Entries in Austria (2)
The last day of our perfect holiday together was in Vienna. We flew from Corfu to Vienna via Athens, where they managed to lose our posters (luckily after the conference and not before). Catching the bus from the airport through the city we could see what a beautiful and charming city it was, with the streets lined with elegant old buildings. Since the population was at its peak in 1918, in the final years of the capital of the Austro-Hungary Empire, and dwindled in the following years due to the loss of the Empire, the annexation by the Germans, the deportation of the Viennese Jews and the massive damage from Allied bombing (the population today is still only 1.6 million), there are few modern buildings. When we found our apartment it was in a six story building, with an ancient cage-lift built in the centre, and the room was a subdivision of an old apartment, shared with half a dozen other tourists. We quickly caught a tram into town to explore the old town.
Our tram stopped at Parliament House, and beautiful old building built in 1874 using the inspiration of the ancient Greek acropolis to emphasize the origin of democracy in Greece. The building front looked just like the Parthenon, complete with columns supporting a triangular front piece, and out the front was the Fountain of Pallas Athena. In the fountain Athena holds Nike in her hand, and to her right sits a woman holding law tablets, and to her left a woman holding the sword of justice.
Walking down the road every building was a historical monument, the Town Hall (1883), University (1873) and National Theatre (1874). We continued our political theme by passing a political rally, which turned out to be the celebrations of the centre-left Social Democrats, who in that day’s election won government by a slender margin.
We meandered through the city, hand in hand, peering down alleys with beautiful old buildings and expensive European brand-name stores, to reach the centre of the town, St Stephen’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is breathtaking, an enormous gothic edifice with a dazzling tower, and an oddly modern looking titled roof, the pattern of which makes it shimmer and shift in your gaze. The Cathedral was started in 1156 and built over a period of 400 years. Inside it is magnificent and ornate, with marble sculptures and elegant arches supporting the roof. It was lucky to survive WWII intact, as the commandant in charge ordered the troops to "fire a hundred shells and leave it in just debris and ashes", but the Captain ignored the order.
In the square around the Cathedral are cafés and ice-cream stores, and on the corner of one building is Stock im Eisen. Stock im Eisen is an old tree trunk bound with a lock and solid with nails hammered into it, now encased in glass on a marble pedestal. The tale behind the tree is of a young locksmith called Martin who made a pact with the devil to learn all the secrets of his trade. He became the perfect locksmith, making a lock for an old tree that only he could open, until he broke his side of the deal and was carried away. Due to the story, all locksmiths in the city hammered a nail into the trunk for luck. Also in the square is Hass House, one of the few modern buildings, built to replace a destroyed warehouse, which reflects the image of the Cathedral around the square. From the Cathedral we walked down Graben, once the moat delineating the periphery of the city, now the most expensive boulevard in Vienna, filled with exclusive shops. On the streets is the Plague Column, built in thanks for the end of the 1679 plague (what shear fear people must have felt from their God to provoke a mindset that builds statues of thanks when a few are still alive at the end of a plague), St Joseph’s Fountain, and the Fountain of St Leopold.
We visited St Peter’s Church, founded in 792 by Charlemagne. So peculiar inside to see preserved corpses dressed up and propped so as to lounging back in their glasses boxes, facing those who worship them as Saints. Near St Peter’s is Am Hof square, with the Church of the Nine Choirs of Angles (built in 1386, and the location of the declaration of the end of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806) and St Mary’s column (where angles slaughter the basilisk, lion, dragon and serpent, to combat plague, war, famine and heresy). We meandered past the Church of the Friars Minor on our way to St Michael’s Square.
The Square is beautiful, the massive entrance to the Hofburg. The first building is lined with magnificent statues, where Greek heroes fight a hydra, leviathan, Pluto and a griffon. The main domes, with its stunning patina, leads to a courtyard with a monument to Emperor Francisco I. Past the palace buildings we reached the Natural History Museum and the Art History Building, two symmetrical buildings facing each other across a park, built in 1872, with a monument to the Empress Maria Theresa (in which she values her doctors, academics and artists, as well as her generals). The Natural History Museum had an iron elephant statue out the front, with a sign telling us either to feel free to climb on it, or to absolutely not climb on it. Since every child that walked past went up (in one case against their will), and the statue was surrounded by a rubber mat, my dearest also climbed up on the elephant.
After out site-seeing we wandered back to Parliament House, passing the People’s Theatre on the way (built in 1889, with the mandate to have a large capacity of cheap tickets to allow commoners to enjoy the pastime of nobles). We ate pizza and gnocchi, then walked back into our romantic city cloaked in night, anticipating a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city. When that was unrealistic we enjoyed instead After Eight ice-cream in Graben, and found our way home on our second attempt.
My final morning we spent quietly together, until my beloved and I had to part. My beautiful fiancée stayed for a few extra days in Vienna, while I flew out on a tiny plane, with only fifteen passengers and a hostess who dropped a bottle of water on the passenger next to me and couldn’t stop giggling.