Over 50 years ago Eva and I spent part of our honeymoon in Vienna, during the frigid March of 1965. As many times as we have returned to Europe on vacation, this is the first time we have revisited Vienna, this time in the chilly month of February.
No picture captures the city’s throbbing heart better than one of its cathedral, St. Stephen, whose portal dates from about 1200 AD. After WWII, it, along with the famed opera house, were about the first public buildings to be restored. Schoolchildren donated their spare Groschen to buy the roof tiles you see here.
We have fond memories from our first visit to that sentimental city of dreams (of its glorious past) as you can imagine from hearing this rather sappy rendition of “City of My Dreams”.
Well, Vienna has changed a lot in the meanwhile, still living on its dreams of course, but now all the more vibrant, modern and commercial. This time I’m not too thrilled by it all as we spend seven days skimming the surface, but somehow not finding that old slightly down-in-the-mouth appealing texture of the past. There are all too many tourists here now to be satisfied in more modern ways. And the home folks, too.
Along Kärntner Straße you can find all the traditional stores, such as Lanz for Austrian festival clothing.
It isn’t long before hunger strikes so we wander around the back side of the cathedral a bit off the beaten path.
The Twelve Apostle Cellar looks like just the right place. We don’t let the ultra long German words and Gothic typeface repel us.
We enter through the old carriage portal and find ourselves descending a spiral staircase to an underground cellar, now restaurant. What a find!
After lunch we wander deeper into the labyrinth of streets behind the cathedral.
In front of the Regensburger Hof is a bronze statue of Johannes Gutenberg, put there in honor of the 500th anniversary of book printing in Vienna.
Long go, before cars and trollies and even electricity, this was a swanky part of town. The upper class people rode in carriages. Famous people lived here.
Leibniz was a German polymath. Although the Englishman Isaac Newton is largely credited with inventing the calculus, Leibniz did the same thing at the same time independently of Newton. Despite no-doubt groans from math students, the time for calculus had come.
Ulrich Zwingli was doing in Switzerland what Martin Luther was simultaneously doing in Germany – trying to reform various aspects of the Catholic church. He laid the groundwork for Protestantism in Switzerland, and Luther did the same in Germany. Today, both countries are strongly divided along lines laid down in the early 16th century.
There are many narrow ways in this part of town. This one leads to an ironmonger. On our honeymoon we bought several wrought iron pieces here. We still use them regularly. The place has been modernized. Back then when we passed on the sidewalk, sparks were flying every which way. We walked into the workplace below ground and watched the guys banging glowing metal into works of art. No eye protection offered.
As befitting a city of such historic grand stature, Vienna is full of wide plazas, huge buildings and loads of bronze statues of warriors and statesmen. In the 19th century, the old protective walls surrounding the city were torn down and the space was used for fine new government buildings and broad boulevards. But within decades, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a thing of the past, yet these sturdy structures survived and are still in use.
It is rumored that coffee was brought to Europe when Islam laid a long term seige at the gates of Vienna. Had the gates not held, Europe today might well be Islamic rather than Christian. A slightly lesser result of the seige was the introduction of the coffee house and its pastry decadence. We finally at the end of our visit discover almost in our back yard one of those holdouts that has not given way to yet another Starbucks. We go inside and settle in for an afternoon splurge.