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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Renaissance cities: Vienna, Austria

The some of the artists who made Vienna famous: Joseph Haydn, Ludwig von Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, Johann Bach, Johann Strauss, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms.
Not one of them could paint a stroke.

Another artist who made Vienna famous,
Gustave Klimt, The Kiss, 1907.
This morning as I began searching for some topic upon which to expound, it occurred to me I'd not written about any Renaissance cities in quite some time.  And inasmuch as I had written about the Dutch "Golden Age." of painting quite frequently in recent months, I thought it appropriate to write about Amsterdam where it all began. As I was pulling together photos and other resources I began having a feeling of deja-vu. A few minutes later I realized, hey, this is more than deja-vu. I checked the on-site search feature (above, upper-left corner) and sure enough, I'd literally "been there, done that." So I thumped my forehead and decided I was in danger of running out of ancient, European cultural centers. Then it occurred to me I'd never written about "the city of music," sometimes called "the city of dreams" (Freud lived and worked there all his life). Whatever the case, the Viennese and the Austrians should feel slighted. I've written already about other cities far less important. I suppose I've missed Vienna in that I'm not a great classical music lover nor much of a psychoanalyst. But Vienna had and architecture too, and lots and lots of history.
Vienna, 1547. Note the moat. (Zoom in, the map is very high resolution.)
The Old Burgtheater,1888-89, Gustav Klimt
The area in and around present-day Vienna (Wien to the natives) has seen human occupation since around 500 BC. That puts it in the same league with Rome, Athens, and few other of the oldest cities in Europe. The Romans fortified an encampment there as a northern outpost to defend against the Germanic tribes. The Babenberg family claimed dominion over the Danube around 976 A.D when all of Europe was a battling bunch of barbarian duchies almost too numerous to count. The area around Vienna was the Duchy of Austria. As generation after generation passed, the Babenbergs extended their area of influence westward to include much of Austria and the surrounding area. In 1440, the Hapsburg family picked up where they left off, becoming the Holy Roman Empire with Vienna as its capital. Of course that designation may be the biggest misnomer in the history of misnomers. There was nothing "holy" about it; they were far from being Roman, and as empires go, it really wasn't much of one. In any case, for the next two-hundred years or so, this "empire" found itself on the front line battling assaults from the Muslim Ottoman Turks. Vienna survived two separate sieges to become the northern-most limit of the Ottoman Empire. Vienna's encircling moat and massive ramparts were far less successful in battling off the rats invading the city bearing the Black Plague, which took out a third of Vienna's population in 1679 alone.

The Vienna State Opera, 1907-08, Adolph Hitler
Vienna today. The many parks (in green) were
once part of the moat which surrounded the city.
First and foremost, Vienna is famous for its composers and their musical accompaniment, which means it's famous for its opera houses and theaters. In his younger days, Gustav Klimt painted the most famous of these, The Old Burgtheater (above, right) around 1888. Another equally famous artist (infamous, actually), Adolph Hitler, also in his younger days at the time (1907-08), painted the Vienna State Opera House (above) in an attempt to gain entrance into the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. Twice he was rejected. Broke, he returned to Munich where he took up politics. Vienna is also famous for its palaces. As the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1804 until after WW I, and before that, the Hapsburg's homestead, Vienna has more than its share of Classical, Baroque, and Rococo palaces beginning with the Hofburg (dating from 1279), The Schönbrunn Palace (dating from 1548), and the Lower and Upper Belvedere Palaces (1696 and 1707). The Upper Belvedere now houses an art museum, one of over a hundred art museums in the Vienna area.

Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace, like Versailles, grew from a royal hunting lodge.
Those Hapsburgs sure knew how to live.
Although the list of Viennese artists is nowhere near as illustrious as that of its composers, besides Klimt and that Adolph guy, it does have a wide variety of artists with an even wider variety of styles and content. The walls of Vienna's many museums boast the works of Austrian artists and architects such as Oskar Kokoschka, Otto Wagner, Friedrich von Amerling, Rudolf von Alt, Ferdinand Bauer, Josef Abel, and other too numerous (or insignificant) to mention. Vienna also boasts its famed Spanish Riding School, its Boys Choir, St. Stephens Cathedral (and numerous other religious edifices).

The map of Austria reminds me of a campfire where eight or nine friends and former enemies sit around roasting "wieners."
Vienna's wiener schnitzel
Sitting smack in the middle of Eastern Europe, Vienna is bordered by no less than eight other countries (above, almost nine if you count nearby Croatia). Besides Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, all the others were once part of Austria's mighty empire which included today's Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, much of Croatia, and tiny Liechtenstein. Though German speaking, Vienna has a very international flavor as might be expected when cities such as Munich, Nuremberg, Dresden, Augsburg, Stuttgart, Zagreb, Bratislava, Zurich, Trieste, Budapest, and Prague, are all within a day's drive. Speaking of flavor, we mustn't skip over the cuisine, including Vienna's namesake coffee, its wiener schnitzel (right), apple strudel, and of course, its sausages. Its most famous, the wiener (German for Viennese), for some unfathomable reason, is referred to by the locals as a frankfurter.

The Hofball in Vienna, 1900, Wilhelm Gause, home of the Viennese Waltz--
boy, do they ever (Vienna hosts over 200 balls per year). 


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