Passing Palais after identical Palais from Passau to Bratislava, Austria certainly sets the style of architectural design amongst it’s 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.
ParliamentBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
The empire however (as empires so often prove) could not withstand the sands 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 whimsical bubble of historical reminiscence. With wine. Lots of wine.
The Butterfly HausBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
Forgoing the obvious musical and art references for which Vienna, and indeed Austria, is world renowned, to walk through Vienna is to pass back through time to an era where village ‘curtain-twitcher culture’ exists hand-in-hand with a modern, technological city pulse.
S-Bahn tracksBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
Pick any map grid in Vienna and you’re never too far from the shadows of awe-inspiring Cathedral spires or monolithic Romanesque churches, or even the arching doorways of cream-stone governmental structures, each grandiose masterpiece casting imposing scars on the surrounding cityscape.
StephansdomBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
But turn a corner from these tourist hot spots, away from the hordes of Black Mirror cultists and old-money fur coats, and one discovers a Vienna of antiquated cobble-stoned streets bustling with wooden-decked tabacs and pokey red-leathered wine bars spilling cigar smoke and Gemischter Satz from their slightly ajar single window.
A modern coffee barBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
Delve deeper and one discovers antiques stores harbouring skeletal remains of Austria’s difficult history, cobwebbed german fairtale books from times past, and even the odd piece of crystal glassware.
NeubaugasseBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
Vienna is 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 a close second.
PratersternBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
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.
KarlsplatzBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
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 the fear-mongering far-right, spreading questionable vitriolic monologues throughout all seams of society.
Under an iron bridgeBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4
Being British, I’m no stranger to this type of political propaganda, our colonial past was built on the manufacture of disinformation, so it comes as no surprise that with Austrian news headlines invariably targeting foreigners and their ‘inherent threat’ to ‘traditional Austrian values’, this sickening disease continues to unfold across Europe. The thing is, I can’t help but think this collective hatred for foreigners is nothing new, that perhaps it’s been here all along, lurking in the shadows just waiting to be stoked again by deluded martyrs. Still, if this fear and hatred is the social cost of building utopia, I think I’ll settle for somewhere a little less liveable.