Throughout the course of human history, different cities became hubs for various strands of human endeavour. Florence was the crucible in which the Renaissance flourished. Venice and Xian, two cities seperated by distance and cultures became powerhouses thanks to their locations at either end of the Silk Road. Videogames (and their records) have their capital in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Vienna can claim the mantle of ‘World Capital of Classical Music’ thanks to local talents such as Johann Strauss and Franz Schubert and being the stage for Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
A rich heritage of music that also gave birth to the talents of Falco and the real life Maria von Trapp.
In the 19th Century if you could sing, play an instrument or compose a sonata – you were nobody if you didnt head straight to Vienna.
“…Makes the Bourgeoisie come together”
In Vienna there is only one place to experience music – the Wiener Staatsoper, the Vienna State Opera.
It opened in 1869, after a hefty patronage from Emperor Franz Joseph I and 8 years of construction. As always happens the story behind it’s construction is more dramatic than the performances that take place within it. The final building was not as grand as everyone hoped and public opinion was divided on its look. Both architects, Eduard van der Null and August Sicard von Sicardsburg (what a name!) sadly did not see it’s completion – the former committing suicide and the latter dying from TB.
At first glance it looks familiar to many of the buildings we saw in Budapest and that is no accident as stone was in scarce supply at that time – it was sourced from the Hungarian village of Soskut – similar to many of the buildings from that other great city on the Danube.
The Premiere performance is noteworthy as it was Don Giovanni by Mozart himself with the Emperor and Empress Sissi both in attendance.
It is one thing to come and take some external photos and maybe a glance into the foyer but it is quite another to attend a show and luckily for us the Christmas holidays meant there would be a packed schedule for us to slot into. We managed to get two tickets to a performance of Hansel and Gretel. (Full Disclosure: the change in temperatures and the fact that it was all in German meant we did not quite make it to the end of the show 🙂 )
The interior of the Opera house is a stark contrast to its exterior. Marble staircases, ceiling frescos, busts of all the great composers. The auditorium itself is new however, the original having been destroyed during Allied bombing in World War II, but it has been restored, retaining most of the structure of the original design including the use of traditional colours – red, gold and ivory. The Orchestra pit was quite large and can hold 110 different musicians – all coming from the State Opera Orchestra.
10,000km away from here is the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and its Walk of Fame of actors and titans of cinema. Austrian double Oscar winning actor Christophe Waltz has a star along this row but he does not have a star closer to home in Vienna as this is dedicated solely to famous musical composers. If you take your gaze off the shop windows, Christmas markets and grand buildings and look to your shoes you might see one of the 70 stars of the ‘musikmeille’.
I was not able to spot my favourite Austrian musician on the Walk but I did spot a picture of him in a restaurant we had lunch. If you are unfamiliar with the talents of Falco you can check out his Offical Youtube Channel #GoneTooSoon
And it was all yellow
We mentioned that the premiere concert at the State Opera House was a performance by Mozart but this was not his first rodeo. From the age of 6 he was deemed a child prodigy and in October 1762 he performed for the royal court at their ‘summer residence’ – the Schonbrunn Palace, located in the Heitzing district of Vienna. This included meeting a seven year old Archduchess Marie Antoinette.
It’s early roots as a hunting lodge close to the Vienna Woods has since been eclipsed by the 1,441 room Rococo style palace that sits here now. It is far grander than its yellow cousin the Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany.
Inside the grounds of the palace were magnificent gardens – but we were not able to wander far as they were blanketed in thick snow and treacherous ice. The flip-side was that a Christmas Market had sprung up in the grounds of the courtyard around the fountains in the forecourt.
We did the tour inside, but as per usual, no photos were allowed to be taken. If you want a sneakpeek at what was inside this is a handy link – just click on each room for a photo and description. It retains the look that Emperor Franz I created during his renovation works and how it looked in 1918 at the fall of the Hapsburg Monarchy following the end of World War I – it became the museum it is today after that.
There is a room called the Napoleon room, a bedroom in which Napoleon Bonaparte stayed during his many visits. He first stayed there in 1805 after defeating the Austrian and Russian armies at the Battle of Austerlitz. Again in 1809 after defeating the armies of the Fifth Coalition and spent months there, finding the time to marry Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma and sister of Marie Antoinette in 1810.
Lets do the timewarp again…
A stone’s throw from the front gates of the Schonbrunn Palace, on the north side of Auer-Welsbach-Park is an outstanding museum – a love letter to technology, from every day use to aerospace satellites.
The Technisches Museum Wien was opened in 1918 and had the foundation stone laid by Emperor Franz Joseph himself! It is truly massive, containing four floors of interactive exhbitions, huge cars, helicopters and industrial machinery and a neat section called Everyday Living that acts as a time capsule for every household item and their evolution. It’s main goal is to highlight the role that technology plays in everyday life and it really hits the mark.
Some of my games consoles were there including the Commodore 64 (the first computer I ever used) and a mint condition Nintendo Gameboy.
Everything and anyting a cart can unload…
We rounded off our trip, day and night, exploring the many Markets – both permanent and temporary.
The Naschmarkt is a long and narrow strip of some amazing food, cakes and restaurants. It’s name stems from the original use for the market – to sell milk bottles – which were made from ash wood back then – “Asche”. It is located along the wide boulevard of the Linke Wienzeile and is 1.5km long. We took in the aromas and some photos and bought some Viennese biscuits to bring home for Christmas.
Nearby is the Art Advent Christmas Market, located in Karlsplatz. Lots of artisan stalls, pop-up bars and live music provide the foreground to the massively impressive Karlskirche Cathedral. It is a very different cathedral to St Stephen’s Cathedral – the facade looks more like a Greek Temple portico than a catholic cathedral.
Its a different market to others – originality (no traded goods) and sustainability are the watchwords for this special slice of Vienna.
Back up the road and near our accommodation was the Rathausplatz and its Christkindlmarkt. This is Vienna’s largest Christmas Market with over 150 Stalls and at night – is lit up. The centrepiece is the Tree of Hearts – a massive art installation in the park in which the market is based. Towering over the stalls of Christmas baubles and vats of gluhweine is the towering presence of the Vienna City Hall and seat of it’s Mayor – the Rathaus.
On our final night we went across town to the Prater. Vienna’s permanent funfair and amusement park. We took a wrong turn and ended entering at the back of the park which was dark and dingy and full of empty corridors between closed rides. (It felt a lot like the final act of Batman:The Killing Joke). Our only guiding light was the high intensity glare from it’s Giant Ferris Wheel. We were relieved when we turned a corner and saw some neon lights and pretzel stands that were open 🙂
Our short trip to Vienna had come to an end. We had (mostly) recovered from jet lag, re-accustomed ourselves to Northern Hemisphere winter weather, eaten our fair share of Schnitzels, Cakes and drunk more cups of wine and tea then we had any right too. We also discovered this amazing city with it’s rich history, even richer contribution to global society with it’s Coffee Culture and love of music.
But we had travelled a long way and were only a few hours from home and family and our first Christmas Dinner with family for quite some time.
Next Stop… Cork!