Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 17, 2017

© Wien Tourismus / Peter Rigaud

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The glory of Vienna

Home to musical geniuses and psychiatric savants, Austria's imperial city has long been a hotbed of creativity

Austria’s capital is synonymous with music, art, even psychoanalysis. It's a place for horsing around or having a ball: one where cake qualifies as an entrée and culture hangs thick in the air. So trying to absorb everything in 48 hours is daunting… but do-able. The trick is picking the right starting point.

Since the Habsburg family (rulers of the Austrian and Holy Roman Empires for almost 600 years) defined this city’s character, the logical spot to begin is Hofburg Palace. Expanded over the centuries by emperors intent on one-upsmanship, the sprawling complex in central Vienna has a whopping 18 wings and can easily be found by the most jet-lagged visitors on their first morning out.

The royal treatment

To see how the richer half lived, be at the palace for the 9AM opening of the Imperial Apartments (hofburg-wien.at) which long-reigning Franz Josef called home until 1916. Notable for their red-silk walls, Gobelin tapestries and gilded furnishings, these 19 rooms are a riot of Rococo: the Emperor’s plain metal bedstead only serving to underscore the luxury so obvious elsewhere. Happily, you no longer need to be über rich yourself to gain entry. A single $16 ticket covers the apartments plus the adjacent Imperial Silver Collection and slightly surreal Sisi Museum.

The latter is devoted to the Emperor’s wife Elizabeth, who by virtue of her beauty, bulimia, and tragic early death was Austria’s answer to Princess Diana. As a veritable shrine to extravagance, however, the former has wider appeal. Its massive stockpile of household goods includes everything from solid gold cutlery and a 4500-piece dinner service to gilt-rimmed chamber pots emblazoned with the Habsburg crest. If you hurry, you can spin through one or the other and still make it next door to the Spanish Riding School (srs.at) –— the fabled onsite “equination” facility — by 10AM.

The Habsburgs’ love of finery was matched by their unbridled enthusiasm for horses: specifically the white Lipizzaners they’d bred since Renaissance times. The school itself, built in 1735, is extraordinary. Complete with crystal chandeliers and ornate stucco-work, it resembles a ballroom rather than a practice ring. Then again, the Lipizzaners’ blend of battle maneouvers and equine ballet is pretty dazzling too. Want to see them in action? Seats for performances cost $60 to $285 and must be reserved far ahead. Rehearsals, on the other hand, are open to the public for under $20. They run much of the year, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10AM til noon.

The Mozart effect

Steps away is another renowned training ground: the Royal Chapel (hofburgkapelle.at), where Franz Schubert and Joseph Haydn learned the musical ropes as members of the Vienna Boys Choir. Current choristers continue to perform the maestros’ work at High Mass, held Sunday at 9.15AM September to July, and standing room is free for the faithful. Fans of either can also tour the composer's homes (wienmuseum.at) along with those of Strauss and Beethoven.

Let’s be honest, though: it’s Mozart who grabs the lion’s share of attention in this music-mad city. He cut a swath through Vienna in his final decade, and you can pay homage to him without leaving the Hofburg.

Start by viewing a family violin in the Musical Instrument Collection; then make a pit stop at the airy Palmenhaus Café (palmenhaus.at). The light fare dished up in this former Imperial greenhouse is ideal at lunch, while its Burggarten location offers access to the Mozart Memorial.

Exiting the palace on the Innere Stadt side, set your sights on the lattice-like steeple of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (stephanskirche.at) and stroll through Old Town toward it, pausing en route to buy Mozartkugeln candy with Austrian one-euro coins that bear Mozart’s image.

While the imposing cathedral is a must for any visitor, the fact “Wolfie” wed here — and was buried from here a mere nine years latter — makes it a particularly poignant site for Mozart lovers. It is also a convenient one given that Mozarthaus (mozarthausvienna.at), his home from 1784 to 1787, lies in the alleys behind it.

Unlike the typical residence-cum-museum, Mozarthaus forgoes the “frozen in time” feeling by combining carefully-selected period pieces with video installations and touch screen displays; the result being every bit as unconventional as Mozart himself.

In keeping with the high-tech theme, you can end your day at Haus der Musik (www.hdm.at), located between St. Stephen’s and the State Opera. In addition to artifacts relating to Mozart and other Austrian icons, this venue has innovative exhibits that let you virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic or create your own composition. Better yet, it is open till 10PM and offers a $64 dinner package every night except Sunday that includes entry as well as a three-course meal in its top-floor eatery.

Sticklers for authenticity may prefer to stay within a stone’s throw of Mozarthaus, enjoying a quick dinner at Café Frauenhuber (cafe-frauenhuber.at) and afterwards catching a chamber concert at Sala Terrena (mozarthaus.at). Billed as the city’s oldest concert hall, this tiny, frescoed gem once hosted Mozart and now provides a stage for the costumed quartet which performs Thursday through Sunday evenings. Tickets are $57 to $69.

Fit to hang

Having covered so much ground yesterday, sleep in a bit the next morning and start your day at 10AM when most museums open. Being inveterate collectors, the Habsburgs laid the foundation for many museums. The world-class Museum of Ethnology (www.ethno-museum.ac.at), housing imperial prizes such as Montezuma’s head dress plus thousands of objets acquired by Archduke Franz Ferdinand (the amateur ethnographer and heir apparent, whose 1914 assassination sparked WWI) is an interesting option.

But, if you have energy for only one museum, it should be the nearby Kunsthistorisches Museum of Fine Arts (khm.at). Opened in 1891 as a showcase for the royal art collection, it has grown into one of the world’s great repositories of paintings, and few galleries in Europe can rival it. Old Masters like Titian, Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens share wall space within its Picture Gallery. The largest single assemblage of Brueghel’s work is here, too. So it’s easy enough to while away the morning, provided you take a restorative time-out at its domed café. The decadent sweets may explain why Viennese-born Marie Antoinette famously said “let them eat cake!”

From there you could cross the street to view graphic art spanning 500 years (think da Vinci to Rauschenberg) in the Hofburg’s Albertina Museum (albertina.at); or fast forward to the MuseumsQuartier (mqw.at), where the old Imperial Stables have been replaced by a modern art complex.

Desperately seeking Sigmund

If all this choice leaves you feeling conflicted, your best bet is to trade the artistic for the psychoanalytic. Considering Freud saw himself as a metaphoric archaeologist who “uncover[ed] layer after layer of the patient’s psyche, before coming to the deepest, most valuable treasures,” his fascination with the ancient world is hardly surprising.

Indeed, once he had established his private practice, Herr Professor walked to the Kunsthistorisches almost daily, admiring its millennium-old curiosities and sometimes having ones from his personal collection (many of them appropriately phallic) authenticated by museum staff before returning home to Berggasse 19.

Retracing his route means hitting the Ringstrasse. Developed in the mid 19th century to replace the old city walls, this grand boulevard remains largely unchanged and is as attractive today as in Freud’s age. Even his favourite café, the Landtmann (cafe-wien.at), is still in business making it an evocative spot for lunch. Select one of the seats Freud preferred in the back of the main salon; then chow down on traditional Vienesse delicacies (Wiener schnitzel and boiled beef among them). Just remember to save room for a slice of apfelstrudel, as he did.

The beauty of eating such a heavy meal at lunch is that you have ample opportunity to work it off: and the optimal way to accomplish this is by carrying on to the Sigmund Freud Museum (freud-museum.at) to see where he lived and worked for nearly 50 years.

Upon entering, you’d be forgiven for thinking the doctor stepped out momentarily. His walking stick stands in the foyer and the waiting room, original furnishings intact, appears ready for patients. Nevertheless, his travel trunk is a reminder of Freud’s forced flight from Vienna in 1938; and a compilation of home movies, narrated by daughter Anna, shows him as an exile in England.

For frugal travellers in town during the summer, deciding how to spend your last evening is a breeze. Simply switch your focus to the Rathaus by taking in the free open air festival held nightly outside City Hall. Tempting food stalls surround the square and, starting around dusk, films of operas, ballets and other cultural events are projected onto a super-sized screen.

Of course, if your wallet is well padded and you want to go for Baroque, nothing tops a trip to Schönbrunn Palace. Daily tours of Empress Maria Theresa’s glorious suburban retreat wrap up by 6PM at the latest. Yet after hours you can still enjoy dinner and a musical evening in its Orangery, courtesy of the Schönbrunn Palace Concert Program (imagevienna.com). Depending on the dates and seats you choose, the combo will cost $106 to $188.

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