Lifestyle & Culture

‘Three things I love about Vienna’ Pt. 1:  American expat Mary Porcella on architecture, art and apfelstrudel

Three things I really love about Vienna are the amazing architecture, art museums, and delicious, apple-laden Apfelstrudel.  Below are some of my favorite architectural zones, exhibition halls, and places to indulge in the classic Viennese sweet. 

ARCHITECTURE

Vienna has a wonderful mix of old and new architecture, which makes it a marvelous city to walk around and just gaze at the buildings.  Below is a sampling of some of their impressive structures. 

The following five range from the 12th century to the 21st century:   

Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) – Construction began in the 12th century and reportedly continued for 800 years in one form or another.  Definitely walk around the Gothic Cathedral, spend time inside if you are able, and enjoy the area in and around Stephansplatz.  

Hofburg Palace Complex – Construction from 13th to 20th Century. This was the Imperial Palace of the Habsburgs for more than 6 centuries and occupies 47 acres in Vienna’s Innen Stadt. I especially enjoyed the Sisi Museum.  Empress Sisi was a transplant from Bavaria, an expat, and for me, it was fascinating to hear her story and find out how she lived day to day.  

Opera House (Photo by Terry Boyd for Dispatches)

Staatsoper (Opera House) – Built from 1863-1869. Take a tour of it if you can or enjoy a concert inside or outside when available.  

MuseumsQuartier – Built from 1725-2001. The MQ is massive, “encompasses 60 cultural institutions and is one of the largest districts for contemporary art and culture in the world.”

You may find it interesting to know that the MQ was built in the former Habsburg stables. On a recent tour we learned that at the end of the Habsburg rule, there were reportedly 1,500 carriages stored there for the Imperial family and their guests.  Each Imperial had three carriages at least. A sports car type for daily self- driving use, a fancy one (like a Mercedes) for going to the ball, and a large long distance carriage (like a SUV) to go to the mountains or remote palaces for vacation or business. The carriages were mostly sold off after World War I when the monarchy was dissolved and the best examples are displayed in the Carriage Museum located at the Schonnbrunn Place. The story goes that the horses were sold off also or put out to pasture.  

Spittelberg

The area behind MQ is called Spittelberg, and the houses there are in a historic preservation area. It is really fun to walk through Spittelberg (great small shops and chic restaurants). if you visit in December, there is a beautiful Christmas market weaving through its streets.

ART MUSEUMS 

Vienna is a fantastic city where you can view everything from Austria’s own artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Friedensreich Hundertwasser; Egyptian, Greek and Roman artifacts; and masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens.  Below are some of my favorite museums, which will give you a nice mix of Austrian, European, and other international treasures.  With re-openings on 12 December 2021, why not take advantage of seeing some art and the buildings they are housed in?  

MuseumsQuartier is the perfect place to hang out (Photo by Terry Boyd for Dispatches)

Leopold Museum

I really enjoyed the Leopold Museum, which features Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele as well as Austrian art from the second half of the nineteenth century and Modernism. For more on Klimt, head to the Belvedere, which holds “the world’s largest collection of oil paintings by this iconic artist, including the two masterpieces from his Golden Period, Kiss (Lovers) and Judith.”

Hundertwasser Museum and Village

If you like modern art, lots of color, organic shapes, the environment, or Gaudi, then Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 – 2000) is for you.  Two options for looking at his work, as an artist and architect, respectively, are as follows: his museum, Kunst Haus Wien, orthe Hundertwasser Haus and Village. I enjoyed both. My brother and I went to the museum, which has a permanent Hundertwasser exhibition on two floors and two additional floors devoted to changing exhibitions of contemporary art. The Hundertwasserhaus and Village are worth visiting because you can walk around and absorb its mosaic of shapes, colors and pillars from the outside.  You can also watch a free film in the “Kunst und Café” coffee house there.

Albertina Museum 

The Albertina Museum has an excellent collection of French Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and the Russian avant-garde.  Since exhibitions change frequently, there is always something new to see.  Currently, they are showing a major exhibition by the Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. There is also an Albertina Modern, which highlights more contemporary works.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Museum of Fine Arts Vienna)

This museum is in a beautiful 19th century building.  Highlights include a world class Picture Gallery and Kunstkammer Vienna, which showcases rare, curious and unusual objects.   

On my most recent visit, my brother and sister-in-law (two ex-pats living in Vienna) and I focused on the Picture Gallery and its paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, known for his landscapes and peasant scenes, which are unique and a lot of fun to view.  The gallery also contains masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velázquez, Rubens, Dürer, and others. You can buy a yearly pass to this museum, as well as others, so you can pop in and out whenever you like.  

APFELSTRUDEL (APPLE STRUDEL)

The thing I like about European desserts in general is that they are not too sweet.  In the case of a slice of Apple strudel, a traditional Viennese popular pastry, you feel like you are really getting your apple a day.  With whipped cream on top, it tastes even more decadent and delicious.  

There are three different ways to order “a slice of apple strudel, please“ (ein Stück Apfelstrudel, bitte): Apfelstrudel pur (plain), mit Schlag (with whipped cream), mit Vanillesauce (or with vanilla sauce).  

Enjoy your strudel with a cup of coffee, too, which is a typical Northern European afternoon ritual, called Kaffee und Kuchen.  My niece likes having hers with Caffe Melange (Wiener Melange), a specialty coffee drink similar to a cappuccino.  

Here are three places to try.  (If you want something different or something heartier, all have other fare, too.  However, don’t forget to check COVID restrictions in Vienna before you head out):   

Demel, K.u.K. Hofzuckerbäcker (since1786): “A Viennese Fairy Tale“, located at Kohlmarkt 14.  Stop by for a slice of strudel, delicious coffee or homemade hot chocolate.  You will be indulging where royalty, Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Sisi, indulged, just to name two.  You can view the Hofburg Palace from here.  

Cafe Eiles: Located at Josefstädter Straße 2Another place I had Apfelstrudel was at Cafe Eiles “a traditional coffeehouse in the heart of Vienna” with my brother and sister-in-law.  We decided to have it as the main event, so we wouldn’t be too full from lunch or dinner.  Not a bad way to live life!

Café Landtmann: “Vienna’s most sophisticated coffee house” located at Universitätsring 4.  My mother particularly liked her Apfel strudel with vanilla sauce.  Café Landtmann is on the Ringstrasse, which circles the old town where the medieval city fortifications once stood.

Do it yourself:  If you feel like making apple strudel at home, here is a traditional Viennese recipe to try.

About the author:

Mary Porcella is a Europhile who has lived in Germany, Norway, Italy, and the U.S.  She is a writer, editor, and photographer. 

She loves seeing new places, returning to old haunts, and meeting up with family and friends.  As of today, her travels have taken her to 20 European countries, and she hopes to visit the rest.   

See more about Vienna here in the Dispatches archive.

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