Travel after the pandemic #3: Vienna

Home to Mozart, Harry Lime and emperors

Splendid building after splendid building in the imposing ex-imperial city of Vienna has rows of statues of men standing along the roof edges. They look like potential suicides about to plunge into the cobblestone streets below. But who would want to commit suicide in a place consistently voted among the very best places to live in the whole cosmos?

Horse-drawn carriages called fiakers clip-clop through those cobblestone streets. Close your eyes for a second and listen to the clipping and the clopping and you could be back a century ago when Vienna ruled the Habsburg Empire. A bus has to crawl along behind the fiaker in the narrow street until it can get past.

The bus driver is probably cheesed off with frigging fiakers: they’re as slow as hell but at least there were no radar traps and you could find somewhere to park in the city in the 19th century.

We have no evidence but probably 99.9% of the fiakers’ passengers are tourists out for a photo-op tour of the cobblestones, the splendid buildings and the statues. The Viennese would be too sensible to pay the price, so they take the buses, behind the fiakers.

Likewise, the 15-metre queue waiting to get in the marvellous Café Central are probably tourists willing to pay the extra for the privilege of sipping a latté and eating an apfelstrudel amidst the marble pillars, arched ceilings and chandeliers. They say Leon Trotsky, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Loos, Vladimir Lenin, Josip Broz Tito and – the great unmentionable in Austria – Adolf Hitler were patrons. (Hitler must have sold a lot of his painted postcards that day to afford it.)

Of course, tourist-wise things are not a lot different in this city that is often called the “metropolis on the Danube” to another place we know that is also called the “metropolis on the Danube” (clue: downriver a bit) and has similar coffee-and-cake places, these ones by the names of Gerbeaud Kávéház and the New York Café, not to mention its own Centrál Káveház.

In both sister cities, the locals have their own less expensive and less crowded establishments to while away the time: cheaper cakes and coffee and minus the camera flashes.  

Vienna is the city of Mozart – and Harry Lime. The two come together, albeit a few centuries apart, in Am Hof, the largest square in the Innere Stadt, or Old Town. Here in one corner is a plaque outside the Palais Collalto where Mozart gave his first performance in Vienna, in 1762, when the Salzburg family was on tour and the child prodigy must have been about seven years old.

Missing from the  – cobblestoned – square is the cylindrical advertising column where black marketeer Lime evaded his pursuers by descending into the sewers. The column, which supposedly híd the entrance to the subterranean world, was a studio prop, so don’t expect to see it now.

Mozart and his family, having relocated from Salzburg, lived at Domgasse 5, Vienna, from 1784 to 1787, a buildng now known as the Mozarthaus Vienna and open to tourists. Lime, played by Orson Welles in the wonderful British film “The Third Man”, lived at 5 Josephsplatz, where his death in the street outside was faked. The building is the Palais Pallavicini and is still there, next to the rambling Hofburg palace, its entrance flanked by striking statues.

“Third Man” tours operate, taking takers to the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery), where they “buried” Lime, the Mozart Café and the adjacent Sacher hotel, where Lime’s naive friend Holly Martins stayed and where he met the evil “Baron” Kurtz, as well as to the famous doorway at 8 Schreyvogelgasse, where Lime appears physically for the first time in the film.

Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery)

The film is a wonderfully atmospheric view of the city’s post-World War Two dark side, through the sewers and the rubble left by the bombing, Made in 1948, it is screened at the Burgkino cinema every week, so check for post-pandemic times.

Another Harry Lime “must” is the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater Park, where the evil racketeer delivered his memorable justification for selling watered-down penicillin that killed rather than cured: “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michaelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Don’t miss Vienna’s Dritte Mann Museum/Third Man Museum, home to one of the best collections of movie memorabilia that you are likely to see anywhere. Here, among the posters, photos, cameras, 100-plus editions of the book by Graham Greene, lobby cards and screenplays are the zither on which Anton Karas played the memorable Third Man theme and the cap worn by little Hansel.

The Third Man Museum

Finally, on your trip to Vienna, see some of the old royal hangouts: the imperial apartments of the Hofberg including the Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection, and the massive Schönbrunn Palace, which was merely the royal family’s summer residence. Mozart played in the Orangery.

The Hofburg has 2600 rooms and the Silver Collection displays around 7000 items from the 150,000 amassed. Here is the fantastic excess that World War One ended. How many palaces, rooms, tapestries, candlesticks, knives, forks, plates, egg cups and chamber pots does one family need?

Last, and we should say least, certainly from the Austrian point of view, it is difficult to forget Adolf Hitler. Some of his old homes can still be seen (Stumpergasse 31, Felberstrasse 22, for instance), there is the Heldenplatz square where he spoke from the Hofburg balcony-terrace to a huge crowd on March 15, 1938 after the Anschluss, the Academy of Fine Arts that twice rejected him as a student in 1907 and 1908, and, another balcony, at the Imperial Hotel on the Ringstrasse where Hitler was photographed during his stay there in 1938.

Hitler home, Felberstrasse 22

In his earlier youthful pre-World War One days in Vienna, Hitler tried to sell his paintings and postcards but made little or no attempt to find regular employment. He eventually pawned his possessions, slept in a doss house and on park benches, and begged, a virtual tramp, before leaving for Munich in 1913.

It’s a bad habit of ours but on strolls through Vienna’s fine parks we can’t help looking at the benches and wondering: did Hitler sleep there?

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