Monday, June 27, 2005

My Wienkend

Vienna ("Wien," pronounced veen in Europe) doesn't have the energetic zest of the other Euro-cities that I've been to so far. Said one local, "It's is the perfect place to retire..." but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Vienna is an obligatory stop for the sake Art History (and Euoropean History in general) because the Royal Hapsburg family in their prime amassed quite a bit of stuff worth seeing. Vienna is also the perfect introduction to the Baroque. Parts of the old city still feel as if the Protestant Reformation and French Revolution just never happened. To put it otherwise, in Paris my feet hurt from walking so much, in Vienna my neck hurt from looking up at all the ceiling frescoes.

Melk Abbey
I began by hopping off the night train prematurely on Sat. morning to see if I could get find my way to Melk Abbey. My ever faithful travel partner called it "one of Europe's great sights," so I figured I'd go, and great it was. The recently renovated place lacks the "old vibe" one might excpect from an Abbey and instead exudes a freshness attained by an intelligent blend of traditional and modern art, sculpture, decorations and exhibits. The place houses a private school (that only costs parents 60 euros a month) and the monks and residents are eager to make you feel welcome, which is after all a Benedictine specialty. If you're ever near Vienna, go to Melk.


Art and Opera
Upon arrival in Wien I paid a steep admission price for entrance to the Hapsburg's art colleciton in the Kunsthistoriches Museum which was as exhausting as the Louvre - and as worth it. Among many other things, their collection of Pieter Bruegel's paintings won me over. I never realized they were so large.

Then it was to the famous Viennese Opera House for standing room only tickets (try the cool Panorama tour to see what I did). The building loses some of its majesty when one realizes it's called the "Wiener State Opera House," but I didn't let that stop me. The Opera was Werther, an adaptation of Goethe's novel. The 2 euro (!) admission fee left cash Finger Sandwiches on the Terrace during intermission with all the Viennese decked out in their glamour-wear. My binocs made the high spots really not that bad. Opera is a winner. The emotions expressed are something I suspect deep inside every one of us feel, but are unable to communicate. The talented, disciplined and trained are able to tap such depth, which is maybe why they're treated in Vienna like national heroes, as exhibited by the no less than ten curtain calls. Later I realized that they were so good I had given them a standing ovation during the entire performance.

Church and State
The music in Church on Sunday was of the same caliber as the Opera. Sunday Mass at Saint Augustine's Church operates much like a concert, again with standing room only. Some may have been there just for the music without an ear for faith. Some just for the faith without an ear for the music. I prefer both.

The cocktail of beauty mixed with belief is a strong one. I found myself lingering for quite a long while afterward digesting the experience - which was fortunately more than an "experience," but an encounter with God. (Incidentally, exploration of the relationship of beauty and faith is the reason for all the "Theological Aesthetics" links to your left.)

After this it was to the official Hapsburg Treasury. An extraordinary collection of crowns, sculptures, monstrances, vestments, narwhale horns and other things that a Royal family would have needed as State collateral. Like the Opera, I was not expecting to like this as much as I in fact did. That and a taste of Viennese food was all I had time for that day.

And speaking of Church and State, I found it a bit disconcerting that the Austrian flag occuppied an entire side of the roof of Saint Stephen's cathedral (the major donwtown Church)... not to mention the two massive bank advertisements covering the entire steeple. Anyone know the German word for tacky?

Baden Baden
Thanks to the overnight train I had another available Eurorail day, so after German class it was off to the obligatory "Baden Baden" baths near the Black Forest, just a short ride away from Mannheim. My college self would be indignant for my indulging in such bourgeois fluff, but it is made excusable in that the experience that would probably cost over $200 in the States can be had for 21 euros in the Friederichsbad. Going from the extreme heat of graduated Saunas to the ice cold plunge at the end amounted to a corporeal Roller Coaster ride. "Body this is millinerd, millinerd this is your body" seems to sum up the event.

Now back to learning German. It's nice when, for once, watching T.V. counts as study time.