Despite my taste for food and drink, to which regular readers of my blog will readily attest, it’s the history and culture that is the main attraction in this timeless city, even to a “fresser” like me (its Yiddish; look it up). Our hotel, the Boltzmann Hotel on Boltzmanngasse (street and hotel named after an important 19th century physicist), is in the midst of the University district, the very neighborhood where the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle – philosophers, mathematicians and physicists — laid the foundations for western science.
From the hotel it’s a short walk to the Sigmund Freud Museum, where Freud worked and lived with his family for almost half a century and developed and conducted his “talking therapy,” the core of psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and almost all clinical practice in psychology today.
Except for a few pieces of furniture and a collection of antiques and personal belongings, the museum is essentially empty save for photos of what the rooms used to look like before Freud and his family were forced to leave in 1938 by the Nazis. Although the space is devoid of most of the physical artifacts of his life, the very history of the place and Freud’s powerful psychological presence – especially to those interested in 20th century behavioral science and philosophy — seems to ooze from the walls.
Is there any place more significant than Vienna in the intellectual history and foundations of the 20 Century?
Enough history – it was time to eat. From the Freud Museum we walked to the Naschmarket at the southern edge of the old city. When I was growing up, my mother often urged me, “don’t nasch (snack) between meals or you’ll spoil your dinner.” As I approached the several blocks of food stalls and restaurants offering sausage, strudel, piroscke and other tempting delectables, I could almost hear my mother warning me again about spoiling my dinner. Like then, I ignored her as I snacked my way up and down the rows of the market.Now that I was satiated, or more accurately, stuffed, we headed to the Vienna State Opera for a tour. I’m not an opera/museum/tour kind of guy, but Katherine loved it, and I found it pretty interesting. What I really enjoyed though was sitting outside the opera house and watching a free, live telecast of Wagner’s Lohengrin on a giant screen over the plaza. Apparently this is a Viennese tradition. Again, I’m not an opera kind of guy and Lohengrin, without translation (probably even with translation), is pretty opaque (to say the least), but sitting outside in the approaching dusk, listening to the music and watching people go by was a pretty special experience.But an hour of Lohengrin is enough – inside or outside. We walked around the old city for a while enjoying the stunning cathedrals, wide plazas, classic architecture, cafes, and of course, the food stalls selling pretzels and sausage, then topped off the evening with a concert of Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, Schubert, and Beethoven in the crypt of the church at Peters Platz.Our second day in Vienna was more somber. We spent most of the day at the two Jewish museums in the old city. At the museum in Judenplatz I learned that the persecution and near extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust was only the latest chapter in a dismal history. The museum is spare and severe, reflecting the persecution, exploitation and official murder of Viennese Jews through the centuries, including the wiping out of the Jewish community in 1421 by forced conversion and the burning at the stake of those who refused.
I guess that this is the Yin and Yang of Viennese history – inspiring culture and science against a backdrop of some of the most virulent anti-Semitism in history. Or maybe it’s the other way around – the anti-Semitism is the foreground and the rest is background. I’ll let the historians figure that one out.
Our visit to the museum was poignantly capped with an impromptu concert by a couple of Israeli musicians playing mournful but achingly beautiful music on the plaza in front of the Holocaust memorial outside the museum.The visit to the second museum, in the Palais Eskeles in the Dorotheergasse, was more uplifting. After all of the Sturm and Drang of Viennese Jewish history, the last exhibit on the “Stars of David” provided an entertaining overview of Jewish celebrities in music. In addition to the expected – Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond – the exhibit also included some of my favorite avant-garde jazz musicians including David Krakauer and John Zorn. I spent more than hour listening to taped excerpts of their music at tables in a room designed to look and feel like an old jazz club.
After a day spent walking and standing, we walked back to the hotel. About half way back I felt a sharp pain in my knee. Despite the pain we continued walking. That was stupid!!! That night I couldn’t sleep from the pain and the next day I could barely walk.
The following day was supposed to be the beginning of our six day hiking tour of the Czech Republic.
To be continued….
(Don and Katherine’s hiking tour of the Czech Republic was hosted by REI Adventures)