The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Wednesday, December 30

Vienna at Christmas

Vienna at Christmas. It’s a place of music and museums; architecture and history; churches and Christmas markets.  And Oh! I can't forget cafes.  

Viennese coffee house culture is world famous. As they say, people pay for the coffee, but it’s the friendship and conversations that are consumed.  I hunt for Café Landtmann. It’s the one that Freud frequented.  It still stands on a corner near the University.
I walk in. A formally attired waiter directs me to a table. I imagine Freud walking over to that cozy corner. The parent of psychoanalysis goes from couch to café and back again and here I am.   I scan the menu. It has pictures so there’s no problem in ordering. My treat is going to be hot coco with chocolate and pistachio swirls. Yum! Wish you were here.  

Learnmore about cafe culture. 

Three guys are so deep in conversation that
they don’t see me taking their picture.

Tonight I go to my first concert. I've planned for two more in smaller churches - Trumpet and Organ Duo and Mozart and Beethoven String Quartets.  Also if I can get a ticket, I want to go to a Strauss and Mozart extravaganza at the Palace.  

But for now,  it’s a Christmas Mass at the huge Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  As I get off the Underground, a cacophony of sounds and sights smack my senses. Street musicians play. Men in seventeenth century dress hawk tickets for concerts. Families pause to gaze at lights as little one are filled with wonder. People scurry everywhere.

Outside of St. Stephen's Cathedral
I open the thick oak doors, pause at the holy water and then find a seat. A young woman next to me shares a program. I simile in appreciation, but, of course, it’s in German. I take a deep breath and listen to the organ prelude relaxing into the music. It’s Christmas in Vienna.
My days are filled with sight-seeing. So many buildings show off their baroque heritage. Others are more modern. Yet all seem to blend together harmoniously. It’s a pleasure to walk the streets.

I take time for a tour of the Parliament building. The style is Grecian with some Roman influence. Athena stands tall in front. I’m told that in a multi-religious country, it’s important not to publicly promote one faith over another. So you do not see Christian or Islamic or Jewish symbols here.

Front Of The Parliament
Interesting Details On Many Buildings
It was built during the long reign of Franz Joseph, Europe’s last great monarch. He allowed it to counter political instability, Limited democracy had a foothold. The modern era was beginning and a world war would soon unravel everything.
Inside the Parliament
Learn more about this interesting history of Austria. 
I’m off to Schonburnn Palace. It was the summer residence for successive monarchs of the Hapsburg dynasty. Imagine the accumulation of wealth that created this place. Such massive income inequality.  
No picture taking is allowed inside the Palace. But I did take plenty outside. Fortunately, today is bright, blue and breezy. I walk my feet off!
Summer Palace of the Hapsburg Dynasty

Summer Palace Gardens 
Warm Enough For A Beautiful Water Fountain
In Vienna Christmas markets are spread out across the city. I wander into one that’s in front of City Hall. A giant tree with lights sets the tone and gluehwein, a hot wine drink, warms the body and spirit. I’m on a mission to get a few gifts for my grand kids and my great nieces. What fun.
One Of Many Stalls At The Christmas Market

Giant Tree In Front Of Vienna's City Hall
One of the features of Vienna is a Tramway that encircles the center of the city. I hop on the “Yellow Tram” since it’s equipped with an audio travelogue in multiple languages. It’s a good way to get an overview and find places to explore more deeply.

Comfortable seating makes this museum even better
I return to Kunsthistorisches Museum. It was was built in 1891 near the Imperial Palace to house the extensive collections of the Hapsburg imperial family. It’s considered one of the most eminent museums in the world. I spend the afternoon wandering from salon to salon.
I take a break in a café that occupies the grand rotunda. The building itself is an impressive work of art.
Central Dome With Staircase On Either Side

I'm Introduced to Pieter Bruegel Work

Pieter Bruegel
It’s Christmas Eve. I return to the oldest church in Vienna. However, because of my lapse of judgment and knowledge of the Underground system, I arrive about 2 1/2 hours before mass. What to do? The streets are nearly deserted, cafes are closed and it’s cold.
Then I see an establishment and it’s open. I wonder why, but I’m grateful to walk inside. I order a coffee and I as I often do when traveling solo, I start a conversation with two young women at the table next to me.
St. Ruprecht Skirche (Church)
I tell them about the church I will be attending. It’s the oldest in Vienna dating back to about 775 CE. The first edifice was built in the 12th century. It’s small more like a chapel. Unlike so many other churches in Vienna, it’s plain, definitely not Baroque.
I discover that the church stood next to a large hotel that the Nazis commandeered for their HQs during WWII. Towards the end of the War, the Allies bombed the hell out of the HQs until only ruble remained. Amazingly, no bombs hit the Church. Only windows were shattered because of shock waves.
Now the church sits beside a park where a memorial has been constructed for those murdered by Nazi hate.
I say goodbye to my new friends and pay my bill. I ask my young waiter if the cafe is owned by Muslims. He doesn’t know for sure, but he says, “ like me, most (workers) are Muslim."
I smile and explain my gratitude for this place being opened and Muslims generally.  He smiles back and we shake hands.
I’m climbing a long flight of stairs. It feels like going on a pilgrimage. As I enter the Church, I see no Christmas tree up front. Instead, a soft  sculpture stands looking a bit like a make-shift tent -  the kind kids make in the backyard.   Except this one is not for fun times. 
A Tent Is No Home
It's entitled "A tent is no home."   I’m told the artist wants us to ponder the refugees fleeing wars in their homelands. I think about Mary and Joseph who were like refugees. After all a stable is not a home either.

The Christmas Eve service is a long one.  Starting with Genesis, a lot of sacred history is recounted.  Of course I understand nothing directly, but I try to feel the spirit of this place.  It's a good one.  

Afterward people are friendly. “Are you coming to the party,” I'm asked?  I think why not and go. 
I'm Introduced To An Older Menber
I'm curious about how the church managed through the Nazi period.
I'm introduced to some of the older members.  I think the subject would make a fascinating doctoral study

It's after 3:30 am before I unlock the door to my hotel room.  I'm tired, but elated. It's turned out to be an amazing Christmas Eve.

On my final day, I take a walk and discover the Einstein Cafe.  I have a lovely conversation with a Greek couple.  It's one of the joys of travel - meeting new and interesting people.  

They take my picture.  I'm very happy.  I'm thinking that because of the name of this place, I'm getting a bit smarter or maybe just more of a Smart Axx.  (Chuckle)
That's it from Vienna.  From me to you....Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous decription of your Vienna visit. What a beautiful city. Love your photos, Jud. St. Sephens gorgeous and the tree in front of Parliament, and that museum. Wow. Great stories about the people, too, your lovely heartwarming conversations, the cafe Freud attended, and the Einstein, and the cafe that is open near the little church that survived WWII bombing. Such a great blog it makes me want to go straight to Vienna. Ok, it's on my bucket list!