We wish there were a better story to tell about the boat, but unfortunately, we’d have to make it up!
So, remember the large chimney sweep mentioned in the Hohe Brücke story?
He can be found jutting out over the street with his ladder and flue brush at Wipplingerstrasse 21, just next to the Hohe Brücke. While real chimney sweeps can still regularly be seen walking around town, this large representation of a chimney sweep actually has nothing to do with cleaning chimneys. Instead, and disappointingly, he is merely an advertising logo for the licensed lottery company Hohe Brücke, which belongs to the Austrian Lottery Foundation.
However, even this corporate advertising has a few secrets to tell. Why would a lottery company have a chimney sweep as an advertising logo? Well, it’s because chimney sweeps in Austria have long been seen as bringers of good luck – something one generally needs to win the lottery!
This goes back to the Middle Ages, when life was organized around fire and chimneys as a source of light and warmth in the winter. While chimneys provided comfort within the home, they also presented a constant danger. If the chimneys were not cleaned regularly, poisonous gases and spontaneous fires could break out, often with fatal consequences. Wives were therefore constantly nagging their husbands to clean out the chimney, but this was difficult and often also dangerous work for people who were not properly trained.
Thus, it was considered great luck if a chimney sweep happened to be walking by, who would do the work professionally and for relatively little money. The danger would be gone for a while, your wife would stop bothering you about it, and you didn’t have to blame yourself for anything that went wrong during the cleaning process – an excellent and lucky solution!
But, it wouldn’t be Vienna if the venerable chimney sweeps didn’t also allegedly have the Kaiser and Imperial Court to thank for their reputation. The story goes that the K&K chimney sweep, who was responsible for cleaning the imperial chimneys at Schönbrunn Palace, once heard about a plot to kill the Kaiser while working inside a chimney shaft. He alerted the Imperial house of these plans, thus foiling the plan and saving the Imperial family. Is this story true? We don’t know, but it helped cement the reputation of chimney sweeps as bringers of luck and good fortune in the minds of the Viennese!
Vienna is not just a city of many secrets, its also a city of multiple layers. This can be seen most clearly in the Roman ruins unearthed at the Michaelerplatz in front of the Hofburg, where one can see just how much lower those walls and buildings were built. But there are other areas where this multi-layered nature of the city is also evident, if somewhat more subtle.
One such place is the Hohe Brücke (high bridge), which spans the Tiefer Graben (deep ditch). If nothing else, Viennese names are highly descriptive and accurate, because the Hohe Brücke is indeed a high bridge over a deep ditch!
The bridge that currently connects Wipplingerstrasse over the Tiefer Graben was completed in 1904, but it is far from the first bridge to be built in this particular spot. Indeed, the first recorded bridge comes from the Babenburger times, with a sketch from a wooden bridge stemming from the year 1295; already then it was called the Hohe Brücke. The street that is now the Tiefer Graben, over which the bridge goes, was originally the riverbed of the Ottakringer Creek, which was later re-routed to become an arm of the Alser Creek – aka the Alserbach, a name which might ring a bell to people living in the 9th district. The current bridge is a Jugendstil gem, constructed out of steel and decorated with golden engravings.
It is particularly beautiful at night when it lights the street below it with some 3,000 watts, through the stairway to get up to the bridge.
You may also notice that it is constantly watched over by an larger-than-life chimney sweep who juts out from the building above the bridge, but that is another story for another time...
The Türkenschanzpark is one of Vienna’s most beloved parks, but have you ever wondered about the name?
It comes from the fact that Ottoman troops built entrenchments here during the second siege of Vienna in 1683. The Ottomans remained entrenched here for two months before the decisive Battle of Vienna broke out on the Kahlenberg on September 12, 1683, which reportedly included the largest cavalry charge in history.
There are also other Turkish connections, most notably the türkischer Brunnen (Turkish fountain) at the Dänenstrasse entrance of the park. While you might think that this fountain has something to do with the name of the park or the historical siege of Vienna, it has only been there since 1991, and is dedicated to Yunus Emre, a Turkish poet and Sufi mystic, who died in 1321.
The fountain was dedicated to the city by the Turkish ambassador as a symbol of friendship between Vienna and Turkey, and is one of the few memorials that focuses on commonalities rather than differences between these erstwhile rivals.
Another notable fountain in the park is that of a female nude washing herself above a cascading fountain of water that flows into a basin. This is called the Preißnitzbrunnen, named after Vincenz Preißnitz, who was a farmer and self-taught natural healer in the first half of the 19th century. He earned his reputation already at a young age, after being thrown from his horse and run over by a wagon at age 17, which resulted in two broken ribs. This would have been a potentially fatal injury at the time, but Preißnitz was apparently able to heal himself by wrapping his torso in towels dipped in cold water, and then covering them with dry towels. After this, he became known as the ‘water doctor’, and became a prominent proponent of water therapy and open air cures to draw the ‘bad juices’ out of people’s bodies.
In fact, Preißnitz is so closely associated with water that the Polish word for shower (prysznic) apparently comes from his last name. However, his great reputation and promotion of healthy life through water therapies didn’t prevent him from suffering a stroke, and ultimately dying at the age of 52. However, given his lifelong devotion to the healing properties of water, we can’t think of a more fitting tribute to him than a beautiful fountain in the Türkenschanzpark!
As the days get hotter, its time to head for the hills – specifically the hills of the Wienerwald (Vienna forest), and for those looking for a glamorous cool-down with a view, to the Krapfenwaldbad in the 19th district. This is Vienna’s highest lying public pool, offering spectacular views over the city; unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the most popular pools in the city. The pool has existed since 1923, and was named after Franz Josef Krapf, who built himself a small cabin here in 1751, and named the surrounding forest the Krapfenwaldl. Krapf was the son of a master saddler, who provided horse saddles free of charge during the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, and was later honored for this service with generous remuneration, affording him great wealth as well as the ownership of wineries in Grinzing and Nussberg. The cabin built by Krapf on some of the land owned by his father later served as a small reserve hospital during the First World War, and today is integrated into the pool grounds as a small restaurant. As some of us may or may not personally know very well, this is also a good place to follow local advice and get an onion to soothe a bee sting – although wearing flip-flops while walking through the grass might be even better advice!
While the Krapfenwaldbad is THE place to see and be seen these days, it has long been at the forefront of Viennese bathing culture. It had one of the city’s first segregated nude bathing areas, separated between men and women, and euphemistically called the “Sonnenbad”(sun bath). In the summer of 1979, the Krapfenwaldbad also became Vienna’s first topless bathing area, which caused a sensation at the time. Today, the Sonnenbad still sits quietly behind a discreet wall at the perimeter of the pool grounds, topless bathers are sprinkled here and there, and both the people watching and city views continue to deliver!
Karl Kraus and Arthur Schnitzler. Camillo Sitte and Stefan Zweig. Politicians, artists and musicians all did the same. And so did many others: they all were there. During the 1848 revolution, it was renamed the “National Café” and later it became known as the “Literaturkaffeehaus”. We are talking about the famous Café Griensteidl, located in the Michaelerplatz, just meters away from the Vienna Hofburg. The Café Griensteidl opened its doors in 1847 in the ground floor of the Dietrichsteinpalais (build in 1815). The owner of the Café was the pharmacist Heinrich Griensteidl who never owned a pharmacy in Vienna, but had a permit to own a café. During its lifetime, the Café Griensteidl became the meeting point of many writers and intellectuals. It also became famous for its large number of newspapers. However, the Café Griensteidl closed its doors in 1897. Not voluntarily, it seems. The Dietrichsteinpalais changed ownership and its demolition was decided. In 1899 the new Herbersteinpalais opened its doors, but without the Café Griensteidl.
This event prompted the young Austrian writer Karl Kraus to write a series of essays in 1896/1897 entitled “Die demolirte Literatur” that started with the famous sentence “Wien wird jetzt zur Großstadt demolirt” (“Vienna is being demolished into a major city”). Kraus stated that with the fall of the old houses the last memories are also gone. He also complained that literature was now homeless, as the Café Griensteidl had been the literary hub for all writers and intellectuals. But after a little bit more than 90 years, like a phoenix, it rose again: in 1990 the Café Griensteidl’s doors were re-opened. This time its lifetime was shorter, however, as after only 27 years the Café Griensteidl will close once more on June 28, 2017. An expensive rent is mentioned as the reason for this decision. When the Café Griensteidl closed its doors for the first time 120 years ago, some of its frequent visitors found a new home in the Café Central. It is likely that, for the second time, customers will also find a new place to visit. Unfortunately, Vienna loses once again a historical café. But not all is lost. Perhaps, in 90 years the Café Griensteidl will make another come back, as phoenixes tend to do. (Cr)
after year, more than a million people visit Schӧnbrunn. The former summer residence of the Habsburgs
was built far outside the city walls. Today
it stands in a green island in a sea of houses in Hietzing, the 13th
District. Among the tourists there are also many
Viennese who allow themselves to be guided through the ornate rooms and enjoy
the imperial atmosphere. One of these,
we’ll call him Heinz Leitner because he doesn’t want to see his name published,
shares a very special history with Schӧnbrunn. If
he comes again today, he hopes to find something that he had first experienced,
then, a few years ago when the palace was his workplace. This experience gives him no peace; even
today he cannot explain it and has told almost no one about it. With his help,
we have reconstructed Leitner’s story.
We’ll therefore accompany him back to April 2001, when it all began. It’s
one of those first spring days when the walkers and joggers wander in the
palace park to enjoy the sun after its long absence. As is so often the case, Heinz Leitner is
already there, half an hour before his tour begins. He enjoys strolling alone through the home of
the former Austrian rulers, the heavy chandeliers on the ceilings, and
observing himself in the countless mirrors on the walls. Several times each week, he tells the same
historical stories and anecdotes in this imperial environment. From Maria Theresia, the Mother-in-law of
Europe, and the stories of the marriage politics of the House of Habsburg-Lothringen,
to the duty-obsessed first official of
his empire, Franz Josef, and his gorgeous but stoic Sisi - who was so unhappy
here and viewed the rococo palace as a giant golden cage. More than 300 years of European history were written
in the imperial halls, Heinz Leitner takes a deep breath. Sometimes he believes himself to be
transported back in time, so strange and heavy they seem to him. He likes - no – rather he loves his
work. His thoughts wander in circles
until - from one second to the next - he’s standing as if rooted in place. At first, there are only two delicate shadows
seen out of the corner of his eye, as if he were deceived by an optical
illusion. On looking closer, his mouth
drops wide open with astonishment. Has
he lost his senses? Is someone playing a
trick on him? Two
pale, nearly transparent women’s forms float just above the floor in Empress
Elisabeth’s dressing room. One of the
two, probably the mistress, wears a white lace dress; the other combs her hair. The dark strands stand out in stark contrast
to the almost colorless scene. The
servant, her dress a pale shade of yellow, arranges the hair skillfully as if
she had done it a hundred times before.
Leitner observes the cheerful faces of the two women who sometimes even
seem to giggle, but strangely, no sound is heard. Only a few meters and a glass wall separate
the tour guide from the strange apparition.
He hardly dares to breathe, so great is his fear of driving off these
beings with a hurried or thoughtless movement. His
heart pounds with excitement as somewhere a window crashes shut. From one
moment to the next, the two women disappear as if they had vanished into thin
air! Leitner finds himself alone before
the glass wall staring for what seems like a small eternity at the wooden
dresser behind it. There’s nothing
unusual to perceive anymore. Slowly, he
realizes that he has seen both women often in pictures – Sisi and her
hairdresser Fanny Feifalik! When
Leitner returns home that evening, he still doubts his senses and cautiously
takes two tranquillizers. Although he
has reservations, he doesn’t want to keep his experience to himself, so taken
is he with what he’s seen. The next day,
he takes two colleagues into his confidence.
At first, there’s a strange atmosphere among the men. Leitner related
that the two listened in silence for a long time. “I’ve seen her already,” one of them finally
says with some hesitation. The other
colleague nods in agreement: “Recently,
tourists are asking questions in that direction, the British and Americans very
openly. They say that they’ve seen two
ghostly women, one of whom is a hairdresser.
And the entire apparition was only visible for a few seconds.” After
their guided tours, the three met that same day to speak to the palace
Management Administration. Leitner and
his colleagues stand by their claims and are sworn to absolute silence. “I won’t have any weirdoes, sectarians or
Satanists here!” the boss says angrily.
The three men feel as if they had been hit in the head, but they’re
resigned to following orders. But
days later, the beautiful empress still haunted Leitner’s thoughts, actually
wouldn’t release him. He doesn’t want to
let go of this unique experience and returns to her dressing room every free
minute. As a tour guide, Leitner of
course knows that Sisi never had her hair done in this room during her
lifetime. Her private apartments, today
not open to the public, were in the north wing of the palace, and where she had
access to her ground floor rooms through a built-in spiral staircase. Only the furniture and some small
hairdressing items and accessories can be found here in the dressing room.
Perhaps there’s still a strand of her hair on one of the brushes? Pensively, Leitner observes the life-size portrait
of the imperial hairdresser Fanny Feifalik on the wall of the small dressing
room. Is the old, precious wood of the
dressing table, or perhaps one of the dainty objects the reason Elisabeth
returns here? The palace itself can’t be
the reason; she never felt comfortable here.
Why this place, more than 100 years after her violent death, still holds
her in thrall is an irony. Heinz
Leitner’s thoughts swirl constantly around Elisabeth. When he sees her, he’s always alone. There are no witnesses. This gives him the courage to speak to her
next time. The tour guide can hardly
wait to see Sisi again. Almost euphoric,
as if he were newly in love and on the way to a rendezvous with his beloved, he
races up the steps of the palace. It’s a bit before noon that they prefer to
show themselves. He runs down the
corridor but he’s alone. Full of
anticipation, he leans against the wall, breathless, and tries not to make a
sound. The windows are shut tight and
there is a deadly silence. Just as if
spun from a web, both figures appear. As
before, the women comb and check the hair.
They don’t pay the least attention to him. The lone observer is nervous but
determined. Slowly, very slowly, trying
not to make any noise, he approaches the glass wall. “How is her Majesty doing?” he questions with
a quiet, trembling voice. But Sisi
ignores him. Fanny ignores him as well
and continues with her work. Suddenly
both figures disappear. Leitner
awakens as if from a trance. Only now he
is aware of approaching steps. Slightly
dazed but still happy, he looks at his watch and walks toward the exit. There they were: a few Germans, an English couple with a
crying baby and an older, elegant silver haired woman with a Viennese
accent. He’s friendly and greets his guests,
introduces himself and accompanies them into the palace. Leitner begins his lecture and relates the
fates of the Habsburgs and the history of Schӧnbrunn. As they approach Elisabeth’s dressing room,
he feels slightly nervous but he is sufficiently professional to conceal the
extent to which the empress impresses him. “And
here is the original hairdressing table,” he explains and points to an expensive
piece of furniture. He almost
smiles. How would these people react if
they saw Sisi in person? But this
apparition is only available to him and this fills him with great
pleasure. He takes a short break. “Are
there any questions?” The
older Viennese lady lifts her hand.
“Have you seen Sisi as a ghost?” Leitner
is perplexed. He didn’t anticipate this question. He almost feels like a
naughty schoolboy who has been found out.
“Why? Has anything unusual
occurred?” He responds, trying to hide
his surprise. “I
always see something,” she responds with
a quiet voice. Leitner
clears his throat and says, “Well, I don’t see any ghosts”- perhaps a bit too
Viennese lady points her finger and says with a charming smile, “You little liar,
*Selected excerpts from Spuk in Wien, Rendezvous with the Empress
Authors Bieberger – Gruber – Hasmann
Translated by Thérèse and Gerhard Schӧn
What is in a name? Very little, would argue Shakespeare’s Juliet. A rose, famously, would smell as sweet by any other name. Can the reverse be true though? Can a ditch, while retaining its name, be anything other than a drab hole in the ground? The very center of Vienna is dominated by the Stephansdom, marking the historical heart of the city. It draws people to it along equally grand thoroughfares, including Kärntnerstraße to its south, Rotenturmstraße to its north and a myriad of ancient alleys streaming east to the Stadtpark. The broad channel shepherding tourists westwards towards the Freyung or, cutting left, to the Hofburg is – unmissably – Der Graben. That is, “The Ditch”. From one end to the other, Der Graben is perhaps a five-minute stroll in which you pass by a number of shops, restaurants, and notable 19th century buildings. Looking beyond the banners and signs each building and the street stand testament to the many chapters of Vienna’s vibrant history. The street served as a street market from at least the 13th century until the last shops closed down in the early 19th century. It was also here that in 1552, and thanks to Maximilian II, the Viennese saw their first elephant; an event so memorable that there was even a house named after this event, “Elefantenhaus” (see the picture below). Celebrations surrounding the imperial investiture of several Habsburg rulers also took place here, including that of Maria Theresia in 1740, which was apparently celebrated with a huge street party. We are also informed that the “Grabenfiaker” and the “Grabennymphen” found employment here. A notable feature today - The Pestsäule (In English, literally the “Plague column”) – juts out in its middle: a witness to the waves of disease that blighted all European cities for centuries. It was only at some point in the late 18th century that the Graben developed a reputation as the place in Vienna for the great and the good to see and be seen. And this is what it remains. So, how did such a grand hub of Viennese life end up with such an unseemly name? Why were emperors entertaining their courtiers for generations in a ditch? To find the answer, you have to start at the beginning of the city’s history. The Graben actually dates back to the roman garrison of Vindobona: the seed of the city of Vienna. Built sometime before the year 100, the garrison town was protected by fortifications, each of which was flanked by a defensive ditch (“Graben”). These were filled in as the Babenberger family started the expansion of the city at the end of the 12th century consigning the Romans – literally – underfoot. The few physical remains from this period can only really be seen in the basement of the Roman Museum on Hoher Markt. The name, however, has remained until this day. In this regard, next time you find yourself in the center, treat yourself and potter along the Graben. The Ditch. Take a moment to appreciate the vast amount of history this particular ditch has witnessed, as well as its current grandeur. Perhaps, even, take a little pride. Turning a drab ditch into one of the most renowned streets in the centre is one thing. Deciding against renaming it is a touch poetic. A recognition that it is not the name that counts. This ditch, by any other name, would be equally as impressive. (Cr.)
Have you ever noticed that the words for wine and Vienna in German are practically interchangeable? Given the Viennese love for wine, and the long history of wine production in and around the city, we think this is hardly a coincidence! In fact, wine production in Vienna likely goes back as far as the Celtic times around 500 BC, based on archeological finds of wine casks, grape seeds, and other artifacts from this period. Wine was probably also produced and drunk in significant quantities during the Roman era, but the first concrete evidence of wine production in the city comes from the 12th century. By the 15th century, the number of vineyards had grown to such an extent that it began to crowd out land for farming and agriculture—which prompted a ban on the establishment of any new vineyards. The city has therefore been surrounded by vineyards throughout its history, though the Heuriger tradition as we know it today was established only towards the end of the 17th century. And while the 19th district is today most closely associated with vineyards and heuriger, the oldest remnant of the early heuriger can actually be found at the Ottakring in the 16th district: at the ‘10er Marie’, the city’s oldest heuriger established in 1740 and said to have been frequented by the Crown Prince Rudolf back in his day. The 10er Marie is still in operation, along with some 180 other heuriger, and the city of Vienna produces about 2.5 million liters of wine per year. So the next time you sit down to a glass of wine, know that you are taking part in an age-old Viennese tradition....Prost! (C.G.)
The Mariahilferstraße carves a border between Vienna’s sixth and seventh district and it is an unmissable – or perhaps simply unavoidable – section of the city. It is hard to imagine that someone in Vienna has not visited this street: maybe for shopping or window-shopping, drinks and clubbing, or just for a walk. At least since the 1600s this street has accommodated many businesses and the crowds have always provided ample custom to the entrepreneurial. Among the many small and large shops that one finds in the Mariahilferstrasse there is one, which most likely everyone in the city has - knowingly or unknowingly – visited at some point in life: Gerngroß, which is a microcosm offering seven floors of unadulterated commercialism where you can purchase anything from shoes to perfumes to the latest iPhone. Attracted by this entrepreneurial spirit, Alfred Gerngroß relocated from Germany and opened a small cloth shop in this street with his brother Hugo in 1879. His success – which should not be understated – allowed him to expand and develop his business. He proved so successful that by the turn of the century he was able to hire the architects Fellner & Helmer – who were otherwise busy designing the preeminent theatres of the empire including the Volkstheater – to build a department store that would become the largest in both Vienna and in the Habsburg empire. The store, built between 1902 and 1904, was fronted by a stunning Jugendstil façade, totaled five floors and boasted two majestic long curved staircases on the left and right sides of the ground floor that would take you to the first floor (see the picture). The building would rightly be considered luxurious today. It had eight elevators, a reading room offering national and foreign newspapers, a public telephone, hourly express delivery to all districts, and – still a rarity in twenty-first century Vienna – was open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.! Gerngroß survived the Second World War, albeit in poor shape, and was returned back to its lawful owners after the war ended. What Gerngroß could not survive, however, was a devastating fire in 1979, which led to its demolition and the construction of a new store in 1980. It is this phoenix which still stands today. Little remains to suggest the splendor that Viennese shoppers were once treated to. The building, its staircases and elevators, even its generous opening hours, have long since gone. However, in true Viennese fashion, the building still bears an inextricable link to its past as Mr. Alfred Gerngroß – or his bust – keeps a watchful eye on his legacy, dutifully greeting everyone entering the mall that bears his name. (Cr.)
Have you ever stood on Mexikoplatz and wondered what a square with such a name is doing in Vienna? Well, the place has quite a history, and not just because of its name. First of all, if you were there before 1875, you would probably have been swimming more than standing; that’s because this area was part of the swampy overflow area of the Danube before it was regulated in the early 1870s. Secondly, you might reasonably assume that the name refers to Ferdinand Maximillian, brother of Kaiser Franz Josef, who was Kaiser of Mexico for a few short and ill-fated years in the 1860s. But no, the square only acquired this name in 1956, after cycling through various other names such as Erzherzog-Karl-Platz and Volkswehrplatz. The real reason it was named Mexikoplatz in 1956 was to commemorate Mexico as the only country in the world that protested against and didn’t recognize Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938. Nonetheless, the square does have a connection to Kaiser Franz Josef, which can be found in the large and imposing church that dominates the square. Much like the Mexikoplatz itself, this church also has multiple aliases: officially it is the St. Francis of Assisi Church, though it also goes by Kaiserjubiläumskirche or just simply Mexikokirche. It was built between 1900-1910, and dedicated in 1913 by the Kaiser and his heir, the also ill-fated Franz Ferdinand. If you go there today, a unique element of the church are the wooden canopies above the entrance doors; in fact, the church was not entirely complete by the time of the dedication, so these wooden roofs were built as provisional structures just for the dedication ceremonies. However, with the disruption of the First World War, they were never replaced and remain above the three main entrances to this day. Despite these imperial connections, Mexikoplatz has never been able to quite escape its swampy origins...toward the end of the 20th century it became the center of a rather active Viennese black market, a place where just about anything could be bought, sold or smuggled – for the right price, of course! (C.G)
Haarhof is located next to the Esterhazykeller. Haarhof has a somewhat unique name, meaning ‘hair courtyard’, which one might think has to do with its elongated and slightly winding shape, but actually refers to the fact that this used to be the location of the flax merchants. Flax fiber looks like hair, and that is where the name comes from. It is also the material that linen is made from, which is called Leinen or Leinwand in German which supposedly gave rise to the uniquely Viennese word “Leiwand”, which you may have heard people use (and if not, then I refer you to the chorus of the song Schifoan from Wolfgang Ambros, which has to be the leiwandste song out there!). In any case, the word leiwand supposedly came from the fact that an area directly outside the city wall, in front of the Kärntnertor, was given permission to brew beer in the middle of the 15th century. This was also the location of a thriving linen market, and with the establishment of breweries there, merchants could go directly from the market to the bar for a beer. This was considered a cool/great/awesome new development, and somehow over time, the ‘leinwand beer’ (linen beer) morphed into the adjective ‘leiwand’ meaning just that – how cool! (This is only one story about the term leiwand, I have also heard others like the fact that linen was expensive, therefore desired, and therefore good or cool. Another is that linen was a much more comfortable material to wear than wool, which gave rise to the good/cool meaning of the word leiwand....the true etymology remains an elusive Viennese secret though). (C.G.)
If you walk around the Michaelerplatz in front of the Hofburg, you might notice this little sign marking the historic location of the “Michaeler Bierhaus”, a restaurant and bar established at this spot in 1711, that served Vienna’s inner city for over 200 years. It’s appropriate that it disappeared along with the Habsburg monarchy, with which it supposedly had a very close relationship. The story goes that Kaiser Franz Josef, who lived in the neighboring Hofburg, had a pair of frankfurters with horse radish brought to him daily from the Michaeler Bierhaus. This story was known to elicit immediate anger and rebuttals from imperial kitchen staff, who insisted that everything the Emperor ate at the Hofburg came exclusively and only from the imperial kitchens themselves. Nonetheless, the myth has persisted, perhaps because the Kaiser was not known for his particularly refined palate, and counted frankfurters with horse radish and tafelspitz (boiled beef) among his favorite foods. Or perhaps it has become confused with the apparently true habit of the head waiter of the Michaeler Bierhaus regularly bringing the menu and taking the orders of Hofburg guards after the end of their shift. We may never know, but these are the kinds of palace intrigues truly fit for the Viennese!
Baroque is unavoidable in Vienna. The seventeenth and eighteen centuries was, at least for some, a period of wealth and extravagance throughout the then empire, with the multitude of nobles and minor royals vying to leave their mark on the capital. These buildings are inescapable and admirable with their resplendent facades peppered with stucco and remain responsible for a greater part of Vienna’s grandeur. However, it is not uniform: some streets seemingly remain untouched, while others have lost most of their baroque personality either through demolition or remodelling. In some streets some baroque buildings may even go unnoticed. Sometimes colors, noises, and the hectic of the city may prevent our senses to see what is in front of us! One of those streets where these elders of Viennese architecture may go unnoticed is the Kärntnerstraße - one of the main arteries of the city that takes you from Karlsplatz to Stephansdom. Even the glass-panelled, sprawl of modern-day shopping on Kärntnerstraße has had its Baroque past. One in particular, the Esterházypalais, which dates back to the 1600s, is prominently inconspicuous. It is named after the Esterházy family – an aristocratic Hungarian family, who were based out of Eisenstadt in Burgendland and owned no fewer than four other Esterházypalais in the city. Although not the original owners - it was built for the von Falkenberg family - the palais on Kärntnerstraße was acquired in 1871 by Moritz Graf Esterházy. The palais has outlived the empire and it has also survived remodelling, bombing raids, and a large fire in 1968 that gutted the interior. Many of its contemporaries did not fare so well. Apparently, the building is still owned by the Esterházy family. Look for it next time you are in the Kärntnerstraße. It should be easy to find: this is the oldest and smallest building in the bustling street. A true survivor! (Cr.)
Vienna is a very well-organized place, that is the first impression that the occasional bystander can take after a first glance. Nevertheless, the nearly two million souls that populate it, mix each other in a turbulent stream that flows around places like the Donaukanal, Naschmarkt or every singular café with posters and Weiss Spritzer. It is an interesting mix of colors and languages merging into each other between “Euda!” and weird accents in English, Hungarian, Serbian, Romanian, Turkish, sometimes Spanish, other times Farsi… insert a random language here. The recovery of this Athens of the late 19th century and early 20th is well noticed by the vitality of the never ending grafitties, that pop up within the baroque and neoclassical sea of buildings across the quartiers of this coquette dame of concrete and marble, who allows herself some eccentricity from time to time. Like Sissi and her diet problems while living in the symmetrical Schönbrunn, or the youngest member of the Akademie der bildenden Künste of Vienna, Egon Schiele, painting naked little girls in some lost village in Bohemia, the comfortability of the Imperial Haupstadt is the result of a strange balance between elitism and the surreptitious. St. Stephans cathedral is an example of introspection and grandiosity, that make it to appear like a mixture of a grotto, a mountain and a castle, and then the stained glasses of the windows are a childish mosaic of checkered squares of different colors, that could have been at the hall of any Soviet bureaucratic building or the cheapest brutalist apartment. This capital of the Danube, which is only crossed in the middle by a vandalized grey channel of it, is sometimes larger than the life inside its limits. A Hungarian friend of mine, Historian from Budapest, refers to the old Vindobona as a belle-époque Sanatorium, while some young painter I happened to meet at a random café-bar in Messe Prater (Dezentral was its name I guess), was fury in remarking how hectic art scene is in “Wien”, and how he did not sell by €3,000 a painting he has on a wall of his room, what he then regretted as he was not able to pay his last Wieselburger... some other musician (or rather guitarist) also told me at Flex how difficult is to find a way in the music industry here without “Vitamin B auf Beziehungen” ... Personally, I had sort of an epiphany when, after celebrating the 10 years of Kaffeeküche at Schottentor (best coffee in town) – an improvised party inside the interchange station with litters of wine and beer at the expense of whoever is the owner–, I went to see The Third Man at Burgkino. Nietzsche spoke of time as a perpetual cycle, the “Eternal return” which the Vienna Circle and Wittgenstein himself applauded, so in a sense it would be very Viennese to show every Thursday the same movie in a cinema placed at the Ringstrasse, main avenue in this circularly planned metropolis. The American protagonist is a bad writer who fails in punching an impertinent British officer, falls in love with the girlfriend of his dead friend who is not dead and, as the legendary end of the movie hints, neither gets the chick. The successive scenes of the not so devastated –but quite– post-war Vienna in the outside, with the polite characters rotten in the inside, is a succession of chatter, grumpy Viennese people smuggling his way out in no understandable German and the foreigner as the perfect unwanted guest – “Convidado de piedra” that wrote the distinguished Spanish dramaturg Calderon de la Barca, whose effigy rests next to Shakespeare’s and Molière’s ones at Burgtheater’s main façade. In many ways, nothing has changed much since the last century’s 40s in which the film was footed, except from Kreisky’s Social Democracy and glorious housing, and the succession of several economic booms that cannot stop bringing to one’s mind Falco’s hit “Wiener Blut”, remembering two verses “Der Dekadenz haben wir an Preis verliehen/ Dabei san wir moralisch überblieben”, everytime one sees a new crane out of many, challenging in height Hundertwasser’s Fernwärme tower. In some sense, the cosy green bird/whistle I have hanging from my key-chain, summarizes all these feelings this beautiful city does not stop to provoke in me. As the third man in my flat living with two young Austrian girls and often their respective boyfriends, my green bird is different to the other two little birds that rest in small wooden cuckoo houses where my flat-mates also put their set of keys in –very chic. While other two birds are boring white, mine –from now my alter ego– has ventured himself with his flashy color to try his luck out in the old imperial court. Unexpectedly, close to the majestic church of San Carlo Borromeo in Karlsplatz, he has found a Viennese bird in a spray-painted block of concrete, where typically party happens here. Her indifferent attitude does seem quite Viennese, we will see if we have an end different to that of The Third Man… (V.P.)
Vienna is known primarily for its old buildings, but there are also some new architectural stars in town. The new campus of the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Wien) boasts buildings designed by architectural firms from Spain, Japan, London, and Austria. The most notable amongst these is the Library & Learning Center, which was built by the firm of the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid. Although she became one of the world’s most sought-after architects toward the end of her life, with major works including the aquatic center for the London Olympics, an opera house in China, and the not-yet-completed 2022 World Cup stadium in Doha, she was long known as a ‘paper architect’ whose buildings remained merely conceptual and were often considered impossible to build. Her designs were always ambitious, but they were also extremely expensive and often criticized for being impractical. Indeed, her first completed building, the Vitra fire station in Weil-am-Rhine, Germany, put her on the map as an innovative and highly-sculptural architect but the building never actually served as a fire station; it became an exhibition hall instead. Many of Zaha Hadid’s characteristic design elements can be seen in the Library & Learning Center at the WU – she wasn’t called the Queen of the Curve for nothing! The building exterior is all slanted planes, curved windows, and uneven angles, while the inside evokes what can only be described as UFO-meets-cruise ship. Walking up and down the off-center slanted stairs is a dizzying adventure in itself, but the true attraction is the view over the Prater park from the top floor. Nonetheless, as with many Zaha Hadid buildings, the Library & Learning Center has not been entirely without controversy. Twice within a 6-month period a heavy panel fell off the outside of the building, crashing to the ground below. Luckily both incidents happened in the very early morning hours, and during university holidays, so no one was injured. After the first incident, an inspection was carried out and the building was declared safe. When a second panel fell off the building just half a year after it had been declared safe, a massive inspection was carried out and every external panel was secured with 12 reinforced bolts, in defiance of the original design which called for an uninterrupted flat exterior. Nevertheless, these changes likely served as much to secure the panels as to make visible to the public that serious measures had been taken to ensure safety – and there have been no further incidents of this kind. (C.G.)
The nine-year-old is a sensible, intelligent boy but his classmates think he’s weird. Traumatized by a dark secret that he can share with no one, Cole keeps increasingly to himself. A child psychiatrist approaches him gingerly, trying to gain his confidence gradually. Slowly he groped for the cause of Cole’s anxiety which at first had seemed to be inscrutable. The following dialogue is one of the key scenes in the acclaimed film The Sixth Sense. Dr. Crowe, played by Bruce Willis, is the first to discover what’s so troubling the boy.
Cole: Now I’ll tell you my secret.
Cole: I see dead people
Crowe: In your dreams? Cole shakes his head: no.
When you’re awake? Cole nods.
Dead people in graves or coffins?
Cole: No, they’re walking around like normal people! They can’t see one another. They only see what they want to see. They don’t know that they’re dead.
Crowe: How often do you see them?
The response is a despairing cry: All the time! They’re everywhere!
At first, Dr. Crowe doesn’t believe him; he diagnoses a serious schizophrenic disorder and thinks it’s impossible to help the boy. After a while though, he realizes that Cole is telling the truth. Without wanting to or being able to influence it, Cole sees the spirits’ fate as beings from the beyond who cannot find rest. And this torments the boy. Together, the film’s dissimilar protagonists discover a solution. Crow urges Cole to overcome his fear and ask the ghosts what they’re trying to tell him. This works. The dead have sought him out because he’s one of the few people who have the gift to see them for what they are: souls who are not of this world and do not realize that they are dead. Cole’s gift – and at the same time his curse - gives the film its title…The Sixth Sense. It’s no coincidence that the film in set in Philadelphia, one of the oldest cities in the United States. Many generations have lived and died there. Almost every place in the city has a history to relate.
Compared to Philadelphia, one of the oldest cities in the United States, Vienna is like a grey lady next to a young girl. Here one also finds people who share a similar skill with the film’s Cole. Perhaps for some it’s an acquired talent, or one that was literally laid on them in the cradle. They’re border wanderers – perceiving more than others and also seeming to know what is to be expected after physical death. For them it is a certainty - that which we others might sometimes imagine when we feel a brief, cold chill: Some have already left this world but haven’t yet reached the next. They’re everywhere and they dwell among us – the spirits of the dead. (T.S.)
Look left, right, and left again. That’s what we learned as kids, right? Unless you’re from the UK, where even the pavement tells you to look right before crossing the street. Well, you can add residents of the Habsburg empire and First Republic to that list, because although we now drive on the right side of the road in Vienna, that wasn’t always the case. In the early days before automobiles, there weren’t clear rules about which side of the road horse-drawn carriages and other wagons needed to be on, but the general tendency was for them to be on the left-hand side of the road. That only changed with the Napoleonic wars, which brought right-hand drive to the countries that Napoleon conquered. Many of those countries retained this system of driving even after the French withdrew, but Austria-Hungary promptly bet on the wrong horse and reverted to left-hand drive. In 1915 it was officially declared that traffic would be on the left-side of the road, but this caused major disputes with Vorarlberg because of its close connections to Germany and Switzerland, where driving on the right side of the road was the norm. Vorarlberg officially switched back to the right side of the road in 1921. Following this, parliament declared that all of Austria would have right-hand drive. This time, it was the Viennese who protested on account of the high cost of changing all of the trams to drive on the right. Ultimately, a truly Austrian solution was found: the western half of the country drove on the right, while the eastern part of the country continued driving on the left--thus ensuring maximum confusion for everyone! As the country as a whole slowly moved toward right-hand drive, Vienna and its surroundings stubbornly stuck to their leftist ways. This reportedly gave rise to a new past time in which youths would ride their bikes to the Semmering just to see how it felt to switch sides at the border. This confused but somehow endearing patchwork of driving conventions remained in place until the Anschluss in 1938, when even Vienna was forced to conform to German right-hand traffic regulations—and this time, it stuck. (C.G.)
Image: Schubertring around
1900. Source: ÖNB Bildarchiv L 15.062F