Wherein DF travels to Mitteleuropa and recounts his merrie adventures to his adoring broad readership.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Vienna top 5 best

Straight to the music, Brod R:

Top five best things about Vienna (reverse order):

5. Wiener schnitzel. The idea is simple, and really kind of gross: you get a pork or veal cutlet, pound the living shite out of it so it's so flat you cant even see it sideways, then you bread it, then you fry it, and then serve it up with some pommes frites (which, though french for fries, is what they're called in German-speaking countries too). Especially when you include the de rigeur mug of beer, the ways in which this meal is unhealthy simply boggle the mind. The meat (which, because its veal, has unsavory moral connotations as well), the breading, the frying, the carbs, the total lack of anything vegetable (potatoes are tubers, not vegetables, right? some horticulturalist member of the BR is sure to excoriate me for that one). Yet the sheer badness of the meal is what makes it so good. I'd never let myself eat anythng like it in the states, and when you think about it, its really just the Germanic equivalent of chicken fried steak, but oh brother is it good. Schnitzelwirt Schmidt on the Neubaugasse is the place to be for it in Vienna, if youre ever there.

4. The Burgkino. This Ringstrasse movie theater is just another theater (though like many eurotheaters you can get beer there, which I thought of doing just for noveltys sake but didnt because I thought it would put me to sleep), except that it shows The Third Man several times weekly. Id never seen it, and knew the movie only as the one that proved that Orson Welles wasnt a one-hit wonder, but it was pretty damn good: an olde tymey flick with a creamy center of taut intrigue surrounded by a candy shell of love triangle and wrapped in much post-war Viennese atmosphere. The latter is probably what made it memorable. 3d Man is the Vienna movie (though Before Sunrise is a close second), and it draws a decent crowd at the Burgkino, even fifty years after it was made, even at Midnight on a weekday. (And its a great source of historical trivia: did you know that after WWII Vienna, like Berlin, was divided up into four sectors governed by each of the prevailing powers?)

3. Post-imperial grandeur. Many people I know who have visited Vienna feel its not what they expected because the things that used to make the city vital have faded. True that: the Hapsburg Emperor has been replaced by a democratic goverment that is just barely holding off the forces of neoNazism, and the fin de siecle intellectual ferment has given way to a legacy of Falco (you all remember "Rock Me, Amadeus," eh B.R.?) and--no, Falco is pretty much it. So I get the point that Vienna isn't as grand as it used to be. But I think the faded grandeur is just the appeal. Theres a certain tragic spirit to the city because of the powerful sense of what used to be there. The Hofburg Palace, the great squares and monuments to Holy Roman Emperors are all still there, but Austria is--as some wag put it in 1918 after the Treaty of Versailles--"a country no one wanted": just the rump of a now fallen empire, lacking any kind of ethnic history, granted nationhood mainly because Germany couldnt be trusted with that much territory. In Hungary there is a Magyar phrase for the same idea of lost national greatness, something like "patriotic sadness", though I am not sure that works because Austria was never the same kind of nation that many of the once great Central European countries (Poland, Hungary, Bohemia) are. But I go on.

2. Art onslaught. The art in the city is so good, and there is so much of it, that its kind of hard to figure out what to do with it all. Im used to museums in the US where you see a handful of great things and then youre done. You can see the good stuff at the national gallery in DC in thirty minutes, and its a quality collection by american standards. In Vienna, the collections are so dense with great, famous work that you can really only do one a day. I did the Albertina ("from Goya to Picasso" exhibit, plus selections from the Hapsburg collection and a restrospective on Mondrian), then the Leopold Museum (definitive collection on the Vienna fin de siecle expressionists and thereafter), then I surrendered. This much art could kill a man. Beware art!!!

1. Languor. Its hard for me to explain this one. Basically, in Vienna, sitting in a cafe for hours on end, lazing about, reading a book, talking to a friend, and/or having a coffee is an institution, and a marvelously pleasurable experience. Somehow it doesnt work for me in the US. Cafes always seem like nervous places, full of busy people refueling on caffeine, getting some more work done before that meeting, or otherwise working. The BR knows I love doing nothing, but in the US I feel guilty about it, like doing nothing is always vaguely wrong because theres something else I should be doing. By contrast, in Vienna, doing nothing is something people do, and it thus fits nicely into ones day, without the pall of guilt about its being stolen time. Cafe Sperl just off the Ringstrasse is the place for it. Coffee (or tea) is pricey but well worth the expense to laze about in a city that has perfected the art of the laze.