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Vienna Culture

Arts in Vienna

The Habsburgs were avid collectors and throughout their long reign, they accumulated innumerable masterpieces by the most important European artists. Today, most of them may be viewed in Vienna's museums - the paintings exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum) rank among the finest and most important art collections in the world. It features the largest collection of Bruegels in the world, as well as many great works by Velazquez, Rembrandt, Titian and many others. Many of Vienna's great mansions and palaces also house great works of art. What is now considered uniquely Austrian art, however, did not come into its own until the reign of the Habsburgs was nearly over. At the turn of the century, a number of artists seceded from the mainstream, and founded the "Secession" movement, which was emulated all over the world. Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka are now considered among the greatest painters of the twentieth century. Most of their magnificent masterpieces may be viewed at the Austrian Gallery (österreichische Galerie, Belvedere) at the Upper Belvedere. Uniquely Viennese design from the early twentieth century, especially from the Wiener Werkstätte group, is exhibited at the Museum of Applied Arts (Museum für Angewandte Kunst), MAK for short.

Architecture in Vienna

Vienna abounds in famous buildings - from the imposing gothic St. Stephen's Cathedral to magnificent baroque Belvedere Palace, from sprawling Schonbrunn Palace with its Rococo rooms to the splendid Imperial Palace, the main residence of the Habsburgs for many a century. All of these are absolute "must-sees" for any visitor to Vienna. But there are a number of different, but by no means lesser, architectural sights, some of them somewhat off the beaten path, like the perfect example of art nouveau, the Majolica House, built by Otto Wagner at Linke Wienzeile, or Friedensreich Hundertwasser's unusual and original apartment building (Hundertwasserhaus), or the pioneering public housing project of historical significance, the Karl Marx Hof, in an outlying district of Vienna. Modern Haashaus, with its glass facade, built by Pritzker-prize winner Hans Hollein, which mirrors adjacent St. Stephen's Cathedral, has been the center of much controversy - have a look at it and judge for yourself. Also, you may want to form your own opinion about the modern design of the newly-built Steffl department store. Other architectural sights, such as Otto Wagner's Post Office Savings Bank (Postsparkasse) or his famous underground stations (Stadtbahnpavillions) at Karlsplatz, are performing their destined rightful role in Vienna's urban life and, thus, have become part of the beauty of the city.

The Viennese Café and Beisl

Viennese coffeehouses have acquired a certain mystique in the more than 300 years of their existence: indeed, one does go there to drink coffee, or meet people, or read newspapers, or even to have a meal, but there's more to it than that. As the noted essayist Alfred Polgar put it: "A coffeehouse is a place for people who want to be alone but need company to do it with." A coffeehouse, thus, is much more than the mere sum of its parts. It is a way of life. It is a state of mind. Numerous authors and poets have tried for the ultimate description of the Viennese coffeehouse. No one has succeeded, because a visit to a coffeehouse is different for everyone - so we strongly recommend a visit which, we promise, will be a truly unique experience.

The Viennese beisels are close relatives of English pubs and French brasseries. They can be found at almost every corner of the city and their clientele ranges from the working man to the busy manager - both equally enjoy genuine, hearty Viennese food, such as a Wiener Schnitzel, a tender veal cutlet enveloped in crispy breadcrumbs, or Tafelspitz, a delicately boiled cut of beef; a Rostbraten, the Viennese equivalent of intricote; goulash, which the Viennese "borrowed" from Hungary; and, finally, Kaiserschmarrn, roughly translated as emperor's Trifle, "a delicious Viennese dessert." Regulars, who are essential to the proper atmosphere of the Viennese beisel, appreciate the low-priced meals and prix fixe dinners as well as the close contact with other guests, and with the host or hostess of the Beisel who take good care of their customers.

The Museum Scene

The interest of young people in some of Vienna's museums and exhibition halls has grown so much that some of these places have become "in" meeting spots. The Kunsthalle near Karlsplatz not only exhibits avant-garde art, one may also find interesting partners for lively discussions at its café - the same is true for an older, seemingly established museum, the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (Museum für Angewandte Kunst), MAK for short the museum draws a young crowd for its cutting-edge exhibitions, and at the same time reports a revived interest in its permanent collection of Wiener Werkstätte, Art Deco and Art Nouveau. The MAK café, opened only a few years ago, has become one of Vienna's favorite meeting spots. The Hundertwasser-designed KunstHausWien also attracts students and young people interested in avant-garde art. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, sparked much intense debate and discussion over the years and is still controversial to this day; his apartment and practice have been turned into a special museum at Berggasse 19 (Freud Museum).

Music in the Air

Serious music lovers have long considered Vienna a place just this side of paradise: not only is it easy to encounter music everywhere, from the sounds of a child practicing a Mozart piano sonata through an open window to street musicians playing classical as well as folk music; but there are so many places associated with famous musicians, such as their birthplaces, homes and apartments, monuments, tombs and burial sites - and the many places where their music was (and still is) performed: concert halls, the Vienna State Opera, the Volksoper, Theater an der Wien and many other venues. Vienna still lives up to its reputation as the musical capital of the world: throughout the year, concert halls and opera houses resound with the glorious music that was created here over the centuries. Vienna attracted great composers who came from elsewhere, stayed and wrote immortal music: Gluck, Beethoven, Brahms and Richard Strauss came from other countries, Mozart, Haydn, Bruckner and Mahler from regions within Austria. Ludwig van Beethoven loved the city passionately:"Perhaps Heaven will permit me not to have to give up Vienna as my permanent abode." And Franz Schubert, whose bicentennial was celebrated in 1997, is considered by many the epitome of a Viennese composer.

On a Lighter Note

This is not to imply that the musical genius Vienna fostered was ever limited to grandiose and forbidding masterpieces: Vienna has always excelled at lighter musical forms as well, such as operettas, waltzes and musicals. Johann "Schani" Strauss, Vienna's undisputed Waltz King (in 1999, the 100th anniversary of his death has been commemorated with many festive occasions) has made light music "respectable," as it were. The Vienna State Opera where his immortal Die Fledermaus was, until recently, the only operetta performed, opened its doors during the summer of 1999 and put on nine performances of one of the world's most popular operettas, The Merry Widow, by Franz Lehar. And the tradition of the musical comedy continues in Vienna to the present day: where music lovers may enjoy an old-fashioned operetta or today's version of the operetta - the musical. Following the success of the musical Elisabeth (based on the troubled life of the Austrian Empress) and the play and movie Amadeus, a musical about Austria's most famous gift to world music could not be far behind. The world premiere of the musical Mozart! was performed in 1999.