"Here in Vienna one's blood gets no chance to stagnate. The atmosphere is brimful of political electricity. All conversation is political; every man is a battery, with brushes over-worn, and gives out blue sparks when you set him going on the common topic. Everybody has an opinion, and lets you have it frank and hot, and out of this multitude of counsel you get merely confusion and despair. For no one really understands this political situation, or can tell you what is going to be the outcome of it."Does it sound familiar and really contemporary to you? Well, it was written in 1897 by Mark Twain in his: "Stirring times in Austria". This article first appeared in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in March, 1898 . Nothing new under the sun.
Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg was the commander of the Viennese troops during the second siege of Vienna in 1683 with fewer than 20,000 men to oppose about 120,000 besieging Ottomans. He died in 1701 and was buried under the Schottenkirche. In the picture below you see his tomb. There is more. If you look carefully at the detail on top of the decoration of the wrought-ironed gate, you will see a cross, a globe and a semi-covered golden symbol with a "star" and a crescent moon. There is a legend mixed with history behind this. Between 1514 and 1519 at the top of the South tower (Der Steffl) of the Cathedral a weatherwane (wind indicator) was fitted in the shape of a eight-rayed sun - not a star - with a crescent moon as a symbol of spiritual and temporal power. When the Viennese, during the first Ottoman siege (1529), saw similar symbols in the camp of their enemies , they raised first objections against the "haidnisch Zaichen (heathen signs)", yet they remained on the tower. In the meanwhile, a fake legend/rumor spread out that the Ottomans or somebody consorting with them put those symbols on top of the Cathedral. Only on the occasion of the second siege in 1683, Leopold I woved to replace it when the city was liberated. The new top was a Spanish (double) cross made of copper. The next year, on September 14th, celebrating the anniversary of the city liberation, the new cross was placed. However, it was not flexible enough and already on the 14th of December fell down due to a violent storm. On 31st October 1687, followed the setting up of a new crowning. To the Spanish Cross, the imperial double-headed eagle and the initials of Leopold I had been added. Now the question remains: why the defender of the city on his tomb wanted the old and "heathen" symbols ? Well, Leopold I fled the city during the siege and if it hadn't been for the cavalry led by the the Polish King Jon Sobieski maybe Vienna would have fallen. Not having the symbols wanted by the Emperor to celebrate his "glory" on top of the Cathedral was a way for the real defender of Vienna to settle a score and bear a grudge for eternity!
We love to read at Secret Vienna and reading about Vienna is even better. Larry Hilton, Author of "Europe: chained by history" was a student in Vienna and came back several decades later to visit a very different place. He is in love with our city and has used it as a metaphor for Europe in his book. Secret Vienna asked him to tell us about the period of hyperinflation after WWI. Watch the video: you'll learn something people don't talk about a lot. What is really great about his book is that you become part of history reading about his characters. You see what they see, you are part of their lives and at the same time of the events which shaped not only Vienna but our continent. Click here for the video!
As every good book it will lead you to ask yourself even more questions after you finished it but for some you will find your answers, we guarantee you.
In the 10th district, also known as the "workers' district", if you get off at the last stop of line 67 in Oberlaa (a unique thermal spa), you will notice a full size bronze monument of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin: the famous Russian poet, playwrighter, and novelist of the Romantic era. It was sculpted by the Russian artist Juri Orechow and was a gift from the city of Moscow on the opening day of the "Moscow Days" which started in 1999. The reason for such celebrations was to mantain good relationships between Vienna and Moscow; the "Moscow Days" take place form the 8th to the 10th of September. There is another connection between the Russian poet and a painting from Velazquez kept in Vienna at the KHM. To learn that story you will have to get your copy of the book "Secret Vienna Stories". Suffice to say that a young princess, an Emperor and a cold storm in Moscow are all elements of this interesting story. There is another link between Pushkin and Vienna. In one of his short plays known as The Little Tragedies written in 1830 and entitled Mozart and Salieri he had theorized about the causes of the sudden death and poisoned-like appearance of the body of the seemingly healthy Mozart which much later influenced the plot of the movie Amadeus.
Fieldmarshall Charles Joseph 7th Prince of Ligne is known for his quote during the Vienna Congress: "The Congress is dancing, but nothing is moving forward" . He was also asked by one of his friends if he could be the "second" in a duel. The Fieldmarshall wrote back to his friend "I will arrive in two days, please provide breakfast for four and dinner for three".The seconds were gentlemen chosen by the participants whose job was to ensure that the duel was carried out under honorable conditions, on a proper field of honor and with equally deadly weapons. They also would accomodate a fitting place for the duel. Duels in Vienna were common back then and one third were deadly. There were also "girls only" duels but this is another tale of Secret Vienna Stories !
The engraving "1439 AEIOU" (on the arc of the westside) stands for the year when Emperor Friedrich III - back then only a Duke - arrived to Vienna. The AEIOU meaning is more complex and it is already present in a notebook of 1437 belonging to him and now at the National Library in Vienna, If you want to know more about it get your copy of "Secret Vienna Stories"! In this particular case, If you use cumpasses pinning the needle on a map where St. Ruprecht's church is located and stretching the other arm to the closest church (e.g. Karmeliter Kirche) you can draw a full circle of a radius of 633 meters (also known as the Chinese mile named "LI", which in Roman Digits means 51: the sum of the letters of AEIOU being A=1, E=5, etc.). Yet there is another mysterious number: if you add the number 51 with the year 1439, you will get 1490, the year when Matthias Corvinus (born 1443) died. He was King of Hungary and Croatia and conquered Vienna until he was chased by Friedrich III and had to flee to Graz and then Linz until he died.
When we first saw this etching, we thought it was a fake. A sort of "What if?" On the contrary, Teddy Roosevelt and Franz Joseph I really met in Vienna on April 15, 1910. Roosevelt was not the US President anymore. After arriving in Khartoum in March 1910, Roosevelt toured Europe. He refused a meeting with the Pope due to a dispute over a group of Methodists active in Rome, but met with Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and other European leaders. There is also a letter dated 1902 from Roosevelt to Franz Joseph to congratulate him on the birth of his niece Archduchess Blanca.
"I call the living/ Mourn the dead,/ shatter lightning".
This is the very beginning of Schiller's "Song of the Bell" (Das Lied von der Glocke). The four seasons of life of the poem are present on the monument in form of a child on the lap of his mother, the wandering youth, an old man and the iron founder. Among these figures, other allegories are present symbolizing genius, poetry, science, and love of home. Call us crazy but we have an idea. As soon as it gets warmer, is there a Secret Vienna Explorer who wants to read the whole poem in German at the foot of the monument? Wouldn't it be great to gather our community in this small park and listen to: "Ich rufe die Lebenden, Beklage die Toten,Breche Blitze."? May 9th ?