Vi­enna is an in­spir­ing state of mind

The Aus­trian cap­i­tal of­fers con­ven­tion go­ers a col­or­ful palette of cul­ture, art and his­tory

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE -

Jet lag has me wide awake at 4:30 AM, but for once I’m not an­noyed, be­cause this is my op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore a city that many con­sider one of the most beau­ti­ful and civ­i­lized in the world. By 5:30 I’m walk­ing down the Aus­trian cap­i­tal’s Ringstrasse to­wards the Donaukanal, once a broad bend in the Danube but now a reg­u­lated wa­ter chan­nel that marks the north­east cor­ner of Vi­enna’s old city cen­ter.

I turn left to wan­der along its banks, lined with al­fresco bars and cafés that, pre-dawn, are locked and life­less, but dur­ing sum­mer evenings buzz and bus­tle with city folk en­joy­ing the balmy weather. The sky light­ens as sun­rise ap­proaches, re­veal­ing artis­tic, col­or­ful graf­fiti on the brick walls be­side the canal. Early work­ers cy­cle past on clearly marked bike lanes and cof­fee houses are al­ready open for break­fast and do­ing good busi­ness – Vi­enna’s famed kaf­feekul­tur (cof­fee cul­ture) is a way of life here.

The streets are now crowded with peo­ple go­ing to work and tak­ing kids to school, but there’s not a sin­gle raised voice from a peeved child or irate com­muter – all is or­derly and calm. I emerge onto Sig­mund Freud Park op­po­site the tow­er­ing neo-Gothic Vo­tive Church, its sharp twin spires pierc­ing the clear blue sky. I fol­low the tram tracks past an im­pres­sive univer­sity build­ing to Rathaus­park, which sprawls out be­fore the grand City Hall. Built be­tween 1872 and 1883, it has an even more or­nate façade than the famed Burgth­e­ater across the road – Europe’s sec­ond-old­est theatre and home to the Aus­trian Na­tional Theatre.

Even my ac­com­mo­da­tion – the Palais Hansen Kempin­ski Vi­enna – is in a her­itage-listed build­ing. Built for the World Ex­hi­bi­tion in 1873, it was leased to Kempin­ski in 2010; its three court­yards were given glass ceil­ings and have be­come the re­fined lobby lounge, Die Küche break­fast café and a mul­ti­pur­pose event space. As I munch on hearty Aus­trian bread and a sam­pling from the su­perb break­fast buf­fet se­lec­tion, I con­tem­plate the ar­chi­tec­tural beauty of the city.

Pre­serv­ing the past

The Vi­enna His­toric Preser­va­tion Com­mis­sion was cre­ated in 2003, and it des­ig­nated the In­nere Stadt (First Dis­trict) as the Cen­tral His­toric Dis­trict, with a or­di­nance put in place to stop any mod­ern build­ing or al­ter­ation of ex­ist­ing façades. The re­sult is a de facto open-air mu­seum of glo­ri­ous ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sures, from Gothic to Baroque, Re­nais­sance to Neo­clas­si­cal. It is of course a UNESCO World Her­itage site in its en­tirety. In 2014, 6.2 mil­lion peo­ple vis­ited Vi­enna – a lot for a small city of only 1.8 mil­lion peo­ple – and for most of their so­journ the ma­jor­ity of them stayed within the Ringstraße, a gen­er­ous boule­vard that re­placed the old city walls and to­day forms the First Dis­trict’s cir­cu­lar bor­der.

I do much the same; over the course of two days – which I ad­vise is far too short a time to fully ap­pre­ci­ate this most cul­tured of ci­ties – I criss­cross and cir­cum­nav­i­gate the his­toric dis­trict, by my­self and on guided tours. At just over a square mile it’s man­age­able on foot, but I buy a Vi­enna Card, which pro­vides free travel on the un­der­ground, buses and trams for 48 hours (€21.90/$23) or 72 hours (€24.90/$27), as well as dis­counts for many of the top sights and tours, plus shop­ping and din­ing deals (wienkarte.at).

I visit the Vi­enna State Opera, one of the world’s most dis­tin­guished mu­sic venues, which was built in the mid-19th cen­tury and re­stored after be­ing dam­aged in WWII. For those who can’t af­ford to buy a ticket, a huge screen on the side of the build­ing streams live per­for­mances in the even­ing for ev­ery­one, with chairs pro­vided – such is the city’s artis­tic al­tru­ism. I wan­der down his­tory-rich streets past the Al­bertina mu­seum, once a royal

Hab­s­burgs palace, then the Ho­tel Sacher, home of sacher­torte (the world’s most fa­mous choco­late cake), be­fore head­ing to the cen­ter of the In­nere Stadt, St Stephen’s Cathe­dral. Most peo­ple stop in St Stephen’s Square for a few min­utes to stare in awe at the Gothic splendo splen­dor of this 700-year-old mas­ter­piece. The South Tower, built in 1433, shoots up, lance-like, 446 feet int into the sky, but the North Tower was un­fin un­fin­ished and in 1579 was capped by a Ren Re­nais­sance dome, which gives it a pecu pe­cu­liar ap­pear­ance but doesn’t di­min­ishdi­mi­nis its ma­jes­tic stature over the Ren Re­nais­sance and Baroque city crowd­ingcrowdin around it. Grab Graben, a sto­ried and now pedes­tri­an­ized­pedestr and café-strewn thor­ough­fare,thor­oug leads from St Stephen’s Square w west to­wards Kohlmarkt, an­other fa fa­mous street lined with his­toric sh shops proudly dis­play­ing the royal insi in­signia to show their sta­tus as pur­veyo pur­vey­ors to the crown. At th the end of Kohlmarkt is the Hofbu Hof­burg, the Im­pe­rial Palace. This grand set of build­ings was the cen­ter of the huge Ha Hab­s­burg Em­pire, which ruled Cen Cen­tral Europe from the 13th centu cen­tury right through to the early 2 20th cen­tury. It is home to the Si Sisi Mu­seum in the Im­pe­rial Apar Apart­ments, the renowned Span­ish Ridin Rid­ing School where beau­ti­ful whi white Lip­iz­zaner horses dance an eq equine bal­let, and a host of other m mu­se­ums, li­braries, chapels and his­tor­i­cal trea­sures.

Ge­mut­lichkeit Abounds

I stroll past the rose bushes of Volks­garten (the peo­ple’s gar­den) to lunch at Café Landt­mann, next to the Burgth­e­ater. One of the city’s most fa­mous and el­e­gant cof­fee houses, it opened in 1873 and was fre­quented by the likes of Sig­mund Freud, Gus­tav Mahler, Mar­lene Di­et­rich and, more re­cently, Hil­lary Clin­ton. Cof­fee houses in Vi­enna are renowned for their at­mos­phere of re­laxed so­phis­ti­ca­tion, where the con­cept of gemütlichkeit – roughly trans­lat­ing to mean a state of warmth, friend­li­ness and good cheer – that’s so unique it has been given its own place on UNESCO’s In­tan­gi­ble Cul­tural Her­itage list.

On my sec­ond day I ven­ture out­side the Ring Boule­vard to Naschmarkt, a clas­sic Vi­en­nese mar­ket just south of the Ring Road, where you can buy and eat food from a wide range of coun­tries, and pur­chase clothes, sou­venirs and other sun­dries. I stop by the grandiose Art His­tory Mu­seum and Nat­u­ral His­tory Mu­seum, which face each other across a green, land­scaped plaza. A short walk away is a fa­mous statue of Mozart, and a short tram ride on Line 1 to the Stadt­park (City park) brings me to two more stat­ues of fa­mous res­i­dents: first Beethoven, look­ing pen­sive in his own small square, then Jo­hann Strauss II,Vi­enna’s fa­vorite son, de­picted in gold play­ing his vi­o­lin like a vir­tu­oso.

Vi­enna is the only cap­i­tal city in the world that pro­duces a sig­nif­i­cant amount of wine within its city lim­its. In the even­ing I drive 20 min­utes out of town to Weingut Mayer am Pfar­rplatz, one of the city’s many vine­yard heurigers, court­yard tav­erns where lo­cal wine­mak­ers serve their pro­duce along with sub­stan­tial meals of grilled meat, sausages, breads and desserts.

Sur­rounded by friends singing old folk tunes to an ac­cor­dion’s jolly jig, chat­ter­ing cou­ples and fam­i­lies of all ages, seated at re­plete with whole­some food and fruity wine, I prom­ise my­self I’ll re­turn to Vi­enna. Only next time my wife will come too, and we’ll stay longer. And per­haps we’ll come in win­ter, when the city’s fa­mous Christ­mas mar­kets in Rathaus Platz and St Stephen’s Square will pro­vide the sort of gemütlichkeit that has charmed me dur­ing my short visit.

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