As some readers may recall from an earlier post, this summer I was on a week’s holiday in Vienna. For those who do not know it, I can highly recommend the city. It is the capital of a a small and, in geopolitical terms, relatively insignificant country. But a century ago it was one of the great powers, ruling a good bit of central and Eastern Europe. The First World War brought all that to an end, but in Vienna its glamorous past can be seen everywhere, in the grandeur of the buildings and the visible traces of the once powerful Habsburgs.
Vienna is also a city of vibrant art and culture – and as far as I know is the only city with urban vineyards and wineries (Grinzing). I thoroughly recommend it.
The building above is the Hofburg, once the main palace of the emperors in the city centre. In 1938 Hitler addressed the people of Vienna from the balcony, having just annexed Austria.
The Habsburgs eventually spent much of their time in the Schönbrunn Palace, above. It is a grand complex of buildings, designed to rival Versailles. I was able to attend a concert in the Orangerie.
Of course, no serious-minded visitor to Vienna can spend a day or more there without visiting the Hotel Sacher.
This is the home of the famous Sacher Torte, a chocolate cake that everybody needs to try at least once.
Apart from Vienna, I also visited some rather beautiful nearby towns, including Baden bei Wien. In Baden, the town in which the last but one Habsburg Kaiser, Franz Josef, spent much of his time, there is a particularly striking war memorial, with the inscription ‘Vater, ich rufe Dich‘ (‘Father, I implore you’).
And I also crossed the border into Hungary, visiting another town favoured by the Habsburgs, Ödenburg (now called Sopron). It is also rather beautiful, but nevertheless still carries the signs of decades of neglect during communism.
Throughout my week there I felt a strong sense of history, as one cannot really help feeling in much of central Europe. It is an area well worth a visit.