Tuesday, November 12, 2013

a week in vienna

In Schloss Belvedere.
So after reading that love letter I wrote to Munich, you're probably thinking that I ended up loving Munich even more than the place I was most excited to visit...Vienna.

clockwise, from upper left: Café Prückel; the Prater; an ivy-covered wall in one of Vienna's many hidden courtyards; Stephansdom cathedral; in the Hofburg Quarter.
Well, you would be wrong.  I loved Vienna even more.  I was blown away by Vienna.  I'm not even sure I can put my thoughts about Vienna into words.  While I could easily list the things I loved about Munich that made me love it and want to live there, Vienna is somehow more difficult to grasp.  It's a little dirtier than Munich, feels more urbane and multicultural (I think I heard Slavic languages spoken as much as German), and is slightly less...orderly.  The drivers were crazier, and I saw fewer bike riders.  (I'm pretty sure those two things are connected.)

Vienna, as the seat of the Habsburg Empire, was once a major world power.  It has a very rich cultural history.  Some famous Viennese?  Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss, Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Egon Schiele, Hedy Lamarr, Fritz Lang.  (Oh, yes...and Christoph Waltz, of course.)  I had (and still have) no shortage of books to read about this city (I'll include my reading list at the end of this post).  And though the Austro-Hungary empire is no more, Vienna is still thriving.  It has a complicated past, which I think makes it all the more fascinating.

If you can't find something in Vienna to to pique your interest, I think you may be comatose.

We stayed in an apartment next to the Belvedere, which houses two palaces full of art, and is famous for its collection of Klimt paintings.  Though I loved seeing the Klimts and other art in the museum, I particularly enjoyed the grounds of the Belvedere.  Looking at that last photo, you might think I took these photos on different days, but no.  The day we visited it started out gray and drizzly, which made the shrubs and just-changing leaves of the trees look even prettier.  By the afternoon, the clouds had mostly dispersed and I was able to take that blue sky photo of the Lower Belvedere.

The grounds are open to the public, so Andy was able get up and run through the Belvedere every morning.

Otto Wagner's Karlsplatz Pavilions, and the golden-domed Secession Building, which houses Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze.
Vienna is stuffed full of museums--art, design, and historic--and we saw just a tiny fraction of what is available.  We walked through the Imperial apartments at the Hofburg and giggled at the somewhat Vegas-y, Ripley's Museum-ish quality of the exhibits at the Sisi Museum, the section of the Hofburg dedicated to the fascinating Empress Elisabeth of Vienna.  I loved getting to see so much of Gustav Klimt's work everywhere (well, maybe not the ubiquitous cheesy Klimt souvenirs), particularly the Beethoven Frieze in the Secession Building.  And the city boasts many examples of Jugendstil/Art Nouveau design, including Otto Wagner's Karlsplatz Pavilions.

But my favorite museum of the entire trip was the MAK (Museum for Applied Arts).  The permanent collection rooms have each been redesigned by contemporary artists.  (Jenny Holzer's take on the Biedermeier Room is pretty nifty.)  But my favorite part of the museum was the extensive collection of  Wiener Werkstätte items (the MAK owns the Wiener Werkstätte estate).  It was one of the best museum experiences of my life.  The MAK also has a stylish cafe with Ottakringer beer on tap and delicious Kürbiscremesuppe (cream of pumpkin soup).

Speaking of food...we ate well.  Very well.  Yes, we had giant Wienerschnitzel...the above are photos from Vienna institution, Figlmüller, where you can also order a delicious potato salad made with the ubiquitous pumpkin seed oil.  We ate Tafelspitz (boiled beef), and we had the giant pork knuckle at the Schweizerhaus biergarten in the Prater.  We had fried Emmental with cranberry sauce.  

But our favorite?  The Bitzinger Würstelstand near the Opera.  Our order varied only slightly with each visit.  The first time we had a can of Stiegl, but on subsequent stops we switched to their special draft Opernbräu, added pickles and hot peppers, or a side of frites.  But one thing did not change: we always ordered the Käsekrainer, a cheese-filled sausage that is apparently a favorite with late night drinkers.  You can have it served to you stuffed inside a big ole sausage bun, but we preferred to share it this way, with a piece of brown bread on the side (and adorable tiny forks!).  I can't say I'm always the biggest fan of street eating.  I feel like I'm always chasing down a stray napkin and trying not to drop food all over my clothes.  But I loved eating at the Bitzinger stand.  There are heat lamps for when it's chilly.  And in the evening you can watch the opera crowds.  (I love the idea of fancy opera-goers having a beer and sausage just before or after the show.  So one night we did just that, and got SRO tickets for Der Rosenkavelier, and afterwards stopped at Bitzinger.)  It was also here that an older Austrian gent struck up a conversation with me, and I had my first (and only) conversation with a German speaker that went beyond "Danke" and "Bitte."

l-r, clockwise: Café Prückel; Café Demel; Café Hawelka.
Vienna is famous for its cafe culture, and we sampled a few of them.  The Vanillecremeschnitte (vanilla cream and custard cake) at fancy bakery/confectionary Demel was amazing, but my favorite cafe was probably the more bohemian Hawelka.  Or maybe it was the light and airy Prückel with its 1950s-era decor. I can't decide.

One thing you notice when walking around Vienna is the large array of old signs and storefronts, much of it mid century neon (in some amazing fonts).  Sadly, these signs are disappearing, whether due to new stores taking over the space, or the current owner's inability to pay for the expensive servicing of neon signs.  Luckily, Vienna has a Sign Saint (that's not his actual title; just what I call him) in Achim Gauger of Vienna City Typeface.  I found Achim's Instagram account, where he uses his photography skills to document these signs, when I was looking up information about Vienna before our visit.  We met up with Achim, who gave us an incredible three hour tour of Vienna's first district; they were the most informative and interesting hours of our time in Vienna.  Achim knows more about Vienna (where he's lived for 15 years) than I do about the much smaller city where I have lived for the same length of time.  If you're interested in Vienna, old signs, interesting fonts/typefaces, or just beautiful photography, you should check out Achim's Instagram feed.

Achim taught us to look all around us when walking around Vienna.  And to take every interesting-looking little alleyway or side street.  Vienna was not built on a grid, and trying to use a map to navigate your way around it is an exercise in frustration.  Yet it's very concentrated and easily walkable.  Just start wandering...you eventually end up where you want to be.  Or someplace even more interesting.

Vienna is surrounded by vineyards, and the city and suburbs have many Heurigen, or small taverns run by the families who own the vineyards.  We took a short trip (just a U-Bahn ride to the end of the line) to Grinzing, where we saw the striking Karl Marx Hof housing project, got a peek at the beautiful vineyards, and sat and enjoyed Sturm (young wine, kind of like cider), Grüner Veltliner, and food in a the lovely, cozy setting of the Bach-Hengl Heuriger.

clockwise from upper left:  Prater Hauptallee; a Prater ride we did not take; Wiener Stadtpark (Vienna City Park); beers at the Prater's Schweizerhaus; the Wienfluss in the Stadtpark.
Like Munich, Vienna has some lovely green spaces, the largest of which is the Prater.  We strolled along the chestnut-lined Hauptallee, watched dogs play, saw the Ferris wheel that Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles rode in The Third Man, and drink beer in the biergarten.

I admit I'm more than a bit melancholy when I think of Vienna.  I feel like I made only the tiniest of dents in what I wanted to see of this city.  Now, understand...I wouldn't change a thing about the pace or manner in which I did see it.  I would far rather take my time absorbing a place, rather than trying to cram it all in in a mad rush.  I just wish I had another week to spend in Vienna.  Or three.  

I'll be counting the days until I return again.

More photos of my trip are here, on my Flickr.  For those planning a trip to Vienna, I found this blog, written by Vienna native Barbara, to be an invaluable resource:  Vienna Unwrapped.


P.S.--For those who are interested, these are the books I read before, during, and after my trip to Vienna, with special thanks to my friend Nancy Hirschbein who recommended the great reads about Klimt's painting and the Wittgenstein family.

*The Third Man, by Graham Greene
*The Piano Teacher, by Elfriede Jelinek
*Fin-de-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture, by Carl E. Schorske
*A Nervous Splendour: Vienna 1888-1889, by Frederic Morton
*The Empty Mirror, by J. Sydney Jones
*Waiting for Sunrise, by William Boyd
*Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913/1914, by Frederic Morton
*The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, by Anne-Marie O'Connor
*The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War, by Alexander Waugh
*The Radetzky March, by Joseph Roth
*The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, by Jonathan Franzen


  1. Fabulous photos Karen and holy dooly that schnitzel is HUGE! I absolutely adore all of the typography used in the signage for the cafes. So great!

    I know how you feel about wishing you'd seen more of a place but you're so right in that it's much better taking your time to absorb it than trying to cram it all in. And I have inkling you'll be back there one day! :)


  2. What a great trip you two had! Doing your research really paid off, didn't it?

    1. Yes--the research was part of the fun and anticipation! I like the unplanned moments, too, but knowing something about a place adds to the richness of the experience for me.

  3. Oh what a truly heavenly place to visit......such amazing photographs....beautiful!
    Till you are back in Vienna again.
    Love v


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin