Monday, September 3, 2007


IMG_6563, originally uploaded by bratislavadavis.


The final day in Vienna began with a de facto Otto Wagner tour on the premises of the Psychiatrisches Krankenhaus- an enormous mental hospital where the Kirche am Steinhof stands on the summit of a hill. The Kirche am Steinhof, constructed in 1907, was the last commissioned work in the distinguished career of Wagner. The church has a marble facade with screw-shaped pillars capped off by wreaths. On the façade of the church are bronze Jugendstil angels by Othman Schimkowitz. The stained blue glass windows of the church were painted by Kolo Moser. Unfortunately, the church can only be visited on Saturday afternoon, so I couldn't go inside.

The Wagner Villas are 3.5 kilometers from the Kirche am Stienhof. The villas are a set of two houses, but they were built nearly 20 years apart. The more colorful villa was completed in 1888 and was Wagner’s residence and incorporates both Ringstrasse and Jugendstil elements. The house seems more suitable to be built on the hills of Lombard in Italy as it integrates classical elements like ionic columns. The current resident of the villa, painter Ernst Fuchs added a fertility statue and lavish colors. The smaller villa, which is adjacent to the larger villa, is a steel and concrete house decorated in a geometrical style. Kolo Moser supplied the glass ornament. By the Hütteldorf train station is a contemporary bridge that was done by Wagner. I also got off to see the Kaiser Pavilion- a railway station completed in 1899 in an attempt to showcase his work to the Emperor Franz Joseph. The white wooden station is constructed in a cubic shape with green iron cladding the top of a copper dome. The trains go underneath the station.

I went to the Belvedere for the final time via tram D and paced around the three floors. The Adele Bloch-Bauer saga along with four other Klimt paintings is well-known, but it isn't the only noticeable work that the Belvedere had to return. In November of 2006, the Austrian Culture Ministry returned an Edvard Munch painting, "A Summer on the Beach" to Marina Mahler- the granddaughter of composer Gustav Mahler. Mahler and his wife Alma originally owned the painting, but it was sold to the Belvedere by her stepfather Carl Moll, a Nazi sympathizer, after Alma decided to lend the painting to the museum from 1937-1939 and after she fled Vienna with her Jewish husband, the novelist Franz Werfel. Alma unsuccessfully tried to get the painting returned until her death in 1964.

I bid a fond farewell to Vienna by going on the legendary Ferris wheel in the Prater that was immortalized in Carol Reed's film noir, “The Third Man”. The Ferris wheel was constructed by the British engineer Walter Bassett in 1897 to celebrate the golden jubilee of Emperor Franz Joseph. The enormous wheel measures at 200 feet in height and moves at two and a half feet per second, and affords wonderful views of Vienna and the park. The wheel originally had 30 cabins, but there are about 15 today as the rest were destroyed by a fire during World War II.



I went to the Lichtenstein Museum, which took me about 45 minutes to locate, only to discover that the palace was closed, contrary to the information that was printed in The Lonely Planet Guidebook - but since I was the only one there, the book lived up to its name. The museum is supposed to have a decent art collection that includes a Rembrandt, a Raphael, and several Reubens.

On the way to the Wien Museum, I decided to partake myself of a slice of chocolate cake at the Stadtbahn which was designed by Otto Wagner. The Stadtbahn consists of a train station and a café. The train station has a little museum that gives a brief history and details some of the great buildings that were built by a superb modern architect.

The history of Vienna is told at the Wien Museum at the Karlplatz starting with the Romans and up to the present. The highlight of the museum is the room devoted to Secession painters, which include Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl and also the painter/composer Arnold Schönberg.

The life of Richard Gerstl is full of drama and tragedy. He was a talented painter, doing Impressionist style landscapes using dots, perhaps influenced by the French painter Seurat. There are only 70 of his paintings and drawings that have survived. Gerstl saw the art of the Secession movement as pompous. This brought him into conflict with his art professor Christian Griepenkerl who denounced Gerstl by stating “The way you paint, I piss in the snow!” He was a difficult person, did not fraternize with his fellow students, and rejected an invitation to participate in a procession honoring Franz Joseph I. On the other hand, he was friendly with two of Vienna’s major composers, Mahler and Schönberg.

Gerstl painted several paintings of Schönberg and his family, but had an affair with Schönberg’s wife Mathilde. When Schönberg found out, he gave his wife an ultimatum to choose who she wanted to live with. Staying with her husband, who was a temperamental tyrant, was a crushing blow to Gerstl. Isolated from the intellectual community, distraught by his lover’s rejection, and depressed by his futile career he committed suicide, but only after destroying all his works. He died in 1908 at the age of 25. Mathilde died in 1923 – her remaining life with Schönberg was miserable.

The second floor of the museum has a three-dimensional scale model of the city of Vienna from the 1700’s during the peak of the Habsburg Empire. There were protective walls (glacis) enclosing the city (some of which can still be seen) and the Stephansplatz district seemed almost like an island compared to the present as there were few buildings in the neighboring areas. Also lining the walls of the museum were numerous 18th century landscape paintings of Vienna done by local artists – it was interesting to see how Vienna looked nearly three hundred years ago.

The bottom floor was devoted to Roman excavations although I believe the artifacts are replicas. Because all the signs were in German, I was unable to learn the ancient history of Vienna.

Afterward, I bade farewell to the Kunsthistorisches Museum by checking out the Flemish/Dutch section of the collection. Peter Brueghel the Elder has some pastoral works that are so enjoyable to look at, yet at the same time require attention to detail as he was noted for placing hundreds of people in his paintings. The Tower of Babel is a wonderful painting, but my favorite was the sequence of the seasons, especially “Winter” depicting people ice skating in a typical gloomy Dutch winter scene. It reminded me of the book Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge – oddly enough an American novel from 1865.


The grand masters

IMG_6524, originally uploaded by bratislavadavis.

The German word of the day is wetter. Das Wesser ist sehr heiss in Los Angeles!

The Postsparkasse (Postal Savings Bank) is a delightful building with pleasing aesthetics designed by Otto Wagner. The building completed in 1912 is still in use today and Wagner’s influence can be seen inside as he designed contemporary teller booths and furniture. Even today, it still feels modern, yet has an old-time historic feeling as they don't use digital electronic clocks for the time and date.

I took a tour of the Vienna Synagogue- the lone temple to survive the war. The synagogue dates back to 1824 and was meticulously planned by Josef Kornhausel in the manner of the residential buildings that stood next to it because only churches were permitted to be self-supporting at the time. This saved the synagogue from destruction by the Nazis as they didn’t want neighboring buildings to catch on fire. The interior of the synagogue is rather small where services take place, but pretty inside with splendid lighting on the bimah.

I finished my day with a visit to the Kunsthistorischen Museum as I wanted to see the other gallery which consists of the old masters from Italy, France, and Spain. While the collection is much smaller than the Flemish/Dutch galleries, it is still a very good collection highlighted by 20 Titian paintings. My favorite Titian painting was "The Girl in the Fur" in which you see a familiar face as the women who modeled often posed for the artist most famously in "Venus of Urbino" which is at the Uffizi in Florence.

Every painting that the mysterious woman surfaced in was done for Franceso Maria della Rovere who was the Duke of Urbino and nephew of Pope Julius II. What stands out about this painting is that an expensive fur cloak has fallen off her shoulder exposing her left breast while she is wearing expensive pearl jewelry, thus the painting exemplifies her beauty.

There were three Caravaggio paintings in the gallery, "David slews Goliath"- a similar painting is at the Farnese in Rome-, "Madonna of the Rosary" and "The Crowning with Thorns." The last mentioned work is the most intriguing as it shows Christ with thorns wrapped around his head while his neck sticks out horizontally showing the agony that he is going through. Caravaggio again displays his trademark tenebrism to illuminate Jesus' upper body and the upper bodies of his two tormenters while the rest of the painting is dark. The usage of illumination reflects the dramatic action that the subjects are enduring. Also, there are only four subjects in the painting as Caravaggio preferred using few people in his paintings. The painting was acquired by the imperial ambassador in Rome in 1810 from the collection of Vincezo Guistiniani who compiled one of the greatest art collections in Europe in the 17th century. The painting was mentioned in the inventory of Guistiniani's collection that it was a supraporte, which is a piece that is to be hung over an entry, which is why the composition has slight foreshortening.

Diego Velazquez was well known for his portraits of the royal aristocrats such as the pope and members of the royal family in Spain. There are about a half-dozen royal portraits compiled by Velazquez at this gallery in Vienna. The crown of the collection is the infant Margarita Teresa modeling in an adorable blue dress. Margarita Teresa was the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and Maria Anna, the daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III. In this portrait, Margarita is eight years old and her blue eyes stand out especially with the dress that she is adorning. The painting gains sentimental value because it portrays the child in such a delicate manner. Margarita would go on to marry her uncle who became Emperor Leopold I at the age of 15 in 1666. She would tragically die, seven years later at the mere age of 22 while in the process of giving birth to her seventh child.

The horrors of War

IMG_6502, originally uploaded by bratislavadavis.

I began a busy day at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum which houses the history of the Austrian military tracing its roots from the 16th century onward starting with the Thirty Years’ War- the clash between the Catholics and Protestants- with heavy silver armor on display. A turning point in Austrian history was when the Turkish advanced into Vienna in 1683, but they were repelled by imperial and Polish troops commanded by Prince Eugene of Savoy. This eventually led to the Peace Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699, which called for Austria to regain large portions of Hungary and all of Transylvania. The Museum has Turkish flags flying on display that were captured by the Austrians from the wars including a banner that quotes from the Koran, “There is no god but God, and Mohammed is his prophet.” There are also hundreds of rifles, machetes, and muskets on display. There are also portraits of the victorious Prince Eugene.

The Museum tracks the fall of the Austrians in their war against Prussia, which led to a division within the Hapsburg Empire as Austria and Hungary were split up; it also paved the way for the modern state of Germany under Otto Van Bismarck in 1871. Many of the exhibits of this era are devoted to Franz Joseph who was the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy for 68 years.

The highlight of the museum is the car that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were riding in when they were assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914 by a teenage Serbian nationalist Gavirlio Princip – an event which eventually led to the outbreak of World War I. The audio guide interestingly mentioned that Ferdinand narrowly escaped a grenade attack at the train station and the damage can still be seen on the car. With the death of Ferdinand and Austria’s crushing defeat in the war, the Hapsburg Monarchy was finished.

I enjoyed the exhibits from World War I and World War II. The most engaging were the fighter planes and tanks that were used, although it was difficult to follow the display descriptions at times. It was disappointing that the Tank Park outside had no descriptions in English.

I moved on the Jewish Museum. The permanent collections of the museum are lackluster as they display hologram images giving brief thumbnail descriptions of Jewish history in Vienna. The museum did have an impressive collection of ceremonial objects, but having seen many over the years, it didn’t appeal to me.

There were two special exhibits. The first was “Best of All Women”: The Female Dimension in Judaism, examining the role of women in Judaism in political, social, religious, and economic milieu. Two things stood out in this exhibit. There was a picture of women in the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York proudly wearing tefilin around their arms and head in 1994. One would perceive that this is part of the modern feminist movement that women seek equal rights to men in the more liberal aspects of Judaism. In the case of the photo, that is correct, but there was a precedent as Brune of Mainz wrapped tefilin around her limbs in the 14th century. The exhibit also told the story of Regina Jonas who was brought up in a traditional Orthodox family in Germany, but became the first female Rabbi in 1936 before tragically dying in the Holocaust.

The other exhibit, “The Archive of the Jewish Community Vienna” reveals one of the more significant discoveries when Jewish Community Vienna (IKG) employees found in wooden cabinets, piles of books, index cards in a vacant apartment that contained the records and files kept by the IKG prior to the war.

Some 500,000 pages of data were recovered and seven years later, a small sample of it is displayed in this special exhibit. Unfortunately, the exhibit is disorganized as the items such as letters displayed are not organized by years, but rather scattered all over the place, which makes it difficult to follow. Some of the items displayed show the internal rift that went on in a Jewish community. An example being a letter to a cantor telling him that he was relieved of his duties. There was a notebook listing the names of people to be deported to Lotz. Some of the archives were merely simple sketches of leaders such as Dr. Adolph Jellinek- the chief Rabbi of Vienna in 1872.

The Judenplatz hosts the archeological remains of a medieval synagogue underground that originated in 1240. The synagogue was severely damaged in a fire in 1406 and was razed 15 years later at the decree of Duke Albrecht V who also ordered that the Jews be expelled. Many Jews committed suicide. Nearby is a rather simple, but controversial Holocaust memorial that was pushed by Simon Wiesenthal. The Jewish community opposed the memorial being built over what was the synagogue while right-wingers complained about excessive money being spent on the project. Eventually a compromise was reached as the monument was placed near the synagogue instead of directly on top of where it stood.

The stunning baroque masterpiece church Karlkirsche was designed by Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach, although he died before it was completed. The green domes along with the two columns influenced by Trajan’s Column in Rome dominate the exterior. Inside, one can take a lift to the top and view the magnificent fresco in the cupola by Johann Michael Rottmayr, which was completed in 1730.
At the Albertinaplatz, there is the Monument Against War and Fascism which consists of four thought-provoking statues.

The split white monument, The Gates of Violence, remembers victims of all wars and violence, including the 1938–1945 Nazi rule of Austria. Standing directly in front of it, you're at the gates of a concentration camp. Step into a montage of wartime images: clubs and WWI gas masks, a dying woman birthing a future soldier, and chained slave laborers sitting on a pedestal of granite cut from the infamous quarry at Mauthausen concentration camp.

The hunched-over figure on the ground behind is a Jew forced to wash anti-Nazi graffiti off a street with a toothbrush. The statue with its head buried in the stone (Orpheus entering the underworld) reminds Austrians of the consequences of not keeping their government on track. Behind that, the 1945 declaration of Austria's second republic — with human rights built into it — is cut into the stone. The experience gains emotional impact when you realize this monument stands on the spot where several hundred people were buried alive when the cellar they were hiding in was demolished in a WWII bombing attack.

I finished the day by viewing the Wagner apartments designed by the famed architect Otto Wagner, which were completed in 1899. Apartment number 38 is yellow with a luminous gild adornment by Kolo Moser. Number 40 is known for its pink floral patterns.

Surreal Alps

IMG_6388, originally uploaded by bratislavadavis.


II began the day by roaming around the old town. The Helbinghaus is a beautiful white baroque structure. It was originally created as a Gothic town house in the 15th century, but was converted into its present-day baroque structure by Wessobrunner School designers. It is now a residential and office building.

The Ottoburg-Goldener Adler is a present-day hotel and restaurant, but the Gothic building was originally a residential tower that dates back to 1494. There is a memorial plaque in front of the restaurant dedicated to the Tyrolean freedom fighters that died in 1809. The Dom Zu St. Jakob church is a beautiful Baroque church constructed in the first quarter of the 18th century. The tomb of Maximilian III is inside.

The Kaiserliche Hofburg is a magnificent palace built by Archduke Siegmund the Rich and Emperor Maximilian I in 1460. Empress Maria Theresa updated the palace in the mid-18th century by adding grand halls and rooms.

Nearby is the Leopoldsbrunnen- an equestrian statue of a wild mustang- the oldest depiction of its type north of the Alps. Archduke Leopold V who reigned over Tyrol from 1618 to 1632 is riding the horse.

The Landestheater hosts theater, opera, and dance performances. It was at first an opera court house in 1654, but was altered into the classical style by Segusini- a Venetian architect.

The beautiful Hofgarten is filled with buckeye trees and used to have parrots in residence. It was placed by Archduke Ferdinand II in the 16th century, but was converted into a Baroque-styled garden by Empress Maria Theresia. In the first half of the 19th century, it was adapted into a park. A horse there was extremely friendly to me and licked my arm.

The Old University goes back to 1699. The building now hosts the theology department as the campus is now in central Innsbruck. Adjacent to the Old University is the Jesuit Church- a baroque structure compiled in 1648. Inside are the crypts of Archduke Leopold V who married into the famous Medici family in Florence- thus his wife Claudia de Medici is buried there along with their children.
I saw on the map that there was a synagogue nearby so I ventured into the modern section of the city. The synagogue appears to be underground and the only indication that there was one was a Hebrew plaque.

One of the striking landmarks of Innsbruck is a high pole on a pedestal- Annasaule (St. Anne’s Column) constructed in the early 18th century by the provincial government commemorating Tyrol’s successful repelling of the Bavarians during the War of Spanish succession in 1703. There are sculptures of religious icons like Mary and saints.

The Truimphpforte is a Romanesque arc constructed in 1765 to celebrate the engagement of Leopold II to Maria Ludovica. Francis I Stephen of Lothringer- the father of Leopold II died during the festivities, thus one side exemplifies happiness while the other side portrays grief.

The Basilica Wilten and Stiftkirche Wilten are two of the earliest churches, both situated in modern Innsbruck. Basilica Wilten has been a shrine for pilgrims since the 14th century and there is a huge cemetery there. The edifice was re-constructed in 1755. Stiftkirche Wilten is a monastery that dates back to 1128. The early baroque church was built in 1655.

The highlight of my day was the Bergiselstadion- the ski jump structure that was used for the Olympics here and hosted the opening and closing ceremonies. A lift to the top gives one a gorgeous view of Innsbruck and its Alpine surroundings from the southern part of the city. Ski jumpers practice even in the summer as I saw a jumper flying.