Goodnight, Vienna

Here I am, heading back to Frankfurt then Brussels, passing snow-dusted fields and hills, after three full days in Vienna. It feels good to have big views again, and even better to have spotted a couple of deer in a field. Without being high-rise, all those Viennese apartment blocks gave me a sense of being hemmed-in, even as I admired the communality, compactness and rational use of space. And the public transport system is excellent – I did enjoy using the trams in particular. But all that dull, flat render on the postwar blocks is depressing.

It was an interesting and enjoyable stay (Apfelstrudel, Grüner Veltliner . . .), and I feel as if I have learned a lot. I read Zweig’s The Post Office Girl (set in 1926) on my way here, and I felt I understood the background to the building of those communal apartment blocks: the alleviation of over-crowding and poor living conditions. (There are plenty of rough sleepers and beggars again today.) At the same time, there were growing ideological gaps . . . and plenty of weapons, some left over from the war (witness the 1934 February uprising and quashing). Perhaps there are comparisons today, with a nationalist chancellor and a liberal greenish president.

It seemed odd to me that the square next to my regular café (Prückel) is still called the Dr-Karl-Lueger-Platz (albeit with a plaque calling him out). I only knew of him as a populist and anti-Semite, but I see that he did transform Vienna and provide important infrastructure until his death in 1910.

As for the hotel – well, I liked it because it was well-run and my room had a view over the Stadtpark, but such “international” hotels are far less heterogeneous or classy than might be expected. They’re a far cry from the 1960s when (I imagine – but what do I know?) you’d have Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton staying in the suite next to the Aga Khan or minor royalty. They’ve been homogenised and democratised. Now they’re full of groups of Chinese tourists, businesspeople whose lingua franca is English, some Russians . . . and me. (How did everyone – myself included – get to be able to afford to stay there?) I do my best to be European, but I betray myself constantly and nobody speaks German to me once I’ve opened my mouth. I think that’s why I’m happy to go to out-of-the-way areas and take my chances with the Viennese accent and looking out of place.

PS   The snow is much deeper now in Bavaria, and I can clearly see the outline of several deer against the white background.

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