City of Music, Dreams, and…Wieners? – Vienna


A few things come to mind when I think of Vienna, Austria: The Sound of Music (even though it was filmed in Salzburg), Sigmund Freud, palaces, Mozart, and VEENAH SCHNEETZEL. Kidding not kidding about the last one. Austrian German (they sprechen sie Deutsch in Austria-obviously from that you can tell that I don’t) is really entertaining to the ears. In all seriousness Vienna has blessed God’s green Earth with some pretty phenomenal artistic treasures, tasty cuisine and a fascinating culture. The city continuously tops global living quality rankings, having been dubbed one of the world’s most livable places more than a few times. It didn’t take much research to convince me to schedule a few days there, and it took even less once I was in town to convince me that I definitely needed a few (a lot) more!

Hofburg Palace

You can thank Vienna, longtime haven of musical innovation, for the likes of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Johann Strauss Jr. to name a few of the musical geniuses associated with the city. More than a few times Vienna has been called the “City of Music” for its significance to the art form. Many famous opera houses call Vienna home, including the Staatsoper or State Opera House. From September to June anyone can show up 80-90 minutes before a show and score standing tickets for just 4 euro to see some of the finest opera performances in the world. Every summer the houses close despite the months of July and August being peak tourist season. Why? Tradition, duh. That’s what my tour guide Barbara said anyway. She explained that most opera singers go to perform somewhere else or they need a break. Unfortunately I missed this opportunity this time around since I visited in early July, but it’s earned a spot at least midway up on my bucket list.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

“Oh look, another Gothic cathedral.” -Everyone everyday traveling in Europe ever.

You can also thank the former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for a large chunk of psychology as we know it. Vienna is also said to be “The City of Dreams” because it was home to the world’s first psycho-analyst – Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately he would have to leave the city in the late thirties to escape the Nazis, fleeing to the UK where he would end up passing in 1939. Before this he made lasting changes in his field. Freudian ideas such as the id, ego, superego, Oedipus complex, penis envy, and more are still studied and few practiced to this day. You can still visit his original study where he employed his psychoanalysis on patients decades ago at the Sigmund Freud Museum.

Schonbrunn Palace

Vienna’s statue game was ON POINT.

Vienna is also recognized for the plethora of lavish palaces found throughout the city. Since it was an imperial residence for centuries many of these Austro-Hungarian artifacts can still be admired from the inside and out. Luckily walking around to marvel at the Baroque and Romanesque architecture of these grand palaces and strolling through most the gardens can be done for free. Hofburg Palace, located in the oldest part of the city, is the largest palace in Vienna. The 600-year residence of the Habsburgs boasted attractions including the National Library, Riding School and Sissi Museum dedicated to the famous Empress Elizabeth of Bavaria. It also houses to the office of the President of Austria.

I also had time to check out arguably Vienna’s most splendid palace, Schönbrunn Palace. The centuries-old “Viennese Versailles” was named a World Heritage Site in 1996 and unofficially named several times over one of the most impressive buildings in Europe. The entire palace has over 40 rooms and I learned that this summer residence to the imperial family also houses the oldest zoo in the world, the Tiergarten. Unfortunately the zoo wasn’t free and neither were the insides of any of the palaces.

Many of these fancy palaces have been converted into museums. With only a couple of days to venture around I opted to shell out 15 euro for Belvedere, summer residence to the Prince Eugene of Savoy, to admire the dynamic works of prominent Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Klimt’s most famous work, “The Kiss”, is made of oil and gold leaf and depicts a couple embracing on a perfectly square canvas. Their bodies are entwined in busy, decorated robes as kiss tenderly. The identities of the intimate couple are to this day unknown. The painting was created during a high point of his career dubbed the “Golden Period” in an Art Nouveau style, a description I have read and heard a thousand times that I have written off as something I will never identify. I think a little of its starting to stick though.

“Is it consensual?” my partner asked.

“Oh for sure. See the way her hand is caressing his?” I said, trying to pretend that I knew anything about art in the history of ever. Still, I’ve always really liked this one.

Speaking of paintings, did you know Hitler wanted to be an artist? While he lived in Vienna from 1908-1913 he produced hundreds of works and sold postcards for a living. These days they’ve been sold at auctions for tens of thousands of dollars, but back then most of the art world wasn’t buying it. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler described in detail his youthful desire to become an artist and how everything came to a halt when he failed the entrance exam at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. He was rejected not once but twice by the institute. In a book I read recently, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, Pressfield talks at length about how hard it is to overcome resistant forces to let our creativity flow. He makes a pretty interesting point: it was easier for Hitler to start WWII than it was for him to become an artist.

Riding away from your, well, you know.

The institute rejected him but believed he’d be a better architect given the lack of people in his paintings and apparent disinterest in them. When he served in World War I at the age of 25 he carried his paintings with him to the front and made art in his free time-the works were the last he’d paint before becoming a politician. According to a conversation in August 1939 before the outbreak of World War II, published in the British War Blue Book, Hitler told British ambassador Nevile Henderson, “I am an artist and not a politician. Once the Polish question is settled, I want to end my life as an artist.”

Hitler gave his first speech in Vienna right on that balcony in 1938.
The academy that, Barbara jests, cause WWII.

In the song, “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, one of the favorite things mentioned is schnitzel with noodles. Ordering schnitzel with noodles is pretty much unheard of in Vienna, but you can have your schnitzel traditionally with potato salad and these days french fries or even mashed potatoes. You’re more likely, however, to get your wiener schnitzel with noodles than you are with sauce. Meaning “Viennese schnitzel” in German, wiener schnitzel is a very thin, breaded and pan-fried cutlet made from veal. Barbara, my guide on the city’s free walking tour, explained that since residents of Vienna eat the dish at least once a week that veal would be too expensive every time. Chicken, turkey, and pork are all common substitutes instead.

No one really knows how it got to Vienna or if it was in fact invented there independently, but many think the dish somehow made its way to the city from Milan where the dish is known as cotoletta alla milanese. Schnitzel-like dishes can be found all over the world: tonkatsu in Japan, country-fried steak in the US, and the milanesas I enjoyed so much in Argentina and Uruguay. Personally, my favorite so far has been the one I had in Vienna. The drunken ‘nesa sandwich I enjoyed on St. Patrick’s Day in Rosario, Argentina from a food truck comes pretty freaking close. In Vienna schnitzel is usually served with lemon and a parsley sprig to give the crumbs more flavor. As far as the sauce thing goes, it is a Viennese no-no, generally regarded as taboo and ignorant if ordered. “I dunno maybe zey do that in Germahny or somezing” my tour guide Barbara remarked.


Barbara also went on about Viennese cafe culture, which have had pretty extensive history that goes all the way back to the 1600s. The cafes unique to Vienna claim that when the Turks left the place after the second Turkish siege in 1683 they left hundreds of sacks of coffee beans. Coffee shops sprang up in the area when these sacks were found in the late 1800s, where Viennese people claim they first came up with the idea of filtering coffee. According to Wikipedia, “the caffeine addictions of some famous historical patrons of the oldest are something of a local legend.” Traditionally, the coffee comes with a glass of water and people can spend hours reading and lounging in the cafes as if they were at home.

Like its neighboring countries goulash is prevalent in Vienna, although here it’s made with beef and the consistency is more like a stew than the goulash in Hungary. Austria has cuisine influences coming in from every direction-strudel from Turkey, schnitzel from Italy, many sausages from Germany and more. Vienna’s dessert game is strong, with delicacies you can enjoy like some of the best Apfelstrudel (hot apple strudel) in the world and Sachertorte, a moist and delicate chocolate cake with apricot jam created at the Sacher Hotel. Stand-up sausage stands can be spotted all over the city and a few identified by the rabbit statues on top of them. Tourists and locals alike enjoy them day, night, and late-night. Popular sausages include Burenwurst (beef and pork), Käsekrainer (spicy pork with cheese), Bratwurst (white pork sausage) and Frankenfurters (called Wiener, German for Viennese, in the US and Germany). They can be ordered “mit Brot” (with bread) or as a “hot dog” stuffed inside a long roll. Mustard is the standard condiment and can either come spicy or sweet. Yum!

Note the bunny at the bottom left.

I spent my last day in town not exploring palaces but instead perusing the Naschmarkt, a permanent market for fruit, vegetables, spices, meats, seafood, and more from around the world. Barbara said you can get full here just walking around taking samples from everyone, and that if you can’t find it at the Naschmarkt it doesn’t exist. My favorite thing about this place is its name: Naschmarkt-markt meaning market of course and nasch being a really neat German word that means “a little something (to eat)”. Russ has been asking me if I wanted some nasch ever since I can remember! I honestly never took a second to think about what it meant. I just assumed it was another Russell word-much like Padam, which has no meaning. Love you, Russ!

In Vienna I spent two nights returning to the same pub twice, drank at least 10 hearty austrian lagers and pilsners in beer gardens and finally had some curry-wurst (apparently a German thing, but popular in Austria too). They don’t care much for open container laws in Europe I’ve gathered-and I’m not complaining. In my brief three nights there I hoarded a treasure trove of interesting historical and cultural tidbits about the place. My walking tour took me full circle from some of the others I’ve done when Barbara mentioned Dom Pedro (remember that crazy dead-wife guy from Portugal?) and a bunch of other bits about the Austro-Hungarian empire. I’m definitely leaving Austria a lot more knoledgable than when I cam in, and it was so, so easy to see why Vienna continues to dominate dozens of other large cities in quality of life. I can’t wait to come back for some more veenahs. Until next time!


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