On an unseasonably warm February morning we strolled through the Belvedere park, among joggers running out of steam on its gentle incline and Asian ladies snapping selfies with bare legs (it was not THAT warm, but the Asian resilience to cold in touristy situations never ceases to amaze me). A few hours later, we were wandering through the maze of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, lovingly shortened as KHM, which always strikes me as the sound an elderly professor makes before launching into a diatribe about Dutch minor masters. In the KHM, I bumped into a Canaletto, mercifully not literally, as setting off the alarm once in the KHM was enough to scar me for life and sow fear in my heart each time I enter a museum. It thus struck me how his view of the Belvedere is not that radically different from how it looks today, minus some compulsory glass and steel buildings and cranes on the horizon, proof that a city can love and preserve its green spaces because they very literally give it life and also offer a glimpse of its past to new generations.
Vienna’s radical practicality, at least when compared to its Eastern ex-provinces, is contrasted by its Habsburg love of excess, that spoon of whipped cream they manage to land on everything, from coffee to steaks. Few things embody it better than Benvenuto Cellini’s Saliera, received by the Habsburgs as a gift from the king of France, on proud display in another room of the KHM. Proud display may even be an understatement- it is the absolute centerpiece of several halls centered around it, a gilded, if technically well executed, horror with a scene vaguely reminiscent of future German language porn Cellini was lucky or unfortunate not to witness. It’s also completely useless as a receptacle to store salt in, a sharp contrast to what the Wiener Werkstätte would later stand for.
Their work, along that of many turn of the century luminaries such as Klimt, Schiele or Kokoschka to name just a fashionable few, is the subject of a brilliant but taxing exhibition at the Leopold Museum- Vienna 1900, The Birth of Modernism. The wealth of information and the web of connections it triggers, from visual arts to crafts, literature, science, sociology or politics is immersive and overwhelming- and perhaps best digested in several sessions. It’s also a splendid moodboard for home design, a sort of apartment therapy before it was cool- speaking of social media friendly phenomena, they also have Klimt in a dreamy robe with a cat.
Such toils call for a comedown of simple pleasures (which would have probably been to the liking of many featured artists), such as burgers and beer in the nearby Centimeter II (there are several Centimeters in Vienna, the one we visited is the one at Stiftgasse 4), an unfussy establishment serving king size bar food mixed with some local classics and beers from Austria, and other provinces of the former empire, namely Czechia, the usage of which newly minted English denomination the Austrians seem to have passionately taken to. The demanding and knowledgeable beer snob- depending on my level of associated hunger, and within certain sensible limits, I can belong to both beer slob and snob categories- is however much better off in the Ammutsøn Craft Beer Dive, where I entered and (hopefully only internally) exclaimed omg the beer is served by Mohamed Salah, which almost made sense, since Liverpool were still on the winter break Jürgen Klopp was so fervent about.
As it later transpired, the two heroes of our story do share a nationality and politeness, as the Ammutsøn’s owner very graciously listened to my three IPA fueled swoon about how much he looks like someone else, something that has apparently been happening to him fairly frequently lately, in spite of his general alienation from football. I offer my retroactive apologies for such unbearable behavior and will make up for it a little by very warmly recommending the place to anyone at a loss about what to do with their lives in the proximity of the Mariahilferstraße. The beers are excellent, the atmosphere is friendly, buzzing and cosmopolitan. In case you wonder about the name (I did, another thing three IPAs do to you), it is inspired both by Egyptian goddess Ammut, the devourer of hearts, and the great Antarctic explorer Amundsen. Antarctic exploration, though, is one of those things not even 30 IPAs would make me consider, they’d probably kill me first, which is still sweeter than dying from exposure.
Should you be a big fan of alcohol fueled winter sports, there are however sad news for you: Austrian authorities have had enough of inebriated skiers injuring themselves on the slopes and/or getting lost in the winter wonderland, so they have introduced strict limits on alcohol consumption, similar to those applied to drivers. This piece of information was the star headline of the Saturday press we perused in a very Viennese fashion at the Café Goldegg. A classic café I’d hitherto unforgivably let unexplored, the Goldegg lies within walking distance of the Belvedere and has possibly the smoothest and most delicious Kleiner Brauner I had in town, which is no small achievement in the coffee fiend stronghold that is Vienna.
Something the Viennese themselves don’t do all that much is climb to the tower of the Stephansdom- which for the first time in a long while is not covered in scaffolding. As a result of the extensive rehabilitation works its coloured tiles (also from Czechia) now have a fresh sheen which we decided to contemplate from the tiring but rewarding heights of the southern tower, the Sudtürm, for the price of six euros and what seemed an eternity of climbing in an ever narrowing staircase. The ticket and the subsequent muscle relaxants can of course be bought with Mastercard, the priceless bit is how, just as we reached the top, the fairly overcast sky was given a fiery crimson lining by the sunset, a city of gilded roofs melting into the golden haze of the sun.