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Published: March 4th 2018
... holds an amazing collection of pieces of art.
In the second week of May I had a business meeting in Vienna planned. Since the meeting was Wednesday to Friday I suggested to Nils to spend the weekend there together. I had to cancel the business meeting, but could fortunately change my flight so that we could spend the weekend there anyway.
We arrived on Friday night and checked into our hotel in the district of Margareten, not far from the subway train station Margaretengürtel. This was rather convenient because it allowed us to get into the city centre quickly by train. Since it was late already we decided to have dinner – no Austrian food though, instead we went to Colombo Hoppers, a Sri Lankan restaurant just around the corner from our hotel where we could sit outside and have very tasty food.
When we got up the next morning it was pouring down with rain, but like a miracle the clouds opened up while we were having breakfast and when we left the hotel it was a beautiful day. We went to Schloss Belvedere
, a palace that has its name from its location on a hill overlooking the city centre. On our way we passed Karlskirche, a
One of the landmarks of the city of Vienna.
baroque church that is one of the landmarks of Vienna. The view of it is pretty amazing, it is right behind a big well and has beautifully crafted pillars to the left and right of the main entrance. Apparently it was designed as a link between Rome and Byzantium, therefore it has elements of Hagia Sophia in (nowadays) Istanbul and Trajan’s Pillar in Rome. The church itself was not open, though, and we proceeded to Heumarkt. There we were very surprised to find a Soviet War Memorial—Denkmal der Helden der Roten Armee at Schwarzenbergplatz. Near the end of World War II the Soviet troops captured Vienna and the city was divided into four sectors between the Allies. The monument was unveiled close to Palais Schwarzenberg in 1945 in a very prominent location.
When we arrived at Schloss Belvedere we had to choose between different exhibitions, all of which sounded interesting and fun to see. We decided to visit Upper Belvedere because it showcases pieces of art from the Middle Ages until today. Amongst the more modern paintings there is, for example “The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, and other works by the famous painter. Moreover, there are paintings by Claude
Monet, Oskar Kokoschka, and Caspar David Friedrich, to name but a few. Other interesting exhibits were works by sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt who crafted several dozen oddly grimacing busts. His idea had been to showcase the facial expressions of different affective states, some of them being really extreme. His methods to study these expressions in humans were apparently very odd at times: he would jump out onto the street in front of pedestrians and point a gut at them so see the surprise or horror in their facial expression and then to use this as a model for his sculptures. Must have been an interesting guy.
In the afternoon we went for a walk around the city centre. We started off at Hofburg, the emperor’s residence in the times of the Habsburg Dynasty, and continued to Heldenplatz. Today the Austrian President and the Austrian Chancellor have their residences close by. From Heldenplatz we went to Maria-Theresien-Platz, the square between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art History and went on to Volkstheater and then to Town Hall. A lot of the buildings in the area are from the 19th century. Town Hall is in neogothic style,
Museum of Art History
... at Maria-Theresien-Platz. View from the Museum of Natural History on the other side of the square.
with the idea of connecting to the Medieval tradition of the relative freedom citizens had in the cities.
In the evening we went to Hundertwasserhaus
, the famous house designed by the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser in the 1980s. The idea of it was not to follow the usual architectural principles. The house is thus very colourful, has uneven floors in some areas, and there is a lot of green around it and also on its roof. It is still an apartment building with tenants living in it, so one cannot get inside. However, even from the outside it is definitely worth looking at, there is so much to see and explore. Right opposite there is Hundertwasser Village
, a kind of mall that where the interior was designed by Mr Hundertwasser as well. It reflects his idea of not having right angles, uneven floors, and colourful materials nicely, but it is also very touristy.
After our visit to Hundertwasserhaus it was late and we made our way to a restaurant with Asian cuisine. On our way we passed an antiques store that really had some treasures and that was kind of hidden on the ground floor of an apartment building.
... between Maria-Theresien-Platz and Town Hall.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and to bed because we had to get up fairly early the next morning.
This was because we had bought tickets for a show in famous Spanische Hofreitschule
, the riding school where the imperial family used to learn how to ride horses and where they trained (and still train) the Lipizzaner horses. This breed of horses is prone to beautiful dressage because of their build and the way they move. At birth they are usually black, but then turn white as they grow older. The name of the breed comes from the stud farm Lipica in Slowenia where the breed was first mentioned in the 18th century. I used to be a keen horseback rider and I had always wanted to see one of their shows. When I had been in Vienna over ten years ago the stallions had been on summer vacation out in the countryside and so we could not see the show, but this time they were around and we had tickets.
The show was pretty amazing. It started with the young stallions (they exclusively work with stallions in the Hofreitschule) who are still in training and it
View from the other side of the street.
continued with the more experienced ones that showcased beautiful pieces of dressage. Something that is very particular about this breed of horses is that they can jump up and kick out their hind legs horizontally. And they can do all kinds of tricks with the rider sitting on their back, but also with a person walking behind them using long reigns and a whip. The latter I find particularly stunning because a lot of the commands you give to the horse are usually given by shifting your weight or using your legs, the reigns are meant to support only, so it is high art to be able to make the horse do all kinds of movements without having the two main means of communication available. I enjoyed the show, but it also became clear that one has to have a bit of background knowledge to really appreciate it. I explained some things to Nils who does not have any horseback riding experience and he said that this really made him understand and appreciate a lot better what was happening.
After the show we went into Hofburg to see the rooms, furniture, and porcelain, but also to go into Sissi
No right angles between the different colours and trees on top of the building.
Museum. As a German girl I grew up with the movie trilogy “Sissi”, in which Romy Schneider plays Empress Elizabeth of Austria, called “Sissi”, and Karlheinz Böhm plays Emperor Franz II of Austria. He is supposed to marry Princess Helene from Bavaria, but falls in love with her younger sister Sissi and marries her. Facts-wise the movie is not entirely correct: Sissi was not very popular with her people, as the movie suggests. Rather, they found her odd and could not really relate to her. What is true though is that she perceived being an empress and being so much in the focus of attention as a huge burden, especially because she had grown up with a lot of freedom. I really felt for her and also for the Emperor when I walked through the museum in Hofburg and read about her personal struggles and also about her husband’s struggles. It seems that they did love each other, at least in the first place, but I think when circumstances are that difficult it is hard to maintain a good and positive relationship. In any case, both Franz and his mother (who is portrayed as a pretty evil and power-hungry woman
Spanische Hofreitschule I
The riding hall where we had seen the show earlier on.
in the movie) tried very hard to make things bearable for Sissi, but did not succeed, and she fell into serious depression and was killed in an assassination eventually.
After our visit to Hofburg we spent some more time outside walking the city and enjoying the sun and blue sky before heading back to the airport and flying home. We had a great time and I will be happy to go back and explore more.
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