I had always wanted to go to Vienna, home of the waltz, the wiener schnitzel and
the Vienna Philharmonic. After all, this is one of Europe's glittering capitals. I
stayed there a week. Three or four days would have been just fine. Could I have gotten there about a hundred years too late? Nevertheless, here are the highlights from a recent trip to this city on the Danube. Famous People's Apartments For some reason, when people asked me about Vienna, the first thing that came to mind were the apartments of celebrated people that I was able to visit there. Never mind the castles with their vast rooms and roped off corridors-in these modest sized flats, you're literally walking where history was made.
More than any other person, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, shall always be associated with twentieth century Vienna. His apartment at Berggasse 19 has been converted into the Sigmund Freud-Museum which features his original waiting room furniture. "I'm here to see the doctor" jokes aside, one cannot help but be impressed by such artifacts that took part in the greatest philosophical revolution of the past 350 years.
In addition to the furniture that Freud's daughter Anna donated (the famed couch remains in London, his final home), numerous books, documents, newspaper clippings, degrees, medals, personal belongings, etc. give a full account of his life. Almost 80 objects from Freud's collection of antiquities are also on display. A series of large photos pinpoints the original placement of some of them while forming a frieze along the walls of Freud's consulting room and private study.
Most fascinating is the media room where a 25 minute compilation of film documents shows Freud among his family, friends and colleagues, elderly but still clearly enjoying life. The museum also houses a library and research center, a display of contemporary art and, eventually, a tribute to Anna Freud's work in child psychology with a recreation of her office. (The apartment's original, I believe, toilet is still there which I took advantage of. I'll let you interpret that one for yourself.)
Just down the block from the Lowenherz gay bookshop and Cafe Berg where Mrs. Creamcheese and Lucy McEvil hold forth (more on them in our next issue), the Freud Museum well honors a great man.
If the sound of music is more to your liking, visit Figarohaus (Domgasse 5) one of eleven residences that Mozart rented in Vienna. There's not much here besides the original flooring, a beautiful ceiling bas-relief, some scores, programs, paintings and other Mozartabilia-except the intangible sense of fun and awe that comes with inhabiting, if only temporarily, the place where The Marriage of Figaro was created.
A similar feeling is evoked at the Pasqualatihaus (Molkerbastei 8) where Beethoven lived while composing Fidelio and the Seventh Symphony. In this fourth floor walk-up, not only are music related items displayed, but you can see the composer's clock, salt and pepper tin, sugarbox and death mask. Banks of headphones offer recordings of a wide variety of Beethoven's works. Figarohaus provides a comparable opportunity with Mozart's canon. In either apartment, it's easy to be seduced into spending the entire day listening to the glorious music.
Around the corner from the Pasqualatihaus, stands one of filmdom's famous locations. In The Third Man, Carol Reed's 1949 classic, a flash of light reveals Orson Welles' black marketeer Harry Lyme standing in the doorway of Schreyvogelgasse 8. A definite photo op. The Hofburg and the Royals The Hofburg, or Imperial Palace, was home to the Habsburgs, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from around 1279 until 1918. Nowadays it houses a vast network of historic sites, museums and other sightseeing attractions much of it currently undergoing renovation.
It seems to be fairly common knowledge that the Imperial Apartments here are rather lackluster. I wish I could disagree, but I can't. Better to save your time for viewing the dazzling rooms at Schonbrunn Palace, which will be featured in Vienna, Part Two.
On the other hand, lovers of decorative arts can indulge their passions at the year-old Hofburg Silberkammer, or Museum of Court Silver and Tableware. Forks and knives, plates and cups are just the beginning. Beautifully designed cases burst forth with an astonishing variety of articles from the cooking pots and pans of the court kitchens, the pastry molds of the court patisserie to the table linen from the court linen rooms, porcelain services and oversize bronze candelabra.
The Habsburg service features a different castle on each plate. ("Eat all your food, darling, so you can see mommy's newest pied-a-terre.") There are stacks and stacks of silver plates, trays, bowls-service for forty seemed to be the norm with thirteen different utensils for each setting. clearly, the Habsburgs had more money than they knew what to do with. It's all a bit like an Adler's wet dream.
More of the Habsburgs' wealth can be seen in the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). A thousand years' worth of jewel-encrusted crowns, robes with gold thread and imperial swords are presented here. Marvel at the 2,860 carat Columbian emerald, hollowed out and carved into an ointment vessel; the Hyacinth "La Bella," a 416 carat balas ruby; an aquamarine of 492 carats and an equally impressive amethyst.
Rare 16th century Mexican feather pictures combine beauty and delicacy. Not only are there reliquaries containing particles of the True Cross, some said to be soaked in Christ's blood, but one reliquary holds what is supposedly the nail that pierced christ's right hand. A fourth century bowl, two and a half feet wide, was carved from a single piece of agate. The most outstanding example of its kind in the world, it was once thought to be the Holy Grail.
Red silk stockings along with shoes and gloves, luxurious though they are, remind you that the kings and queens were human too. Yet one leaves the Schatzkammer overwhelmed by the glory and splendor that was once controlled by these few people.
Treasures of a different sort can be seen in the National Library. Surrounded by hundreds of leather bound books, huge allegorical frescoes look down on you from the walls, from the ceiling, from the dome. In this masterpiece of High Baroque style, trompe-l'oeil works high above fool you into thinking that there is more to the ceiling's plaster and woodwork than there really is. Temporary exhibitions add to the things to enjoy here.
In its own part of the Hofburg, the Spanish Riding School carries on a 400 year tradition of haute ecole showcasing the Lipizzaner stallions that originally came from Spain. If you are a lover of horses, then far in advance of your visit place your ticket order for performances, held Sundays at 10:45am. I was only able to attend a training session with music which featured lots of fancy steps and one or two hind leg rearings. I would imagine the performances are more entertaining. They better be-tickets cost $25-75!
Outside the Hofburg, if you want to get up close and personal with the Habsburgs, head to the Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church) in Neuer Markt. Downstairs in its basement you'll find the Kaisergruft (Imperial Burial Vault) where nearly 150 members of the first, and last, family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire now reside.
Beginning with Matthias (1557-1619) who claimed the throne after having his brother Rudolf II of Prague killed, you pass by increasingly ornate sarcophagi until you come to the grandest of them all, that of Empress Maria Theresa (1717-1780) with a life-sized casting of her and husband Franz on top. Other noteworthy inhabitants are Marie-Louise (1791-1847), wife of Napoleon; Emperor Maximilian of Mexico (1832-1867), whose execution by Juarez left Carlota a widow; his brother, Emperor Franz Joseph (1830- 1916), who brought Austria into the twentieth century; Crown Prince Rudolf (1858-1889) of Mayerling fame; and the newest resident, Empress Zita (1892-1989), wife of Austria's last Kaiser. There's also one non-Habsburg governess, a countess who as Maria Theresa said "was always with us in life, why not in death?" In all, a compelling sweep of history in eight chambers.
Not all of the Habsburgs are in the Kaisergruft. For some reason their entrails are in St. Stephen's Cathedral whose tall spire dominates Vienna's skyline. Though it saw the marriage of Mozart (1782) and his funeral (1791), St. Stephen's is not one of Europe's more drop-dead cathedrals, its interior being a bit Gothic/Baroque hodgepodgy. Its exterior impresses, however, with an interesting contrast between the zigzagging Zsolnay tiles on the nave's roof and the filigreed stonework of the steeple.
Ascend the 345 steps of the Cathedral's south tower for a fabulous panoramic view of Vienna. After taking the requisite photos, descend and exit into the middle of Vienna's poshest shopping district. The Habsburgs would have appreciated that.
Art and Museums
Arriving at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna's main art museum, I read a sign announcing that Vermeer's Allegory of the Art of Painting was being curated and would not be on display. Was I disappointed? A little. But with hundreds (thousands?) of other works to enjoy, I got over it real fast.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is the repository of all the paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, antiquities, etc. that the Habsburgs amassed over several hundred years. The vastness of the collection is incredible, particularly in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman sections, where cases are almost overstuffed with sculptures, vases, bronzes, bowls, writing fragments, jewelry and on and on. You begin to think the Habsburgs' motto was "We don't have enough!"
Plan on spending three hours here. Some of my favorites were Jan Steen's cautionary The Upside-down World, or Beware of Luxury; Games, in which Brueghel portrayed dozens of childhood games (can you identify them all?); delicate jasper flowers in vases; exquisitely carved ivory centerpieces; anything in the three Rubens rooms, but especially the two heroic companion pieces, The Miracles of St. Ignatius of Loyola and The Miracles of St. Francis Xavier; the two rooms of intricately designed clocks and automata; and a stunning Allegory of Vanity statue, which on one side shows two vibrant, sexy youths, while on the reverse is carved a gnarled, shriveled oldster. I'm sure you'll find your own favorites.
If only the Academy of Fine Arts (Schillerplatz 3) had not thought that the applicant possessed "insufficient talent" and had admitted Adolf Hitler in 1907, who knows how the twentieth century would have differed? Go past the current crop of art students and upstairs to see Hieronymus Bosch's spectacular Last Judgment triptych. The perversity of Bosch's imagination would no doubt make him a rival, or partner, of David Lynch today.
My guidebook pooh-poohed the rest of the Academy's collection so I didn't leave myself enough time and had to rush past superb works by Rembrandt, Titian, Botticelli, Rubens and Murillo. I still didn't get to see all on exhibit and the gallery's odd opening hours made it difficult to return. Don't make this same mistake.
Leaving the Academy and its celebration of the old masters, a few blocks walk takes you to the Secession Building (Friedrichstr. 12) and its triumph of the new masters. Founded at the turn of the century by artists reacting against conservative styles, it became the center of the Jugendstil (Germanic Art Noveau) movement led by Gustav Klimt.
Unless you care to take in whatever its current exhibition happens to be (I passed on contemporary Russian art) or have a hankering to see Klimt's Beethoven frieze, you can best appreciate the elegant Secession Building and its gold latticework dome from the outside and thereby save its hefty admission charge.
Better to continue past the Karlskirche (Church of St. Charles), with its eclectic mix of architectural elements, on to the Belvedere Palace, where hang many Klimt paintings including his most famous, The Kiss, a dazzling ode to sensualism. Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, with Klimt, Austria's pre-eminent artists, are also well represented there.
The Palace itself is fit for a queen or, in this case, Prince Eugene of Savoy, its first occupant in 1722 and said to be gay. The interior is the ne plus ultra in rococo design and the formal grounds or nearby botanical gardens provide a lovely place to relax after a long day of sightseeing.
One last venue worth checking out is the Kunstforum (Freyung 8). The exhibition when I visited featured Andy Warhol and had some rarely seen works from his Gold Period (1956-57) as well as to die for portraits of Jackie 0 and Liz Taylor. Through December 15, the Kunstforum's show will be "Art and Insanity"-how very Freudian.
[Next issue, we'll explore Schonbrunn Palace, the performing arts scene and gay Vienna.]