The streets rumble with a continuous roar. In any other city people would jaywalk, obliquely and indifferent to most traffic situations. In Vienna one waits. Pedestrians gather at kerbs, silently swelling the crowds from behind. Nobody speaks. There's the flutter of a pigeon's wings, and you turn to look. A mild sense of the ethereal is to be experienced within the groups. Tourists become restless; the Viennese among them have, apparently, transcended. Then comes the green light and there is a rush, but only to gain the safety of a traffic-island. One turns and with a small shock recognises someone from the last kerb (curb in U.S.). But it seems like hours ago.
A piece of paper in a gutter is incongruous. A hush-quiet fall of snow adds to the sense of the ethereal. This is not a city of reckless abandon. The Viennese are a purposeful folk. In the non-acoustic plush of the Hotel Sacher the waiter approaches so silently you check instinctively for shoes. But there is relief, too. Through the heavily-draped window, one glimpses a bunch of Krishna people dance crazily by, their pale, pure faces raised to the sky. A monotone chant from Krishna to Rama. A hop-shuffle line in an Asian rumba.
Visitors are mesmerised and the Viennese glance in passing at a string-quartet. They are playing something sonorous, baroque, and utterly wonderful. Those deep, busy sounds are within you, as if they were polishing your heart; then rising up, vibrating in you throat until you are humming, albeit to yourself. You walk away carrying it with you.
Slowly the city makes you aware of its true function. You come to this place for music. There is no escape. If you leave without experiencing a concert you will feel the lack. One should check at the information offices for the often throwaway ticket prices - traditionally offered to students and the impoverished in general - for the opera and some concerts.
In the Stadt Park is a bronze of Strauss, once going green but now gilded. And a real orchestra, al-fresco in summer, releasing swarms of the great man's melodies into the air.
Number 10 Dorotheergasse, in the inner city and across from St Stephen's, is the address for all those seeking something beyond the pointless rush of our everyday world. It is here that one finds Doblinger, a music shop and music publishing house of formidable reputation and charm. Established in 1876, Schubert's works were to figure largely in the catalogue and Bruckner and Mahler (who visited with his beloved Alma) were well served during their lifetimes. But there must be few serious musicians who have not dropped in at Doblinger to supply their needs, or simply to soak up and enjoy the atmosphere.
Ms Monika Schicker is their PR person. She sighs for Schubert and is a lady of delicacy and humour.
"Have all of your staff had musical training?" I enquired.
"Oh, yes," she responded breathlessly, "...although we do not insist in bookkeeping."
We entered the dusty, magical atmosphere of Doblinger's second-hand department, the Antiquariat. In addition to music books and scores the department offers prints, paintings and busts of the masters. Their choral and church music department is famous. There is an instrument department and a new recordings section. All in all, a musical heaven.
St Stephen's Cathedral is vast enough to accommodate several tour groups simultaneously (photographs allowed upon payment). I stood watching the coming and going. The place was not dissimilar to a concourse at any major railway station.
An elderly lady, prim and resolute, approached me and said that it was improper to stand with one's hands in one's pockets in a house of God. I fled and encountered something that only He could have organised to illustrate the irony of it all. Outside the cathedral a one-armed man begged, holding out his one good hand. Behind his thought-heavy eyes and pained smile, I sensed the attempt at collusion. I smothered my doubt and dropped him some small change. I retreated, mollified. Five minutes later I glimpsed him hurrying away, both arms swinging free. I was not sure if I was glad or sorry. Beggars do that to you.
There, where the line of horse-carriages waited among steaming droppings, next to St Stephen's, is the Snacks Cafe. I should have gone for Schnitzel or Knödel, but the Viennese, having resisted a number of sieges, have allowed the humble hamburger to slip through the defences. Although one often consumes half of the napkin around a hamburger before noticing anything untoward, I could not resist.
The Snacks Cafe presents its fare on plates, however, and there they were, Ferenc and Tibor, two waiters from Hungary, to give credence to the term "fast food".
I tossed my hat cockily in the direction of the hat stand and suddenly Ferenc (or was it Tibor?) was fanning open a menu before me. The food was presented in pictures and words on the gloss-bright card. I pointed and Tibor (or was it Ferenc?) was gone. From across the room came a gentle 'plop', and my hat had landed. A brisk whirring sound had me shrinking back in my chair. A plate cruised in and landed before me, to be followed by a piece of hamburger steak, a rattling fusillade of French fries, and a fluttering of lettuce (like giant green butterflies). It all seemed to have been flung deftly from the kitchen, around corners and all.
It was not really like that, of course. But those waiters really were fast. Naturally, there is a great deal of wonderful Austrian fare to be enjoyed, in all price ranges and to suit all tastes. A reputed restaurant critic of my acquaintance speaks favourably of "Schnattl" near the Burgtheater in the 8th district; for fish one should go to "Bavanda" in the 5th district; and the lovers of the solid joys of home-cooking should visit "Oswald und Kalb" in the 1st district. Ask at the information offices for the addresses.
Viennese coffee houses are a recommendation simply because they are so famous - the epitome of all that is truly Viennese - with their nut-brown interiors and newspapers on wooden frames. Old-world charm, indeed.
The city of Vienna is a vast cultural metropolis. One would need a month to even touch upon the sights and attractions there. The Prata fairground is a must - just look for the famous landmark Ferris wheel on the skyline. The residences of Freud and Beethoven et al, would be irresistible for all those of a serious nature.
Beethoven first came to Vienna at the age of 17. It was then, in a confrontation that must have made heads of the gods spin, that he met Mozart. He finally moved to Vienna in 1792, first making his name as a pianist before becoming a composer and the darling of numerous women.
Those glorious white horses at the Spanish Riding School are still prancing and dancing, side-stepping and high-kicking to the delight of all. The gorgeous flow of Hundertwasser's architecture is a splendid, imaginative jungle for those with an aversion for straight lines.
Then there are the museums (uncountable), the galleries, palaces and mansions, theatres and clubs. The Danube runs through Vienna at a stately tempo - tranquilo one might say. Vienna remains a grand lady. Perhaps a little operatic, but always with style.
by Lawrence Brazier
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