Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Five Best Things about Vienna in April 2011

As my month in Vienna ends, I am recalling what I enjoyed most during the stay.  While the warm and mostly dry weather has to be considered one of the candidates for the top five "most enjoyed" list, it is crowded out by several engaging activities.  The five best things about April 2011 in Vienna were:

1.  Hearing Mahler's First Symphony at the Musikverein

Mahler's First Symphony is, simply, pure genius.  It is engaging, clever, and enjoyable for even causal fans of classical music. I think it is Mahler's best, though "Das Lied von der Erde" is a close second. The orchestra playing this symphony was made up of some of the best young musicians in Europe.  The Gustav Mahler Judendorchester (youth orchestra) is selected every year based on intense competition among younger musicians from more than a dozen countries. The result is impressive. I don't think another orchestra could have played the First Symphony any better.  Of course, the concert was enhanced by its setting:  the Musikverein is Vienna's premier venue for music featuring gilded baroque and great acoustics.    

2.  Drinking heuriger (new wine) in the restaurant gardens of Nussdorf and Grinzing

Heuriger in Nussdorf
This activity is an old favorite that was destined to be on any list of great things to do in Vienna, especially in the spring. With the warm weather, the opportunities to sit outside and sip new wine were more frequent than had been expected.  This activity is even more fun and relaxing after a walk among the vineyards that produced the grapes from which the wine was made. Thank goodness for Strassenbahn (street cars) D and 38 that quickly carry fans of the grape from Vienna's Ring to the heart of Vienna's wine villages.

For more photos see

3.  The art at the Kunsthistorische Museum and the Albertina Museum

One day was spent at the Vienna Art History museum, located on the Ring, viewing old masters.  My favorites there are the early Flemish painters, including Breughel.

The next day was devoted to a grand tour of modern art at the Albertina Museum, highlighted by a special exhibit called The Blue Rider. The exhibit starts with impressionist masters, including several by Chagal and Monet, then moves quickly to expressionist schools and the various other forms of modern art from Klee to Picasso to Pollack to Bacon.  The highlight (?) of the most modern modern painting was entitled "Black on Black," which is truly black.

Breughel, The Wedding Banquet, 1568
The Blue Rider exhibit shows the art of a group of innovative artists, mostly Russians and Germans, who evolved into early expressionists from 1911 to 1914.  The most famous artist of this school was Wassily Kandinsky, whose early impressionist paintings were striking.  As he and his fellow Blue Rider members evolved a new philosophy of art, his art quickly moved from a type of impressionism to expressionism to abstract expressionism.  Viewing his art chronologically is like watching a descent into insanity.  Other  memorable Blue Rider graphics and paintings came from artists such as Franz Marc, August Macke and Albert Bloc.

4.  Buying "treasures" at the Saturday flea market at Naschmarkt

This hot, crowded agglomeration of temporary booths is a challenge to negotiate, but if a buyer is patient enough, he or she can find some rare items and bargains.

Flea market photo
My "treasures" were a newspaper published in Vienna a couple of days after the Anschluss, bound issues of an Austria picture magazine published from 1933 to 1935, a hand written diary with entries starting in 1896, a variety of old photographs (including several of Roma in Romania in the early 20th century), and a larger photo of a mountain village band playing at a local church (see the picture on the left).

I will definitely miss going to this flea market.

5.  Three way tie:  Great pastry, a tasty meal on Kahlenburg, and buying postcards at the Dorotheum

The fifth most enjoyable activity during my stay is Vienna is a a three-way tie. (I know, I'm cheating.)

I really enjoyed eating the fresh semmeln (small bread rolls baked daily) and pastry (mainly schnecke) for breakfast every morning.  I would not do it in the U.S. because of the calorie count, but eating these is a treat while in Vienna.  My apartment was within a few blocks of four or five bakeries selling fresh bread and pastry, so these treats were always fresh.

Tapfelspitz with horseradish
Also, I greatly enjoyed a tasty tapfelspitz, preceded by a red cabbage soup, at an outdoor restaurant ("Huette am Weg") located on the walk between Kahlenberg and Leopoldsberg.  It was a bit chilly the day we ate this meal, so the waiters gave us blankets to help to keep us warm.  The food was tasty and the surroundings were memorable.

Chancellor Dollfuss
The final enjoyable activity was several visits to the Dorotheum, a great old Vienna institution. The Dorotheum is a world renown auction house. In addition to its very high-brow art, antique, and jewelry auctions, it has a room that sells collections of post cards, stamps, autographs, coins, and books.  I have a weakness for old post cards (and also sell them periodically on eBay), so I often buy cards and photos from the Dorotheum when they interest me or I think I can resell them for a profit.  This year, I bought two lots and wish I could have purchased more.  However, the prices for many of the lots were too much for my pocketbook.

One of the lots I bought consisted of political cards and photos from the 1930s in Austria (a period of research interest to me).  Right now, thanks to the Dorotheum and my credit card, I have a large number of cards and other other memorabilia about the assassinated Chancellor, Englebert Dollfuss. Go ahead and envy me for my treasure!

April in Vienna was a great month.  I look forward to returning the city next year.


  1. Thank you. I greatly enjoyed April in Vienna and look forward to more adventures there in 2012.