Wien, Wien, nur du allein
Sollst stets die Stadt meiner Träume sein !
Vienna, Vienna, you alone
Should always be the city of my dreams!
I recall my grandmother singing this song when I was little. It was such a lovely melody and she sang I so wistfully, I though that Vienna must be a very magical and beautiful place to inspire such a melody. Farmor grew up in Schleswig, a piece of land that went back and forth between Germany and Denmark. When she was born it was German so she always had a soft spot for German music.
Personally, I never dreamed that I’d ever make it there – yet here I am.
Old Vienna – not quite
Vienna has always seemed like an ancient jewel at the cross roads of Europe and the orient. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that while there is
an old Vienna, that was originally inside the city walls, most of what I saw was in fact ‘new’. Franz Joseph 1 initiated a massive infrastructure project in 1848, hoping that by providing transportation, schools, and hospitals that the populace would give up on the idea of personal freedoms and rebellion. Franz Joseph knew how to wow the public. The impressive buildings, with equally impressive statues, around the Ringstrasse are only just slightly older than Vancouver.
Because these relatively new buildings adopted architectural styles of the past, when you walk around the ring road in Vienna, you think you’re seeing ancient buildings but in fact these buildings are only 20 years older than Vancouver, which was incorporated in 1886. Of course while Van Horne was sitting in a tent in Gastown in 1886, the Viennese were enjoying kuche und kaffe in civilized surroundings.
Old and New United
While Franz Joe 1 was busy building new buildings in old architectural styles, there were many Viennese artists that thought architecture should look forward, not back. Otto Wagner was one of the pioneers of this Viennese attitude which can be seen today when you look around Vienna. You can see modern designs sitting right next to old architecture. It’s exciting really. It shows that while Austrians respect traditions, they are not bound by them. They prefer to look forward for inspiration.
Where’s the Danube?
I was looking forward to seeing the famous Danube River. Now I know that both the Donau and the Danube are in Austria. So, imagine my disappointment when I realised that only the Donau ran through Vienna. Then one of my travel mates pointed out that the Donau IS the Danube. Boy did I feel stupid. None the less it was a surprisingly emotional experience to see the Donau/Danube river.
City of Art and Music
It’s overwhelming how much beauty is contained in this city. Buildings are covered in beautiful stucco work or modern murals.
Then there is the fact you can walk in the footsteps of Beethoven and Mozart, down the exact streets they did. You can even sit in the same pub, see their signatures on the wall, all while enjoying a nice Gruner Veltliner. So astonishing.
And yet the Viennese see these wonders every day. They appreciate the history but don’t let it hold them back. For them Vienna is a historical city in progress.
City of Schnitzel und Kuche
You gotta love a city that has a Goulasch museum. You know it takes its food seriously.
My first meal was at Nordsee, an Austrian fast food joint that serves fish. A surly woman served me a fish filet with gemuse – steamed vege. Not gonna make it in the top ten so I won’t bore you with details.
Unfortunately because I was part of a group with a busy schedule, I had to fit in my outings where possible. Also eating out in Vienna is no cheap affair. So I when I had time, I headed out to treat myself to a gourmet extravaganza.
Luckily close to my hotel was a local café called Café Ministerium as it is right across the stream from one of the government buildings. It had worn red velvet banquets with gold frames around the mirrors on the walls. It was practical and comfy. The Weiner schnitzel (pork) was perfectly crispy and was served with a surprisingly appropriate salad. There was lettuce and tomato but also cold German style potato salad and sauerkraut. And, of course, I had to wash it down with a lovely gruner veltliner. Ah.
Josef Meinl is a gastronomic dream come true. It has a very discreet entrance, blink and you miss it. When you enter the hallowed halls, it’s like entering a private club – dark wood, red carpet, club chairs, subdued lighting – only it’s a grocery store. The shelves are arranged like a maze which make you want to turn the corner to discover new delicacies. Then you ascend a red carpeted staircase with a brass rail. Upstairs you find a bakery / pastry counter, a cheese counter extraordinaire and a charcuterie counter with ham from every region hanging above it. I was going to cry. It was soooo beautiful.
One of my travel mates, Agent E, suggested I try Café Prukel, an 100 year old coffee house where more Viennese than tourists hang out. People
of all ages arrive after work to enjoy a beverage and conversation, like they have for decades. I saw only 2 people with their laptops and NO ONE was looking on their phones. They were talking to each other. It would be the exact opposite in Vancouver.
Everyone was telling me to try the famous Sacher torte. Well it is fine but I prefer Hazelnut. So I ordered a Nusskuche mit Einspanner with Schlagobers (big helping of whip cream). As I enjoyed my coffee between bites of creamy hazelnut cream, I watched life go on around me.
People were taking time to talk to one another or simply be together. No one was in a hurry, well the waiters were. But they allowed people to sit undisturbed, only occasionally checking in, so people could just enjoy themselves. An older couple next to me came in to read the newspapers together. Two girlfriends were meeting to chat. A young man and woman seemed to be having a political discussion. All were here, just being, interacting. I don’t think you could be lonely in Vienna. People like to socialize a lot.
Farmor would have loved this café. People taking time to enjoy coffee and conversation. She would have loved the elegance of manners and service in the café. She would have loved the straight forwardness of the Viennese and their practical attitude. She would have loved the food and music.
Wish she could have been here. We would have had so much fun.