LEARNING TO BE FEARLESS IN VIENNA
An impulsive trip changed author LS Hilton’s life
Ileft home for the first time in my late teens to spend six months in Vienna. Before that, I’d barely been anywhere at all beyond holidays with my parents. I’d hardly even been to London. To say my plans were impulsive was an understatement. I had the equivalent of £200 in Austrian schillings, but I’d read an awful lot of books. I was in love with the glamorous, intellectual world of Stefan Zweig and the tortured beauty of Egon Schiele’s paintings, which seemed like good enough motivation at the time. Arriving, I spent a day dragging my suitcase around the magniloquent imperial architecture of the First District and a horrible portion of my tiny budget on coffee and sachertorte in Demel, the famous cafe. Then, as the golden autumn evening turned to twilight, I sat in the gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace and had a panic attack. What had I done? I needed a place to stay, a job, and I knew no one. I didn’t even have a guidebook. I thought there were would be cheap hostels near the railway station, but I had no idea where that was, either. Nearby, there were two young men playing Frisbee; when I overheard them speaking English, I asked for directions.
‘Why do you need to go to the station?’ one of them asked. I explained that I needed somewhere to stay. ‘Why don’t you come home with us?’
So I did. It seems incredible that I could have been so careless. When I imagine my own daughter in a similar situation, my blood runs cold. But I had come to Vienna to live, and I wasn’t scared of anything. They carried my suitcase up the stairs at 17 Geblergasse. The flat had one giant bed, a bathtub in the kitchen and a musician who practised blues saxophone on the opposite balcony. I never did get round to leaving.
My new friends Jonny and Carter were students at the art school in Schillerplatz. That first night, they took me to a Greek restaurant where they needed an English-speaking waitress, and then we went dancing at a place called Titanic, which was full of beautiful club kids in home-made finery. Later, we went out to Donauinsel on the river Danube to go skinny dipping, and ate palatschinken (pancakes) with apricot jam for breakfast as dawn came up over the green-roofed city. I certainly wasn’t in Cheshire any more.
Stehende Frau in Rot by Egon Schiele, whose work drew LS Hilton to Vienna
Vienna’s inspiring imperial architecture
LS Hilton: ‘Vienna wasn’t really about sex, but f reedom’