vienna
Thursday, 07 June 2012

My Viennese Whirl

Elizabeth Walters finds the Austrian capital celebrating a BIG anniversary…

Written by Elizabeth Walters
Vienna is in celebratory mood. This monumental city, home to so many of the music and art world's brightest stars, is wishing one of its best-known exports, Gustav Klimt, a happy 150th birthday.

You will have seen his work a million times, on everything from mugs to calendars, but that won't diminish the glitzy beauty of The Kiss, the artist's swirling, gold-flecked painting of a couple enraptured.

A large part of the attraction is its surroundings – the painting hangs in the opulent Belvedere, built by Prince Eugene of Savoy in the 18th century as a summer palace. The Prince liked the finer things in life. He picked the perfect setting for his baroque pile, too, on a vantage point overlooking Vienna.

It is well worth making the short tram ride from the city centre just for the view. You can wander in the formal garden and orangery in summer and see some of Klimt's other well-known paintings, such as the portraits of Johanna Staude and Fritza Riedler. There are also works by Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. Many other galleries are marking Klimt's anniversary, too.

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It would be impossible to tackle every exhibition Vienna has to offer in one weekend. But do make time for the Museums Quartier (MQ) in the hip 7th district. This cultural square, which houses a mixture of converted 18th- and 19th-century buildings and more streamlined architecture, is a good spot to watch the world wander by on a sunny Saturday – particularly from one of the giant plastic chairs.

The Leopold Museum in MQ houses Schiele's strange, tortured works, and there's an exhibition on until August (2012) of Klimt's letters. He wrote over 400 to his lifelong companion (some say muse, while others suggest she was his lover – though the letters don't hint at a sexual relationship) the fashion designer Emilie Flöge.

Emilie not only designed revolutionary (for the time) unstructured garments, she was said to be the world's first model. Klimt photographed her in the summer of 1906 in Attersea wearing a collection of 'hanging dresses'. You can still see where her fashion studio was based on Vienna's popular shopping street, Mariahilfer Strasse, just off the MQ.

Whatever the nature of their relationship, there's no doubt they were a devoted duo. Klimt's intimate telegrams describe everything from the discomforts of travel to what he had for dinner and the travails of his art. 'I am still feeling miserable about my art! I have even more contempt in my heart for the other paintings,' he writes in one letter dated 13 August 1917. He often mentions how much he misses Emilie when either one of them is away: 'I would very much like to have you back again – you runaway,' he writes fondly on 12 January 1917. It's sad to think that our communications, so transient, will never be cherished in the same way.

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A visit to Mozart's house in the centre of old Vienna provides equal colour to the classical genius. He gambled away his fortune and was said to keep a noisy social life in what was a relatively small house. It's not known precisely where he is buried, and scientists have been unable to identify a skull, purported to be his, but St Marx cemetery in the 3rd district offers an elegant memorial to the world-famous musician.

Vienna's Inner Ring is a good place to get stuck into a slice of Sachertorte, the chocolate cake created by the father of the man who founded Hotel Sacher in 1876. Filled with apricot jam (another Viennese delicacy), it is a decadent accompaniment to coffee in one of the city's famous cafes. There are hundreds to choose from, but Cafe Demel has a traditional feel. You can smoke cigars (not cigarettes), and nibble on sweet or savoury treats over a cup of tea or something stronger. There's a chocolate shop too. If you're out late, Conrandesigned cafe Drechsler will keep you going. It is open 23 hours a day (closing only for a quick spruce-up).

During the day Naschmarkt – a hungry-making food market – tempts across the street. One side is devoted to restaurants, the other to gourmet stalls. This is the place to eat fish with the locals, pick up pumpkin-seed oil, a novelty beer or a bunch of tulips. From the market, spot renowned architect Otto Wagner's decorative style on the façade of Linke Wienzeile 38 and 40. Simply look up to see its intricate patterns.

At the other end of the market is the neat, white-crowned Secession Building, constructed in 1897 to house art considered too risqué for the traditional galleries. Decorated with Klimt's work, it bears the plaque, 'To each time its art and each art its freedom.' My guide says the building was used recently as a swingers' nightclub, but it is back on track now, as home to Klimt's Beethoven Frieze and an exhibition hall.

There are cinematic references across the city, from the Ferris wheel (which you can still ride), featured in The Third Man, to Cafe Sperl, where A Dangerous Method, starring Keira Knightley, was shot. William Boyd's latest novel, Waiting For Sunrise, was inspired by Vienna, too; the city of Freud's time.

While Vienna pays homage to this influential period, it is also the master of reinvention. Circus-themed Twenty Five Hours hotel in 7th District opened last year and has a funky rooftop cafe and bar. The surrounding streets are full of studios and contemporary shops, such as the interior specialist Das Möbel.

With so much caffeine from all those coffees swirling around their systems, it's no wonder the Viennese are such an energetic, enterprising bunch. Perhaps I will have that second slice of Sachertorte after all...

 


 

Travel facts

EasyJet flies to Vienna from London – for more details, go to: www.easyjet.com

Find more information about Vienna at: www.vienna.info



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