Final Impressions of Vienna

Gustave Klimt from the wall of a Vienna medical facility

During my ten days in Vienna, I’ve formed some impressions. Because I’m a tourist doing tourist things, my observations are superficial and anecdotal, but that’s ok. The big surprise: Vienna is multi-cultural, youthful, and very cool.

The People. The Viennese seem to have a reputation for being a little snobby. Vienna is not Mexico, where people on the street say buenos dias and lunge in your direction if they sense you’re going to trip on the cobblestones. But I’ve found people in Vienna are friendly and engaging. Except in the richest neighborhoods, the city center is full young people who are more open than their elders. If it’s Austrians who seems snobby, the city is no longer very Austrian. More than a 40% of its residents were not born in Austria or are otherwise foreign nationals, mostly from the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe. A few other things — no one seems to be in a big hurry. Everyone is thin. The cars are nice. Surprisingly, a lot of Viennese people smoke and almost everyone speaks English.

Detail from an Egyptian sarcophagus at the national museum, which is loaded with Egyptian antiquities,

The Food. Most traditional Austrian food is bland and not very healthy. Schnitzel is a slab of meat breaded and boiled in oil. Hyper-sweet pastries. Sausages. White bread. Potatoes. (The wine is good!) But Vienna is multi-cultural and youthful, so Vienna is full of all kinds of not-Austrian food. Within a few blocks of my hotel, the restaurants are Filipino, Japanese, Lebanese, Indian, Thai, and Syrian, as well as Austrian. There is also a lot of vegan. In fact, Viennese restaurants seem to have skipped right over vegetarian. The choice isn’t between meat and no meat. It’s between animal products and no animal products. .

Street art just outside the historic center

The City. The historic center of the city is elegant and not very old. Most of it was built by the Hapsburgs in the 19th century but it looks older than that on purpose, because the Hapsburgs liked baroque flourishes. In spite of the grandeur in the center, the city seems very livable. It feels very low key for a big city. Public transportation is abundant and comfortable, people walk a lot, and traffic is not bad. There are a lot of bike lanes and parks. The Danube River transects the city, and its beaches are wildly popular during the warmer months. The commercial neighborhoods are a mix of local and corporate brands selling everything from Prada to CBD gummies. (However, it’s hard to find a store that sells tape.)

Helen Frankenthaler at the Albertina Modern.

Culture. Besides all the great art, music is a big thing here. Mozart lived here. And Beethoven, Hayden, Strauss, Mahler and Schubert, among others! Vienna has one of Europe’s most important opera houses and hosts Mozart concerts almost every night. Musicians play in the streets even when the temperatures are in the low 40s. The Viennese socialize over coffee in cafes and have elaborate holiday traditions — I heard several times about the crowded events held during the Christmas season The people here don’t seem to be dog people, except I’ve seen a few wiener dogs (“Wien” is what Austrians call Vienna so….). I don’t think I’ve seen a single cat. Fashion at this time of year is mostly those puffy Michelin Man coats sandwiched between fat scarves and boots. Masks are not a thing.

Another Basquiat

Politics. In recent years, the Austrian Parliament has been lead by a coalition of social democrats, the Green Party, and the centrist People’s Party. But the right is ascendant, leveraging the country’s economic strains to political advantage and spewing the usual anti-immigrant rhetoric. More than 30% of Vienna’s residents of voting age can’t vote because they’re not citizens, so anti-immigrant rhetoric doesn’t present a lot of political risk. I hate reporting that, but I also think young people will ultimately reverse course.

Blue Horse II by Franz Marc, at the Albertina

So hurray for Vienna! I’m on my way to Tunisia.

“And I’ll dance with you in Vienna, I’ll be wearing a river’s disguise. The hyacinth wild on my shoulder my mouth on the dew of your thighs. And I’ll bury my soul in a scrapbook, with the photographs there and the moss. And I’ll yield to the flood of your beauty, my cheap violin, and my cross.”
~ Leonard Cohen

14 comments

  1. Hi Kim. I’m amazed at your travel-ability. Long may you run. I love the Leonard Cohen quote (“dew of your thighs”, Wow!). Have you seen the Vienna Blood series on PBS? I liked it so much Maggie bought me all seven volumes of the books the series is based on and I read them one after another and like the characters’s love of Vienna pastries gobbled them up. It was written by Frank Tallis and I recommend it. One of the main characters is a detective of course and the other a young psychiatrist and early follower of Freud who is alive in the city of Vienna at the time, as was anti-semitism. With their thriving art and culture Viennese in the early 20th century considered themselves the center of the universe. Besides solving crimes together the two main characters, the detective with his trained baritone voice and the young psychiatrist on his piano, play music together, smoke cigars and drink schnapps one evening a week.

  2. What a fine wrap-up Kim! Unsurprisingly (and fortunately) it reveals as much about you as it does Wien. Your perspectives are so dang interesting!

    Long live sausages and beer!!!

    Now I can’t wait to hear about Tunisia….

    1. And as usual your photos are fabulous! They really “work” in your blog posts. I know you must put a lot of thought into which ones to include.

      1. Well, on this post, I would have included photos of the city and the people, but I am just so enamored of the art in Vienna, I hardly took a single photo of anything else!

    1. Thanks Rosaliene! I just arrived in Tunis — hungry — and everything is closed except a convenience store, so I am enjoying my first Tunisian meal of a Snickers bar and potato chips! LOL

  3. Nice summary. Hard to imagine that the thin people there are dining on the classical Austrian food that you describe. All sounds marvelous except no dogs or cats!?!

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