Oh, Vienna!: The Remains of the Empire on the beautiful blue Danube

We take you to the centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – to the “carstvujuščij grad of Viena“, as we used to call it once upon a time

Text: Žikica Milošević

We will repeat it once again: there is a big, big difference between ordinary capitals, “usually beautiful” cities, which were built exclusively by their own money, and those cities that were centres of vast empires, and which are desirous of expressing imperial or royal power, bragging with the capital’s dignity, built usually with the slight help of the sweat of the conquered peoples. The first group includes many cities; the other includes just the privileged. And among them is the ancestral capital of the Habsburg empire, black and yellow empire, or, if you will, K. und K. (Kaiser und König – “The Emperor and the King“) monarchy, Vienna. Vienna, in essence, is an exception in the Germanic world: it is too lavish, too cheerful, too elegant, too cosmopolitan. Too much in the rhythm of waltz, with too much love for wine, artists, painters, musicians and poets. And too multiethnic. No wonder that some of the most important villains never liked it. But many did not like Vienna: for example, the Swiss, in their parsimony, precision and barren Protestantism. Many older memories of our fellow citizens, spoken or written, will give us such a good picture of cheerful capital of Austria, the merriest Germanic city in the world, which only we, Croats and Hungarians call Beč (Bécs). Well, let’s go through a little bit of history.

The Home of the Great

Vienna waslike half of Europe, after all (including Belgrade), founded by the Celts, and they called it Vindomnia. It was strategically located, with the Danube in the east, forests in the north and west, and a small tributary of the Danube in the south. Later it was conquered by the Romans, and used it as a fortress against the Germans, Teutons. But as the climate then was cooler, and the fledgling armored Romans were not very comfortable in the woods of Noricum. We remember the Roman officer called Maximus, in the interpretation of the Oscar winner Russell Crowe, who close to Vindobona (Vienna in Latin) exclaims winning “Roma victor!” (“Rome the winner!”). Vienna was governed by the Babenburg family until 1246, when it was replaced Habsburg family, who will remain in office for 6 and a half centuries!

East Habsburg empire will be fixed on the Sava and Danube rivers, forming a civilisation that has been driven by Germanic Catholicism, but is essentially a stunning mix of peoples and cultures. They say that during the second siege of Vienna in 1683, remained a “souvenir” from the Turks – the strange beverage that kept the Turks awake, and was called “coffee”. Since then, coffee plays a major role in the life of the Viennese, particularly in the form known as “melange”, which is actually a mixture of coffee and creamy milk. The frenetic reconstruction of Vienna after the liberation from the Turks, which left a large part of Central Europe how it looks today, left us with the Viennese magnificent, and made the recognisable baroque face of this sophisticated city. But the biggest rise of the Empire was recorded at the time of Maria Theresa and her son Joseph II, when the buildings such as castles Schönbrunn, Hofburg and Belvedere were built, making them landmarks of the imperial city. Of course, most of the buildings had to be light-amber colour, because it was the favourite colour of the Empress Maria Theresa.

But it is not only the Empire we have to take a look at. It is also the period of Austrian Republic that left some magnificent trails on the face of the city. The era of social democracy after World War I was marked the name “Red Vienna” (“Rotes Wien”), when the impressive building apartment complexes, such as Karl-Marx-Hof, which contained then unimaginable 1,325 apartments, were built. This is still one of the attractions of the Austrian capital.


St Stephen Square is certainly not part of the imperial legacy “in the narrow sense” of the word. Gothic in its structure, St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) is monumental in every respect. Both inside and out. Stained glass windows, altars, ribs… It’s really elegant in the mediaeval, mystical way, in contrast to the baroque and classicism that ornate the other Imperial legacy. It’s hard to catch in by camera, that’s how big it is. On the Stephansplatz there are many charming shops and cafes, but of course, the most striking – carriages, called fiakers. If you’re in the money, then it is “a must”, as a gondola in Venice, or a retro or black taxi in London – take a ride, and feel for a the moment the bygone world of 85 years ago… In which the men greeted women with “I kiss your hands!”, and where the meetings were secret, and the hand of a loved one was asked from her father to ask…

Let’s go to the promenade along the main street of Vienna, Graben. Walking down the Kohlmarkt (“Coal Market”), where standing Viennese drinking their glass of wine after work, with a laugh, we reach the impressive Hofburg. Imperial Vienna had its epicentre right here, in the house of Habsburg. Hofburg is, in fact, the entire complex of buildings and gardens. Two identical buildings of Natural History (Naturhistorisches Museum) and the Art Museum (Kunshistorisches Museum). Between them, in the garden, sitting with dignity on the throne, Maria Theresa (whose name Subotica wore until 1918) is“looking at her subjects” including us!. Austrians were known as lovers of greenery. Hence the massive parks full of paths and greenery throughout the city. City Park (Stadtpark) is one of them, and they say the Danube and Novi Sad is modelled after it; because the Austrians wanted more than anything to be “cloned” in all the conquered areas, and transfer all their culture, making them the Austrians by culture. In many ways, they succeeded. There is a monument of Johann Strauss in the middle, who was “caught” while playing his famous waltz-violin.

Needless to say that the castle Schönbrunn (literally: “Beautiful wells“) is under the protection of UNESCO? Palaces and parks around it are definitely a “door” to enter a new world; ie. The old world: the world of the imperial dignity in the world of monumentality, intrigue, luxury, conspiracy… This is definitely a jewel of Baroque culture, for which you will need a whole day to visit! Learn about the royal family, the beautiful princess Sissi, who loved more Hungarians than the Austrians, the baroque Counter-Reformation, which wanted to capture the hearts of believers by splendour… Take a walk to the Neptune fountain and monument of victory, Gloriette, enjoy the greenery and watch people nonchalantly jogging. Let’s go now to the other end of town, which is only geographically distant, but it is the logical next step, the Belvedere Castle… During 1714, the Austrian general Prince Eugene of Savoy, after winning campaigns against the Ottomans, ordered the construction of the palace. In 1752, Maria Theresa purchased the building, his summer residence was made an “imperial and royal picture gallery”, and became the “godmother” of the building, which has since been called the “Belvedere”. Since 1781, the collection was opened to the public, but what is interesting is that the palace served as the shelter for French royal family, after their revolution. At least for the survivors… Near the Belvedere there is a church dedicated to Saint Charles, Karlskirche, great baroque building. You should not miss thebuildings in the Art Nouveau style, such as subway, tram stations and, in particular – a masterpiece of the Viennese secession – the so-called Sezession House, which stands at the same level to that in which its standing Hungarian or Parisian counterparts… the level of mastery of architecture and decorations!


At the corner of Vienna’s streets of Kegelgasse and Löwengasse, there is one of the newer Viennese “miracles“: the famous Hundertwasser House, the counterpart of the Barcelona houses designed by Gaudí. Viennese artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 2000). Was a bitter opponent of massively built and poorly designed “modern” residential buildings; was a fan of vibrancy, and protector of the environment. He felt that such a modern buildings can only make a man tired man reduce the creativity and the joy of those who live in them, and they can be an eyesore for those who just pass by and take a glimps of the modern monstrosities. In a word, it was like Antoni Gaudí, he was a lover of uniqueness and playfulness… The city government of Vienna offered him the project of construction of the building, at the end of the 70s. Hundertwasser came out with the first redesign of the project, and later the money and new project just poored in, after the enormous success of this house… The result is fantastic: individuality is top notch. Every door and every window are different, each apartment has a different colour, as well as the façade and decorations. The tenants ar allowed complete freedom to redesign anything. The façade is a real “patchwork” of colours, shapes and mosaics. The building contains trees that grow in small apartments filled with earth! Hundertwasser has always stressed that these trees can provide shade and peace and tenantsand the whole building looks like a part of the landscape, when viewed from the air, because it is the roof that is “covered” by trees. The “ordinary residents” like you and me live in it, not some “special” privileged people. Unless we think that living here is a privilege, which, of course, it is. It is a great tourist attraction and tourists literally flock to this place, and the small shops and cafes that are in it are flooded with visitors.

So, once you see Vienna, you will understand the title of the text, which is an exclamation of the eponymous Ultravox new wave hit. Vienna deserves every minute and every sigh.



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