Mozart in the church, and hip-hop on the streets… Vienna is a tale of two cities.
Austro-Hungarian architect, Otto Wagner (1841-1918), not only left his mark with several ornate Jugendstil buildings in the Austrian capital of Vienna. In 1890, he also designed the ‘Stadtbahn’ rail network as part of a new urban plan for the city, which was converted to U-Bahn in 1981. Today, the railway arches between Thaliastrasse and Nussdorferstrasse – sandwiched by the Gürtel and formerly known as the red-light district – are home to the music mile, a host of urban venues housing live bands, electronica and jazz.
It was the former professional football player, Othmar Bajlicz, who first moved his Chelsea club to a new home under the arches, back in 1995, when the city took the initiative to open them to new businesses at a fair rate; encouraging a new scene to emerge whilst simultaneously clamping down on the regulated prostitution industry, moving it indoors (where it is legal) and off the streets. Unlike Chelsea – originally launched in 1986 in the basement of a barbershop, within a residential building in the eighth district – the music venues that cropped up along the arches in the nineties are united in their full fronted windows.
Perfectly situated for the music mile, and directly across the road to the B72 venue, is Hotel Donauwalzer, built in 1901 (I wonder if they rented rooms by the hour back then…) and owned by the Kluss family for over 35 years. The hotel still retains many of its original features, including the beautiful Art Nouveau lift (which is a little faster than the new one, to be fair). Book direct and you can choose one of 12 unique Wiener Originale rooms on the fifth floor, which collectively fuse more than 2,154 years of typical Viennese tradition. All have been designed in collaboration with Viennese businesses of the same ilk – family owned for at least 100 years. My room paid homage to Augarten Wien, producers of the finest handmade and hand painted, White Gold porcelain since 1718. Examples were placed around the room, in a cabinet and, interestingly… buried under a perspex panel in the floor, either side of the bed.
We kicked off our first evening in Vienna at the recently opened Salonplafond, within the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts). The restaurant – designed by architect, Michael Embacher, and orchestrated by award-winning, German TV-chef, Tim Mälzer – has the most spectacular dining room ceiling, hence the word ‘plafond’ (ceiling) being part of the name. As a pescetarian, I avoided the ‘Flap Meat’ on the specials menu (answers on a postcard) and went for the Sea Bream, which they kindly filleted for me after I came face to face with it. A whole fish is way too much reality for a borderline vegan.
The MAK itself is home to an extensive collection of artefacts, in which the past and the future come together in an array of special themed exhibitions, across a number of large halls. Current exhibitions include Josef Frank: Against Design, Fashion Utopias: Haute Couture in the Graphic Arts, and the upcoming Shunga: Erotic Art from Japan.
I’m all for coming face to face with live animals, however, and the following day we took in a private tour of the Spanish Riding School stables, before watching one of their world-famous performances at the Imperial Palace. Personally, I much preferred wandering around the stables, taking in the lovely horsey smell, meeting a stallion and feeding him a sugar lump, than sitting back to watch them trot around a room, jumping in the air and clicking their heels together now and again… but if that’s your thing, you’re gonna love this. The school was named during the Habsburg Monarchy in 1572, and can be attributed to the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the exclusively used, Lipizzan breed. Each of their 68 stallions learn just one trick over their lifetime, and – seeing as horses also need a holiday once in a while – spend several weeks off at their summer stables in Heldenberg-Wetzdorf-Lower Austria, during July and August.
Whilst wandering around the capital, and admiring the wonderful clash of opulent Imperialism with contemporary Vienna – which over the last 100 years has become a centre renowned for contemporary art – keep your eyes peeled for the spray-painted bananas (yup, that was a pun), placed at points of cultural and artistic interest by Cologne-based street art pioneer, painter, performance and installation artist, Thomas Baumgärtel. What a helpful chap.
We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Grand Ferdinand, where they serve a modern take on impeccable tradition, and later for an early dinner at the hip Heur ‘Garden. Restaurant. Bar.’ Situated in the city centre, adjacent to the Kunsthalle Wien exhibition space, Heur features an urban gardening project, along with live music and events. The restaurant works with over 30 independent farmers and manufacturers, and features a variety of home-made juices, syrups and compotes, salted lemons and pickles, produced by chef Peter Fallnbügl and displayed on a feature wall. The unique cocktails are a must, which come infused with herbs from their own garden.
Throughout April, May, June and again in September 2016, the Vienna State Opera is streaming selected opera and ballet performances on a 50 square metre LED video wall, directly outside the venue. We passed by on our way to St. Charles Church, for a performance of Mozart‘s Requiem (just a few hundred metres from where he died, apparently). Considering there was some sort of political demonstration going on to the left of the screen, there was a pretty decent turnout for the outdoor opera. Aside from this, Vienna State Opera also hold back around 600 standing room only tickets, for just three to five euros each (yup, that’s right), for sale 90 minutes before the show. Check that out. Must be like winning at eBay.
While queuing for Mozart on Karlsplatz, we also got out first taste of the Rap Against Festival, sprawled across the square in the Austrian sunshine. The annual ‘Festival for Social Innovations’ launched in 2014, and celebrates diversity over three days, bringing together a range of acts and cultures through live music, film screenings, art sessions, exhibitions, dance, sports and the like. On stage this year were international, rap and hip hop artists, such as Roger & Schu, Khary from the United States, Syrian rapper Chyno, Joshi Mizu, Monobrother, Scheibsta and many more.
Back in church, Mozart’s Requiem was performed by the Choir and Soloists of Salzburg Concert Society, along with Orchestra 1756 on period instruments, altogether bringing more than 40 musicians to the stage. Unlike contemporary performances in modern venues, this did get a little quieter the further you were seated towards the back. Fortunately, we were a few pews from the front, and although still feeling a little cut off from the spectacular vibe on stage, it was well worth it for the more authentic experience.
We made it out in time to catch the end of the Rap Against Festival, well… a drink at least, while they packed everything away and ushered people on their way. Have to say, I was pretty impressed to see that the bar was using reusable plastic cups, which you could return for your deposit. Nice one, Vienna. We finished the night off at the nearby Club-U, which was just the right amount of grunge, with just the right amount of mojitos. On leaving, I won eight Euros off four Austrians outside the venue. Whoever threw their Euro nearest the wall won. Beat them twice. I was thinking they really need to learn how to skim rather than flip… but on retrospect, maybe I just misunderstood the rules (aka cheating)…
Sunday, 1st May was International Workers’ Day, a public holiday in Austria, celebrated with official parades. After breakfast, we headed through the temporarily pedestrianised roads to the MuseumsQuartier, one of the ten largest cultural quarters in the world. Visiting the Leopold Museum was a definite highlight of the trip, where we took in the largest Egon Schiele exhibition in the world, along with masterpieces by the founder of the Vienna Secession movement, Gustav Klimt. The Leopold Museum also houses exhibits of the Vienna Workshop, from Josef Hofmann to Koloman Moser, plus I got to spend my winnings from the night before, on a lovely Egon Schiele postcard – now in a vintage frame and hanging in my hallway – and thoroughly decent fridge magnets. Now every time I make a sandwich, I feel a little wave of guilt at maybe, perhaps… cheating said magnets out of some awesomely friendly Austrians.
Culture vultures will also want to experience the Viennese coffee house, which was officially added to the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list in 2011. The earliest on record was opened in the heart of the old town back in 1685, and of the 830+ that exist today, around 150 are classic coffee houses with wooden floors, marble-topped tables and seating that is simple but plush. Chocolate lovers can treat themselves to the world famous Sacher Torte, originally created by 16 year old apprentice chef, Franz Sacher, at the court of Prince Metternich in 1832. We stopped by Café Sperl in the 6th district for lunch. Built in 1880, Sperl was popular with the painter’s inner circle, and the likes of Archduke Ferdinand, Franz Lehár, the Hague society, and the sevens Club, all who became mentors of the café.
For our final evening in the Austrian capital, we ventured down the winding backstreets of downtown Vienna to Lugeck. Situated in the 1st district, Lugeck promotes traditional Viennese tavern culture with a contemporary vibe, and menu to match. The traditional Weiner Schnitzel was popular, but I went for the vegetarian Herb Pasta, also a Viennese classic, which was lovely but never-ending. The more I ate the more it grew, so maybe go for that if you’re really, really hungry. Prize for anyone who can eat an entire bowl. SurPrize I mean.
We couldn’t leave Vienna without checking out the Prater, which is celebrating a major anniversary in 2016. Emperor Joseph II opened the former hunting grounds to the public some 250 years ago in 1766, transforming the six square kilometres into an entertainment and recreation area for the residents of the capital. The Prater hosted the World Expo in 1873, and over the years, temporary tents and stands laid the foundations for what would become the Wurstelprater amusement park today, with its old timber toboggan run, retro carousels, bars and restaurants. The Giant Ferris Wheel (Riesenrad) was erected in 1897, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Emperor Franz Joseph‘s coronation, which kinda makes the London Eye, opening in the year 2000, seem a little late. Give it another 100 years or so though, and our capital might even give us the option to pose in a dummy capsule, pre-ride.
Fortunately, we’ll always have Vienna.
You can now fly from Edinburgh to Vienna via Jet2.com!
Leading leisure airline Jet2.com offers friendly low fares, great flight times, and a generous 22kg baggage allowance to Vienna from Edinburgh Airport with flights operating twice weekly from April to January.
Fares with Jet2.com start at £41 one way including taxes. Jet2CityBreaks to the Hotel Donauwalzer, Vienna, start from £195 per person for three nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation, departing from Edinburgh on 17th June 2016. Price includes a 22kg baggage allowance and return transfers. To book flights visit www.jet2.com or for city breaks visit www.jet2citybreaks.com or call free on 0800 408 0778.