A Viennese Weekend
Last Tuesday, I was brainstorming with some friends on a location for our first weekend trip in Europe. Copenhagen has been an incredible city to live and attend school in, but with so many beautiful cities in close proximity, we thought it was best to start somewhere. The idea of Stockholm came first. Someone then suggested a trip to Norwegian fjord country, where we would fly to Bergen and subsequently rent a car to drive North through Trondheim and Trømso, but we rain checked because it required more coordination than what could be done in a night. The next option was Vienna, the self-proclaimed “city of culture”. Central Europe seemed a perfect place to begin the European experience; Vienna, or Wein in German, was home to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven during the peak of their careers, and both are buried there today. Impulsively, we bought plane tickets to Austria for the coming weekend.
After a late night in the “Bermuda Triangle”, an area of bar-littered streets where people “go in and don’t come out”, the group elected to go to Naschmarkt, a famous gypsy market that showcases piles of nic nacs and eastern linens. I had my first authentic schnitzel experience at that market, and I would go on to eat nothing but schnitzel and potatoes for the entire day. Through long rows of tents and walkways, Naschmarkt has endless options of locally grown food to eat and crafty art to buy- watch your wallet empty before your eyes.
The first thing to see in Vienna is without doubt Schönbrunn Palace, the pride of Austria. The massive monument, equipped with many of the well-recognized Austrian golden eagles statues, was home to the Habsburg Empire since the 17th Century as well as the ensuing Austro-Hungarian Empire until it’s end following WWI. Schönbrunn is home to the world’s first zoo and has its very own labyrinth (David Bowie, anyone?). The palace has a massive flower garden in front of it, and behind that is a hill- the largest in Vienna. As I looked up the hill, I saw massive monoliths: the roman ruins and, on the hill’s peak, the Gloriette that overlooks Vienna. The size of the palace ground was remarkable- fit for generations of Viennese royalty. Once atop the hill in the Gloriette, I studied the Austrian capitol’s landscape from my perch. For 30 minutes, I stood there and marveled at the majesty of Schönbrunn. I imagined myself as Archduke Franz Ferdinand, looking over his gardens, zoo, roman remains and labyrinth. It was simply surreal.
Sunday consisted of constant trekking in search of landmark churches and traces left behind by Vienna’s classical music heroes such as Mozart and Beethoven. Running on about 8 hours of sleep from the previous two nights combined, perusing around town from St. Stephens Cathedral to Karlskirche was more difficult than expected. Yet, the cool Austrian air, delicate chocolates and Viennese coffee kept me alive as I visited Mozart’s Figarohaus, his most prestigious home located in the city center, and then our last destination- Zentralfriedhof, the cemetery in which Beethoven and a large amount of Viennese bourgeois are buried.
At the graveyard entry, two menacing pillars stand 30 feet high, with golden eagles perched on top. Even at first glance, it is obvious how historic the graveyard is- almost every tombstone was twice my size (although that doesn’t say much) and a multitude of graves had personal shrines. At the center of the massive square-shaped cemetery, a grand church named The Dr. Karl Lueger-Gedächtniskirche oversaw the souls from 300 years past. One of these souls lies beneath a tree with an array of flowers and candles before the simple, yet classy tombstone- Ludwig van Beethoven. I thought of the deaf musician composing music with his head on his piano, so he could hear the vibrations. I thought of him standing as maestro before a large international crowd 200 years ago. I thought of all the people that made the journey to witness his burial ground. At that moment, I felt lost among the history that lingered in Vienna- the amount of time that I stood before Beethoven’s grave was so miniscule in comparison to the thousand or so years that the city flourished. Yet, after so many years, people are still paying homage to the great composer. Then, fittingly, I felt a raindrop glance on my nose as the sky came down with a light drizzle.