Saturday 2nd May 2015, Klosterneuburg, Austria
Today we took the train in to the centre of Vienna. We bought a couple of day cards which meant we could use the trams and buses around the city, hopefully making the day more manageable. We walked for most of the day as it’s the best way to see and understand a city. In contrast to our last visit to Vienna when it was so hot we crawled from the shade of one building to seek out the shade of the next, today it has been cool to the extent that we’ve needed our winter jackets though it has been an excellent temperature for sight-seeing.
I’ve just re-read our account of Vienna in 2006. I admit to being rather proud of it and cannot see any point in writing much the same thing again, so I will mention a few of the things we’ve done this time that do not repeat our earlier blog and hopefully you can take a look at that report as well.
On all the street corners were students selling tickets for concerts to be held in various churches around the city. They were all dressed as Mozart look-alikes. This visit we’ve noticed that most of the churches as well as the cathedral are now charging whereas on our previous visit many were free. There were queues for almost everything from museums to food. The streets were crowded with tour groups being lead in large groups of around 50 tourists by umbrella-wielding guides. They block the pavements and, because there are so many groups and they are so large, they are rather intimidating.
First we walked through the food and vegetable market, the Naschmarkt. This is one of the sights of the city. It is large and very crowded. Apart from the stall holders selling everything from lobsters to dried herbs, there is a full range of restaurants under canvas awnings. Nearby stands the Secessionist house, now a museum. It is contemporary with and largely similar to the Art Nouveau movement in France. The Secessionist movement was founded in 1897 by several Viennese painters, designers and architects including Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman. Of particular importance was a secessionist exhibition displaying a statue of Beethoven with an accompanying frieze by Gustav Klimt.
We passed the university faculty of technology where the tops of the pilasters were adorned by little putti busy with their medical instruments, their astronomical globes and their chemistry equipment.
In the centre of the city stand the impressive administrative buildings – the parliament building, the Rathaus, the Burgtheater, the Staatsoper, the Hofburg - the rococo buildings of the Habsburg emperors. Everything is constructed on a monumental scale. The state library of Austria now charges for entry and shows you what you are allowed to see only on a guided tour. There is no wandering in and browsing as we did previously.
Next door is the entrance to the Spanish Riding School. The entire city seems to reverberate with the clatter of horses hooves. What with the white Lippizana horses housed right in the heart of Vienna and the carriage rides around the streets pulled by a couple of delicate carriage horses, you are more aware of horses than of vehicles as you make your way along the cobbled streets that lead from one magnificent rococo building to the next.
Huge doorways into massive buildings have gigantic caryatids to either side, and huge statues, eagles and coats of arms are balanced along the parapets of the roofs. Every square has a statue on a huge plinth to one or other of the former Habsburg emperors, either one of the Leopolds, Franz Josefs or Karls. There was though, only the one Maria Theresa, who somehow managed to combine being empress of one of Europe’s most important and influential realms at that time, with having a huge number of children (16, I think!). The history of Europe is so complicated and I’ve lost track of how the rulers of all the different states, countries and empires inter-relate.
The Habsburgs were by any standards wealthy and took delight in flaunting this in the size and magnificence of their architecture. During the afternoon we wandered around inside the grounds of the main palace, the Hofburg, stopping at a very Viennese coffee house in the courtyard where we were served our coffee in little cups on individual silver salvers accompanied by glasses of cold water. The waiters were beyond the flush of youth, smartly dressed in dark suits and black bow ties, and the atmosphere was undeniably Austrian. Earlier we’d bought a couple of Mozartkugel which we’d been keeping for this treat. They were delicious with the very strong and very black coffee. The bill almost made us ask for another coffee to recover from the shock!
Our experience of the hotel at Bad Blumau seems to have appealed to many of you, just as it did to us. Hundertwasser’s memory lives on in his native city and we sought out the Kunst Haus Wein , where two floors of this museum of modern art are devoted to his works as an artist, an architect and an environmentalist. I’m inclined to think too as a total eccentric whose ideas, while laudable and very different, are rather repetitive. All his plans have trees growing out of windows and grass covering roofs. They all have large golden domes and ceramic columns in primary colours, uneven floors and very similar fountains inside the buildings. He held strong and laudable environmental views that were unusual back in the 1980s. He was commissioned to design a church somewhere in Slovakia, a social housing complex in Vienna, and even a recycling plant in Vienna as well. We first discovered him in Abensberg in 2010 where he designed the exterior of the local brewery complete with an eccentric and colourful tower.
Needless to say the floors in the museum were uneven and difficult to walk on. Hundertwasser’s conviction was that flat floors damage the human soul in some way. All very well but dangerous in my opinion on staircases! We had a coffee in the museum cafe and asked the waiters whether they appreciated his ideas on uneven floors as they negotiated them with heavily laden trays. “You get used to it” was their reply.
Leaving the museum we returned to take a look at the nearby Hundertwasserhaus, the social housing complex he designed. It must be an awful place to live with curious tourists permanently crowding the street outside taking photos of the uneven balconies and the trees growing out from the windows. Something of his surreal outlook on mankind, art and nature reminded me rather of Spike Milligan and the Goons. His work at the spa was for us the very best of his achievements.
We decided to take the tram back to the centre of the city where we transferred to the U Bahn and eventually the overground train back to Klosterneuburg. It was a full day on our feet throughout. We will certainly need tomorrow for a more focused visit to the city.
Sunday 3rd May 2015, Klosterneuburg
This morning it was decidedly chilly as we walked to the station. Today we broke our journey at Spittelau to seek out the recycling centre designed by Hundertwasser. It didn’t take much finding being immediately next to the U-Bahn station. The concept is really excellent. Much of Vienna’s unrecyclable rubbish ends up here where it is incinerated to provide heating for some 60,000 homes in the immediate surroundings. How involved Hundertwasser was with the technical side of the business we don’t know. He may only have been responsible for the external appearance which is in his unique and immediately recognisable style. It does now look rather dated and the vicinity is not something Austria can feel proud of. It is dirty, rubbish strewn and graffiti-ridden. It is such a pity as the incinerator is quirky and unique. It should be marketed as a tourist attraction rather than left to decay and have posters pasted over its walls.
We felt saddened as we continued our journey into the centre. At least the spa at Bad Blumau gives full recognition to the achievement of this bizarre environmentalist and gifted architect.
Because today has been the first Sunday of the month some of the museums were open free of charge, as they are in France. Most were not of great interest to us but the museum covering the history of Vienna was included and we spent most of the morning exploring the prints, drawings and paintings of the great names connected with this vibrant city. There were paintings by Klimt, furniture in the Biedermeier style and designs by the city’s great architects of the late 19th century.
There were paintings of the Habsburg rulers and their progeny. There were costumes, clothing and furnishing from the secessionist movement. There were prints and maps of the city throughout its history; paintings of various battles including sieges by the Turks; a depiction of the attempted assassination of Archduke Franz Josef in 1853. He survived and lived until 1916. The Votivkirche in Vienna was built in thanksgiving for his survival. His nephew was less fortunate, dying from an assassination attack in Sarajevo in 1914 – as some of you may know!
Otto Wagner was one of the great names in Austrian architecture and urban design at the end of the 19th century. He was an important member of the Secessionist movement joining Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser in 1897. He was responsible for designing, amongst other buildings, the Post Office Savings Bank building and the Vienna Metropolitan Railway. His stations are an example of Viennese Art Nouveau. That at Karlsplatz has been restored to act as a documentation and archive centre for his work. Here we found scale models of several major buildings for which he was responsible. Originally embracing the exuberant secessionist style he later turned to a more simple architectural style - a forerunner to the later Art Deco movement.
It had been a busy morning. Unable to find anywhere around the Karlsplatz for a sandwich we decided to take the train out to Schönbrunn, the elaborate palace developed in its present form, largely by the Empress Maria Theresa to the west of Vienna. To our delight the huge, formal gardens and grounds are free. You only pay to enter the Schloss. Despite the chilly weather the allées and walkways were crowded with families out to enjoy Sunday afternoon in beautiful surroundings. The castle, in neo-classical style, is magnificent, beautifully proportioned and painted a creamy yellow. It was intended to rival Versailles and Maria Theresa spared no expense. It was her plans for Schönbrunn that caused her to cut back on the development of Klosterneuburg.
We bought a couple of salad rolls and then went for a coffee in the cafe of the puppet theatre. This was delightful. As we drank our coffee we watched a film on the history of the puppet theatre, how the puppets are made and dressed and how the puppeteers learn their skills. It was fascinating to realise just how complex producing a puppet version of Mozart’s Magic Flute can be, and astonishing how the skill of the director and the puppeteers bring the wooden dolls to life. We then watched a video of part of a performance of the Magic Flute intended to persuade us to attend the full performance later in the afternoon. In the side room all the puppets were standing side by side in a large, glass fronted cabinet, ready and waiting for the next performance.
Coffee finished we decided we needed a brisk walk up to the summerhouse, known as the Gloriette, on the hilltop facing the Schloss. This was obviously a popular destination for many of the visitors and when we finally reached it, we discovered it was now used as a tearoom. The view back to the Schloss from there was magnificent with the lake, fountains, statues and formal gardens in the foreground, while the whole of modern day Vienna lay spread out on the plain beyond.
We came the long way back, through leafy woodland along sylvan paths that brought us down to the formal gardens with beds filled by pansies and paths that became mauve tunnels as they passed beneath pergolas of wisteria.
It had been a splendid afternoon but it was cold and for the second day running we’d been walking round since 9am. So we made our way back to the U Bahn and the city centre, arriving back at Klosterneuburg around 6pm, exhausted but satisfied.
Tales from the Vienna Woods, 2006