Tag Archives: books

A garage in Hernals

15 Sep

I’ve been meaning to take a photo of this for years. It is precisely the kind of building that is a perfect example of an earlier time and most likely to be torn down or converted into something else. In this case, although the building is much older, the fact that it is called a garage makes me think of the 1950s, when very few Viennese had cars and quite often they parked them in neighborhood garages, which were more like workshops than more modern parking garages. Mary Stewart describes just such a place in Marseilles in her wonderful romantic thriller Madam, Will You Talk?

garage on hernalser hauptstrasse_01

garage on hernalser hauptstrasse_03


Freud’s Vienna

31 Aug

I’m not a compulsive seeker of Freud’s Vienna, but I do find articles and books interesting that address Freud’s complicated relationship with this city, so imagine my surprise to find the following lengthy article in the weekend edition of the International New York Times:


Without doing any extensive fact-checking I can correct a few points:

– The university campus with the outdoor cafés Stephen Heyman writes about was, until about 15 years ago, the General Hospital. Freud would not have known it as a campus. The university as Freud knew it was centered around the building on the Ringstrasse, formerly on Dr-Karl-Lueger-Ring now on Universitätsring, a change of name rich in Viennese history.

– The “Narrenturm” on what is now the campus was revolutionary in its day (late 18th century) for its humane treatment of psychiatric patients. As I overheard one guide telling a group, many people who were treated in that facility would, before the “Narrenturm” existed, for example, have been burned at the stake as witches. Granted, psychiatric patients did have it somewhat easier after Freud and his pupils brought in their revolutionary theories, but it is all relative.

My favorite source for a quick fix of Freud’s Vienna is Frank Tallis. He is a practicing psychologist in the UK who has created a fascinating detective team of a Catholic detective inspector in the Viennese police and a Jewish pupil of Freud’s. Together they solve mysteries around opera singers and freemasons in turn-of-the-century Vienna, and when they are not solving crimes they are making music together. In the tradition of the day, the psychoanalyst is an accomplished amateur pianist and the police inspector has a lovely baritone voice.

See: http://www.franktallis.com/

A good Saturday

16 Mar

For one thing, Vienna awoke today to bright blue skies – chilly still but cheerful. I was inspired to take two bags of books to the Christ Church shop (the thrift shop of the Anglican church in the 3rd district). There I found a good-as-new copy of Frank Tallis’s “Death and the Maiden” for EUR 2. This the fourth book I have read in this series set in Vienna at the time of Freud and uniting two friends, a Catholic police inspector and a Jewish doctor and psychoanalyst, in solving crimes. After taking care of several Saturday chores and errands, Mylo and headed to – where else? – the Vienna Woods where we caught the first whiff of “Baerlauch” (wild garlic) and enjoyed watching the ducks navigating between water and ice.


For the First Sunday in Advent – Vanillekipferln

2 Dec

One of my favorite books by Eva Ibbotson is The Morning Gift, a story, one could say, about Jewish and other refugees living in unaccustomed poverty in Belsize Park after the annexation of Austria to the German Reich in 1938. There is a scene where a long-awaited rental piano is finally about to be delivered to the Berger family, who have been saving up for it for months. To celebrate the mother, Leonie, bakes Vanillekipferln, typically Viennese cookies for Advent and Christmas.

Ibbotson writes, “The piano was expected in the middle of the morning, but Leonie had been up since six o’clock, cleaning the rooms, reblocking the mouseholes, polishing and dusting. By seven o’clock she had begun to bake and here she was destined to run into trouble.

“Leonie was relatively indifferent to the arrival of Heini’s piano, but Ruth was bringing her friends to celebrate and that was important … If her husband had been with her, Leonie would have found it difficult to provide suitable refreshment, for the food budget was desperately tight, but the absence of the professor – much as she missed him – meant that they had been able to eat potatoes and apple purée made from windfalls Mishak had collected on his rambles and save.

“Leonie accordingly had saved and bought two kilos of fine flour … had bought freshly ground almonds and icing sugar and unsalted butter and the very finest vanilla pods – and by nine o’clock was removing from the oven batch after batch of perfectly baked vanilla Kipferl.

“At which point her plans for the morning began to go wrong. Leonie wanted Mishak to stay and meet Ruth’s friends – she always wanted Mishak – but what she wanted Hilda to do was go to the British Museum and what she wanted Fräulein Lutzenholler to do was go up the hill and look at Freud.

“She had reckoned without the power of the human nose to unlock emotion and recall the past. Hilda came first, stumbling out of the bedroom in her dressing gown … Fräulein Lutzenholler, her fierce face tilted in disbelief, came next, carrying her sponge bag  …

“By the time the scent of freshly ground coffee came to blend with the warm, familiar scent of the thumb-sized crescents, it was clear that not only would no one voluntarily leave Number 27 that morning, but a great many others would come …”

Vanillekipferln (adapted from the Kronenzeitung Kochbuch)

180 gms butter; 70 gms peeled and ground almonds; 50 gms of sugar; 2 egg yolks; 210 gms of flour (as fine as possible); powdered sugar; vanilla sugar

Beat butter, almonds, sugar, egg yolks, and flour together quickly and thoroughly. Let dough rest for one hour in a cool place. Roll the dough into “snakes” about as thick as your thumb. Cut the “snakes” into small pieces (7 – 8 cm long) and bend the pieces into crescents. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 180°C until they are a light golden color. Mix the powdered sugar together with the vanilla sugar. Then roll the still-warm cookies in the sugar mixture.

Delicious with coffee, as Leonie served them.


27 Nov

I am finally catching up with the “One CITY. One BOOK” initiative of the City of Vienna, among others, which is in its 11th year. (I’m a bit slow about these things!)

The way it works is that the mayor of Vienna together with a team of people from echo medienhaus select a book they feel is relevant to the people of Vienna. 100,000 extra copies of this book are printed and then distributed for free at all kinds of different venues. I picked mine up this morning at the bank across the street from me.

This year’s book is “A Hand Full of Stars” by Rafik Schami, a Syrian (how is that for timely?) author of considerable renown in the German-speaking world. He has lived in Germany for over 40 years, received an overwhelming number of prizes for his books, and still wakes up every morning (he said in an interview) wishing he could walk through the streets of Damascus, his hometown.

As I walked home this morning with my bright, new copy in my hand adages about money and the value of things were running through my head. “You get what you pay for” was one. Hardly relevant here, it seems. I have paid nothing and received a book that promises to be a very good read. The next one was “People don’t value what they get for free.” This one is only appropriate–as far as I can see–in the sense that I first heard it in reference to psychoanalysis, the founder of which was Viennese. 😉

The next saying that went through my head was “Put your money where your mouth is.” This, finally, seemed to fit. The City of Vienna wants people to read–perhaps also wants total strangers to reach out to one another and ask “What did you think of the book?”–and is willing to support the initiative knowing that when people read the same books they suddenly share a language.

Perhaps the name of the initiative should be: One BOOK. One CITY.

The Hare with Amber Eyes

15 Jun

It was last fall that a friend recommended I read Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes. How right he was! I didn’t get around to buying it until March, but from the moment I started reading it I only put it down for the most urgent of professional obligations and bodily requirements. It isn’t precisely a book about Vienna, but there is a lot about Vienna in it nonetheless. And it is riveting.

Most of all it is the story of a family and of the author’s search for his family history, set off when he inherited a collection of small Japanese figurines called netsuke. This search takes the author–a world-renowned ceramic artist who, unfairly, also writes exquisitely–from his home in England to Japan, where he gets to know one of his great-uncles better, to Paris of the late 19th century, to Vienna, and finally to the starting point of the family saga, Odessa. In the course of the book one realizes that de Waal knows how to do original research and that he was probably doing his research in the original languages–Japanese, French, and German–at least until he got to Odessa, where he mentions hiring a translator. This gives the book an immediacy and a weight rarely achieved in people’s explorations of their own family histories.

The whole book is wonderful but living in Vienna as I do the long section on the branch of the family in Vienna was most alive for me. The cafés, schools, and streets mentioned, the Opera, the Palais Ephrussi at Schottentor, the pace of life, the food, the people described … they are all familiar to me, even though de Waal is writing about the first half of the 20th century. It was a tour through the city I love, offering me new perspectives for better or worse.

In the preface de Waal plainly states that he doesn’t want to write “… some elegiac Mitteleuropa narrative of loss” and he doesn’t. When the family’s life in Vienna ends abruptly with the Anschluss in 1938, however, and he portrays Viennese anti-Semitism in the details of its viciousness it moves me more than all the accounts I have ever read about Hitler’s march into Vienna and the waves of violence and pillaging it unleashed against Jewish families. It made me accept what I never could before–that many Viennese, in fact probably the majority, welcomed Hitler and Nazism not just because Austria was in such political chaos that they were relieved to have “a strong leader” (a point de Waal, in a striking spirit of fairness, mentions) but because Hitler spoke a message of hatred and envy toward the Jews that resonated so thoroughly with so many of them.

But it is doing injustice to the book to focus too much on that one point  and to turn the story, against the author’s explicit will, into a narrative of loss. A quick re-visit of its pages reminds me of how he brings everything–the various backdrops to the story, the people, who in spite of follies are never censured, and above all the netsuke themselves–alive through his descriptions that are carefully detailed but never too heavy. The netsuke could just have been a clever jumping off point to his family story but they remain, in fact, the focus and thread throughout, giving insight into the people who touched them, representing the very essence of craftmanship, and providing joy to the reader as they must in real life.

A journey for which de Waal allowed himself one year ended up taking closer to two years, and we are the beneficiaries. I recommend the book now, in my turn, most highly.