Vienna: Architectural Tour

Heldenplatz, Vienna
Heldenplatz, Vienna

Though I had visited Vienna before with Joel and my Austrian “sister” Christl, this was my first time to stay in the middle of the city, at the Hilton am Stadtpark (City Park), thanks to my wonderfully generous brother. It was Lilli’s first time in Vienna and right away she noticed its elegance and grandeur. “Boston has no buildings like these,” she commented. On the bright Sunday morning of August 9, we were fortunate to have as our guides Christl and her husband, Joseph Matousek, retired director of city planning for Vienna. They had even rented a car seat and brought along picture books for Violet.

Vienna, Map of City Center
Vienna, Map of City Center
Christl and Joseph
Christl and Joseph

Joseph explained that the Ringstrassethe broad boulevard around the inner city, that you can see on this map, replaced the old city walls in the late 19th century. Our hotel was on the right of the map, just above the green Stadtpark and below the Danube River, in blue at the very top. Leaving the hotel and driving south, we passed the glorious State Opera House, looked briefly at the stately Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Natural History to the west, then parked at Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), the largest green area on the left. We simply must go back soon and spend days absorbing the treasures of art, music and history along the Ringstrasse.

Walking around the Heldenplatz, an enormous, sparkling square embraced by magnificent buildings, Christl pointed out the balcony on the Old Palace, which Maria Theresa (1717-1780) had installed so that she could watch her 16 children playing below. The next youngest of her children was the ill-fated Marie-Antoinette, who married Louis XVI of France and was put to death by guillotine in 1793. We saw the New Palace, the National Library,  and the Spanish Riding School here, plus lots of tour groups and carriages drawn by horses fitted with pooper-scoopers.

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Beyond the Ring, Joseph took us to see the Hundertwasserhaus, a unique social condominium built in the early 1980s that aims to incorporate nature. It failed to achieve the lasting influence that Villa Tugendhat has had, but it was colorful and lively on that Sunday morning.

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Next we drove across the Danube River to the Vienna University of Economics and Business, just north of Prater Park.  Joseph showed Lilli some remarkable new buildings. Christl, Violet, and I walked around the amusement park and treated Violet to a ride on a toy car.

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Shadow of Danube Tower on garden below
Shadow of Danube Tower on garden below

For lunch Christl and Joseph had thoughtfully made reservations at a revolving restaurant atop the Donautürm or Danube Tower, the tallest structure in Austria. As we slowly turned we could see ships on the Danube River, across the river to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and nearby, the Vienna International Centre, where many United Nations organizations have offices. One level below us were bungee jumpers. The food was delicious and the surroundings relaxing–so nice for Violet to have those picture books along.

One more stop was to see housing built around old gas storage tanks, structures so familiar to me in Phillips TX. Later Nina and Lisa, the Matouseks’ daughters, told us that they would never live there–too far from the action. It was a wonderful day of being with old friends and seeing splendid sights through their eyes. Back at the hotel we rested a bit, took a long walk through the Stadtpark and had supper at the wonderful Kursalon that overlooks the park. Sleep came early that night.

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