Prague to Vienna on Foot: Vienna Views

A series of posts following David and Gail as they walk 480 kilometers from Prague to Vienna in 2014.

October 16, 2014

The inescapable soundtrack for our visit to Vienna is playing on a zither. It’s the theme to The Third Man, a movie set and shot in the ruins and gloom of post World War Two Vienna. 

Not that the city of today resembles that noir vision. On the contrary, it is lively and intensely devoted to the arts, both historic and contemporary. But we could imagine Vienna, pockmarked as it was with bombed-out buildings, rebuilding itself into the interesting amalgam of new and old we were seeing, with the best of both worlds on display.

A visit to the Dritte Mann Museum, or Third Man Museum, seemed necessary and it was a worthwhile, if eccentric use of our limited time in the city. There was of course the overwhelming collection of interesting movie memorabilia. But most interesting was the gallery devoted to Vienna before, during and after the war, effectively framing the rebirth of today’s Vienna.

The other worthwhile stop to gather thoughts about today’s Vienna was the Austrian Architecture Museum, part of the compact Museum Quartier collection of galleries. Armed with its information, we continued our unconventional tour by visiting several newer architectural works: Hans Hollein’s 1966 Retti Candle Shop (now a jewelry shop), Adolf Loos’s 1908 American Bar, Otto Wagner’s 1894-98 Karlsplatz Metro Station pavilions, Joseph Olbrich’s 1897 Secession building. 

Further afield were two disparate visions of residential development. The 1926-30 Karl-Marx-Hof by Karl Ehn is a massive 1,300-unit “Red Vienna” residential complex. Although quite strident in its socialist-cum-art deco skin and monumental arches designed to welcome returning workers to their homes, the housing is very human-scaled and comfortable. Low-height apartment units that occupy only 18% of the site surround treed courtyards, often with well tended gardens. 

For a contrary vision of social housing, we crossed town to the Hundertwasser-Krawina House (1982-85), a joint project by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and architect Josef Krawina. Here, housing accentuates the individual as opposed to the masses with colour-rich facades and avoidance of straight lines or flat surfaces (including, I understand, the floors). Its organic forms and mad colours create an appealing mass.  

We departed Vienna, not with The Third Man theme buzzing in our heads but with the organ music of Bach as it resonated throughout the ornate Baroque interior of Peterskirche (c1733) during a wonderful organ concert on the last night of our three day tour. We had come full circle, leaving modern Vienna behind for a brief moment, returning to a much earlier era defined by power and empire.

We left the church that evening, looking back one last time to take in its illuminated facade, an animated collection of curves and columns, nicely framed by stricter Classical walls on both sides of the small square it faces.  A bright orange garbage truck pulls up in front, warning lights flashing as orange-clad workers jump out to empty a few bins. Motors roar as debris is absorbed into the beast’s belly. The workers jump back aboard and drive away, quickly disappearing down a dark side street, leaving only the fading echo of a groaning diesel engine in their wake.  

We were on our way back to Winnipeg.      

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