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April 1st – a significant date for both the last emperor and the last empress of Austria

1 Apr

I always check the ORF headlines on my phone at breakfast. This morning I saw that today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Karl I of Austria — the Habsburg who had the thankless task of assuming the throne after the almost 68-year reign of Franz Josef I. He was ill-prepared, not really having expected to ascend to the throne (Crown Prince Rudolf shot himself, Franz Ferdinand made a morganatic marriage and was, of course, later assassinated in Sarajevo, and Karl’s father died young) and took on the role in the middle of a war he had mixed feelings about. One could say that at least he only had to do the job for two years, from 1916 to 1918 when Austria became a republic, but I suspect he didn’t see it that way.

Reading this reminded me that I was a part of the crowd at Stephansplatz that gathered to see Empress Zita’s funeral procession. What I had forgotten was that this was on 1 April 1989. What I still remember is that I got a very good place to stand because there was an incredible downpour just as I was walking to Stephansplatz, which, I suspect, sent the people who were already gathered there scurrying for cover. I sheltered in the doorway of a shop until the worst was over and then made my way to the square and took up a spot near the doors to St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the front row.

What particularly overwhelmed me as the procession went by was the weight of history summed up in this last imperial funeral in Austria. The funeral coach had already become a museum piece and I had seen it in the Wagenburg (Imperial Carriage Museum) at Schönbrunn. The enormous black horses with their stiff black plumes were like something out of Victorian England, as were the uniforms worn by the staff members of the City of Vienna undertakers. The crowd stretched away from Stephansplatz up Kärntner Straße and off along the Graben, where people hoped to catch a glimpse of the procession as Zita was conveyed from the Cathedral to the Kapuzinergruft, where the Habsburgs are interred in their family vault. The Habsburgs are laid out chronologically and so it happens that Zita’s coffin stands on a pedestal next to that of Franz Josef I. Because of history and human frailty, her husband’s grave is still (and probably now will remain) at Funchal in Madeira, although in the manner of the Habsburgs his heart lies elsewhere (in Switzerland).

What a privilege it was to be able to see that bit of history. Something I will never forget.

If you would like more information, here are two pages from the ORF website, with videos.

About Karl I: https://orf.at/stories/3256669/

On Zita’s funeral: https://tvthek.orf.at/history/Persoenlichkeiten/9501729/Begraebnis-von-Kaiserin-Zita/9573009

The backstage view of a Viennese house

2 Feb

The old (1970s) WienEnergie building on Spitalgasse has been torn down to make room for a new “campus” for the medical school of the University of Vienna. This makes perfect sense–the general hospital is nearby, the old general hospital was turned into a proper campus for the University of Vienna a little over 20 years ago, and one semi-public building (the utilities provider was municipally owned at one time and then hived off) will remain in public hands. (The University of Vienna is a public university.) In addition, not even this defender of older buildings is sorry to see the olive green and orange structure go. I’ll be curious to see what comes.

In the meantime, the clearing of the site has laid the neighboring house open to scrutiny and shows some interesting things about Viennese buildings and, in fact, culture. Appearances are quite important in Vienna. (A friend of mine who has lived in Boston, London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Washington D.C. as well as in Vienna said that Vienna is the only city she has lived in where you got better service at the deli counter in the supermarket if you had put your make-up on.) For me, this focus on appearances is reflected in the relatively ornate facade of the house (the photo on the left) compared to the plainness of back of the house, with wing (the photo on the right). At the same time, it is often said that the imposing facades of the turn-of-the-century houses in Vienna hide some of the nicest aspects. These are for house residents only. This I see in what appears to be a small garden with a tree. That is probably quite a nice place to sit out–or will be again once the building project is complete!

An example of what is called a cultural artifact in the intercultural world …

Eating out

16 May

Yes, you read that correctly. As of yesterday our restaurants are open and people are allowed to eat out. There are, of course, certain restrictions, but they don’t seem that tough.

What is really interesting and, I feel, particularly Viennese is that the city of Vienna is issuing gift certificates to each household for use in a restaurant. EUR 25 for single households and EUR 50 for families. Gives new meaning to the expression “Put your money where your mouth is,” doesn’t it?

The victories of coronavirus shopping

21 Apr

VCM 2020

19 Apr

The Vienna City Marathon (VCM) 2020 has, of course, been canceled. It would have been held today, and the weather would have been good for it–not too hot or sunny and not much wind.

A few years ago I started writing the VCM date in my calendar so that I could set aside time to watch it undisturbed. This was after a number of years of having it on the TV in the background but not planning to really watch it. At some point I had to accept that it was oddly absorbing and enjoyable to watch people run for hours and that there was no point in trying to get anything else done while the VCM was on.

I still watch on TV but there is a point at which the runners pass about 10 minutes from my flat so I have taken to walking down there and cheering on the front runners: first man, first Austrian man, first woman, first Austrian woman. (I have never gotten the sense that they took in that we were there cheering, but I like to cheer them on nonetheless.)

There is a hole in my calendar this year where the VCM would have been. I’ll especially miss seeing Valentin Pfeil, a gifted and personable Austrian marathoner, and Nancy Kiprop, the Kenyan teacher who runs to earn funds for her school and has been the winner among the women three years in a row. I’ll miss the shots of this beautiful city I live in, the streets cleared of cars but lined with fans. I’ll miss the people who run it with a sense of fun, dressed up in silly costumes and not looking at the clock. I’ll miss the ORF commentary. And I’ll miss the stories of the runners and how they came to be in the VCM.

This, too, is a part of Vienna in the times of coronavirus.

The masks are coming out

31 Mar

Yesterday the government announced that as of tomorrow supermarkets will be handing out face masks to shoppers and we will not be allowed to shop without them. Suddenly, this morning I have seen several people wearing masks on the street. Probably a good precaution but eerie nonetheless.

Runners

28 Mar

Not me! I’m just a dog-walking observer. And as an observer I can’t help noticing how many more runners there are than there were just two weeks ago.

The other thing I’m noticing is how fast some of them are running. I still remember walking through Central Park in New York with my then Austrian partner, about 15 years ago, who couldn’t get over how fast all the runners were moving. Vienna was in the throes of the “slow running” fad, and until now I hadn’t really thought about it, but Vienna was still in the throes until the coronavirus lockdown started!

Clearly, there’s currently a lot of energy out there that is not getting used up in other ways.

Tuesday evenings

24 Mar

There is a store in Vienna called Eduscho or Tchibo. They technically sell coffee, but they also sell inexpensive consumer goods that change every week. The change is made on Tuesdays. So I am used to looking with great curiosity at what they have in their window when I walk by with Maylo on Tuesday evenings.

It is just one of many reminders that we are on coronavirus lockdown that the window has been the same for three weeks. I must confess I am getting a little tired now of the underwear in their shop window!

A crisis with an odd sense of comfort

16 Mar

Just a quick post today to say that two aspects of this coronavirus crisis are particularly disorienting here in Vienna.

One is that we are going through this in considerable comfort. As the child of two Europeans, both of whom grew up in war zones during the Second World War, I have always assumed that a crisis would be accompanied by severe rationing (=hunger, for years), cold, long stretches without water or electricity, not to mention the fear of having a bomb dropped on your head or the head of someone you loved. It is almost disturbing to have everything, including, so far, excellent internet, phone service, and so on. It seems it should be more painful!

Come to think of it, that is not only the impression I got from my parents. When you grow up in New England, as I did, you know there can be snowstorms that take out the power and telephone for days on end and therefore make sure you have food, wood, and water on hand. You know that you will have lots of time to read (provided you have alternative sources of light), but you don’t expect it to be really comfortable.

The second factor contributing to this sense of disorientation is the exquisite early spring weather we’re experiencing. How can something bad be happening when the sun is shining the way it is and blossoms and flowers are coming out?

It doesn’t seem possible–and yet it is.

Ausverkauft! (Sold out!)

11 Aug

I’m having a wonderful time reading Helmut Deutsch’s memoirs (a present from a kind and generous friend).

This greatest of Lieder accompanists, born and raised in Vienna, tells a good story. This one strikes me as quintessentially Viennese: Deutsch was one of two accompanists who regularly played for the incomparable Hermann Prey. On one occasion, Deutsch needed a ticket to a Prey recital in the Konzerthaus in Vienna. The posters for days had sported a bright red “Sold out” sign. Nonetheless, Deutsch went into the ticket office to see what could be done. To his great surprise, the lady behind the counter asked, “Stalls or balcony?” Deutsch drew her attention to the “Sold out” signs at which point she smiled and said, “No, not at all. It’s just that Kammersänger Prey likes so much to see the signs.” [“Nein, nein, der Herr Kammersänger hat das nur so gern.”] 🙂