"Vienna. Portrait of a City" comes from the German publisher Taschen, and while we acknowledge that they do know how to produce regular-size books, sometimes, we have also marvelled many a time at the rather massive opuses that seem to be a trademark of theirs. For instance, when we stayed at the Kempinski hotel in Berchtesgaden we were particularly impressed by the weighty Taschens lying around the lounge area. This new one fits into the latter super-size category and is not so much a book, more a tome.

Here, Vienna receives full justice in 532 extra-large (34 by 25 centimetres) pages with hundreds of excellent photographs dating back 175 years to the infant days of photography, as seen via such ancient processes as hand-coloured glass slides, salt prints from paper negatives, daguerreotypes and photochromes. These capture Vienna's history from the imperial city of the Habsburgs to today, from the royal residences and major landmarks to little-known treasures, and from the flowering of the fin de siècle culture between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the First World War to the sinister Cold War.


The book, as we think is usual with Taschen, comes in three languages: German, English and French, by Christian Brandstatter, Andreas J. Hirsch and Hans-Michael Koetzle. There are five sections: 1839-1918, Capital of a Multiethnic Empire – Laboratory of Modernity; 1918-1938, Between the Wars – Red Vienna and Austrofascism; 1938-1955, National Socialist Tyranny, World War Two, and the Occupation; 1955-1989, Development and Modernization; and 1989 onwards, Openness and Change.

This is a full exploration of Vienna's outstanding architectural splendour and its matchless heritage of art, design and music, the grand balls and waltzes, the paintings of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, the buildings of Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner, the psychology of Sigmund Freud, balanced by the ascendancy of Adolf Hitler, and so on.


The first daguerreotype (the first commercial photographic process) to be made in Vienna shows the Riding School in the Hofburg with the old Burgtheater, before June 1840. Empress Elisabeth, so popular in Hungary, makes a first appearance in the book in 1859, photographed with her husband Emperor Franz Joseph I and the royal family.

Crown Prince Rudolf is seen as a child in Elisabeth's lap, and he makes a final appearance 30 years later in 1889, lying in state after committing suicide following the shooting of his lover Baroness Mary Vetsera at the imperial hunting lodge Mayerling near Vienna.


A panorama of the freshly laid Ringstrasse is viewed from the Outer Castle Gate with a glimpse of the two equestrian statues on Heldenplatz, the Volksgarten and Burggarten, the front of the Hofburg, the Royal Library and the Albertina, circa 1870.

Gates and bastions, steps and bridges sometimes disappear before our eyes as the grand new city takes shape, including a provisional Parliament building erected in 1861.

That same year a Photographic Society was formed for the "perfection, propagation and best possible promotion of photography", and its members are seen in 1894. Thanks to them, we suppose, we have many of the valuable scenes recorded in this book.

Fruit and vegetable markets, chestnut roasters, horse trams, the Schottenkirche (Scots Church), the opera under construction in 1866, pomp and ceremony, jubilee exhibitions, carnivals and children's fairs, stagecoaches, luxury department stores and, of course, coffeehouses. One habitué of the latter answered his own question from experience: "What is a coffeehouse literatus? A person who has time to sit in a coffeehouse and contemplate what the others don't experience outside."


Sigmund Freud, neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, is first shown photographed circa 1898.

Around 1900 came the flowering of Viennese intellectual life that became famous world-wide, and the fortunate Serena Lederer is seen in her apartment in the first district in 1930 with three Klimts on her walls: "Wally", "The Golden Apple Tree" and her own likeness in "Portrait of Serena Lederer". Fellow Modernist Egon Schiele is pictured in front of his painting "Encounter" (1914).

The Austrian Postal Savings Bank in the first district is a favourite of The Budapest Times, and architect Otto Wagner's famous building, realised in two phases from 1904-1906 and 1910-1912, is pictured inside as only the chiaroscuro of black-and-white photography can. The so-called "Majolica House" in the sixth district is another of our many favourites.

"Viennese Types" are scattered through the pages: young women called Waschermad'l (washer girl) with baskets to pick up laundry from various households and return it clean a week later; Hausmeisters (caretakers or janitors); Hausierjude (peddler Jews) carrying around a selection of soaps, suspenders, rubber goods, buttons and pencils; "Graben nymphs" (prostitutes) whose carte-de-visite portraits had their name and address on the back; Orthodox Jews in the second district (Leopoldstadt) and other characters.


A ladies' orchestra plays in the Prater, circa 1905-10, and elegantly dressed everyday types stroll the pleasant streets in the time before cars overwhelmed the planet and almost everyone changed from neat dresses, suits and hats to casual tops with "F*ck" written on them (wonder what it means?) and running shoes.

Of course, Adolf Hitler and destruction came later and Jews were humiliated by being forced to scrub Vienna's streets. All cities have crime and despair and unemployment. There are people who feel the need to lord it over everyone else.

Sometimes, though, we wish that we could go back to what were said to be easier times, even if it turns out they weren't. We would like to risk it and time-travel to Taschen's Vienna to see and enjoy the glorious old city in this hefty book. Make sure your coffee table can take a good weight.

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