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In a whirl: aesthetic overload in Vienna - MW

Almost half of our first morning in Vienna and my wife, Alexa, succumbed to Stendhal syndrome. Named after the French author of the 19th century who described this phenomenon during his visit to Florence, Stendhal's syndrome was caused by overexposure to works of sublime beauty. Patients with tachycardia cardiac manifestations, dizziness and, in the worst case, cardiac arrest. Alexa fever, appearing somewhere between Bruegel, Snow Hunter and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, a surreal portrait of fish, in the magnificent Kunsthistorisches Museum, is adopted without medical care.

Austrian novelist and journalist Stefan Zweig wrote that a citizen of Vienna, without appreciation of art or pleasure in form, is unimaginable. You are not really a Viennese without love for culture. The inhabitants, according to you, have developed a certain immunity to the requirements of the city in terms of aesthetic sense. However, for visitors, the amount of art and history you may want to consume in a short period of time may be too much. The answer is to take your time.

In Vienna, the number of tourist visits increases to fill the time allocated to their visit, so there is no reason to adopt a watch policy. If this is your first visit to the city, limit yourself to the historic center of the great Baroque boulevard known as the Ringstr. The former masters and ancient objects of the Kunsthistorisches Museum are the first on the list. Then, to please yourself after all the descriptions of the 15th century cross, head to the glittering erotic painting of Klimt at the nearby Secessionoltäude. Designed in 1902, the Klimtien frieze is based on Richard Wagner's interpretation of Beethoven's 9th symphony - headphones supplied.

Designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich in 1897, the separatist with clean white walls is the manifesto of an artistic movement which rejects the conservative past, the baroque and towards a modern future. The original white block, it exhibits striking contemporary works. A program called Shit Moms, by Iranian-American artist Tala Madani, took place during my visit. What could be more appropriate in the house of Sigmund Freud?

Vienna is not a busy city. Although an urban scene must exist somewhere, it is not Barcelona or Berlin. Here you can be comfortable in the Middle Ages: you can wear clothes (even the waiters in cafes wear evening clothes), read books, go to the theater, eat plates of endless strudel or Sacher Tourte and persistent hot chocolate. Bliss. Indeed, a whole culture has developed around cafes to promote a more serene lifestyle. For the price of a cup of coffee, you buy the entrance to a type of club where you can spend the day reading a newspaper (still hanging on a wooden stick), people watching, gossiping or thinking. I was surprised when no one was talking on the phone or typing on a laptop or tablet. Cafes are a refuge from extreme life.

Some of the more famous ones, like Café Central, are a little busy with people who go to Instagram to make cakes, but many still retain the elegance, glamor and atmosphere for which they are famous. You will find your favorite; The next time I'm in town, I'm going to Café Hawelka and Café Schwarzenberg (especially good for breakfast). With a gemütlich (cozy) cafe on almost every street, the problem is that many people who are in some Starbucks branches have opened in the center of Vienna.

It is the vast baroque and rococo castles of Habsburg with lanterns that define Vienna. Again, unless your stay is long, don't try to explore it all at once: just lots of gold leaf, porcelain, fine silverware and paintings. Huge oil painting on a combat scene that you can take. However, be sure to visit the Sisi Museum in the Hofburg Palace. It is the residence of Queen Elisabeth (known as Sisi), the wife of Emperor François-Joseph, famous for her breathtaking beauty, her eccentric care regimen (she sleeps in a mask bordered with raw calf or crushed strawberries) and to help create a double Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867. Its rooms in the palace include a fanciful gym with wall bars and rings where The Queen will work to keep her 20 inches tall.

Vienna's long history as the center of European politics and culture means that the city never misses a birthday - and 2020 is no exception as it marks 250 years since Beethoven's birth. The composer came to Vienna for the first time in 1787 to study under Mozart and remained there for most of his life until his death in 1827. Endless events were planned. Some are traditional, like the wonderful Fidelio production that I saw at the Vienna State Opera; and some, like Billy Joel in a conversation about his relationship with Beethoven, are not.

Vienna is a city that has to walk without having specific routes in mind. Keep the plans vague and let them happen. One afternoon, while I was walking through the small streets not far from the smart shopping district, the narrow streets opened up a large square. In front of me is the Rachel Whiteread memorial from before more than 60,000 Jews in Vienna were murdered during the Holocaust. Free to decorate and completely simple in design, this is one of the most miserable sculptures I have seen. At one end of Judenplatz, this closed concrete bunker contrasts graphically with the ornate buildings that surround it. The walls are made of library books with thorns facing the wall; These heavy, strictly closed doors echo the sealed gas chambers of the death camps.

High culture and great architecture cannot protect against the brutality of human nature.


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