Written by Danielle Wu
I’ve never been a morning person and I couldn’t tell you the last time I purposefully woke up to catch a sunrise. But one frosty morning in Vienna at 05:30, I was awoken by an impalpable energy coursing within me that I could only interpret as the siren call of the Viennese city below me. Its cultivated cityscape awash in staggering shades of crimson coloured Morgenrot set fire to my soul, famished for culture and immediately did Karl Kraus’ quote spring to mind, “The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with Asphalt.” At once my eyes were drawn to the Hofburg Imperial Palace with its enchanting palatial domes of turquoise and tiffany-blue, reminiscent of its former Habsburgs Empire who ruled first over the Austrian patrimonial lands from the days of the Holy Roman Empire until its final days of reign over the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the first world war. Just a kilometer away stands Vienna’s historical jewel St Stephen’s Cathedral, an illustrious incomplete monument which exhibits the city’s fascinating and ever-shifting historical landscape in all its non-traditional gothic, Romanesque and zigzag-tiled roof architectural amalgamated glory. As ruby hues gave gradual way to a florid orange glow and morning light swept through the rousing downtown, illuminating the distant landmark giant wheel of the Wiener Prater just across the water in Leopoldstadt and even further back, sleek and modern skyscrapers emerged into visibility. Like every other aspect of this carefully curated city of blended cultures, the contrast between New vs Old Vienna somehow fuses together tastefully with the impressive DC Tower I soaring above simplistically elegant rows of Biedermeier neoclassical townhouses, reflecting dazzling strokes of golden light onto the legendary Danube River. It inspired me to reflect upon the insurmountable centuries of change, of paradigm shifts, of revolution, restoration and reconstruction – and how these cities and the stories left behind will outlast us all, as they did the Romans, their Imperial Reich, the logical empiricists of the Vienna Circle and the occupation of the National Socialists.
These curious little existentialist whispers remained with me throughout the rest of my visit in Vienna, because nothing makes the passing of time feel quite as surreal as this timeless historic city with its immaculate paths and pristine façades maintained to appear as if it, miraculously, simply stood the test of time. As I ambled along storybook cobblestone alleys and passed by the stately traditional Wiener coffeehouses of the historic Ringstraße’s innere Stadt, I quietly observed the elegantly understated aura of the Viennese folk around town. I have always somewhat considered imitation to be the highest form of flattery and so I thought to myself, “When in Wien, do as the Viennese do”. I popped on Johann Strauss’ 10-minute waltz ‘An der schönen blauen Donau ‘, straightened out my posture and donned the uniform demeanour of Austrian aloof affability as one so naturally does on their morning stroll down the Canal; Semmel bread roll in one hand, coffee in the other. I even tipped my head ever so slightly and greeted passers-by with a lilting “Grüß Gott!”, deliberately letting my roll ever so delicately, doing right by the famously melodic Austrian German dialect.
By afternoon, I was hopelessly besotted with the city after having fallen into an artistic trance at the Kunsthistoriches Museum from gazing up at the lavishly painted arches and columns of Gustav Klimt. I walked back out onto the large sprawling main streets lined with their sumptuous mix of baroque, gothic, neo-renaissance and classical buildings and headed straight for the Burggarten where I found myself at the foot of Mozart’s monument. For a few minutes, I simply looked up at the composer’s stone visage and basked in my admiration and gratitude for his arias and sonatas which were musical comforts throughout my childhood. “Danke schön” I whispered in thanks to Mozart, to Vienna, to no one in particular really, but to the unparalleled experience of learning and discovering such abundant beauty and culture that it seizes you with inspiration and reignites our inner artist, our musician and our creator who lives within each and every one of us.
This article is from our Vienna diary feature available to read in print. Get your limited edition copy here.