Calendars \ Calendar 2017 \ Contribution by Ferrante Lucchesi Palli

Vienna, the charm of the old and new Mitteleuropa

When my wife Camilla and I arrived in Vienna way back in 1984, the city was very different to the way it is today. On almost every street corner you could still see traces of Orson Wells’ famous film “The Third Man”, set in Vienna just after the Second World War, with the great Alida Valli. The city was gloomy, almost bare, with just a few elegant shops and several restaurants which were half-empty in the evening. I can still remember that many of the shop windows were those that had been there in the Thirties. There was a heavy sense of the proximity of the Iron Curtain which had split Europe in two for decades. Vienna was decidedly shifted towards East. Basically, it was a border town of two systems.

Then things changed. With the opening of the Eastern European countries, following the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, and with the entry of Austria into the European Union, the city enjoyed a considerable boost which completely transformed it. Vienna went back to being the barycentre of Europe. The city literally exploded: almost all the buildings were renovated and restored to their original splendour, the big brands brought their stores here, lots of streets were closed off to traffic with the creation of huge pedestrian areas, the parks were regenerated and the growing wellbeing brought lots of new outdoor cafés and restaurants, giving the city a Mediterranean touch.

The city is very well managed. Everything works here: security, healthcare, public administration, efficient transport services with a very modern metropolitan railway system, the U-Bahn, in continuous expansion.

From a cultural point of view, Vienna offers so much. Obviously, it’s always been the capital of music. In addition to the State Opera, with its monumental building on the “Ring”, to the “Volksoper”, the “Theater an der Wien”, the “Musikverein” (famous in Italy for the New Year Concert), the “Konzerthaus” and the “Burgtheater”, the most important in the German area, there are numerous small and medium-sized theatres which offer all kinds of entertainment.

Vienna is well-known for its cafés. Some are very “touristy”, like “Demel”, “Café’ Central” and “Café Mozart”, but many are frequented mostly by the Viennese, like “Café’ Sperl”, “Blaue Bar” inside the Hotel Sacher (my favourite) and the “Landtmann” and “Prückl”, famous for their little theatres. And these, naturally, are just a few of the many.

And then there are the museums. And the choice here is endless: from the “Kunsthistorisches Museum” with its extraordinary Picture Gallery, and the splendid “Kunstkammer”, which is perhaps unique in the world, to the “Belvedere” of Prince Eugenio of Savoy, from the ”Albertina” to the “MAK”, from the “Palais Liechtenstein” to the “Museumsquartier” in the old imperial stables, and last but not least, the Imperial Palace with the famous “Schatzkammer” (treasure chamber) and the “Silberkammer” (silver room) and Schönbrunn Castle.

Vienna is also famous for Otto Wagner, the great architect who lived between the 19th and 20th centuries, leaving an indelible imprint with his works in “Jugendstil”.

A particular mention must be made of the many churches scattered mainly in the old part of town, starting with the wonderful St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the heart of the city and continuing with the baroque “Karlskirche”, the Jesuit church (“Jesuitenkirche”) next to the old University, the “Maria am Gestade”, the “Augustinerkirche” with its famous chanted masses, and many, many more. There is also the Church of the Minors, the “Minoritenkirche“, close to the government buildings, which belongs to the Italian Congregation in Vienna, and where, every Sunday, the small Italian community comes together to take Mass in Italian, celebrated by the wonderful Father Thomas, an Indian priest from Kerala.

The Viennese love going out in the evening and, among the many restaurants, I would like to mention “Do&Co”, with its fabulous view over St. Stephen’s Square (which is my favourite) , the “Schwarzes Kameel” in the Bognergasse, the small but very nice “Pöschl”, with its mainly Viennese cuisine, near the Franciscan Church, the “Palmenhaus” in the garden of the Imperial Palace, the “Hansen” in the underground rooms of the old Stock Exchange next to “Lederleitner”, a showroom of flowers and articles for the home, undoubtedly the most beautiful in Vienna.

Way back in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Vienna, as the capital of a multi-ethnic country, attracted people from all over the Empire. Even today, when you flick through the pages of the telephone directory, you find names that reflect their Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Croatian and sometimes Italian roots. After the opening of the borders towards the East and now with the current and very much disputed matter of immigration from the Middle Eastern countries, this multi-ethnicity is taking on a new dimension, with all the problems that go with it.

I advise the curious visitor to take a walk through the narrow streets in the centre, with its squares, palaces, shops and countless other cafés, bars and restaurants, breathing in the atmosphere of a past full of history, but also a present that is lively and dynamic. And if you can communicate with the locals, you’ll always encounter the kindness and humorous spirit of the Viennese. There’s simply no way to escape the charm of Vienna.

Ferrante Lucchesi Palli
Ferrante Lucchesi Palli

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