“Forgoing the obvious music and art references for which Vienna (and indeed Austria) is world famous, to walk through Vienna is to pass back through time, an era where village ‘curtain-twitcher’ culture exists hand-in-hand with a more modern, technological city pulse.”
Passing Palais after identical Palais from Passau to Bratislava, Austria certainly sets the style for architectural design amongst its annexed neighbours. The Hapsburgs once monopolised this vast swath of Europe; from Spain to Romania the empire built grandiose stone-hewn structures to celebrate their nobility and dominance, just cycle the Danube and you’ll see what I mean. By European standards the Hapsburgs were the alpha-males of empirical tact, expanding and conquering with all the finesse of professional Risk players. The empire however (as empires so often prove) could not stand up to the tests of time and after brief resurgences in the mid-18th and early-20th centuries, effectively withdrew from their sprawling empirical roots to settle in a musical bubble of historical reminiscence. With wine. Lots of wine.
Forgoing the obvious music and art references for which Vienna (and indeed Austria) is world famous, to walk through Vienna is to pass back through time, an era where village ‘curtain-twitcher’ culture exists hand-in-hand with a more modern, technological city pulse. One can find themselves standing in the shadows of awe-inspiring panelled Cathedral roofs, at the base of monolithic Romanesque churches, in the doorways of cream-stone governmental structures that cast imposing scars on the landscape. But turn a corner from these hot spots, away from the brash camera-toting tourists and hordes of Black Mirror cultists, and one finds the cobble stoned streets lined with bustling wooden-decked tabacs and salons, pokey red-leathered wine bars spilling smoke and wine from their slightly ajar single windows, whilst overpriced antiques’ stores harbour skeletal remains from Austria’s shady past and share prime shop frontage with the latest McShark and Spar Gourmet. Vienna is certainly a fascinating European city to explore on foot, but treat yourself to a tram ride in an original 1970s High Floor tramcar (Type E1) and you really have travelled back in time. The #1 to and from Prater Hauptallee is arguably my favourite, whilst other routes to Grinzing and Baden come in close behind.
From a social perspective, the daily routine in Vienna is just that; routine. Public transport runs like clockwork, refuse is collected frequently and on-time, the streets are clean, the air is fresh, and the water the cleanest in the world. Or so I’m repeatedly told by the locals. The city consistently tops-trumps in global leader boards for standards of living, perhaps even offering a lifestyle for which there is no ‘better’ alternative. But dig deeper and one finds an all too familiar elitist conservatism nurturing nationalist idealism, born, no doubt, from historical pride and, indeed, failure. Racism is arguably rife amongst certain strands of the city hordes, propelled and fuelled by meddling far-right fear mongers spreading questionable vitriolic monologues throughout all seams of society. Being British, I’m no stranger to this type of political propaganda, I’m fairly sure our politicians invented it, and with daily Austrian headlines invariably targeting foreigners and their inherent ‘threat’ to traditional Austrian values, it’s a sickening disease to witness pervading Austrian culture. I can’t help but think this collective hatred is nothing new, that perhaps it’s been here all the time, lurking in the dark just waiting to be stoked by deluded false martyrs. But if this fear and hatred is the social cost of reaching for utopia, I think I’ll settle for somewhere a little less liveable.