From all the former imperial European capitals, Vienna has maintained the most of its original charm. After the end of World War I, which started here, in Vienna, Europe was never the same. Four of the most powerful European empires disappeared from the world stage: German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and the Ottoman Empire. It was only the Austro-Hungarian Empire that dissipated altogether. New countries rose from its ashes, the national states of Eastern and South East Europe, while the small part around Vienna and the Alps was declared the Republic of Austria.
The Viennese and the Monarchy “The Republic of Austria is a republic without Republicans.” This was once said by surely the most famous chronicler of Vienna, Karl Kraus. Imperial institutions were gone, the royal family moved away, but the dream of an empire where everyone supposedly knew their place and naturally, everything used to be better, remained very much alive in the minds of the citizens of the former imperial capital city.
The imperial tradition is still very strong in Vienna. Have you ever heard of a social-democratic politician who carries the title “court councilor?” There are lots of them in Vienna. Still today the Federal President of Austria resides in the Hofburg and executes his official functions from the workroom of Empress Maria Theresa. In addition, during state visits and banquets he entertains his guests with the same table settings as once the illustrious line of Habsburgs once did. Although Zita, the last Empress of Austria, did not abdicate her right to the throne, the Austrian federal government allowed her to return to Austria in 1982. After her death on April 1st, 1989, Zita was ceremoniously laid to rest in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna in the same imperial “black hearse” funeral coach that as once carried was Emperor Franz Joseph I. Very few of the leading Austrian federal and Viennese politicians missed the chance to take part in this funeral procession.
Map of Vienna – Vienna Map and Guide
The Spanish Riding School at the Hofburg
Everyone Should Have a Title
The famous Austrian desire to have a title is an inherited custom from the time of the monarchy. Surnames just have to have an abbreviation preceding them. In fact in Austria there are about 900 official titles that are regulated by law. Titles are not revoked from the deceased. Thus you will not only see titles on gravestones, but in Vienna you will also notice a lot of doctor titles on the city street signs. Austria is a country of many academic and nonacademic titles, honorary degrees and so-called professional titles. Since some titles are deductive and gender-specific. The wife of a doctor is also a Frau Doctor and the wife of a professor is a Frau Professor – without having ever attended one single lecture at university. But the husband of a doctor is not Herr Doctor. So, titles are very important and the Tradition is still very strong in Vienna. If the waiter in the Kaffeehaus (coffeehouse) greets you formally as “Herr Professor” or “My dear Lady”, then please do not be insulted. The “Herr Ober” or “mister head waiter”, as all waiters are called in Vienna, was just trying to be friendly.
The Hofburgkapelle | The Royal Court Chapel
Death is a joke
The Viennese nurture a special relation to death and funerary rituals. This twisted bond with the world beyond has been deeply rooted in their mentality since the monarchy.
There is a Burial Museum in Vienna and it is regularly visited by school children. In addition, there is the Cemetery of the Nameless full of deceased pulled out from the Danube. Not even the Habsburgs were immune to the fascination with death. Emperors and empresses enjoyed such pompous funerals that could have put the Egyptian pharaohs to shame. The second largest cemetery in Europe is called Zentralfriedhof or the Central Cemetery. More people are buried here than currently residing in the city itself. Is it weird to print cards with the name, surname and title of the deceased, including day, hour and burial site on the Central Cemetery? Not at all! In fact, this is a symbol of prestige. After the funeral, it is polite to comment on the funerary decor and say with admiration how the deceased is a “schone Leich” or “a beautiful corpse.”
Local musicians play Wienerlieder or Viennese songs in Heurige taverns. It is a very popular traditional genre of music, full of jokes and bizarre lyrics with a lot of dark humor. Death plays the main role, in one form or another. In the words of Georg Kreisler, a Viennese cabaret performer:
So there we are in the shadow of the trees Poisoning pigeons in the park We feel the spring in our bones While we poison them in the parks
Wiener Staatsoper | Vienna State Opera
Visit Vienna City of museums and galleries
The Habsburg Dynasty did not take part in the colonial expansion. While others were sending out battle ships to far away lands, the Habsburgs sent out research expeditions with botanists, mineralogists and geographers. For centuries, expeditions toured the world to bring pieces of it back to Vienna to the Habsburg emperors that never set foot on distant territories. This was the beginning of botanical and zoological gardens, glass houses for tropical plants and butterflies, and natural history collections found their permanent residence in outlandish museums.
The Habsburgs did not only collect natural history artefacts. Even though Vienna does not have an official archaeological museum, archaeological collections are scattered across many museums. For over a hundred years,
Austrian archaeologists participated in the Ephesus excavations, one of the most important ancient cities. The artifacts discovered from 1895 to 1906 are now kept in the Ephesus Museum in New Castle.
For over 600 years, the Habsburgs collected artworks. Their primary fascination was portraits. Most of the imperial art collection can be found in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, a building constructed especially for the purpose of displaying this enormous collection, which contains the world’s largest number of paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The construction of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum, both located on Ringstrasse right across from the New Castle took nine years and the museums were built in the historicist style of the neo-Renaissance. It took another ten years to complete the interior work. But what differentiates the Kunsthistorisches Museum from other important museums is its artistic staging of the building itself. Where else can you see frescoes by Gustav Klimt, one of today’s most expensive artists, as a part of a museum’s interior decor?
Travel to Vienna The Historical City Center
Vienna and Art Nouveau around 1900
At the turn of the century, immediately before World War I, the Viennese social scene was incredibly vibrant. If you had had a chance to walk around Vienna in the 1900’s, you would have crossed paths with Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein or Theodor Herzel, played chess with Leon Trotsky, fed the same squirrels at Schonbrunn that were feasting on crumbs thrown by Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, visited the scandalous exhibitions mounted by the Secessionists, drunk tea next to Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, gone to architectural lectures by Adolf Loos, participated in discussions between Gustav Klimt and Otto Wagner, listened to Gustav Mahler’s symphonies conducted by the composer himself, and danced at balls organised by Emperor Franz Joseph.
On the other hand, if a Viennese citizen traveled in time from 1900 to present-day Vienna, they would have absolutely no problem finding their way around town. The most prominent points – Stephansdom or Hofburg, palaces on the Ringstrasse, coffeehouses, Art Nouveau buildings, 15th-century restaurants, pharmacies and imperial shops, the so-called ‘K.&K. Hoflieferanten’ – all of them still exist at their original location.
In the capital of what was once the largest European empire, old coffeehouses stayed at the same place and coffee is still served in the same manner.
If you go to one of these coffeehouses, where writers (Arthur Schnitzler and Stefan Zweig), painters (Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka) and architects (Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner and Joseph Maria Olbrich) sat, you will also sit on the same Thonet chairs they used to sit on, while the waiter or “Herr Ober” offers you one of 40 kinds of Viennese coffee. Slow Food and Slow Drink were invented in the Viennese coffeehouses. You can read the papers while enjoying your coffee. If the waiter brings you another glass of water which you did not order, this is because he does not want you to feel uncomfortable sitting at an empty table. You can continue reading, writing or observing the people around you. Obviously, cakes go well with coffee, so feel free to try the Apfelstrudel or Sacher cake. While you are eating you Sacher cake in the Sacher Hotel Cafe, the only place where they still make it by hand, think of Antonio Vivaldi for a second. The most famous Baroque composer died on the floor above.
Vienna City Hall Music Festival
Classical music center of the world
There are many things that make Vienna unique and the fact that so many famous composers lived and worked here is truly outstanding. Nowhere else have so many significant composers lived and worked as in Vienna. They were each other’s teachers and students; they were friends and fierce competitors. Mozart ran away from the small town of Salzburg to Vienna, Beethoven was persuaded by Haydn to move here and to be taught by Mozart and then stayed for the rest of his life. In the Vienna Boys’ Choir, Antonio Salieri recognized Franz Schubert’s talent. Johannes Brahms came to Beethoven’s Vienna and made friends with Johann Strauss Jr., the king of the waltz. Anton Bruckner held his most gifted student, Gustav Mahler, in high esteem, while Mahler liked to spend his days with Arnold Schonberg, Alban Berg and Anton Weber, all of whom looked up to Mahler.
Top 10 Composers in Vienna
- 1. Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
- 2. Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
- 3. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
- 4. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
- 5. Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
- 6. Johann Strauss II (Jr.) (1825-1899)
- 7. Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
- 8. Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
- 9. Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
- 10. Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951)
Vienna Christmas Market – City Hall
Vienna has been a crossroads of civilization for over two thousand years:
- – Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius died here, defending the borders from Germanic tribes;
- – Vienna was under the Ottoman siege twice, but never conquered;
- – This was the center of the Holy Roman Empire under the Habsburg dynasty for over 500 years;
- – In Vienna, Theodor Herzl, founder of the idea of the Jewish State, published “Judenstaat” or “The State of the Jews” as “Proposal of a modern solution for the Jewish question;”
- – Iosif Vissarionovich Jugashvili signed his name as Stalin here in Vienna for the first time;
- – Vienna is the only city where the main protagonists of the only two world wars lived at the same time, and both of them were Austrians: Emperor Franz Joseph and Adolf Hitler;
- – During the Cold War, Vienna was the center of big intelligence organizations, because Austria remained a neutral country and Vienna was the closest capital to the Eastern Block;
- – Kennedy and Khrushchev met here for the first and avoided World War III.
Christmas and New Years Eve street decorations
The most livable city in the world
Today, Vienna is most livable city in the world. Global comparisons of overall quality of living in cities shows that Vienna lies in first place, in front of Geneva and Zurich (2009-2016 – mercer.com). In each case these analysis takes into account general safety and also takes among many others factors like education, social security, standard of living and even the number of public parks into consideration. Also the UN report “State Of The World Cities Report 2012/2013” has ranked Vienna as the most prosperous world’s city. In this report, Vienna has got top rankings in all categories, in terms of a productivity, infrastructure development, quality of life, social equality and environmental sustainability, among 70 metropolises of the world.
The first impression you get of Vienna as a tourist is that the Viennese must have a lot of time on their hands. Even at lunchtime in downtown most of the Viennese move so slowly that one has to ask oneself when Austrians actually work. But this appearance is deceptive. In statistical comparison to other countries the Austrians are very hard-working: The gross domestic product per capita in Austria is, according to the statistical office of the European Union, the fourth largest in the EU. In Vienna the gross domestic product per capita is even 30% higher than in the rest of the country.
The Upper Belvedere Castle
Imperial castles and other highlights
With its wide avenues, noble palais and imperial castles, Vienna is an openair monument to the Habsburg Empire. Luckily many of Vienna’s attractions are concentrated in one area: thus the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the baroque Belvedere Castles, the imperial castle complex Hofburg, the historical buildings on Ringstrasse or those built in Viennese Art Nouveau style can all be reached by foot on one weekend. And you need no more than eleven minutes by subway to reach Schoenbrunn Castle from St. Charles’s Church.
Best time to visit Vienna
With its many castles and imperial gardens, museums and music halls, Vienna is an all-seasons destination. Possibly the best seasons to explore Vienna are late spring and early fall. In May and June you can catch much of the previous opera and classical music season. The horses of the Spanish Riding School, boys of Vienna Boys’ Choir and opera singers are on vacation in July and August, but there is no day without opera in Vienna. While summer is fading way, in September and October, nice weather is still on your side with a new cultural season on the way. Of course, if you dream about Vienna as a snow globe in the Christmas time, Vienna is really such a city and you will have the best time from the middle of the November until December 24. You don’t need to be child to feel like a child at the Wiener Cristkindlmarkt or Viennese Christmas Market. You will have the snow on the shoulder and a cup of hot punch in your hands. And the whole city is a huge Christmas tree with thousands of paper lanterns, chandelier and Christmas balls.
After the New Year’s Eve celebration on the streets of city, in January and February the ball season is upon Vienna and you shoud going to one. Vienna is where waltz was invented and where every winter couples have spinned around for over 200 years to the three-quarter beat. A blend of ballroom music, high ceremony and imperial halls where traditional balls are held every year, make Vienna the world capital of ballroom dancing, no question. The dance classes offered across Vienna in preparation for ball season, and although the imperial days are over, the same atmosphere is still palpable. You can still experience the spectacle in the same halls where the famous Johann Strauss Jr. conducted the imperial balls, introduced by the Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth – Sisi herself.
Some useful hints:
The Spanish Riding School
Tickets for the main performance of the Spanish Riding School are sold out months in advance. Ticket prices for the dance of the snow white Lipizzaners exceed the prices for a ballet in the nearby State Opera severalfold. But there are other less expensive ways to see the horses of the Spanish Riding school dance.
The Vienna Boys’ Choir
The Vienna Boys’ Choir is, without a doubt, the most famous boys’ choir in the world that gives around 300 concerts a year worldwide. Composers like
Christoph Willibald Gluck, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonio Salieri and Anton Bruckner worked with this choir. Jacobus Gallus, Joseph Haydn and Franz Schubert were choir members. It is possible to hear the Vienna Boys’ Choir (except in July and August) in the middle of the City for free.
Where to eat and drink in Vienna
After you finish your daily sightseeing, this book can also help you with an unforgettable evening:
WINE: After an art-filled day, a glass of wine is not such a bad idea. You can have it at the same bar as Beethoven.
DINNER: When was the last time you were in a restaurant that was first mentioned fifty years before Columbus arrived to America and has been in the same place ever since? If Mozart, Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Mark Twain could not resist this place, why shouldn’t you eat a Viennese schnitzel here?
DESSERT: Vienna is famous for its cakes. While you eat your dessert in the best Viennese cake shop, think a little about Antonio Vivaldi who lived a floor above you.
COFFEE: Coffee is a cult in Vienna. In Sigmund Freud’s favorite coffeehouse, coffee still tastes just as great as it did in the old days.
If you want to see Roberto Alagna, Anna Netrebko or Placido Domingo, you can buy a ticket 80 minutes before the start of the performance. Otherwise, you need to buy the ticket in advance by mail or online. Regular ticket prices at the box office can be as high as €250.
But you can buy a ticket for the price of a cup of tea in any coffee house in Vienna if you know how. Did I mention that the house orchestra of the Vienna State Opera is one of the best orchestras in the world – The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra?
Vienna City Hall Music Festival
Rathaus Music Festival in July and August is a free Open Air Cinema for opera and ballet lovers. Each day, in front of the Vienna City Hall, you can watch classical concerts or ballet productions for free. Movies include productions from the Vienna State Opera, Zurich Opera, as well as this year’s New Year’s concert of the Vienna Philharmonic. With the HD video projection on a huge screen (3230 square feet or 300 square meters) and the high fidelity loudspeaker towers, you are sure to get you classical high. The food stalls with a wide selection of international food and drink make this spot one of the best open-air party places in town.