Thu, April 12, 2012
Lifestyle > Travel

Waltzing off to Vienna

2012-04-12 03:30:06 GMT2012-04-12 11:30:06(Beijing Time)

Vienna is home to myriad architectural wonders, including the Karlskirche church

Head to galleries like the Upper Belvedere Palace to see the works on display as part of the festival

Vienna is currently celebrating the 150th birthday of Gustav Klimt, painter of The Kiss

Florian, a friend who runs a wine bar in the city, says: ‘Remember, old Vienna was once new.’

He is quoting Karl Kraus, one of the men who haunted the city’s coffee houses at the turn of the 20th century — when the Imperial City, capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was at the heart of the civilised world.

This year Vienna is honouring Gustav Klimt, creator of The Kiss, who was born 150 years ago.

You could say that every year in Vienna is Klimt year, since it is difficult to avoid the paintings that have become such vivid emblems of the city.

But 2012 offers a good excuse to look afresh at the artist and designer. Every major gallery is joining in the festival. To see the great works, head for the Leopold Museum and Upper Belvedere Palace, with its enchanting gardens and view back to the city.

The Mask of Gold,’ Michael Frayn, the writer, called Vienna in his televised portrait of the city.

Ostentatious yet secretive, Vienna is a mass of contradictions: a conservative city which gave birth to modernism; a stronghold of anti-semitism whose name was carried round the world by Jews; the home of the wa l t z... but also of psycho-analysis.

There is light but there is darkness, too. In Vienna, ‘city of my dreams,’ you can’t have one without the other.

When people talk about ‘Mitteleuropa’, Vienna is what they have in mind. Kultur has a slightly different meaning in the German-speaking world but, however it is defined, it finds a natural home in the city that was once capital of the double-headed empire and still serves as a home from home for the people of central Europe.

At weekends they roll in, from Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Hungary, Bosnia and Serbia, in search of a shared inheritance that not even a century of war and dislocation can wash into the Danube.

Metternich, architect of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which brought order to post-Napoleonic Europe, said: ‘The Balkans began at the gates of Vienna.’ They still do.

At Easter, this being one of the most Catholic cities north of the Alps, you can’t move for Italians.

They come, like everyone else, for the music. Schubert is the only great composer born in Vienna, but Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Richard Strauss all lived there, happily and unhappily.

Then there are all those waltzing Strausses, whose tunes delighted a thousand ballrooms.

If you catch a tram to the southern cemetery, where Carol Reed shot his famous closing scene for The Third Man, you can see the musicians’ graves, visited each year by thousands of well-wishers.

Vienna is also the home of great art. Slap bang in the centre of town is the Kunsthistorisches (History of Art) Museum, which is worth a week by itself. You can hardly wander down a street without coming across a gallery or exhibition worthy of attention.

If you aren’t interested in music or paintings, there are those celebrated coffee houses, where you can watch the world go by; the charming parks cut into the Ring, which separates the inner city from the outer; the imperial palaces, notably Schonbrunn, with its superb tree-lined walks; and dozens of glorious churches.

I first saw Vienna through a teenager’s eyes in 1972, and was captivated by the elegance of its streets and squares.


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