As someone once put it: the streets of Vienna, are not only paved with stones but with history. A great part of the charm of the city consists in the way it transforms “history” into the “good old times during the empire.” This is why this young and dynamic metropolis in the heart of Europe, which has welcomed the high-tech-era with open arms, at the same time fervently embraces its past: this is what turns Vienna into a festival of the imagination, especially for romantics.
“Im Prater blühn wieder die Bäume” (The trees are flowering again in the Prater): this line, the beginning of a famous song that expressesa uniquely Viennese joie de vivre, resonates the world over. When the chestnut trees, with their white and pink blossoms, start reaching skyward, the city begins to change. Spring has arrived, the most romantic time in Vienna. The twittering songs of the blackbirds in the Volksgarten, the City Park and the park in front of City Hall create a strange yearning in the heart of the Viennese. The aroma of jasmine and lilac goes to the head like a glass of champagne …
With the Fiacre to the old Imperial Glory
In the spring, coachmen crack their whips in an even livelier manner than usual. This is the best time of year to take a jaunt in a Fiaker (horse-drawn carriage). “Compliments, sir, and a kiss on the hand, beautiful lady!”, and off we go to admire the magnificent buildings from the imperial era: first the Albertina and the Vienna State Opera; we continue under the delicate green roof of leaves of the trees lining the Ringstrasse. On your right appears the Burggarten (Imperial Garden), on your left two massive cupola-crowned buildings- the Museums of Fine Arts and Natural History. Between them, on her throne, sits the absolutist and absolute mother of the Baroque Era, Empress Maria Theresia: her monument faces the Imperial Palace and Heldenplatz.
While the hooves of the horses clatter on the pavement, a nice May wind has comes up. It lets your thoughts dance in three-quarter time, turns the wheel of time backward and transports you back to another century. In your mind’s eye, you see a group of students in heated discussions in front of the Parliament building; young lieutenants in splendid uniforms high atop their horses riding toward City Hall; and here, at the Burgtheater, a coach turns into a small side street. In it, you discern a beautiful veiled lady – en route to a secret rendezvous?
Intimate Ball Whispers
The fiacre turns from the Ring into Schottengasse, passes the Schottenstift on its way to Freyung, and continues via Am Hof toward the square in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Here, every stone truly is history. With a little imagination, one can see former princely dynasties pulling the strings behind the facades of their town palaces: Harrach, Schönborn-Batthyány, Daun-Kinsky, Ferstel. Or one can conjure up fashionable carriages with guests from all over the world driving by. In the evenings, one can almost hear the rustling of the gowns of beautiful ladies at elegant soirées and balls. After all, the Viennese ball tradition has a long history.
The massive facade of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is mirrored in the window-panes of the Haas House, a modern shopping gallery designed by architect Hans Hollein: past and present often go hand in hand in Vienna, a fact demonstrated by a stroll through the old city. A nice cup of tea at Haas & Haas at Stephansplatz 4 is like a journey in time: you sit in the courtyard in a Biedermeier-like garden, you are surrounded by the thick old walls of the Haus des Deutschen Ordens (House of the Teutonic Order) and, at the same time, your bill is presented in the form of a digital printout.
Winding Streets, Arcaded Courtyards
If you cross this courtyard, you arrive first in Singerstrasse, then in Blutgasse and from there you reach Domgasse. These little streets are the heart of the romantic city. Narrow and dark, they are covered with cobblestones, just as they were centuries ago. Somehow one expects at any moment to encounter Mozart whistling a tune from his “Marriage of Figaro,” maybe on his way home, to what is called the “Figaro House,” where he wrote this opera .
There is no danger of getting lost in the thicket of these streets. One always manages to return to Stephansplatz, whence one turns instill another direction: through the passage at the Palace of the Archbishops, one continues through the passage containing the restaurant Figlmüller (the Viennese Beisl with the largest Wiener Schnitzels in the world) and from there to Bäckerstrasse. You should look into the arcaded courtyard of the Schwanenfeld building at Bäckerstrasse No.7 and also into the small interior courtyard of the building at No. 12, with its medieval walls. We continue on to the Academy of Sciences and to the stern but beautiful Jesuit Church; we then turn into Sonnenfelsgasse with the Old University and into Schönlaterngasse: in all these streets, time seems to have stood still. Here, one can be certain of walking in the footsteps of such great composers as Haydn, Beethoven and both Clara and Robert Schumann.
Atmospheric Markets & Regions of Biedermeier
These musicians may also have enjoyed the serenity and peace at Heiligenkreuz Court, which can be reached from Schönlaterngasse. This seventeenth-century building complex, built around a spacious inner courtyard, is of timeless beauty. The great Austrian satirist Helmut Qualtinger used to live here.
It is only a few steps from Heiligenkreuz Court to Fleischmarkt. Originally, as the name suggests, a meat market, this used to be one of the noisiest and most colorful parts in Vienna. Here, Turkish tradesmen in their wide trousers and fez offered silk from the orient, spices, tobacco and coffee. Later came the Greeks who had left their homeland because of the Turkish occupation; they also traded their wares in Vienna and left a number of mementos: the restaurant Griechenbeisl; the Greek church, richly decorated with gold; and the charming Griechengasse with its arches and medieval facades.
You still have not had enough of narrow streets, old walls and intimations of the past? In that case, we cross the Ring and visit the Spittelberg quarter. This area used to be outside the city walls, and was anything but elegant. Streets were lined with disreputable dives, wine flowed like water, manners were rough and many of theladiesy weren’t ladies at all, but were paid money for their services. This part of town was revitalized in an exemplary fashion during the late 1970s: now that its morals have been restored one can safely stroll among the Biedermeier buildings and visit one of many restaurants and bars.
During the weeks before Christmas, a fine aroma of punch and gingerbread wafts through Spittelberg. This is when the popular Christmas Market takes place here, not as big as the one in front of the Rathaus, but offering a big selection of tasteful craftwork.
Enjoy the Green of the city
It is true that Vienna is at its most beautiful in the spring. But only if one pays no attention to summer, fall and winter. One thing is certain: Vienna is a city for all seasons. This may partly be due to the fact that nature reaches deep into many parts of the city. Take the Prater, for instance: at the turn of the last century, during the time of Freud and Schnitzler, a ride to the Prater was very much a social occasion. On Sundays, carriages drove out from the inner city through Praterstrasse, the former Jägerstrasse, into the green Prater. These days, in the mornings, the Prater belongs to joggers. Later in the day, horseback riders take over, followed by strollers, and Viennese with their picknick baskets. And then there are whose who want to enjoy the constantly changing faces of the Prater throughout the seasons: the morning mist and the enchanting green of the month of May, dense foliage and heavy drops of thunderstorms during the summer, the plethora of colors during fall and Indian Summer, and finally, during the winter, the hoar-frost and picturesque naked trees reaching into the air.
Idyllic Walks, Ending at Restaurants with Flair
The Lusthaus in the Prater conveys old Austrian charm. Built at the end of the eighteenth century as a hunting lodge, it is now a charming café-cum-restaurant. One with a past, however: it is apparent that this must always have been a location for forbidden trysts or the delivery of secret messages like “Darling, not today &ldots; tomorrow, after dusk &ldots;”. And lastly: here, one did not have far to look for a suitable site for a duel.
The Vienna Woods, the green belt of the city, borders Vienna on the north, west, and south. This area of 1250 square kilometers is of great comfort for Viennese souls: it is permeated with long footpaths, beautiful meadows, and restaurants and places where one can take a snack , such as the Häuserl am Roa (Little House on the Slope) or the Häuserl am Stoa (Little House near the Stone). Since the Biedermeier era, the Vienna Woods have served as a bucolic idyll, – thousands of hearts and arrows carved into the bark of the trees and the backs of the benches bear witness that Ferdi loves Mitzi.
Nostalgic Heurigen Gemütlichkeit
The classic and traditional way to conclude an excursion into the Vienna Woods is a visit to a Heurigen. Heuriger means both the wine of the last harvest and the place where it is served. And: “Let’s go to the Heurigen” is a guarantee of gemütlichkeit. In Grinzing, Neustift, Nussdorf or Salmannsdorf, special Heurigen music contributes to the romantic mood. Sometimes it happens that, at some point during the evening, everyone at the Heurigen joins in singing one of the old Viennese songs, such as “Es wird a Wein sein, und mir wern nimmer sein…” …” (there’ll always be wine, but we won’t be here to enjoy it). A little wistful melancholy befits an emotional city like Vienna…
And if it isn’t melancholy, it is nostalgia. In the Salettl, a small café in the nineteenth district, nostalgia seems to be everywhere: a glassed-in verandah, simple tables and chairs, the flair of the turn of the last century – all this is much appreciated by the young Viennese. Villa Aurora, near Wilhelminenberg Palace in the sixteenth district, conveys the aura of the fin-de-siècle era by its soft candlelight. One orders a Wiener Schnitzel with salad, but may be served the dessert ordered by someone at the next table. So you exchange dishes, start to talk, sit together, look into each other’s eyes and maybe fall in love. This can happen easily in Vienna.
Wedding in the Dream City Vienna
The city also takes care of the consequences of falling in love. One can get married at some of the most attractive locations in Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace, in one of the gondolas of the Giant Ferris Wheel, in an Oldtimer Tramway or in the Butterfly House. A knot tied in such romantic surroundings may last for a long time. After all, the lovers on Gustav Klimt’s famous painting “The Kiss” have been embracing each other in unchanging passion for over a hundred years…
Article Author: Hanne Egghardt
Translator: Susi Schneider – Vienna Tourist Board