From grandiose buildings to cultural treasures, Vienna is one cool capital
By David Jenison
The Nazis are on the retreat. With the Allies and Ruskies squeezing them from all sides, the Third Reich has no choice but to abandon Vienna. Before they leave, however, Nazi commander Sepp Dietrich wants to give Europe the middle finger one last time. He fixates on the iconic St. Stephen’s Cathedral and gives the order to “fire a hundred shells and leave it in just debris and ashes.” Captain Gerhard Klinkicht gets the order, but he refuses to fire a single shell at this gothic marvel. History shows there’s not a lot a Nazi wouldn’t do, but these Nazis drew the line here. What a testimony to St. Stephen’s sheer magnificence.
Vienna and Budapest were co-capitals of the prominent Austro-Hungarian Empire, and despite their unity, these dual monarchies showed a competitive drive to out build each other. This rivalry resulted in some of Central Europe’s greatest works, but global conflict could easily have destroyed it all. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand led to the First World War, and considering Hitler started and finished his life in Austria, the country took a pounding in the Second World War as well. Remarkably, most of these grand works survived, and Vienna continues to add more.
The UNESCO-crowned city center features masterpieces like St. Stephen’s, the Hofburg Palace and the Parliament building, and both Beethoven and Mozart called Vienna home. In fact, the latter composer’s house was even turned into the Mozarthaus museum. The city boasts the world’s oldest public zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn (1752), and one of the world’s oldest Ferris wheels, the 200-foot Riesenrad (1897). The Austrian capital also features a wide variety of museums, including a new Museum Quarter.
For all of its grandiose buildings, though, the city is still home to the Toilet of Modern Art and other quirky oddities. The Hundertwasserhaus, for example, is an entire block of apartments and offices featuring uneven floors, two golden onion spires, strangely shaped pillars, glass-enclosed spiral staircases and a kaleidoscope of colors. There are even trees inside the units with limbs stretching out the windows.
Still, the biggest oddity is the city’s dog poop obsession. For example, a popular tourist map features “Dog Shit Blvd” in red ink over a residential street, a doggy-doody park listing and a “heaven for . . . dog shit spotters” description for Danube Island. Always with the scoop, the Poop Report (poopreport.com) tells how 157,000 signatures hit city hall demanding tougher turd-related penalties, which led one politician to suggest DNA testing the Lassie logs. Activists then called on people to (real quote alert) “count the number of Vienna sausages they see in the space of five minutes” and send the data to the city. Finally, when a man accidentally killed his neighbor over a doggy dropping, the city enacted stricter fines and placed baggie dispensers in public areas.
And when you get thirsty, definitely note that the city’s famous water comes from the Alps, and since Wein is the German word for Vienna, you might frightfully discover you’re drinking a bottle of Weiner Water. Don’t worry, it’s just H2O, but definitely skip the “drinking weiner water” status update on your Facebook page. Your parents are worried enough already.