St. Stephans in Vienna

St. Stephans in Vienna

I went to Vienna for the American Physical Society while chair of the Committee on International Scientific Affairs. The meeting was a UN-IUPAP meeting on Eastern Europe and methods of enhancing and supporting physics research there. I stayed in the Kaiserin Elizabeth hotel adjacent to St. Stephan’s Cathedral, depected on this pin. I’ve been back to Vienna a couple times, attending a production of Carmen and to hear the Vienna Boys Choir, among other highlights.

Visited May 28, 2014 aboard Viking Lif

Vienna is a huge city with several districts. I’ve been in Vienna at least 2 maybe 3 times. Vienna (German: Wien) is the capital of the Republic of Austria and by far the largest city in Austria with its population of more than 1.7 million. As you’d expect it’s Austria’s cultural, economic, and political center. As the former home of the Habsburg court and its various empires, the city still has the trappings of the imperial capital it once was, and the historic city center is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

History

The low-lying Danube plain in and around what is now Vienna has had a human population since at least the late Paleolithic: one of the city’s most famous artifacts, the 24,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf, now in Vienna’s Natural History Museum, was found nearby. Vienna’s own recorded history began with the Romans, who founded it in the 1st Century CE as Vindobona, one of a line of Roman defensive outposts against Germanic tribes. Vindobona’s central garrison was on the site of what is now the Hoher Markt (the “High Market” due to its relative height over the Danube), and you can still see the excavations of its foundations there today.

Vienna hosted the Habsburg court for several centuries, first as the Imperial seat of the Holy Roman Empire, then the capital of the Austrian Empire, and later of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which finally fell in 1918 with the abdication of the last Emperor Karl I. The court tremendously influenced the culture that exists here even today: Vienna’s residents are often overly formal, with small doses of courtliness, polite forms of address, and formal dress attire. One of the many paradoxes of the quirky city is that its residents can be equally modern and progressive as they are extremely old-fashioned.

The empires also served to make Vienna a very metropolitan city at an early time, and especially so through the years of industrialization and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the turn of the 20th century. Imperial Austria and Austro-Hungary were multi-lingual, multi-ethnic empires and although the German-speakers normally played the dominant role in Vienna there has long been ethnic and lingual diversity in the city. Proof of Jews in the city dates back to the 10th century. After WWIIU many of the city’s minorities had been exiled or killed and much of the city lay in ruin. When Austria was given sovereignty after the post WWII occupation, it was eventually established that Austria was going the way of the West and not that of the Eastern Block. So the city became more isolated from its previous ties to its Slavic and Hungarian neighbors; the east of Austria was surrounded by the Iron Curtain. Vienna had gone from being the well-established metropolitan city of Central Europe to the capital of a small, predominately German-speaking nation of states with strong regional identities.

Since the formation of the first Austrian Republic and the first mayoral election 1919 the Social-Democratic Party of Austria has had the majority of representatives on the common council and controlled the mayoral seat. During the early years, the socialist Red Vienna (“Rote Wien”) revolutionized the city, improving the extreme conditions that the industrial revolution and rapid urbanization had created. Most famously the city built many housing projects, and they also began to offer many social services and made improvements across the board in quality of life. The public housing that was built at that time is now famous for its distinctive style. To this day the city continues to build public housing and about a third of the city’s residents live in it, some 600,000 people! Obviously through this high percentage, the quality, and the integration of public housing across the city have kept it from becoming as stigmatized as in most cities. The Viennese are used to having the city government in their lives, and of course have a love-hate relationship with it. Vienna functions on its own as a federal state in the Austrian system (along with 8 other states) and the sense of local pride and home is more of being Viennese than being Austrian, many say.

Traditional Vienna is but one of the many façades of this city; the historic center, a UNESCO world heritage site, is sometimes begrudgingly compared to an open-air museum. But Vienna is also a dynamic young city, famous for its (electronic) music scene with independent labels, cult-status underground record stores, a vibrant Monday through Sunday club scene, multitudes of street performers, and a government that seems overly obsessed with complicated paperwork. However, people are willing to go out of their way or bend the rules a little if they feel they can do someone a favor.

The Viennese have a singular fascination with death, hence the popularity of the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery), where there are more graves than living residents in Vienna, as a strolling location and of Schrammelmusik—highly sentimental music with lyrics pertaining to death. Old-fashioned Sterbevereine (funeral insurance societies-literally translated “death clubs”) provide members with the opportunity to save up for a nice funeral throughout the course of their lives. This service does not exist solely to save their children the hassle and expense – it is considered absolutely mandatory to provide for an adequate burial. Vienna even has the “Bestattungsmuseum”, a museum devoted to coffins and mortuary science. The country’s morbid obsession may be correlated with its higher suicide rate when compared with the rest of Europe. Here too, the socialist Vienna has its hand; the city also offers a socialized undertaking service, with hearses branded in the same department of public works logo as the subway cars, and a link to the transit-planner on their website.

Vienna is also famous for its coffee culture. “Let’s have a coffee” is a very commonly heard phrase, because despite incursions by Starbucks and Italian-style espresso bars, the Kaffeehauskultur is still the traditional way to drink a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, meet friends, or fall in love.

Addresses in this article are written with the district number preceding the street name, the same as street signs in Vienna. So 9., Badgasse 26 is Badgasse #26 in the 9th district. Hence you can also always tell what district you are in by the first number on street signs. Districts can also be made into a postal code by substituting the XX in A-1XX0 Vienna (0X for districts below 10), for instance A-1090 Vienna for the 9th district and A-1200 the 20th, and are sometimes referred to as such.

Common points of reference are often used in Vienna in addition to districts, most notably public transport stops. Reference to U1/U4 Schwedenplatz or Schwedenplatz (U1, U4) means that something is near to the Schwedenplatz stop on the underground lines 1 and 4. Normally if the place is not directly at the subway stop you can ask around and find it easily.

Vienna has 23 districts or wards know singularly as Bezirk in Austrian German. These function subordinately to the city as decentralized administrative branches of the commune, as well as making local decisions. They vary immensely in size and each has its own flair.

The city has a very centralized layout radiating from the historic first district, or Inner-City with the Stephansdom and Stephansplatz at the center of a bulls eye. It is encircled by the Ringstraße (Ring Road), a grand boulevard constructed along the old city walls, which were torn down at the end of the 19th century. Along the Ringstraße are many famous and grand buildings, including the Rathaus [City Hall], the Austrian Parliament, the Hofburg Palace, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum), and the State Opera House.

Concert venue Palais Auersperg in Vienna

Concert venue Palais Auersperg in Vienna

Got tickets for the Residenz Orchester Konzert in Palais Auersperg for the 6:30 performance. It is advertised as the orchestra with famous opera singers and ballet dancers in historical costumes who “will enchant you with the most beautiful melodies by Mozart and Strauss. One of the best orchestras of the Viennese music scene will tPalais locatioinake you on a journey back to Imperial Vienna. While the following picture does not show the actual performers, the concertmaster is the same and he is holding the House Stradivarius which he plays beautifully.

Ticket for Palais Performance

Ticket for Palais Performance

 

 

Concertmaster holding his Stradavarius

Concertmaster holding his Stradavarius

The company at the Palais

The company at the Palais

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