My Viennese Songline
Café Nil, Siebensterngasse, seventh district. This is where any visit to Vienna starts. Turkish coffee with cardamon, maybe hummus with bread or lentil soup if I need more nourishment, a slice of basbousa for a bit of sweetness. A group of community radio people introduced me to Nil shortly after I moved to Austria 13 years ago. Then I rediscovered it a few years back when I spent one weekend a month doing Luna Yoga just around the corner. Now whenever I come to town, I throw out my anchor at Nil, have a coffee, and wait until my breath settles into the rhythm of the city.
On most visits, yoga and friendship keep me occupied in the seventh and eighth districts. Yet there is usually time for a stroll through the first district, the place where the lines of Austrian power intersect and tourists flock. I come from the direction of the MuseumsQuartier, walking by the statue of Maria Theresia. Having crossed the Ringstraße, I approach the Hofburg Palace, the center of Austrian imperial power until 1918. Today the huge complex hosts a number of museums and is also the residence of the president of Austria. (Since this position is currently vacant, you might be able to stay there if you come to Vienna in September – maybe it is listed at Airbnb?) The only part of the Hofburg I have actually visited is the wing where the Austrian National Library is located. A collection of historic musical instruments awaits visitors with a hankering for lutes, harpsichords, crumhorns, and ranketts (also known as sausage bassoons).
Vienna is a paradise for statue and doorway enthusiasts – and admiring them is free. Just brush up on your Latin first for the full experience. I continue my walk and brave the passage full of tourist trinkets for sale, traverse the main courtyard, go past the Spanish Riding School and its lucrative Lipizzaner horses, and finally come out of the dark into the light of Michaelerplatz.
The Romans were here, of course. For around 350 years, Vindobona was a military post on the Danube where the Limes, the line delineating the edge of Roman influence, crossed the Amber Road, the trade route between the Mediterranean Sea and the Baltic Sea. At its peak, it had 30,000 inhabitants. The center of Vindobona is just a short walk northeast of Michaelerplatz. Excavations from 1989-1991 revealed the foundations of Roman houses that were part of Canabae, small civilian settlements that developed next to military posts and provided them with goods such as food and clothing. Since Roman legionaries were not allowed to marry, their partners and children lived here. What would it have been like to stand here two thousand years ago, long before men from the lands of the former monarchy dressed up like Mozart and peddled tickets to classical music concerts?
Though I am not a fan of monumental statues, I have always felt drawn to this fountain by Rudolf Weyr entitled Macht zur See (Power at Sea), which also watches over the lively action on Michaelerplatz. The woman looks very confident, relaxed, in charge as she strikes a pose while dancing on the bow of the ship – souverän, you could say in German. Now it’s time to leave this square behind and continue along the periphery of the Hofburg, past the Lipizzaner stables, past the doorway flanked by two huge stone women seen in the film The Third Man. Eventually I arrive at the steps leading up to the Albertina, one of Vienna’s many excellent art museums. And here they are, the statues representing the rivers of the monarchy. I give my regards to the statue of the Mur before returning to the MuseumsQuartier and the seventh district.
Have a nice stroll along your personal songline!