I always had a hard time remembering if Vienna was in Germany, Italy, or Switzerland (it’s the capital of Austria). Its fascinating how close all these countries are to each other, that Bratislava airport in Slovakia handles a lot of Viennese air traffic, and road signs in the city center direct you towards “Praha” or “Budapest”.
I read a lot of about Vienna as a child studying music theory and history, picturing Schubert living in a magical city where everyone played classical music and symphonies flooded your ears 24/7. I expected Vienna to be a town frozen in time, stuck in the 1700’s, full of horse-drawn carriages and Baroque fashion. Or maybe it could have been as late as the 1850’s, and I could have seen Haydn conduct his own symphony, but Vienna 2011 didn’t quite fit my hopeless expectations. Its quite similar to every other European city, a clash of incredible history and impressive architecture mixed in with globalized commercialism and little kebab shacks at every tram stop. In German, Vienna is spelled “Wien”, and I have some sort of dyslexic complex misspelling it as Wein or Wine, both referring to fermented grape juice and not one of the most important cities in classical music history.
The classical music thing is like beer in Germany, or casinos in Vegas – it’s presumably emthe/em tourist attraction you came for. You can’t go to Vienna without being offered tickets to a Mozart concert, and every night of the week you have the choice of something like 3 classical music concert houses, 2 opera houses, 3 churches, a couple palaces and uncountable theatres to see a show. Then there’s the waltz season, where everyone goes to balls in gala halls waltzing to J.S. Strauss being played life. People dressed up in period fashion sell tickets on major street corners and on the doorsteps of the most popular tourist attraction, and even some of the concerts are played on period instruments in various halls, all shimmering in gold, chandeliers and original art.
Walking around Vienna, I got the feeling that every building was a palace; even the common-place apartments had arch entries and stone angels on the roof corners. The universities, churches, government buildings, and museums were even jaw dropping – all built in slightly different styles from different eras, but all so grandiose, surrounded by regal gardens and flashing cameras. I snooped around inside the gothic city hall, sat to meditate in every church with unlocked doors, and strolled through the Schönbrunn Palace gardens pretending to be a princess.
As much as I wanted to see the inside of every museum, I knew it would be a failed mission since it could take days, weeks even, to really see and learn everything they have to offer. Bu I did make it inside som music halls, always second-guessing if I had picked the right venue and show since there were at least 2 options every night I was there that I would have loved to see. My first night in Vienna, I saw Singing in the Rain, a musical/tap-dance theatre piece, which I probably could have understood better if my German wasn’t so bad.
I had no difficulty understanding the Vienna symphony on night 2, who played a symphony by Carl Maria von Weber that I had never heard before, but loved, and a piano concerto by Haydn – I loved that too. Piano concerts give me shivers down my spine. They’re also amusing, since it cracks me up how everyone in the audience always has to cough between movements, even if no one is sick. My last night we went to Staatsopera house, by far the most beautiful building, inside and out, that I saw in Vienna. They played Madame Butterfly, a tragic opera set in Japan, sung in Italian, but thankfully subtitled in English that made understanding it no problem, even the depressing unhappy ending – which I wouldn’t have minded misunderstanding.