It’s already my last day in the Austrian capital. Bye, Sisi: from the Baroque to the Vienna Secession, it’s time to explore this part of the local History.
The sky is low this August 19th, 2014 and a few raindrops escape from it. The Secession building is a twenty-minute walk away from my hotel. I go through the maze of the MuseumsQuartier to get there and stroll in this modern succession of courtyards, devoted to all the arts.
It’s one of the biggest cultural complex in the world. 90 000 square meters devoted to art in the former imperial stables. The basaltic Mumok – Museum of Modern art (19th – 20th centuries) – and the immaculate Leopold Museum with its unique collection of Egon Schiele’s work find a place between the 18th and the 19th centuries buildings; add a dance center, a few places to give real pleasure to the film- and theater-lovers, to the architecture fans and to the children.
The visitor can get to familiarize himself with the place by sitting down outside in an urban installation favorable to relaxation, or in the many coffee places nearby. Here, Vienna looks like Berlin…
The Secession building
One can like it or not, and it was already this way a century ago. As far as I’m concerned, I love it. Architectural ode to the rebellion, the Secession building shelters contemporary art and it has been the case for more than hundred years. It’s the oldest independent gallery in the world that has consistently been, and still is, devoted to modern art.
« Der Zeit ihre Kunst – Der Kunst ihre Freiheit », « Each Time its Art – Each Art its Freedom », the motto is in gold letters on the pediments of the building, designed in 1898 by Josef Maria Olbrich, and whose the 3 000 golden leafs of the cupola still rustle and remind us the buzzing cultural life of the fin de siecle Vienna.
The building is like the Secession’s manifesto made stone; this artistic movement federates around Gustav Klimt to whom the place is still devoted today. Members of the Vienna Secession slammed the door of the austere Künstlerhaus, much too conservative. They wanted a place where they could bring the « sacred spring » (ver sacrum) of art to bloom. A few well-chosen words written on the frontage of the building and here’s the name to the movement’s journal.
One of the great moments of the Secession building takes place in 1902 during an exhibition devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven. On this occasion, Gustav Klimt creates a key work, the Beethoven Frieze, a 34 meters long fresco as an erotic and rigorous homage to the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven.
The Beethoven Frieze has belonged to the Austrian Republic for more than fourty years now and it was reinstated to the building in 1986 ; a room was especially designed in the basement so that visitors can look at this amazing fresco in silence, as in a cathedral.
My juvenile interest for museum’s shops pushes me to recommend you the one in the Secession building, if you feel like filling your suitcase with Jugendstil goodies!
The Belvedere Palace and the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene
Go back to square Baroque after a brief stop at the French embassy in Vienna, a beautiful building in the “École de Nancy” style; you know, French diplomats are usually very comfortably settled abroad. In Vienna, the French embassy is intended as a lesson of style and can face the other architectural gems of the Viennese urban landscape with pride.
The Belvedere has an advantage: you can visit two palaces for the price of one. The Belvedere is actually two palaces: the Lower Belvedere and the Upper Belvedere, which appears in vast gardens. One says that it is one of the most beautiful Baroque complexes in the world. Note that I’m not afraid of superlatives in this post!
The Belvedere was the summer residence of the Prince Eugene (1663 – 1745) who entrusted its construction to Lukas von Hildebrandt, trained in Italy. The Lower Belvedere charms by the splendor of the former apartments, epitome of the Baroque way of life: marble gallery, golden room, and hall of grotesques… The ceremonial rooms shelter a few modern sculptures that are mysteries for the human mind. At the end, a little well located café that doesn’t shine by its menus.
After a charming walk down the gardens, the Upper Belvedere and the extraordinary Sala Terrana, quite typical of the Baroque or Rococo aristocratic houses. The powerful atlantes that support the stuccoed vault are impressive. From here, to the left, the shop, and to the right, the medieval art rooms of the Österreischiche Galerie Belvedere, straight on: the ceremonial stairs which leads us to the rich Marble Room. The view gives to the Palace its name of « Belvedere » (« Beautiful view »).
On this first floor, linger in front of the busts of Messerschmidt and their contorted faces and stroll in the dark rooms devoted to Klimt and the 1900 Vienna that shelter a few world-famous paintings, like The Kiss. A less entertaining program awaits on the second floor, between neo-Classicism, Romantism, Biedermeier and Realism.
For the absolute fans of the Baroque Vienna, reincarnated in the person of Prince Eugene, continue in town with the visit of the Winter Palace, not far from the Graben. The beautiful ceremonial stairs takes you to a short itinerary in this aristocratic house typical of the Baroque era. This place also hosts a few temporary exhibitions of modern art, more or less stressful.
The Café Sacher
Definitely, don’t stop at the corner of the Philarmoniker Strasse and the Kärtner Strasse when you’ll see the famous name of Sacher. The Sacher Eck is a little café where the tourists agglutinate by thinking to have found the Graal. The historical Sacher Café is further away in the Philarmoniker Strasse ; pass the entrance of the Sacher Hotel and here you are.
The little marble pedestal tables and the noble crimson seats will confirm that you are in the right place. Wait to be seated by the hostess before exploring the menus and the stalls of pastries under Sisi’s watchful eye. Enjoy a muted atmosphere and shameless calories around a Wiener Melange and an unavoidable Sachertorte, delicious part of the Viennese heritage.
We thought we would never eat again after that. And the night falls, we walk around, the Sachertorte is already far; our steps take us to the Am Hof square and to the Jewish quarter, around the statue of the German poet Lessing on the Judenplatz; the poet is settled in front of the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, designed by the British artist Rachel Whiteread as a closed library whose the books back are turned inside of the monument.
And a diner to Gustl Bauer (further away in the Drahtgasse) that won’t be remembered for posterity; food and decor from Central Europe, substantial simple knödel with eggs but terribly salted. Hard, under these circumstances, to finish my dish…
Last night in Vienna before breaking camp, heading for… Bratislava, Slovakia!