Monday, 30 July 2018

Vienna Summer 2018

Otto Wagner's
Die Zeit Telegraph Office facade (1985 reconstruction)

It was more than 30 years since I'd walked the streets of Vienna.  Back then, in the space of a couple of hours we went from a balmy autumn London in October to grau winter in the Viennese capital.
Over three freezing days we layered-up in every stitch of clothing we had.  The streets were eerily quiet, making it very easy to conjure up the feeling that Harry Lime was watching from that shadowy baroque doorway (you must have read, or seen, The Third Man).  Vienna was a city at the intersection of East and West Europe - the Berlin wall had not yet fallen.


We walked the, what seemed to us, melancholy streets, ducking into churches, admiring the Baroque beauty along with the Juendstil (Art Nouveau) Modernism.  We took brisk walks in the freezing landscapes of the central Stadtpark and crossed town to Vienna's south eastern reaches to find the 
Schönbrunn, which was closed!  The roasted chestnut sellers were a godsend.  The hot, blistered  nuts bought to bury deep into our coat pockets to warm frost-nipped fingers until we could dive into a coffee house for Kaffe und Kuchen (Demel was our favourite).  The atmosphere may have exuded an air of mournfulness but the art on the walls of Vienna’s galleries dazzled.  Cash was tight. Anything that was free-to-see was seized upon.  The vibrant eroticism of Gustav Klimt’s portraits and friezes and Egon Schiele’s challenging and, sometimes, disturbing, body of work made a big impression.   Now we were back, this time in high summer, wondering whether that air of Traurigkeit (mournfulness) was real or all down to the weather.  

Vienna Secession

The draw this summer was the art as 2018 is an important anniversary year in the artistic history of Vienna.  It's 100 years since Klimt died of Pneumonia, to be followed 8 months later by Schiele who succumbed to Spanish Flu at the age of 28.  Between those losses, Otto Wagner - architect, urban planner, teacher - who took Vienna's architecture into the Modernist era, died.  All three were members of the revolutionary artist's association, Vienna Secession.  Like other European secessionist group, members sought to separate themselves from the art of the past and it was closely linked with art nouveau or jugendstil.  So, what better place to start than to create their own exhibition space - the Vienna Secession, Association of Visual Arts.  Though, on this visit, the outside was the nearest I was able to get to this decorative beauty close to Karlsplatz.  It was designed by one of the co-founders of Vienna Secession, Josef Olbrich.  Inside, Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze is the big draw but there is a constantly changing programme of modern-day artists' exhibitions.
Osterreichische Postparkasse (Austrian Savings Bank)

Next the Wien Museum, the venue for the Otto Wagner jubilee exhibition (until 7 October 2018).  Spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, Wagner's visionary designs offered a clear break from the past. For many defenders of the past, his modernist ideas which incorporated new building materials were too radical and many of his projects remained unrealised.

Osterreichische Postparkasse (Austrian Savings Bank)

Even if you don't make it to the Wien Museum exhibition, don't skip wandering into the Austrian Postal Savings Bank - Osterreichische Postparkasse - Wagner's most modern and important work.  Every detail bears Otto Wagner's hand, from door handles to counters to stools, lighting and clocks and were designed around his principle "What is impractical can never be beautiful".  Simply stunning.  

Kneeling female in orange dress
1010, Egon Schiele

The Leopold Museum was hosting the Egon Schiele: The Jubilee Show (until 4 November 2018).  Schiele is the central artist of the Leopold's collection so, as I had hoped, this exhibition was the most comprehensive collection of the artist's work I've ever seen.  So hard to choose just one photo to illustrate this visit.

Portrait of an old man
c1896, Gustav Klimt

The Leopold Museum was also the venue for Gustav Klimt: Artist of the Century (until 4 November 2018).  The chance to see a Gustav Klimt exhibition is never something I would pass up, but I think my appreciation of this one suffered from having seen the fantastic Schiele exhibition first.  Damn it, we didn't make it to the Belvedere on this trip, nor the Albertina.  You really should!

Florentina Pakosta
at The Albertina, Vienna

Time for a drink and something to eat.  A cocktail at Loos American Bar, of course.  But before the drink, there's the architect.  Adolf Loos,  designed this small, stylish, fin de siècle bar with his uncompromising commitment to lack of ornamentation.  Everything had to be economic, practical and functional in his work - views that were at odds with the Secessionists.  Mahogany, marble and onyx were used to great effect.  Loos's modernist works would influence Le Corbusier and Mies van de Rohe.  And the cocktails?  A Corpse Reviver No.2 and a Blackthorn English were fine.  As you can imagine, absolutely everyone from Sigmund Freud to Egon Schiele have crossed the threshold of Loosbar.  I wonder what they'd make of it now?  Got to say I was not taken with the invitation to "Lady Drinks" on Sundays!

Apple Strudel
at Meieiri, Vienna

Our food memories of Vienna were of the traditional rib-sticking Austro-Hungarian variety - nothing wrong with that, especially in winter.  There was Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz, and a glorious Goulash.  Had much changed on the food front? We arrived just in time for a late lunch at Meierei in the centre of Stadtpark and ate Goulash followed by Apfelstrudel for old time's sake. Meltingly tender beef in a sticky, lip-smacking sauce cut by sweet-sour pickled vegetables.  A fresh from the oven slice of Apple Strudel with the lightest vanilla sauce.  Huge windows open out onto the terrace where tables are set in fine weather.  With only the footpath above the Wienfluss between you and views over the park, it's a lovely oasis of calm in the city.  We didn't eat at its ** Michelin sister restaurant Steirereck alongside but I'm assured it's well worth the price.  The restaurants share an impressive cheese cave where 140 varieties of cheese - though mysteriously only one British example - await the dedicated europhile.

Confit fillet of Arctic Char
at MAST, Vienna

For dinner we took the Metro north to Friendensbrucke station to eat at Mast Weinbistro - so good we ate there twice.  This natural wine bar and bistro was perfect when you tire of the hearty traditional.  Though a dish of Smoked Pork and sauerkraut was on offer and happily eaten, as was the Stewed pork belly, chanterelles and green beans - the lightness of touch to both was much appreciated.  A Confit fillet of Arctic Char, bell pepper and zucchini was given zest by a little preserved lemon and a light cream basil emulsion.  The spicy notes of the basil and salt/sour of the lemon bringing just enough flavour and interest to not overpower the delicate fish.    Small plates of Mushrooms, peas, chicken skin and basil and Turnip, lentil humus and sesame were ideal with the excellent bread and raw milk butter to start.  The bread is bought in from Offerl a backerei an hour north of Vienna where the baker George Offerl made the excellent decision to take the family bakery back in time.  It ticks all the right boxes: organic ingredients, rare grains, handmade and most of all the breads taste fantastic.  You won't find this bread in many places in Vienna.  There was a particularly notable bottle of Weingutwerlitsch Ex Vero I but all the natural wines were good.  Here you can also taste roasts from Jonas Reindl's coffee - not supplied to just anyone in Vienna.  We didn't get to Jonas Rendl's own coffee bar but it would be a must for any future visit.

Elsewhere we were reminded of the joys of a simple bowl of beef consommé with shredded pancake and a plate of white asparagus with boiled potatoes and hollandaise but we searched in vain for a slice of Dobos Torte (cake) even in Cafe Central.  And, yes, we did return to Demel for kaffe und kuchen and, inevitably, found it not to be the haven we remembered but don't let that stop you.

Croissants and hot chocolate
at Paremi, Vienna

Parémi on Backerstrasse is a French style Boulangerie, Patisserie which became our favourite breakfast spot on this visit.  The young owners, Patricia and Remi have the baking and the service completely spot-on and it's a lovely, friendly place.  The pastries are outstanding and I can recommend the croissants with hot chocolate.  The patisserie tastes every bit as good as it looks and it was no surprise to learn that Pierre Hermé is a hero.  If you want more ceremony over breakfast, Meierei can provide it.

The Jesuit Church
There's St Stephens Cathedral to see, of course, with its fantastically tiled roof but 
Vienna has a copious number of churches, many decorated in elaborate baroque style.  The Jesuit Church at Dr Ignaz Seipel Platz may look plain from the outside but the interior is anything but.  Extravagantly ornate decoration in jade green, pearly pink, blood red and gold awaits.  And church music is still something easily found in Vienna.  


Green spaces are always a necessity, for me, in cities.  In Vienna, apart from Stadtpark, which we found ourselves cutting through often, there is Schönbrunn Palace - the Palmenhaus in the park in particular. And the Gartenpalais Liechtenstein - if you remember to book ahead for a guided tour, there is the Palais Liechtenstein there too - the walking route to which was where I found the deliciously decaying stretch of street (on Liechtensteinstrasse) in the photo above.  


So, was there still a cloak of Traurigkeit hanging over Vienna?  Maybe, after all, long summer days was all it took to lift the mantle.  The atmosphere was positively heiter

The book to take: Vienna, A Traveller's Literary Companion edited by Donald G. Daviau
A book that encourages a slow stroll.