalized in Graham Greene’s film The
Third Man, which climaxed in Vienna’s cavernous sewer
network. The Vienna Card will also get you a reduced rate for a
20-minute chilling tour that gives you a glimpse into the secrets of
life below the city. The “Return of the Third Man Tour”
will immerse you amid the dark wastewaters of the city. Blurred
outlines, eerie shadows, mysterious voices, and ear-piercing shots will
end with a finale that finds you face to face with The Third
Vienna is also a sinfully fattening experience. Forget
restaurants. When it comes to the dinner hour, think coffee
shop, konditorei, and heurigen.
On our first night in Vienna, we decided to skip dinner and indulge our
fantasies in all the classy hangouts that are
synonymous with Vienna. First stop, Café Hawelka, a
traditional Viennese coffee shop since 1939. A hangout for artists,
students, the literary and the intelligentsia, Hawelka’s patrons have
included William Saroyan, Arthur Miller, Leonard Bernstein, and
Richard Burton. At Hawelka we ate our appetizer, “the cake of
the day” which is whatever Mama Hawelka decides to bake.
Next stop, Demel Konditorei, the Kohlmarkt coffee shop
that acquired its name in 1857. The exquisite Demel confections
that became our dinner entrée are still made by hand. And,
the penguin-garbed Demel waitresses still use the old polite form
of address when asking the wishes of their guests: “Haben schon
Without question, our dessert course could be none other than the
world-famous Original Sachertorte, at the Café of the
Sacher Hotel. In 1832, a 16-year old apprentice cook named Franz
Sacher created this decadent chocolate dessert for
Prince Metternich. The hand-written recipe is a “state
secret” and it has become the most famous torte in the world.
SACHER, HOME OF THE WORLD-FAMOUS SACHERTORTE
On our last night in Vienna, we enjoyed a Heurigen Evening
in Grinzig. The heurigen is a traditional wine tavern
in Grinzig, a northeastern wine-growing suburb of Vienna. The
young wines (heuriger) are served in these taverns along with
local specialties like schnitzel (veal cutlet), knoedel (dumplings),
tafelspitz (boiled beef served with applesauce and horseradish
sauce), strudel (fruit filled pastry) and gobs of schlag (pure,
unadulterated whipped cream). The merry crowd fetched
their food from the cornucopias buffet and we all drank refreshing fruity
wines from the area.
DINNER IN GRINZIG
gemutlicher abend. Prost! (An enjoyable evening. Cheers!)
STEINBERG is an award-winning Travel Writer and a Travel
Consultant affiliated with The Travel Authority,
Mariemont/Cincinnati, Ohio office.