Happy New Year!
Here’s our latest whirlwind adventure to a few big cities on the other side of Germany. Part 1: Vienna, or Wien. We flew out of Düsseldorf Airport, which is only an hour from Bonn. I thought the airport a little bit amusing, so here are some photos to show you why, specifically of the airport tram suspended from above and of the funky installations in the terminal.
We flew into Vienna in the afternoon and had a lovely AirBnB stay for two nights last month. One morning while TA was otherwise engaged with maths, I did a solo walking tour of the city, which is as clean as it is grand. Given the history of being the heart of the Holy Roman Empire for centuries plus the Austrian Empire (just to name two), this is certainly reflected in the Viennese architecture.
Our first night we went out in search of a place to sample the infamous Wiener Schnitzel, went with our host’s recommendation, and we were seated in a crowded restaurant across from another small party–an elderly local woman and her middle-aged nephew. A bit bashful at first, we exchanged niceties and learned that as neither she nor her nephew cooks, they are regulars at this Schnitzel establishment, which is very popular with tourists and locals alike. She had received a gift bag earlier in the day and was examining its contents, prodding a wrapped gift and trying to guess what it was. Due to some miscommunication from my curiosity about traditions around the opening of Christmas gifts, she promptly opened it and revealed another layer of wrapping that stated the Konditorei or confectionery shop from which the gift was bought. She carefully peeled back the packaging and shared a platter of cookies with us. She told us the gift was from a ballet student of hers in Italy, where she taught for 20 years over 40 years ago. She said she was actually born in Bucharest, Romania and that her great-grandfather was from Vienna. After the end of World War II, when she was kid, her parents send all their children away–her father went away for work, while her mother lived in Vienna, her brother went to school in Russia, and her sister in Düsseldorf. She herself was sent to live in Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia that was inhabited by Germans. While Austria was going through continued poverty, unemployment, and rebuilding after the Nazi occupation and then under Allied occupation, they finally reunited when she was 11 after years and lived as a family in Vienna. After that she went to the conservatory to study ballet and would go on to live in Torino, Italy as a ballerina and teacher for 20 years.
Her nephew is her late sister’s son. She says he helps her in her old age and it’s nice that they live together as a family as they don’t have much left or around. He himself didn’t say much of anything at the table, but when he did, he revealed a very strong Viennese accent. It seemed he was a bit scattered, as he couldn’t remember where he had placed his wallet, but at the same time very observant and attentive. His nails were long and dirty. I suppose he didn’t care much for appearances. And after recounting her own personal history, the woman said of her nephew, “Und er? Er hat einfach in Wien gelebt… Ein normales Leben… Zur Schule gegangen und so weiter…” That he only ever lived in Vienna, had a simple, normal life, going to school, etc.
How cool and rare that we had this chance encounter with this multigenerational pair, or really any such interaction in our short trip of the city!
Some notes on Austrian history: World War I was the end of the monarchy in Austria. The country faced 60% unemployment, and vulnerable, they accepted Hitler when he annexed Austria. At the end of WWII they deeply regretted joining him. They were controlled by the four Allied powers and eventually regained independence under following conditions: 1) They must never be part of Germany again; 2) they must always be permanently neutral in any conflict; 3) the Habsburgs must never be restored to power. In fact, it’s illegal for anyone to invoke their Habsburg ancestry for political gain (take that, Malfoys).
The Viennese way of life seems so relaxed, like no one’s in a rush to get anywhere, and downright pleasant. Despite the grand history and opulent architecture, it seems the mentality is down to earth, with a ridiculous (and kind of dark) sense of humor, which I can definitely appreciate. We even got a crash course in Wienerish or the Viennese dialect!