Home Cameras/Lenses Leica Vienna paves its streets with culture. Other cities prefer asphalt

Vienna paves its streets with culture. Other cities prefer asphalt

The Giant Wheel and silver slipper. f/6.4, 1/80, ISO 400, 70mm

In Tarpon Springs, FL, Piotr Janowski’s neighbours couldn’t quite get their heads around what he was up to. The Polish artist had aluminium foil covering every bit of his house on three sides, a few palms, some boxes and a bunch of other stuff. Was it a new kind of insulation, or a new way to control pests?

Five thousand miles away, on a side-street in Vienna, I stood wondering the same.

After I tracked him down online, Janowski, who once had a studio in Vienna before moving to Tarpon Springs in 2014, said the one I spotted near Stephansdom in the Austrian capital wasn’t one of his art installations: “Obviously someone likes my work and mimicked it!” But it did liven up an otherwise drab street.

Around the corner, Michaelerplatz was anything but drab. Gray, yes, but never drab.

Facing us was the curved facade of the Hofburg Palace with its statues of Hercules flanking the gateway. To our right was the Palais Herberstein, followed by Loos House, the one the Emperor disliked intensely when it was built in the 1900s. It’s followed by the Großes Michaelerhaus, built around 1710, with its plaque commemorating Joseph Haydn; and then the Michaelerkirche church, probably the oldest structure here, whose bells have rung for the last five centuries.

Though some of the buildings dated back to the 1200s, it was the fiakers that lined up around its cobbled rotary that transported one to another era.

Willkommen im Benediktushaus

In keeping with a long tradition — Chapter 53 of the Rule of St. Benedict, I think — a Benedictine monastery in the neighbourhood of Freyung runs a bed-and-breakfast style guesthouse in the monastery complex to welcome guests.

After spending a few nights in a palace built by an emperor for his high-ranking officials in Budapest, it was but fitting to spend a few spartan nights in a Benedictine monastery.

Though the monk’s quarters were separated from the guest area by a glass door, church services are open to the public. On one of the days of our stay there, I was able to attend an evening service led by abbot Johannes Jung. It was the only time I saw the monks. Thankfully, the bells of Benediktus don’t toll through the day, just in the morning, so that’s a blessing if anything.

For whom the bell tolls…

One night walking back from Vapiano, of the “chi va piano va sano e va lontano” [footnote]If you have an easy-going and relaxed approach to life, you’ll live more healthily and longer[/footnote] fame, on Herrengasse, we stopped briefly to read a sign propped up against a large window of a house. It stated that the owners had recently discovered a room in their home. Seriously, how big a home does one have to live in to discover new rooms in it? It was a remarkable room, though.

Graben and Kärntner Straße

Two streets at the heart of the shopping district in Vienna, Graben and Kärntner Straße, were within a kilometre radius of Freyung.

Der Graben got its name from the ditch that once ran along in roughly the same spot before it was filled in. Kärntner Straße has been around since the time of the Romans when it was called Strata Carinthianorum.

Giving the Grabenhof a miss, instead I poked my head into the narrow entranceway of an office centre, drawn to something gleaming from its dim interior. The brass lower panels of the door at the far end reflected the light onto the mosaic floor.

A two-minute walk from the Stock-im-Eisen, at the corner of Graben and Kärntner Straße, we pass underneath Eduard Veith’s “The Continents”, spread across the shop facade at Kärntner Straße 16, before heading up to the Sky-Bar at Steffl for lunch.

A three-minute walk up from Steffl’s brought us to Stephansdom, the city’s main church, opposite Hans Hollein’s glass and steel Haas-Haus. Here were two iconic pieces of architecture opposite each other. One from the 20th century, the other a bit older from the 12th. This was another test for the X Vario. This time, however, once inside the 70ft-high choir hall, I slid down into a pew and braced it against a bench.

Prater Wien

We spent the better part of another day exploring Prater Wien in Leopoldstadt. Commissioned by Emperor Joseph II as an amusement park where the working classes could go to unwind, it has theme rides, adrenaline-pumping rides, water slides, mazes and more.

At the Wiener Riesenrad museum, near the entrance, there is a series of very well done dioramas showing the Prater and the surrounding area through the years. Each of the eight dioramas is staged in eight cabins that were lost but retrieved in 2002.

It was on the Wiener Riesenrad, the Giant Wheel, made famous by the film The Third Man, that we were able to get a view of Vienna from above.

At just under 65m the Ferris wheel is about half the height of the tallest ride, the Prater Tower, which clocks in at 117m. This is not just the tallest swing in Prater Vienna but in the world. Constructed in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, it was burned down in 1944 and re-built the following year. For 73 years the wheel had kept turning until the pandemic stopped it briefly.

Die Wiener Staatsoper

On one day, we chose to join a guided tour of the Opera. So while the group was gathered around listening to the guide’s commentary on this and that historical bit, I managed to slip away quietly. That’s when I looked up and spotted the chandeliers.

In the mid-1950s, following the end of World War II, the renowned family firm of Bakalowits of Vienna was commissioned to design and manufacture chandeliers for the newly rebuilt State Opera. Bakalowits created several designs using gilded brass and hand-cut crystal glass. A piece from the original commission will set you back a mere $23,000 should you need one.

The central chandelier in the auditorium was manufactured by J & L Lobmeyr, a family-run company in Vienna. The chandelier weighs approximately 3,000 kg and requires 1,100 light bulbs.

The photograph shows one of three allegorical lunettes by Johann Preleuthner symbolising the three forms of opera — tragic, comic and ballet.

Upon the ceiling of the Opera’s grand staircase is an allegorical painting titled ‘Praise and Recognition,’ by Franz Dobiaschofsky. The figure of Recognition holds a score sheet and a trombone in one hand and in the other a laurel wreath as reward for outstanding artistic achievement.

Female statues, carved from Carrara marble by Josef Gasser, surround the grand staircase on the First Circle. Together they represent the liberal arts — architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, dance and drama. Two portrait reliefs along one wall depict the architects of the original Opera House, Eduard van der Nüll and August Sicard von Sicardsburg. Both died before the opening.

During the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Tea Salon was used exclusively by Emperor Franz Josef and his guests during intervals in a performance. Designed by Josef Storck, it is decorated with silk hangings bearing the emperor’s initials. The ceiling paintings, “die Musik auf Adlerschwingen” (the Music on Eagles’ Wings) representing both lyrical and tragic music are by Karl Madjera, a German lithographer and painter. The ceiling and walls are decorated with 22-carat gold leaf. A candelabra was a gift to the emperor from the Indian maharaja.

Back in the day, opera-goers could perhaps catch a glimpse of the emperor before the start of an evening’s performance or during intervals. At the very least, they would know from the lights on in the Tea Salon that royalty was present that evening.

The Schwind Foyer is another splendid room in the Vienna State Opera that’s open to visitors. Named for the painter Moritz von Schwind, the long room is lined with sixteen of his paintings depicting well-known operas rarely performed today under busts of their famous composers. Beethoven’s bust is visible to the left in the photograph.

Walking Vienna’s Stadtwanderweg 1a

Vienna has a number of walking or hiking tracks within the city limits. I opted for one, Stadtwanderweg 1a[footnote]City hiking path 1a[/footnote], just north of the city, that took me through the wine country and a stretch of the Viennese woods. I started the walk in the early afternoon from Kahlenberg and followed the wooden trail signs to my destination, Nussdorf. Everything went according to plan until I got lost.

From Kahlenberg, I followed the trail markers down a steep-ish slope, down stone steps, and through a path in the trees along Kahlenberger Straße until a clearing in the trees gave me a view of the vineyards and a prospect of the city in the distance. Vienna is one of the few capitals in the world to have a significant wine-growing area within its city limits. Walking along the Stadtwanderweg, it is easy to forget one is so close to the city.

My photographic companion on this leisurely promenade through the wonders of Vienna was the Leica X Vario, with its APS-C sensor and 28-70mm (full-frame equivalent) zoom lens.

The title of this article paraphrases Karl Kraus’s famous quotation, “The streets of Vienna are paved with culture, the streets of other cities with asphalt.”

Read more of the author’s fascinating travelogues on Macfilos

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  1. Thank you all. Have just returned home from a trip to Haridwar where I got to try out the M11 and a 35mm on it. Jean knows I’ve been having a lot of fun with it.

  2. Some good images from the X Vario.
    As mentioned above, that Sidestreet first image and the arc of the Ferris wheel with silver sliver new moon are thoughtful catches. And the splashes of colour in the abstract Self Portrait are also a favourite.
    Thank you Farhiz, for putting the collection together.

  3. Thanks Farhiz for this great set of images and article. The first image of the article is my favorite with the self portrait one.

  4. Hi Farhiz – many thanks for the article. Really enjoyed it. The photos are beautiful. I especially enjoyed those from the amusement park. My favorite was the carousel. Vienna looks to be a great destination for a visit when travel become more normalized. All the best, Keith

  5. Very interesting and informative, thanks. Your photos show the flexibility of the X Vario which adds to my appreciation of it.

  6. All this amazing architecture going forward to the march and beat of the war drums, whilst the neighbours in Switzerland are busy…

    …busy working on the finest of fine – cuckoo clocks!


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