Vienna is Mecca for classical music lovers, and I’ve just returned from my Hajj. It’s everything I hoped it would be.
The U-Bahn is clean and reliable. By getting a weekly ticket, I could ride all over the city. Vienna follows the usual European honor system; in my extensive traveling, my ticket was checked only once, and rather casually. If it had been the previous week’s ticket, I don’t think the checkers would have noticed.
A few bits of Austrian German are different from what I’m familiar with. Saying “Grüß Gott” (greet God) just sounds silly to me, so I stuck with “Morgen” or “Guten Tag,” and I ordered “Kartoffeln” (potatoes) rather than “Erdäpfel” (pommes de terre). That way if people noticed oddities in my speech, they’d just think I was German. Overall, I used German about 80% of the time.
Unfortunately, I left my camera in my car in Canada, so I had to fall back on my iPod for taking pictures.
There was a big food festival in the Stadtpark (main city park) over the weekend. The booths mostly had local cuisine, so it was hard to find anything with a name I recognized. I got a Wildwurst (wild sausage, presumably caught by expert sausage hunters) on brown bread.
Beethoven lived for a while in Heiligenstadt, then a suburban village, now a part of Vienna on the U-Bahn. I visited the apartment where he may have lived when he wrote his despairing Heiligenstadt Testament. This stop was a bit disappointing; it’s just a two-room apartment, and historians aren’t even sure if it’s the one he actually lived in. There’s another house nearby where I’m told he definitely lived, but it’s been converted into a restaurant. (He moved around a lot; the jokes about “Beethoven’s fourth movement” have some truth to them.)
The Mozarthaus was more interesting. It’s in the heart of Vienna, and it was clearly an impressive residence. It’s been made into a Mozart museum with some nice exhibits. Incidentally, while I was in Vienna, I came across a TV cartoon called “Little Amadeus,” about Mozart as a child. It gets some things historically right, including the names of his family members, and it uses his own music, even if it’s music he hadn’t written yet. It’s available on DVD (region 2, of course, but I’m equipped); I’ll have to order some episodes.
The Haus der Musik is a museum of sound with a split personality. I didn’t care much for the purely acoustic exhibits, which were sometimes unpleasant to hear, but the historical displays were very good. In retrospect, I recommend getting a combined ticket for the Mozarthaus and Haus der Musik; they aren’t far apart, and I’d have saved money by doing that.
The Naschmarkt (nosh market, or close enough) is a permanent food market with more recognizable foods than the festival in the park. Some shops are open-air stands, others closed buildings. I went to a shop called Schoko Company, which some websites told me has the best chocolate in Vienna. It’s a nice, friendly place; I asked for recommendations and left with a bunch of chocolate, including one bar which they told me is “die beste Schockolade der Welt.” I’m saving it for the MASSFILC meeting; we’ll see if it lives up to that.
I attended two performances at the Volksoper. The first was a set of ballets on Debussy’s Prélude à l’Apres-mide d’un Faune, Ravel’s Bolero, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. The simple story of the first piece was the most convincingly presented. Bolero was done as a group dance without any story, and I would have enjoyed it except for the fact that the piece drives me nuts. I was afraid I’d be earwormed with its repetitious music for the next two years, but Carmina Burana is one of the few things that could push it back out of my mind. The Orff was the most ambitious part, of course. It was technically well done, but the dances generally had nothing to do with the content of the songs and seemed aimed at shock value. I’m pretty sure there are no cannibalistic monks in the text.
The next day I saw Die Fledermaus. Of course, this is what going to Vienna is all about. It was performed in the traditional style, with no attempts at modernization aside from a few improvised gags such as having “kein Internet” in jail. This turned out to be a special occasion, as the music director was honored for his birthday, and one of the actors gave the count of the performances (in the thousands) and premieres he’d led.
There were street musicians, mostly of very good quality. One of my last experiences in Vienna was a player with a full-sized harp in a U-Bahn station. In the Karlskirche area I heard a horn player doing a Mozart concerto without accompaniment. In the Stadtpark there was a one-legged accordion player. Of course, I remember to support street musicians whenever I can.
One prediction which I repeatedly heard didn’t come true; I didn’t gain weight, and in fact lost some. This wasn’t for lack of eating; I had Wiener Schnitzel, Turkish fast food, and other goodies. But when I’m in a European city on vacation, I do vast amounts of walking, and that more than countered the eating. The restaurants don’t seem to know much about vegetables beyond potatoes and sauerkraut.
Ich liebe Wien!