Second of four parts
Vienna (“Wien” in German) is the capital city of Austria with a metro area population of about 3 million. The city's roots date back to early Celtic and Roman times. Next to Berlin, Germany, it has the largest German-speaking population in the world. This area beside the Danube River was originally settled by the Celts in 500 B.C. and later, in 15 B.C., became a fortified frontier city to protect the Roman Empire from the warlike Germanic Tribes of Northern Europe.
During the Napoleonic Wars, Vienna became the capital of the Austrian Empire. Later, as the capital city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it suffered defeat and a harsh peace treaty at the end of World War I.
Austria was “annexed” by Nazi Germany in 1938 in what came to be called the “Anschluss” (meaning “joinder” or “political union” in German). Photographs and news reports of the day disturbingly document the enthusiasm of cheering crowds in Vienna which greeted the invading Nazi army as Adolf Hitler returned to the land of his birth to claim it as part of the new “greater Germany.” Persecution of the Jewish population and any who opposed the Nazi quickly followed.
After World War II, Vienna was, like Berlin, treated as a belligerent and occupied by the four allied powers (U.S., U.K., France and the Soviet Union). In 1955, full sovereignty was restored to Austria with its promise to remain an independent, neutral state.
Historically Vienna has been remembered as place of high culture and the “City of Music” for its longtime associations with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Haydn, Mahler and, more recently, Robert Stolz and Arnold Schoenberg. Prior to World War I, the city became a center for socialist political thought and was sometimes referred to as “Red Vienna.”
Today, Austria is a member of the European Union, and Vienna continues to enhance its reputation as a “gateway to Eastern Europe.” Nearly 300 international companies have their Eastern European headquarters in the city. In 2018, Britain's “The Economist” ranked Vienna as “the world's most livable city.” A U.N. “State of the World Cities” report has called Vienna “the most prosperous city in the world.” In a recent year, more than 6 million tourists visited Vienna, mostly from the U.S., Italy, Germany and Russia. One special factoid for your next quiz show appearance: according to one source, in 1913 Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Josip Broz (Tito) and Sigmund Freud all lived within a few miles of each other in the city of Vienna.
History, art & food
We found Vienna to be a vibrant, modern city with a 19th century Germanic-European flavor. Finding our way around was amazing! There are six underground train lines (U-bahns), plus fast-trains (S-bahns), with conveniently located stations all over the city. A three-day ticket for these trains cost 16.30 Euros, about $18 USD. Buses, trams, taxis, boats, flakers (horse-drawn cabs) and rental bicycles are also part of an integrated public transportation system which, once learned, is quick and efficient.
On our first full day we visited the Hofburg Palace, former home of Franz Joseph, Emperor/Kaiser of Austria, King of Hungary, Bohemia, Dalmatia, etc., and ruler of the Austro-Hungarian empire until his death in 1916. His 68-year reign is recorded as one of the longest in modern history.
On another day, we toured Schloss Schönbrunn, the summer palace southwest of the central city. Photos were not permitted during the tour of the Kaiserappartements, but our pictures of the Imperial Silver Collection hint at the lavish opulence in which royal families lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries when compared to the modest lifestyle of most of their subjects.
Political revolutions, assassinations, and civil unrest were not uncommon during the period. Franz Joseph's brother, Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, was executed in 1867; his wife, Empress Elisabeth (Sisi), was assassinated in 1898; and his nephew and presumptive heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, precipitating the outbreak of World War I.
Vienna's Museumsquartier originally housed 600 horses of the royal stables adjacent to Hofburg Palace. In 2001 the city reopened the area as a huge cultural center containing the town hall, city offices, museums and entertainment venues. We spent some time in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Art) containing the Habsburg family's Imperial collection of the works of most famous European Old Masters, including Italians: Titian, Canaletto, Tintoretto and Cellini; Dutch: Pieter Bruegel (elder) and Rembrandt; Flemish: Rubens and Jan van Eyck; Germans: Dürer and Holbein; and Spaniards: Velázquez.
Evenings were often spent enjoying Viennese specialties like “Wiener Schnitzel” (breaded meat) or “Schweinsbratten mit Semmelknodel” (roast pork with dumplings) at local restaurants and beer halls. Experts tell us that their red and white wines are excellent and several Viennese breweries produce good malty beers. The apple and grape juices and soft drinks were perfect for us.