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Sunday, November 8, 1998
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Vienna symbolises everything that is worth liking and loving— grace, glamour, gaiety, sophistication, hospitality and camaraderie, opines Jagmohan Singh Barhok

Grace, gaiety and glamour

VIENNA, the capital of Austria, is supposed to be one of the most beautiful, planned and well-laid capitals in the world. It is also considered the cleanest among the world capitals. Its city transport system is not only the best in the world, it is reputed for a variety of amenities and innovations. A visitor to Vienna has little to bother about getting around in the city. He has a variety of choices for the local transport.

Vienna, symbolises everything that is worth liking and loving— grace, glamour, gaiety, sophistication, hospitality and camaraderie. Situated at the confluence of central European mountain massif and the eastern plain, Vienna has been variously called the "Cultural Capital of the World", "Grand Dame of the continent", "A City of Dreams", "A Marvel of Architecture", "The City of Waltz", "Capital of the World of Music", and last, but not least, "The Pleasure-seekers’ Paradise".

Having served as the capital of the glittering ‘Habsburg Empire’ for 600 years, this "City of Museums and Art Exhibitions" has meticulously preserved its regal glory, grandeur and elegance. The Viennese traditional hospitality and politeness are the hall-mark of their sociability. The Austrians are a friendly people, of unpretentious tastes and without the fiery temperament of their Latin neighbours. Viennese women are renowned for their looks and are inclined to wear hats more than fashionable women do in other European cities. The traditional "click of the heels" and "kiss on the hand" epitomise social grace and propriety. The ultimate in Viennese formality is experienced during the elegant "Opera Ball" and " New Year’s Eve" festivities.

Like the Viennese taverns, its coffee house have a charm of their own. In the city coffee houses, the visitor is offered a course of instruction in an enduring social art — a combination of perfect relaxation and indulging in the good life. The introduction of coffee to the Viennese has a history. It is said that in their attempt to advance into the heart of Europe, the Turks were obstructed by the valiant Viennese. The Turks laid siege to the city first in 1599 and later in 1683, which was successfully broken both times, forcing the invaders to retreat. Tradition says that the Vienna’s defenders captured coffee from booty taken in the Turkish camps. They brewed the beans for the first time anywhere in northern Europe. From Vienna coffee quickly spread across all the continent, yielding ‘cafe’ not only as an international word for the product, but also for the place where it is enjoyed.

Vienna is the city of Freud. It is also the city of musicians, thinkers and philosophers. The artistic explosion took place with the performance of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera "Orfeo" in October 1762 and ended with the death of Franz Schubert in November of 1828.

In these brief, precious years, Gluck, Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert laboured over many of the symphonies, chamber music pieces and quite a few of the operas that now make up the worldwide repertory of classical music. This period between 1762 and 1828 is referred to as "Vienna’s golden age".

Composing was, indeed, Schubert’s only real passion. During the 32 years of his life he outperformed even Mozart with over 1000 compositions — including scores of songs ("Lieder") inspired by Goethe and others.

A visitor to Vienna will discover that the city has not one but a thousand and one things to write home about. "Schonbrunn Palace", summer residence of the imperial family, a magnificent edifice designed by architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach at the end of the 17th century is the one sight in the city that is at the top of everybody’s list. The palace designed and built between 1696 and 1713, contains 1441 rooms, 45 of which are incredibly magnificent. These are known as ‘state rooms’, and include the apartments used by Empress Maria Theresa and her daughters.

There is the "Hall of Mirrors" where Mozart performed at the age of six; the rooms Napoleon took over when he occupied Vienna in 1805 and 1809; and the salon in which Emperor Charles I abdicated and resigned the crown in 1918, thus ending 640 years of Habsburg dominion in Austria and monarchy in central Europe. Some of the rooms are filled with priceless Chinese antiques and paintings.

The ‘State Opera House’ is one of the many landmarks along "the Ring" (as Vienna’s Ringstrasse’ is commonly called). "The Museum of Arts" and the "Museum of Natural History" are also on the ‘Ringstrasse’. The ‘Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibits some of the richest and most significant pieces of art collections in the world, including Durer, Rubens, and Titian paintings, and Cellini’s priceless golden salt dish.

Among other notable sights in the city are: Vienna International Centre, The Danube Park, The Danube Tower, The Tower of
Babel, Spanish Riding School (where horses are still trained in the medieval Spanish tradition), St. Stephen’s Cathedral, The Prator Amusement Park, Parliament Building and the zoo (the oldest in Europe).

The flea market on Wienzeile is a popular haunt for collectors. You can also make purchases at museums —perhaps not original exhibits, but original souvenirs based on the works of arts. It is difficult to make a choice in the pedestrian zones in Karntner Strasse, Graben and Kohlmarkt. Chic fashion boutiques are found side by side with antique shops. Renowned jewellery designers enchant the passer-by as much as China from the famous Augarten factory. Famous shopping streets of the Viannese include Mariahilfer Strasse, Landstrasser Hauptstrasse and the pedestrian zone on Favoritenstrasse.

Contemporary Austrian film stars with a world-wide reputation are Claus Maria Brandauer (Mephisto, 1980 directed by Istvin Szabo, James Bond’s Never Say Never again, 1983 directed by Irvin Kershner) and Arnold Schwarzeneggar (The Terminator, 1985, directed by James Cameron), who emigrated to the USA as a young man.

Vienna offers an exciting and thrilling nightlife. It boasts of some of the finest and most exotic nightclubs, bars and restaurants. "Moulin Rogue", like everywhere else, heads the list of entertainment establishments. Its floor-shows are imaginatively contrived, beautifully performed, and hardly leave anything to be desired — except what is still on the bewitching bodies of the female dancers. Acts vary for each show, and each show has about three to four acts.

"Casanova" has twice nightly floorshows. Downstairs, there is a scintillating cabaret. The cinema buff will be interested to know that the movie The Third Man which dealt with spying and blackmarketeers was filmed here.

Lido Im Maxim, true to its reputation, gives the clients their money’s worth. With the preceding two nightclubs, this makes "the big three" of the Viennese clubs — big in size, anyway. All the three feature striptease in its most erotic and exotic form.

A notable feature of Viennese nightlife is the cafes, which are also used as nightclubs. The atmosphere is more homely, unpretentious and friendly. The striptease artistes go around the cafes exchanging ‘sweet nothings’ with the clients. Often, there are lively guffaws and laughter.

Those who have a penchant for gambling cannot fail to visit Casino Vienna, the ultimate in entertainment. Opened in 1973, Casino Vienna is located in Esterhazy Palace, the oldest building in Kartner Strasse, dating back to the first half of the 15th century. The interiors, with the glass dome and frescoes, were designed by renowned Austrian artists.

Apart from the classic roulette and baccarat, the range of games has been continuously adapted and enlarged. American roulette, poker, black jack are offered, along with slot machines and various other games. For those who prefer a more casual atmosphere there is the jackpot corner, open from lunch-time. A visit to Casino Vienna is sure to be an unforgetable experience, and with a little luck, could turn into a very special indeed.

Inflation has hit almost every country in the world. Austria, fortunately, remains one of the least expensive countries of Europe. English is spoken and well understood in Vienna and all other major cities and towns and in all well-known tourist resorts.

Visitors to Austria cannot afford to miss the breathtaking charm, beauty and splendour of the Tyrolean Alps: the two winter sports cities of Salzburg and Innsbruck. In some towns, the hospitality of the locals is much in evidence. Most households happily accept visitors as guests. You can enjoy the amenities of a five-star hotel, plus the homely atmosphere, friendly warmth, and sweet, ganteel company.

It was the Congress of Vienna, held in 1815, to redraw the political map of Europe in the wake of the Napoleonic wars, which finally established the Austrian capital as a place of encounter.

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