Vienna, city of dreams

Vienna still remains a center of European culture, with more than 100 art museums, which combined, attract more than eight million visitors annually.

By BEN G. FRANK
March 19, 2019 10:46
THE INNERER BURGHOF is the largest inner castle courtyard at the Hofburg in Vienna

THE INNERER BURGHOF is the largest inner castle courtyard at the Hofburg in Vienna. (photo credit: NATASHA VALK)

 
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“Wien, Wien, nur du allein,
Sollst stets die Stadt meiner Träume sein!
Vienna, Vienna, you alone,
Should always be the city of my dreams!”

I’m in Vienna and the car I’m riding in heads toward the green forest around this capital city. The tourist-guide driver turns on the tape and the music of Strauss’s Tales from the Vienna Woods bursts forth. I visualize the majestic uniformed men and the gowned ladies waltzing in a grand ballroom. All I need now is a piece of sacher torte mit schlag, (cake with whipped cream) at one of the numerous coffee houses and cake shops.

But that’ll come later when I’m back in Vienna, and after I visit Stadtpark, that pleasant place where the statues of Strauss and Beethoven lure me back to the city’s heyday when Hayden, Mozart, Brahms and Schubert also composed, thus making it a musical center of first rank. From Vienna came the many notable light operas, and in this field, the city held a unique place. Research informs me, this capital was once known as “the gayest city of the world.”

Vienna still remains a center of European culture, with more than 100 art museums, which combined, attract more than eight million visitors annually. The capital boasts architectural masterpieces, with magnificent palaces and world-class museums, such as the Hofburg complex, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Schonbrunn, and the Opera House, Staatsoper.

Vienna’s city center is easily explored by foot. So, do walk over to the Ringstrasse, one of the world’s most beautiful boulevards. On this main thoroughfare are situated the university, the town hall, the Parliament buildings, the National Library, the Museum for Natural History, and the History of Art, as well as famous hotels and stately offices. In the number of imposing public buildings, the city is an architectural marvel with its magnificent squares and parks.

The Inner Stadt is home to the most of Vienna’s point of interest and is surrounded by the Ringstrasse, which separates the center of Vienna with the surrounding districts.

Yes, Vienna is something out of the dim past. In Vienna, you practically inhale nostalgia. Where else can you still buy picture postcards of Emperor Franz Joseph or books on the Hapsburg Empire of 100 years ago?

Austria is a “blessed nation on the Danube,” says a character in The Post-Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig, and at one time, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After World War I, and the demise of the empire, it became a truncated state. The Germans took over the city in the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938.

Vienna, like Berlin, brings bad memories. Some feel the Holocaust actually began in this capital where lived the art student, Hitler, who became insane with the idea that he had to murder Jews and start history’s worst world war. Some feel the city is “the cradle of modern political antisemitism.” Within the last decade, however, Austria, for the first time, has acknowledged that Austrians were responsible for crimes against the Jews.

Stop at the “Memorial to the Victims of the Shoah,” in the Judenplatz, which resembles an inside-outside library. Judenplatz, or Jews Square, contains plaques recalling the site of an older synagogue, hospital, and the place where Jews lived in medieval times. About 10 synagogues function in Vienna.

The Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna is at Dorotheergasse, 11, 1010. (Tel: 43-1-535-04-31, info@jmw.at.www.jmw.at). The Jewish museum on Dorotheergasse is about a 10-minute walk from the Museum Judenplatz and the Holocaust Memorial in the same square.

The Museum in the Judenplatz, at 8, 1010 Vienna, houses the foundation of the medieval synagogue uncovered in 1995. Many cultural events and temporary exhibits take place here at the Museum Judenplatz, which is opposite the Holocaust Memorial.
A popular site in Vienna is the Sigmund Freud Museum (19 Berggasse, 1090 Vienna, 9, Tel 43-1-319-15-96, office@freud-museum.at. www.freud-museum.at). I observed that the apartment building where Dr. Sigmund Freud lived and worked for 47 years looks like any multi-unit structure in this section of North Vienna, except it was the home of the man whom author, Peter Gray called the “Columbus of the mind.”

Jews from all over the world often pay tribute to Simon Wiesenthal, who spent more than half his life tracking down evidence against living Nazis. As founder and head of the Jewish Documentation Center (Salztorgasse 6, 1010, Vienna 1), Wiesenthal had acted as the nemesis of the Nazis as he guided more than 1,000 cases to trial. Now, the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, (VWI) is at Rabensteig, 3, 1010, Vienna (Tel: 43-1-890-15-14-0, office@vwi.ac.at. www.vwi.ac.at).

About 10,000 Jews are members of the Jewish community of Austria today, and about 90% live in the capital of 1.8 million. Small Jewish communities exist in Salzburg, Linz, Graz and Innsbruck.

The present Jewish population is composed of those who returned from Western countries, where they had fled from the Nazis, or those who emigrated from former Iron Curtain cities, including 3,000 to 4,000 Soviet, Polish and Romanian Jews, as well as Iranian Jews.

It is important to remember that from 1945 through 1952, 400,000 Jews from Eastern Europe passed through Vienna en route to Israel. From 1968 through 1988, more than 270,000 Soviet and Iranian Jews used Austria as a gateway to freedom.

A must visit is the community headquarters and beautiful synagogue (Stadttempel, Seitenstettengasse 4, 1010, Vienna 1. Tel: 43-1-531-04-111). For a guided tour, telephone the Jewish Community Center, Tel: 531-04-105, or 531-04-16.

Also in this location is the Library of the Jewish Museum. The Stadttempel is located in one of the oldest sections of the city and is the oldest existing Jewish house of prayer in Vienna. The pale blue and gold sanctuary is also noted as the burial place of the founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), who died in Vienna on July 3, 1904. After World War II, Herzl’s remains were taken to Jerusalem for final burial.

The Jewish Community of Vienna-IKG (www.ikg-wien.at), revived decades ago, is today a flourishing institution in cosmopolitan Vienna. One of the IKG’s focuses was the campus that it established and opened in 2009 in the Prater. The campus includes the Hakoah Sport and Leisure Center, the Zvi Perez Chajes School, the Maimonides Home for the Elderly, as well as the Chabad Campus and the Jewish Vocational Education Center.

An active organization in Vienna is the Jewish Welcome Service (Judenplatz, 8/8, 1010 Vienna. Tel: 43-1-535-04-31-500. office@jewish.welcome.at. www.jewish.welcome.at). Located in the heart of the most cited area of Vienna, the Judenplatz serves as the communication and mediation function between Vienna and those expelled Jewish citizens and their descendants.

The late Dr. Leon Zelman, who was head of the Jewish Welcome Service, which also helps look after Jewish visitors, and who himself is a Holocaust survivor, once told me that no one dreamed that a Jewish community would again ever exist in the land of the Anschluss.

“Many of us who stayed sometimes feel that we have done so because we didn’t want to give Hitler his victory,” he said. The task, as Dr. Zelman saw it, remains to keep the light of Judaism shining in Vienna, which marks Jewish settlement since the arrival of the Romans in about 15 BCE. Dr. Zelman and others who followed seem to have done that, in this land where Jews of course have memories.

The writer is the author of the just-published ‘A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, 4th ed.,’ ‘A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine,’ both Pelican Publishing; ‘Klara’s Journey, A Novel,’ (Marion Street Press), and ‘The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond,’ (Globe Pequot Press). Follow him at Twitter@bengfrank.

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