Four Days in Vienna and One Book

Vienna viewReaders of a certain age may remember Midge Ure moodily singing ‘Vienna’ on Top of the Pops way back when. So embedded in our consciousness did it become for H and me that whenever one says ‘it means nothing to me’ the other pipes up ‘Oh, Vienna’. We both managed to keep it under control on our hols but H failed miserably with the other inevitable earworm, zithering away under his breath just loud enough for me to catch it now and again. I spotted The Third Man playing at one of the many cinemas we walked past as I’m pretty sure it always is somewhere in the city.

Vienna seemed like an extension of last summer’s Baltic jaunt in a way, inhabiting as it does that area nineteenth century Germans called Mitteleuropa. After what felt like months of rain in the UK we were looking forward to a bit of chilly, snowy weather which is just what we got on the first day when we strode out along the Ringstrasse for breakfast. Much of our four days were spent on this horseshoe of streets stuffed full of imposing architecture. Vienna is very much the grand imperial city, looking back on its past glories rather than forwards. We were both struck by how conservative it felt, very different from Berlin. It’s also a city famous for its café culture – politicos and intellectuals pontificating about the world. Truth be told, we were more interested in cake than pontificating although we did do a bit of that. Whenever you walk into a Viennese café the first thing you see is an array of distractingly delectable cakes, impossible to resist and pointless to try. Our favourite was Cafe Central, a temple of delight with its lovely arched ceiling and enough history to have its own Wikipedia entry.

When not eating cake, looking up at art nouveau embellishments or the ubiquitous Hapsburg double-headed eagles and trying to avoid earworms we were visiting museums the best of which for me was Secession named after the movement, co-founded by Gustav Klimt, whichSecession designed it. The Vienna Secession was akin to Britain’s Arts and Crafts Movement, turning its back firmly on the art establishment and its obsession with the past. It’s a lovely building, crowned by a globe of golden laurels and gorgeously decorated on the outside. Unsurprisingly it was greeted with horror by the Viennese bourgeoisie when it was first built. Now it houses Klimt’s beautiful frieze, inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. MAK, Vienna’s equivalent to the V&A, was my other favourite with its delicately painted arched ceilings, somewhat marred by the giant inflatable figures squatting in the entrance hall as part of an installation. Great café, though! Our last day was bright and sunny so we headed for Palmenhaus – a bit like having your lunch in one of Kew’s glasshouses – and very fine it was, too. Our final stop was the Central for hot chocolate and cake, surely the only way to finish a Viennese holiday.

Me and KaminskiAppropriately enough, my favourite holiday book turned out to be by a Viennese native, Daniel Kehlmann’s Me and Kaminski translated by the late great Carol Brown Janeway. It’s a smart, very funny novel which lampoons both the worlds of art and journalism with its story of Sebastian Zöllner, an arrogant, vain whippersnapper of an art critic hoping to make his name by writing the biography of Manuel Kaminksi, once the protégé of Matisse, now ageing and blind. Kehlmann takes us on a road trip in search of Kaminski’s lost love in which Zöllner manipulates, cons and lies to all and sundry only to be outdone at his own game. Excellent!

Back to real life now with all its attendant chores. Missing those breaks for kaffee und kuchen, particularly the kuchen.

31 thoughts on “Four Days in Vienna and One Book”

  1. So pleased you enjoyed your Viennese break! In spite of its conservatism and bourgeois spirit, it’s still such a beautiful town (and yes, impossible to resist those cakes).

    1. It was just what we needed, Marina, and feels like a continuation of our exploration of parts of Europe we’ve never been. I have Romania in my sights! But maybe Hungary first, not sure.

  2. I’m envious you got snow. I was in Vienna this time last year and was so disappointed to find not even a flake. This is a city that surely comes alive in the snow?

    1. Ah well, there wasn’t much of it – unlike our Berlin trip a few years back – but, you’re right, it was enough to make the city feel atmospheric. Like us, I think they’ve had a comparatively mild winter.

  3. Ah yes… that inevitable but lovely earworm springs to mind immediately (confess I had a little thing for MU back in the day) – so not a bad backdrop for a lovely post; sounds like you had a perfect time & I love the sound of Me & Kaminski… almost as much as the sound of the cake! Great you had such a good time x

    1. Thanks, Poppy! I was amazed to see what he was wearing in the YouTube clip I picked. I felt I should have searched for the moody, looking over the Danube video but his outfit was so extraordinary that I had to link to that one! I can thoroughly recommend the Kehlmann, and it’s a novella so right up your alley.

  4. Your break sounds wonderful. I visited Vienna last summer and also adored Cafe Central (oh the literary/arty history!). It’s a beautiful place and I will definitely return. Great post.

    1. Thanks, Ellie. I hope I brought back a few memories of your trip for you. I imagine it’s a very different place in the summer – lots of green space.

  5. I absolutely loved Daniel Kehlmann’s F and need to get to his other novels. My husband and I are planning on a long train trip through Europe this late spring or summer, taking in Sweden and Germany to stay with friends. Perhaps Vienna should be on the agenda!

    1. They’re all very different but each of them excellent in their own way, I think. That sounds like a great trip, Rebecca. It’s such an interesting part of the world. I feel quite envious!

          1. We head off on Thursday, but we’re doing Brussels, Freiburg (Germany), Thun and Lavin (Switzerland) and Werfen first. Vienna is the last stop. I’m also packing John Irving’s Setting Free the Bears.

          2. Susan Osborne

            That sounds like a great trip. We’re off to Berlin in September then wandering around central Europe by train before flying back from Vienna – the wonders of Easyjet! Have a lovely time and a little slice of cake for me in one of those elegant Viennese cafes.

  6. I had the single of Vienna so all I need now is to visit the city. I’ve heard lots of great things about it and enjoyed your post too. I watched Travel Man last week featuring Vienna and it made me keen to go so maybe 2016 is the year I’ll finally tick it off on my city break wish list.

  7. Aah Vienna. I found I had to embrace the Third Man, there was no avoiding it. But I also loved the music (even the fake Mozarts that hover outside the Opera House!).
    But Thank you for the recommendation of a book for my next visit. I got rather hooked on the Judenplatz for my blog on my last visit.
    Caroline (Bookword)

    1. I’m sure we’ll be digging out the DVD sometime soon, Caroline! No fake Mozarts for our visit although rather astonishingly a somewhat embarrassed one approached us in the airport shop trying to sell us chocolate.

    1. It was lovely, Cleo. I love to sing, too, but seem to have developed a tendency to earworms with just the one tune grabbing me in a pincer-like grip!

  8. The Bears are very good at both pontificating and eating cake and are more than happy to give you lessons in how to do both at the same time as long as you provide the cake! I, in the meantime will be reading the Kehlmann which sounds really interesting.

    1. They’re bears after my own heart, Alex, although we’d have to manage not to squabble over the cake! I’ve passed the Kehlmann on to H who is enjoying it very much, so that’s two satisfied customers.

  9. I’m glad you enjoyed your Viennese jaunt, Susan. I would love to visit the city at some point – one day. Daniel Kehlmann’s name keeps popping up across a number of the bogs I follow so I’ll have to give him a go. Me and Kaminski sounds great fun, perfect holiday reading!

  10. It sounds like you had a lovely trip. 🙂
    And, I have come out of this post with two more of Kehlman’s books on my list. Sometime this year I’m hoping to read his Measuring the World, but this one and F sound great, too!

    1. It was great, Naomi! Just what was needed to break up a very dull, damp winter. I’d highly recommend Kehlmann’s novels. There can’t be many writers who can make the story of two eighteenth century mathematicians funny, but he manages it.

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