Vienna


Off the Beaten Path

Nearly every part of Vienna contains pleasant surprises.  In the center of the city, the inquisitive tourist should consider relaxing in one of the famous old coffee houses, such as Griensteidl or Hawelka.  Students of history may wish to view the tombs of the Habsburgs in the Imperial Crypt (Kaisergruft) beneath the simple Capuchin Church (look for the famous skull that adorns the tomb of Empress Maria Theresa and the plain coffin of her son, Joseph II).  Another option is to inspect the hearts of the Habsburgs in the Hearts Crypt (Herzgruft) of the Augustinian Church of the Hofburg.  Those whose appetite for the macabre is insatiable may wish to tour the catacombs of Stephansdom.
The Hundertwasserhaus (Hundertwasser House), located in the District III or Landstraße, was the inspiration of the Austrian artist-turned-architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1920-2000).  The Austrian chancellor, Bruno Kreisky (1911-1990), suggested that Hundertwasser design a residential structure in Vienna based on the architectural concepts that Hundertwasser had been elaborating for some time.  Since he had no architectural training or experience, Hundertwasser relied on the expertise of Josef Krawina (born 1928), who is the building’s co-creator.  As a result of Hundertwasser’s constant criticism of straight lines in buildings, his structure has none, and the floors are not level.  Trees and plants are on the roofs, and a few actually emerge from the interior of the structure.

Most tourists do not venture beyond the Ring, which is a mistake because there is so much more to Vienna.  In District III, Landstraße, is St. Marx Cemetery, the resting place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).  When contemplating his memorial, remember that nobodyknows specifically where he was buried because the custom of the time was to bury individuals in mass graves without markers.  Also in District III, near the Schwarzenburg Palace and behind the Der Hochstrahlbrunnen fountain that dates from 1873, stands the controversial Soviet War Memorial that many Viennese would love to see demolished.  A short walk to District IV brings one to the delightful Baroque Karlskirche, with its oval dome.  Not far are two Secession gems: the Karlsplatz Metro stop of Otto Wagner (1841-1918) and the Secession Building (see Secession Vienna below).  For an evening of fun, take in the sights and sounds of the famous Prater amusement park in District II, Leopoldstadt, the part of Vienna that Adolf Hitler criticized in his Mein Kampf for having too many Jews whom he claimed preyed on the poor and unsuspecting. 

For those who are willing to travel on public transportation to a quiet section of the city, take a tram ride to Grinzing, which is part of District XIX, Döbling.  During the day, one can visit the cemetery with the graves of  the composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) and his wife, the femme fatale Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879-1964), who was the wife of Mahler, the architect Walter Gropius (1883-1969), and finally the writer Franz Werfel (1890-1945) as well as the lover of the artist Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980).  Afterward, select a restaurant for a pleasant dinner and a glass of Austrian wine.

Another interesting outing is a visit to Mauer in District XXIII, Liesing, southwest of the city center.  Situated on Rysergasse and Georgengasse is the so-called Wotruba Church, formally the Church of the Most Holy Trinity (Kirche zur Heiligsten Dreifaltigkeit).  The Austrian sculptor Fritz Wotruba (1907-1975), who had a Czech father and a Hungarian mother, began work on the church in 1974, shortly before he died, and in 1976, the architect Fritz G. Mayr (born 1931) completed the structure.  The church has 152 randomly-placed concrete blocks, the largest being 64 cubic meters and weighing 141 tons.  Although a superb example of Brutalist architecture, the church has had its critics, including some residents of the Mauer community.  That is to be expected since Brutalism is the style even casual observers of architecture love to hate.  While in Mauer, find the cemetery and search out the resting place of John Banner (1910-1973) by finding Gruppe 57, Reihe 2, Nummer 26.  Banner was the actor who, between 1965 and 1971, played Master Sergeant Hans Georg Schultz in the television series Hogan's Heroes (in German, Ein Käfig voller Helden, that is, A Cage Full of Heroes).  When families no longer pay the rental for cemetery plots, the rights to place a grave stone on the plot transfer to another, so there is only a temporary marker on the Johann Hübner family stone noting that Banner also is buried there.  Since Mauer and specifically the Wotruba Church border the large park known as the Vienna Woods (German: Wienerwald), consider exploring the park, especially if an MP3 player is available with a version of the famous waltz from 1868 by the younger Johann Strauss (1825-1899) titled "Tales from the Vienna Woods."

Gasometer in Vienna is a perfect example of adaptive reuse in architecture.  Until the late 1970s, the buildings, which date from the 1890s, distilled gas from coal for the city.  After the Second World War, Vienna began using natural gas, and the city officials retired the Gasometer facilities.  In the 1990s, Vienna began converting the buildings for use as apartments, offices, an entertainment complex, and a shopping mall.  In 2001, they opened to the public.  Anyone venturing to District XI, Simmering, should stop at Gasometer to explore the shops, have some refreshments in the food court, and marvel at the engineering feat of the past and the architectural innovation of the present.

Gasometer in Vienna is a perfect example of adaptive reuse in architecture.  Until the late 1970s, the buildings, which date from the 1890s, distilled gas from coal for the city.  After the Second World War, Vienna began using natural gas, and the city officials retired the Gasometer facilities.  In the 1990s, Vienna began converting the buildings for use as apartments, offices, an entertainment complex, and a shopping mall.  In 2001, they opened to the public.  Anyone venturing to District XI, Simmering, should stop at Gasometer to explore the shops, have some refreshments in the food court, and marvel at the engineering feat of the past and the architectural innovation of the present.