A Very Short Viennese Dictionary

Blue Danube. Actually, not to be seen during 90% of Viennese day trips, because, unlike in Budapest or Belgrade, where the Danube steals centre stage, in Vienna it flows off the main axis of the city in decidedly sleepy and unspectacular suburbs. Thus, an unassuming but fundamental presence, like air and taxes.

Grosser Brauner and all the other names the Viennese will call their coffee. The list is long, convoluted and perhaps a little arbitrary, so in case you want to make sure you get exactly what you want order the international way and your slightly grumbling yet fundamentally affable waiter will translate it to the correct Viennese for you. Go for the Einspänner only and exclusively if you assume that at the moment of the Big Bang the universe was made of dust, stars and whipped cream, for you’ll get exactly the amount fit for forming a smaller galaxy.

Gustav Klimt and to a lesser extent, Egon Schiele, as the latter might be just a touch to outre to be easily marketable. Suggestive at once of the affluence and decadence of that turn of century which marked both the apex of Vienna’s claim to be the centre of the world, and the moment it started to hurtle towards its downfall. They both save the tourist board the bother of trying to make Leopold von Sacher-Masoch mainstream.

Hundertwasser. The architectural soul brother of Klimt when it comes to promoting city image, he started his life as Friedrich Stowasser in Vienna and ended it as Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II. A fitting trajectory for a man who thought up one of the world’s most recognizable architectural fever dreams, which somehow still fits perfectly in the otherwise rather sedate neighbourhood I can always safely navigate, because I know I need to look for Marx street.

The Ring. I always felt personally insulted that the Budapest körút doesn’t actually go round the city centre in spite of its name, and felt avenged when I thought the Viennese ring did, only to be painfully disappointed that the bit beside the Danube is actually the Franz Joseph Kai and not technically a part of the Ring. It is nevertheless a grand old beautiful thing, perfect for walks, as tested by Sigmund Freud himself, who went for one almost daily,  musing on what childhood trauma to blame for someone’s loss of appetite.

Sissi. Since I bump into one of Sissi’s little pieces of disparate real estate way to often for my taste (see here and here too), I try to avoid her at all costs in Vienna, and have thus escaped her museum in the Hof- sadly not the many many gilded chambers of Schönbrunn, as traveling in a group has its perils when applying democratic principles. This being said, Sissi is on everything from key chains to salad bowls, so all those who find her easier to stomach can take her along

The Schnitzel. I will once delve further into the intricacies of Viennese cuisine and how generally all Austrian, German and Czech cooking should be my sworn enemy since it is hearty and rather fatty and not at all containing capers, balsamic vinegar and rosemary- but I actually happen to be still ridiculously fond of it. For now I will just leave here that very Viennese moment when a very polite and dignified waiter, asked by a shiny eyed American tourist whether the Wiener Schnitzel has a vegetarian version said, simply, no. This was not a rude no, there were no justifications or explanations behind the no: it was a no for the ages, a no in its purest state, a kind of no that only the ruins of a fallen empire can bear on their shoulders.

The Strudel. Used here as an umbrella term for Viennese pastry which is well, insane. Insanely good, insanely sweet, insanely full of all those lovely things which will ultimately grind your metabolism to a halt yet you regret nothing, because Vienna is the city that best knows that the world will end yet our only response to that is to live on. I have always felt that Breakfast at Tiffany’s failed in that Audrey Hepburn looked like a waif munching on the driest croissant in the world and that’s not really breakfast. Go with a fluffy Viennese bun to the Tiffany’s on the Kohlmarkt and you got yourself a real morning fix.

Wiener dogs are not only wiener dogs. They can have any shape and size, although with a general tendency towards smaller editions, those nimble enough to veer out of the way of horse drawn carriages trotting along the city centre, and compact enough to perhaps fit in a handbag in case of an emergency, just as once they might have fitted in the creases of a dress the baroness favoured for summer strolls in the park.

The Waltzer. As illustrated by a gilded statue of Johann Strauss, Vienna likes to flirt with that thin line which separates opulent endeavours from blatant lack of taste. It occasionally crosses it in both directions. There are great exploits to Viennese music, but in spite of my recent dabbling with Mahler I am light years away from being a connoisseur of any of it. But then there’s the Blue Danube and I suddenly feel like running to a ballroom, frothy cake in hand, and perhaps downing an Einspänner on the way. This in spite of the fact that I can’t dance, don’t own any ballgowns and find whipped cream infatuated with itself. 


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