blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Hannover to Vienna

(Pictures to be added later!)

On July 26th we were up before 6am at our hotel, taking a taxi to Hannover airport (HAJ) for breakfast, and to catch the 08:20 Eurowings / Austrian Airlines flight t ho Vienna. We were just over an hour in the air, pulling into the gate at Vienna airport (VIE) by 9:45. Chris' colleague was sitting in the row behind ours; we'd seen him the evening before, at his Richtfest (completion of new house construction party), sharing barbecued sausages and drinks on his building site at a village called Isernhagen. When we landed in Vienna the three of us shared a taxi into the city. The men left me with our luggage at the Holiday Inn Vienna City on Margaretenstraße, and went away to work.

It was still too early to access a room there, so I asked for a street map, left the luggage at the reception desk, and after exploring the few blocks around the hotel walked in the direction of the city centre (half an hour's walk away), buying a classic Viennese coffee at the Opera House en route. I had to cross the Karlsplatz and the inner ring road (Kärntnerring) before reaching the pedestrian zone. Kärntnerstraße is the main thoroughfare for tourists in the city, far too many of them if you ask me, although I am one and behave like one. My lunch was breaded plaice that looked like Schnitzel, with vinegary, yellow potato salad at the Wienerwald restaurant. In these crowds, I was left unmoved by the interior of the Stephansdom, even though I have heard Schubert's Mass in G performed there in the past (in 1991). The spire is impressive. I ought to have realised, but didn't, that the cathedral was all but destroyed in World War II and rebuilt afterwards, so what I was seeing was effectively a fake cathedral. Horse-drawn coaches were waiting for hire round the back. Baroque residences line the narrow streets, the Gassen, and the squares.

Having got my bearings I returned to the hotel to check in and take a rest in our room. Before Chris was due "home" from work, I had time to visit Schubert's Sterbehaus (the place where he died) on the Kettenbruckengasse, just round the corner from our hotel. It is only open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and even then only for a few hours, so I was lucky to get in. I paid 4 euros; except for the receptionist (with whom I had a long conversation in German) I had the whole place to myself. Schubert lived in this small apartment, in what might now be called a bed-sit, for the last three months of his life, when he was already seriously ill, and perhaps knew it. His room was the only bedroom in his brother's place. Ferdinand Schubert, his wife and four young children shared the other, larger room. Imagine the noise and the squalor. There was no piano there, although Ferdinand acquired one later, having sold some of his brother's posthumous compositions, publishing a Requiem in his own name, for example, which ressembles Mozart's history. Franz Schubert worked on some of his best known works during his three months of suffering, the sublimely profound B-flat piano sonata, for example, and the astonishingly cheerful songs Hirt auf dem Felsen (for which I saw a scribbled sketch of the clarinet part in the middle section) and Taubenpost. Most touching for me was the thought that he also revised Part II of Winterreise here, which Chris and I have been studying for 16 years now. I imagined Schubert trying to concentrate on this work, or gazing out of the third floor window into the street, or seeing the sky from his narrow bed in this narrow room. For the last week of his life he could not eat without vomiting, typhus finally finishing him off, and I saw a letter he'd written to a friend, asking him to please send a few books to read to take his mind off it; he had been enjoying a translation of The Last of the Mohicans, by Fenimore Cooper. He was 31. After his death, his father, an immigrant from Moravia, hoped that Franz and Beethoven could be buried side by side, as they had been friends.

Unfortunately, Chris returned from work too late to see that museum. I also discovered the nearby Naschmarkt before his return and we were both there later, and on the following two mornings. It's a very long street market, with stalls selling fruit and vegetables, nuts, spices, cheap clothing, souvenirs, hot snacks ... not unlike a Chinese street market, in fact. On Saturdays a large area of the market sells "antiques"---becomes a flea market, with an awesome variety of jumble for sale, very old cameras and 100 year old postcards, for instance. The Naschmarkt is surrounded on both long sides by prestigious Viennese buildings with Jugendstil-decorated facades. On Friday night we stood here, after the market stalls had closed and been locked up, with a small crowd of other hopefuls (making friends with someone's little dog), to see if we could view the moon eclipse, but distant thunderclouds got in the way.

A heavy thunderstorm prevented us from meeting Marcus in town on our first evening in Wien. As it eased off we scurried to the Bamboo restaurant a couple of doors down the street, for an Asian buffet supper.

On Friday, Chris was mostly free, so we could explore the city together. On the edge of the Karlsplatz, a big traffic and public transport hub near the opera house, is the Secession building dating from 1898 with its fancy golden dome, a fin de siecle art nouveau (aka Jugendstil) exhibition hall. The artists' credo of those days was freedom of expression --- Der Kunst ihre Freiheit! --- and Wien's most famous artist, Gustav Klimt, was their first president. Nowadays the building is mostly used to showcase contemporary art---we viewed a series of 40 photocopies of a box of tissues, a knot symbolically made of glass and a computer mining for bitcoins!---but in the basement you can still see the Beethovenfries by Klimt, a tribute to Beethoven's 9th Symphony, apparently, although what it had to do with Beethoven I couldn't tell. Beethoven as interpreted by Wagner, actually. I found it peculiar in the extreme. All the figures represented something: suffering humanity (naked), a knight in golden armour, Ambition, Compassion, a Choir of Angels, and on the other wall the feindliche Gewalten, hostile forces, represented by the giant Typhoeus with his staring eyes and his provocatively naked daughters the Gorgons, flanked by Sickness, Madness, Death, Lasciviousness, Wantonness and Intemperance, all female ... I felt it was a rather sexist view, and couldn't take the monster seriously because he looked so like the Gruffalo. We sent a 3-D postcard of his part of the frieze to our grandson Thomas.

Over an outdoor lunch, I rang Mum to wish her a happy 99th birthday the following day. Then to the Mozarthaus, a cut above poor Schubert's bedsit; the Mozarts lived in such style for less than three years, though (1784 to 87). It had a flamboyant ceiling in what was probably the bedroom and we saw the rooms where Mozart had possibly played billiards and had probably held impromptu chamber music performances, but no one can be quite sure. The Marriage of Figaro was composed here. Again, I imagined a composer who gazed out of the windows down the cobbled Gasse with its tall houses, near the cathedral, doubtless a smellier and less tidy street in those days.

We walked as far as the bank of the Donaukanal, passing the Urania planetarium and a permanently moored boat with a public swimming pool and football court on board. Then a long walk back in the blazing sun, through the old Stadtpark with its Joseph Strauß statue and ponds, and recovered from that walk at a table in a cafe near the Karlsplatz. The Baroque Karlskirche, which Sue in Ottawa had recommended I see, was unapproachable with a stage being constructed on its front steps for some sort of amplified evening entertainment.

On Saturday, we spent the day with a real present day resident of Wien, my friend Judith, born and bred here, and I think this had better be the subject of another blogpost.

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