Tag: Austrian Empire

TSOJ: A Trinity of Vienna’s Cathedrals, and Why is Siegfried’s sword so small?

Vienna has some interesting church history, but like most history it is too complicated for me to really understand so let me condense it down a bit for you: The Hapsburg Dynasty was pretty much Catholic and therefore everybody in the Austrian Empire was pretty much Catholic. The Hapsburg Dynasty lasted 800 years and in 800 years you can build some big churches, therefore Vienna has some big churches.

The three churches I went to see on my last day were: Maria Am Gestade, St. Stephen’s/Sephansdom, and Peterskirche. These three churches were all within walking distance (if you did not get lost) and could be seen in a few hours.

The first church was a little one and had an odd name: Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore). The reason that this is an odd name is because the church is several city blocks from the green (not blue at all) Danube. A few hundred years ago the river ran right by the front door of the church and smelled like low tide. (I made the low tide thing up, but I imagine it was damp and smelled, but in the olden days everything smelled worse.)

The interior of Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore).

The interior of Maria Am Gestade (Maria at the Shore).

What I liked about this church was that it was still a working church and when I walked by on Sunday  people were coming out of the service and drinking wine in the little courtyard. (I assume it was Sunday, I lost track of the days about three days into my trip. Iceland will do that to you.) The congregation were having a good time and I thought, “This is my kind of church.” It wasn’t just the wine drinking that interested me, it was that the people were laughing and having fun together. If I’m going to go to church I want to have fun and not get all depressed. The problem with me attending church in any of these Catholic churches is that I would never, ever listen to the sermon. There is far too much stuff to divert focus, I had enough trouble paying attention to my dad in a pretty plain church growing up. Imagine trying to listen to somebody who is nobody’s dad (hopefully) in a church with lots and lots of cool stuff to distract a young man.

Fancy stuff like this would distract me too much.

Fancy stuff like this would distract me too much.

The exterior of Maria at the Shore on the right, but the horse carriage is the real star of this picture.

The exterior of Maria at the Shore on the right, but the horse carriage is the real star of this picture. These horse carriages are all over Vienna and if you want to waste some hard-earned money you should go on one and tell me if it was fun.

After Maria, I walked to Stephansplatz to check out Stephansdom/St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Now before I start harping on Stephansdom let me offer this: All of this information about Stephansdom is my opinion and no fact-checking has taken place.

What I liked about Stephansdom: It was huge. There is a ton of history around the exterior and inside that is worth taking a few hours to see.

What I didn’t like about Stephansdom: If you wanted to see the good stuff on the interior, you had to pay to have a tour-guide walk you around. Sure it was only a few Euros, but I hate when a church gets turned into a money-making tourist attraction. I refuse to pay to see a church for a couple reasons: 1. I am cheap. 2. A tour locks you down and you can’t just wander around. Had I allotted two hours to see Stephansdom I would not have minded but since I was on a tightish schedule I wanted to go in, get a peek at the cool stuff, and then dash off for some lunch. I had a podcast loaded on my iPod and had planned on using it to see the church, but instead I got mad and spent all of my time trying to weasel around the security barring me from getting inside. I was not successful and now I was really hungry.

The short spire at St. Stephen's.

The short spire at St. Stephen’s.

Is this a little too big?

Is this a little too big? Cheapskates on this side of the gate, people with two hours to waste on the other side.

Who would listen to the priest if all this was available to look at?

Who would listen to the priest if all this was available to look at?

The big spire and its fancy roof.

Stepansdom’s big spire and its fancy roof.

I am sure you, Dear Reader, are familiar with the old saying, “Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry.” Well, I would like to add to that, “Don’t eat in a restaurant near Stephansdom when you are really hungry.” There are plenty of places to eat around Stephansplatz and since they are near Stephansplatz they are expensive. I knew this and I knew that I could find a cheaper place to eat by walking around on side streets and finding an out-of-the way spot, the problem was that I got lost and soon found myself just wanting to sit down someplace shady (not shady like crooked, but shady like without direct sunlight).  I saw a Greek Restaurant that met my requirements and grabbed a seat. The waiter came over and I ordered a beer and he suggested a mixed grill. I thought that sounded good so I went with his suggestion without looking at the menu price. (Remember when I wouldn’t pay a few Euros to take a tour of Stephansdom? I was about to pay those Euros and a few more to this shady/crooked Greek restaurant.) You know how the rest of the story works out, I ate the food, I thought it was good, the bill came and my eyes popped out of my head when I saw the big numbers on the bill. I paid the fine for being an idiot and wandered off to Peterskirche.

I was a little mad when I left the restaurant and even considered skipping Peterskirche, but as I walked toward the church I calmed down and let it go. For the most part I had managed my money well and one stupid mistake wasn’t going to ruin Vienna, but I will never eat in a Greek restaurant in Vienna ever again, Mediterranean maybe, but nothing with a blue umbrellas over the tables.

Peterskirche was awesome. It is not the best looking church from the outside, but it is really something on the interior.

The interior of Peterskirche.

The interior of Peterskirche.

Wow! Delivering a sermon from here would make you feel like a big shot.

Wow! Delivering a sermon from here would make you feel like a big shot.

More over the top decor.

Want some action in church? Here you go.

This could distract me for days.

This could distract me for days. The blurred effect is because my hands were still shaking from anger at the Greek restaurant.

Boo Yah!

Boo Yah!

Little three-headed babies carved into the pews. Little three-headed babies carved into the pews.

Well, hello there, Mr. Dead Dude.

Well, hello there, Mr. Dead Dude.

Peterskirche was just the right size…like in the Goldilocks story…and it was free. I found a nice seat near the front and spent about 30  minutes just looking around at all the different items. The shrine to the dead guy still remains a mystery to me. I looked for who he was, but unfortunately the church only had literature in German and even the interwebs could not solve the mystery of who he was. He looks like somebody important and probably did something important, but I guess I will have to leave it up to Dan Brown to make up something devious about the dead dude.

After my trifecta of churches it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for my final night at the opera: Wagner’s Siegfried (part 1, I think). My right heel had been hurting a little and I finally took a peek at what was going on. When I took off my day-glo shoes I noticed my foot was fat and that something odd was going on. My solution was an elegant one, I put on flip-flops and called it good.

My right ankle is usually a dainty number, this swelling concerned me enough to take a picture of it.

My right ankle is usually a dainty number, this swelling concerned me enough to take a picture of it.

I showed up around eight, ate some schnitzel and got ready to be thrilled by Wagner. I had high hopes for this opera. My sister-in-law is a big Wagner fan and The Ring plays in Seattle often enough for even someone as uncultured as me to know about it. I had also seen pictures of the sets for The Ring and was expecting lots of fiery action.  At 9:30 the little lady came out, talked in German for 20 minutes and then gave a two-minute English recap that included some information about the importance of this production from 1976. Well, now my expectations were even higher, a ground-breaking production that was done 35 years ago that is still controversial, this is going to be awesome.

It wasn’t.

It did hold my attention for about two hours though. Here is what was ground-breaking about the performance: it was set in an industrialized age, and the actors were asked to act instead of just singing. The industrial part made the production look dull and grey. I wanted bright colors and dragons…nope. The acting part was something I assumed opera singers had always done…nope. I guess opera before 1976 was more like the old Greek Tragedies where the words implied the action. In this production the guy playing Siegfried did a lot of moving around and shout-singing. The only other guy was some really old dude with a broken sword. Now even I could tell that the sword was a key element to the story and it just so happened that there was a big iron forge sitting in the background of the stage. I was determined to see the forge turned on and working. I was not going to leave until I saw Siegfried fix the sword.

While I was waiting for the sword to be made I got to see Siegfried have a five second wrestling match with a man in the worst bear suit ever (it looked more like a Halloween dog costume) and there was a lot of conflict between the old dude and Siegfried. Eventually, an hour and 45 minutes into the opera, Siegfried fired up the forge and began smashing the old sword pieces together. I was starting to feel like my nearly two hours was about to pay off, and then…Siegfried held up the completed sword and it was about 18 inches long. I mean it. It was like Bilbo Baggins’ sword, and when it comes to swords size really matters. You can tell me all you want that it is how you use the sword, but we all know that a big sword is always better.

Finally some action.

Finally some action.

That was it for me, I could not take it any longer, two hours of build-up for the world’s smallest sword. I got up knowing that I would miss the last bit of the opera and something else would probably happen, but I figured no matter what happened it wouldn’t be as good as walking back to my hotel on my fat ankle.

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TSOJ: Vienna Has Excellent Drinking Water, or Does It?

About 20 minutes into my walking tour of Vienna, I began to think that my tour guide was making stuff up. Not the big stuff about the Hapsburg Dynasty and their 800 years of rule, but the little stuff that only someone a PhD in Austrian History would know. The first “white” lie happened when we stepped into a courtyard in the Jewish section of town. (I have  a much better understanding of European Jewish history than when I left the USA and have learned why older cities have “Jewish Quarters” and how long the Jewish people have been mistreated, but this information will be held back for a later post.) Anyway, back to the “fibbing” tour guide. We were standing in Judenplatz looking that the Jewish Memorial to the 65,000 murdered Austrian Jews. Our guide was doing her best to walk the very narrow tightrope of acknowledging that Hitler was Austrian, that Austria did not do much resisting Germany when it came to WWII, and that “some people did bad things.” These “bad things” included systematically murdering people. I can understand not wanting to be a buzz kill and ruin people’s’ vacations with information like this, but it seemed to me that the guide was glossing over the horror of the Holocaust so I walked away from her mini-lecture to take some pictures of the memorial. She had mentioned that the builders had discovered the original footprint of the Jewish Synagogue in Vienna when building the memorial.  I noticed what appeared to be some long lines carved into the cobblestones of the plaza. To me they looked like the outline of an old building, like what you can see left of the Bastille in Paris if you know to look down instead of up at the little golden boy on the spire.

The Jewish Memorial in Vienna.

The Jewish Memorial in Vienna.

I deleted the picture of the grooves in the cobblestones thinking I had just taken another picture of the ground accidentally. Careful observation of this picture shows some of the pattern caused by "the weather."

I deleted the picture of the grooves in the cobblestones thinking I had just taken another picture of the ground accidentally. Careful observation of this picture shows some of the pattern caused by “the weather.”

I waited for the guide to finish her luke-warm acknowledgement of Austria having been involved in WWII and then I asked, “I noticed these lines carved into the cobblestones. Why are they here?”

“Oh, the weather does that.”

This was not the answer I expected. Actually, I believed it was what I will call a prevarication. The weather in Austria must behave differently than weather in my area because apparently the weather in Vienna includes cobblestone cutting lasers. I decided to let it go, but as you can tell since I am now writing about it, I really didn’t let it go. Everything the guide said from that point on (two and a half more hours) I viewed through the prism of what I still consider a lie.

List of “facts” I didn’t believe during the next 2.5 hours:

1. “Vienna has been ranked #1 since 2009 as the world’s most livable city.” Really? Four years in a row? Nope, not according to my Google search. In 2012, Melbourne, Australia (the place with kangaroos not the land-locked country in Central Europe) was ranked #1. Vienna was #2 and has consistently been ranked near the top, but the San Antonio Spurs would be the NBA champs if we allowed the second place team to claim the #1 status.  I will be the first to admit that some of rankings do have Vienna at #1 and that no American cities appear in the top ten, but that isn’t important. What is important is that I didn’t believe my tour guide.

The Austrian Parliament building, not to be confused with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic.

The Austrian Parliament building, not to be confused with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. The car in the foreground did not hold still for my panoramic picture.

2. “Vienna has the world’s best drinking water.” According to my Google research Vienna is ranked number five in this category. Greenwood, BC has better water than Vienna, but I will admit the drinking water in Vienna is abundant, and good. Vienna does what it can to perpetuate the myth of being the best by encouraging people to drink out of the tap as opposed to buying bottled water. This is a good thing, but it doesn’t make you number 1.

These water stations are sprinkled throughout the city to give access to Vienna's 5th best water in the world.

These water stations are sprinkled throughout the city to give access to Vienna’s 5th best water in the world.

3. “Vienna was once the world’s largest city.” Now I may have misheard this one, she may have claimed that Vienna was once Europe’s largest city, but either way, I don’t believe it. According to my research it might have been the 5th largest city at one point, but never #1. If my guide said, “Vienna was the world’s most important city in 1900,” I would have believed it. The Austrian Empire was big and important, but when it comes to population I don’t believe it was ever the largest city in the world.

4. “Freud drank coffee and invented psychotherapy in that café.” Okay, this one may be true, but I think he probably just drank coffee in the café and did his work at an office like everyone but Hemingway.

5. “Beethoven lived in 80 different apartments during his time in Vienna because he never paid his bills and was a bad tenant.” There is a good deal of truth to this one, but 80 is too high. Most experts on Beethoven’s living quarters (as if there are these people in the world) believe he lived in at least 27 documented locations with some estimates as high as 65. He was a terrible tenant and a bit of a jerk, so he did move a lot.

Beethoven slept here...and there, and there.

Beethoven slept here…and there, and there.

6. “St. Stephan’s cathedral had the tallest church spire in Europe.” Nope, never according to my Wikipedia research. It is the tallest in Austria, might have been the second tallest in Europe at one point, but never the tallest. These are the types of facts I would have swallowed if not for the “Austrian weather includes cobblestone cutting lasers” lie.

Things always look taller when you stand next to them. From France you can barely see this spire.

Things always look taller when you stand next to them. From France you can barely see this spire.

I suppose I should disclose at this point that Vienna was my favorite city to visit on this trip. It really is a wonderful place, it is organized, clean, full of history, and has excellent drinking water, but there are no lasers in the clouds.

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