The City of Music and Dreams

Music abounds nearly everywhere in Vienna’s center city — even if you can’t hear it, someone in a fancy fake Renaissance outfit will step out and try to sell you a concert as you walk down the street. This is, of course, the city of Mozart …


… whose park has a treble clef twist …


… and the famous Vienna opera house:


There’s even music in the air! This is the Ankeruhr, or the Anchor Clock:


This Art Nouveau clock, built for the Anchor insurance company in 1911, is a giant music box. Every day at noon, a parade of figures goes by, each one to its own piece. I enjoyed watching one of Vienna’s 17th-century mayors drift by to the tune of the folk song, “O Dear Augustin”:


Here, Prince Eugene of Savoy (10 o’clock) marches by to the folk song, “Prince Eugen, the Noble Knight,” (and you’ll start to see Empress Maria Therese and her husband, as 11 o’clock, come in behind him):


The whole thing ends with a rousing chorus of “The Heavens Are Telling” from Franz Joseph Haydn’s Creation, as Haydn himself — one of Vienna’s own — takes center stage at 12 o’clock.


Curiously (to me, anyway), Mozart does not have a place on the clock — though you do hear his Minuet KV 355 along with Empress Therese.

The Viennese are also deeply dedicated to pastries — the sweeter, the better. This is the display at Demel, a confiserie that has been around since 1786 (I recommend their apple strudel):IMG_6109.jpg

Indeed, Vienna is a good place for sweets of nearly all kinds. They craft hundreds of cute things out of marzipan …


… and I stopped by a few shops to make an (unfortunately) cursory survey of their chocolates. My favorites were (1) Zotter’s Danke bar, filled with berry and vanilla ganache, (2) Zotter’s Ein Stuck vom Gluck bar, filled with orange cream and alcohol, and (3) these apricot chocolates from Heindl:


But my very favorite dessert was this riced chestnut marvel at Plachutta:


It looks a little scary, but it tastes marvelous — cherries and whipped cream and pureed chestnuts that seemed to have been infused with some kind of alcohol (brandy would be my guess). If anyone has a recipe for this, please share!

I had some wonderful savory food, too. Most notable was the delectable lemon burrata at Buxbaum Restaurant:


As a side note, I love that this restaurant has a fuzzy lamp — kudos to their decorators.


To round things out in the eating and drinking departmtne, I was introduced to a spectacular red wine grape called zweigelt at Vinothek W-Einkher.


While food and music seem to trump most other pursuits, the Viennese have amassed an impressive art collection over the years. I took a few rushed hours to check out the painting floor of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, which is an amazing space in its own right.


I spent more time than usual inspecting ceiling decorations, from small insets…


… to giant window medallions:IMG_6201

The Kunsthistorisches Museum has collected pieces from many of the big-time 16th and 17th century painters (think Raphael, Reubens, Rembrandt, Velazquez). There’s a lot to see and study, some of which is straight out of my old art history textbook. This Vermeer piece, The Art of Painting, is a good example:


But I found myself attracted to a fairly random set of artworks at this museum. These included Frans Snyders’ Fish Market (one of the guys in the middle is wearing a bucket on his head!)…



… this painting by an unknown artist of Sultan Suleiman II (have you ever seen a turban like that?) …



… this jolly group of naughty Flemish folk in Jacob Jordaens’ The Feast of the Bean King


… which includes the very meanest cat I’ve ever seen in a work of art …


… and this painting of women flashing a group of soldiers:


What in the world? I have never seen anything like this. Museums are full of nudes, sure, but I’ve never seen a painting of a whole group of women lifting their skirts. Otto van Veen offered this as his rendition of The Persian Women, a scene in Plutarch’s Brave Women. Apparently, this was a problem-solving measure on their part: when your menfolk flee a battle, you shame them and mock them by showing them your womanly glory. This spurs them to turn their horses around and gets them right back out on the field in full fighting spirit. It’s a curious motivational approach, but I guess it worked.

I was most amused by the room with the face series — mostly because I didn’t know that a face series existed at all. You may be familiar with Fruit Face (more formally known as Summer), by Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo …


… but you may not know Fish Face (a.k.a Water) …


… or Wood Face (a.k.a. Winter):


The Kunsthistorisches is also hosting an exhibit of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I cannot possibly give this exhibit the detail it deserves in this space; suffice to say that it is both thorough and magnificent. By far the most famous piece in the show is The Tower of Babel, a commentary on the decline of Rome and powerful symbol of the Catholic-Protestant tensions alive and well in the Low Countries when Bruegel painted it in 1566:


But I am a sucker for Bruegel’s landscape paintings, especially those in the snow. In this exhibit, these include Hunters in the Snow:


… and Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap:


Bruegel is a master of detail who paints all sorts of little tiny people doing all sorts of everything things. For example, in the painting above you can see people skating, curling, and playing kolf (a sort of golf game on ice). I really love his examination of more than ninety different activities in Childrens’ Games:


To appreciate this painting in all of its detailed glory, I would recommend going to this Google Arts & Culture page — you can zoom in incredibly closely and enjoy all of the joy (and history) in the scene.

Bruegel looked at peasant life in a way no one before him ever had. He had no hesitation about painting the coarser side of life: kissing, drunkenness, and peeing up against walls. If you look hard enough, each of these is in evidence in the photo here:


But Bruegel can really get wacky. Take a look at his Dulle Griet


… and then focus on the lower lefthand corner and look closer …


… and then look even closer:


With apologies to serious art historians for my terminology, this guy was a master of the wacky figures. Here is another detail from the same painting:


He has some equally bizarre things going on in his prints — here are Pride


and Lust:


If all if this art is getting too serious (though I’m not sure how that’s possible, given Bruegel’s strange little beasties), I would invite you to appreciate the fact that Vienna offers both a hat museum (where I met up with my old colleague Rich at a conference social) …


… and a big pink rabbit (I have no explanation for this one).


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