Cobblestones, Catacombs and Coffee
27.08.2007 - 29.08.2007 20 °C
After an amazing three days in Prague, we took a train to Vienna, Austria. We had caught a mid-afternoon train, so by 7pm we were already settled in our hostel and ready to start exploring. By then all museums and such were closed, so we decided to check out our neighbourhood. Our guide book recommended a nearby bar, Das Möbel, for its unique furniture and artistic atmosphere, so we headed in that direction. The streets were all cobblestone, the buildings old and tall, and the storefronts brightly lit. We passed quite a few pubs and bars, but seeing as it was still very early they were all quite dead.
A few streets later I saw a gallery, which upon closer inspection, turned out to be still open! Inside, there were colourful Plexi-glass wall hangings, sculptures, lamp shades, vases and other decorative items. Many of the items were twirling, wriggling or swaying, either on their own, or with the help of wind and electricity. Among the large Plexi-glass pieces, there were also some other items like porcelain teacups attached to wineglass stems, feather hats, bags and heavy metal jewellery. I especially liked the cups and the bags, but decided to only get a bag, because of our limited packing space.
The bar, Das Möbel, turned out to be a snobby, über expensive, and overall disappointing place, so we went right back out. We had a couple drinks at a Billiard hall, which turned out to be quite gothic, and then at a beachy looking place called “The Green Bar”. The last place we went to was a little seedy looking from the outside, but it turned out to have a very warm, happy atmosphere inside. The walls were decorated with 50s style paintings and red lampshades made everyone and everything look rosier and happier than they perhaps were. An adjoining room had hundreds of ties hanging from the roof, which I of course had to photograph, and even though the bathroom was co-ed and completely covered in flyers, concert ads and grafitti, it was still quite clean. We met a couple of locals and spent the night exchanging stories and getting tips on what to see and what to skip during our short stay in Vienna.
The next morning we had a so-so hostel breakfast we headed to the popular Naschmarkt, and had a better breakfast. This market was definitely the best that I have yet seen. The stalls are permanent and make two long alleyways. The one alley has tons of cafes, restaurants and other hot food places and the other alley has all of the fresh food. The latter alley was a beautiful mixture of bright colours, curious smells, shouting vendors and of course, the customers themselves which ranged from tourists, to business men and women, to the regular market goers with their large market baskets. We purchased some snacks and sandwich materials and then headed to St. Stephen’s square. St. Stephen’s Cathedral dominates the centre of the square and hundreds of classy shops line the outside of the square. Horse carriages dotted the square and locals ambled their way through the herds of tourists, while a bum with only half his legs walked around on his stumps.
We entered the church and were instantly mesmerized. This was by far the nicest church we had seen so far, even though it wasn’t as big as St. Paul’s in London and not as fancy as the ones in Prague. The intricately carved stone columns stretched high above our heads and arched into each other at the distant ceiling. Stone staircases wound their way around some of the columns and partly grotesque stone carvings decorated the walls. The catacombs beneath the church sounded very interesting, so we took the guided tour.
At first we were a little disappointed because everything had been renovated and painted, so it really didn’t look old. A hallway was dedicated to the coffins of past priests, the oldest body being over 400 years old, and the newest only 4 years old. An adjacent hallway was dedicated to their organs, which were neatly stored in large iron vats. A prayer room connected the two hallways and a little room behind it stored some of the churches damaged stone carvings. Our highly enthusiastic guide brought us through a small tunnel and we entered what looked to me like ‘real catacombs’: low, dark, brick tunnels, with a dirt floor and cavernous burial chambers on either side. Some of the chambers had been emptied because they were emitting horrible smells, but a surprisingly high number of them were still full. The catacombs were only used for about 4 years, before they got full and had to be sealed up. The wooden coffins began to rot and the bodies all crashed on top of each other in a heap of rotting wood and flesh, and emitted a horrible stench. They emptied some of the rooms, which turned out to come in hand when the Black Plague hit Vienna. The number of victims was so large that they simply dug a hole in the square above the empty chambers and dumped the bodies in. We saw one of these chambers and it was truly a huge mountain of jumbled bones and skulls. Some of the other, older chambers had been ‘organized’ so that the bones formed a wall, with the skulls as decoration.
Vienna is all about the coffee and of course coffee houses, and these coffee houses can be found at every corner. We were not going to settle for any coffeehouse and were interested in a special one: Café Helvetika, the oldest and most famous coffeehouse. This is where we had a series of unsuccessful sightseeing attempts. The café was closed, the Criminal museum that the locals recommended was also closed and then the subway station that we were supposed to get on turned out to be nonexistent because it had been planned, but not built! The Kunsthaus Wien was also a little disappointing. An Austrian architect and ‘renegade artist’, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, designed it with his ideology that resented lines, geometry and organization. The idea is very interesting, but the outcome was very childish and kitschy. The famous Hundertwasserhaus was the same.
By then we were super tired, so we headed back to our hostel to make some supper and have a nap. Refreshed and full we decided to check out the nightlife district and try the strongest beer in the world. After some searching we settled for a young, popular ‘disco’, Kaktus, but decided to leave after two drinks. The bar Krah Krah was said to have the strongest beer in the world and indeed it did. It was 14%!! I found it absolutely disgusting, but Kyle claimed to enjoy it, so he finished it. The Austrian beers were taking their effect and by 1pm we were ready to go home. The underground and all of the trams had already stopped, so we had to take a bus, but we must have done it wrong, because it took us an hour to walk home after we got out.
The next day we headed back to the Naschmarkt, and then visited the Museums Qaurtier, which is a large, walled in area with various museums and galleries in it. While Kyle waited outside I checked out the Moderne Kunst Museum. Most of the works were by Sigmar Polke, and I quite liked them. If any one is interested, I found these to be the best ones:
- “Menschenbrücke” (“Human Bridge” - orange brown depiction of four people forming a bridge by standing head to head and toe to toe in an arch)
-“Weißer Raum” (“White Room” - silhouettes of two children in an orange room, looking into a white room with black walls)
- “Schrott” (“Junk/shit” - A mound of black round stones, with a net of tangled blue icicles above it)
- “Vorhang” (“Curtain” – A brown/beige curtain behind a huge rotting head, impaled on a tiny skeleton, and a smaller dried head)
- “…aus Lernen neu zu Lernen” (“…to learn from learning”- A very tall man, with extraordinarily long arms holding a wheelbarrow. A head floats in the wheelbarrow, and a bigger head floats above the wheelbarrow at eye level with the tall man
- An ominous black and white film that had one subject: a blood stained upholstered chair. War sounds like bombing and crashing and shooting were played in the background.
Back outside it was raining and I found Kyle at a café enjoying a Viennese coffee. We waited for a little, but the rain didn’t look like it was going to let up, so we headed to the hostel to pick up our luggage and board the train back to Mannheim.
Overall Vienna made quite a good impression on us. We really enjoyed the lively bars, the amazing market, and of course St. Stephen’s Cathedral and its catacombs.