Sunday, June 6, 2010

Walking around the old city

  Yesterday I spent just about the entire day walking around.  I started in Simmering and walked towards the downtown as far at Stadtpark, then headed north across the Donaukanal (a small branch of the Danube), up to Augarten, southwest back across the canal, then southeast to Stephansdom, the cathedral in the center of Vienna.  There I met up with many of my fellow YSSPers, and got a tour around the city center, ending up at a pub where we had dinner.  Then we went and sat on beach chairs for an hour or two for no clear reason (more on that later), and then I walked back to Stephansdom and took the tram home to Simmering.  All in all, I'd estimate I walked about 16 km (10 miles).
  The walk up from Simmering was mostly just shops and busy streets, but the closer I got to the city center, the more interesting the architecture got.  Here are some photos of what I saw; note that these are ordinary buildings in Vienna, not famous at all.  Most of them appeared to be apartment buildings.  You can see the progression from more or less ordinary buildings to ornate, baroque ornamentation as I walked further north:

  With that last one the architecture is starting to warm up, but we're not into the thick of it yet.  Here I have to pause, however, for one of the more remarkable sights of Vienna:

  I was utterly mystified by this when I encountered it.  The photograph does not convey the immensity of this structure; this thing is HUGE.  Concrete.  Monolithic.  I walked all the way around it, and didn't see a way in.  It was market on my map as "Contemporary Art Tower" so I thought it might be, in itself, a work of art, of a very postmodern sort.  But no.  It is an anti-aircraft tower, from WWII.  These are apparently sprinkled all across Vienna.  I'm told that they haven't figured out a way to take them down; they're so big that demolishing them would be too dangerous — it would put nearby buildings at risk.  At the same time, they are so derelict that, by and large, they cannot be used for any new purpose.  And so there they stand.  I've got another photo later in the day, of a different tower, that may give you an idea of the scale of these things.

  OK, back to my architecture walk.  We're now nearing Stadtpark:

  Again, these are just apartment buildings.  Now I entered Stadtpark, crossing a bit of water that's connected to the canal.  The park has statues of various famous Viennese historical figures; the photo here is of Schubert:

  While walking near Stadtpark I happened upon this sculpture:

  This shows the way the city used to be: Stephansdom in the center, the old city surrounding it, and around that, a very high, thick city wall.  (I don't know if the wall was as jagged and angular as shown here, or if that is artistic license.)  The wall was demolished in 1857, which was apparently quite a project because it was many meters thick.  Where the wall once stood is now the "ring," a wide road that encircles the old city.

  Heading north now, across the canal (which I didn't photograph since it was filled with ugly tourist cruise boats):

  The middle photo is there to belay the impression that all of the buildings in Vienna are baroque; that is certainly not the case.  It also shows the really ugly powerlines and streetlights that are strung above practically every street in Vienna, and that I have taken pains to avoid in most of the rest of my photos.  It is incredible to me that a city would take such amazing architecture, and spoil the views so throughly with these criss-crossing powerlines everywhere.  One of these days I'll post a photo of what a typical intersection in Vienna looks like in reality, as a result of these powerlines.  I haven't seen such uglification of beauty since I was in Japan (where powerlines are, again, the uglification tool of choice).  Anyhow, rant off, onward to lunch.  This was tagliatelle con funghi at a tiny hole in the wall north of the canal.  I knew I didn't want to eat in the city center since it would be double the price and half as good.  This was quite a tasty meal:

  The mushrooms were wonderful, and the sauce had sauteed onions in it.  Divine.  Onward to Augarten, a very strange park that contained another of those flak towers:

  Note the way it looms way above the trees, even though the trees are themselves very far away.  Note also that no other building is even visible over the trees, except a few towards the left that are actually much closer to me than the flak tower is.  These things are really, really big.  The power of reinforced concrete.

  Augarten had really nothing else to recommend it, so I crossed back over the canal and headed towards Stephansdom:

  That's not Stephansdom; this is Stephansdom:

  If it looks a little strange, that's because it's under construction (apparently it is always under construction), and where they have scaffolding up, they hang drapes painted with what the building looks like underneath.  So half of what you see in that last photo is actually painted drapery, not stone.

  At this point, as I mentioned before, I ended up on a guided tour of the city center.  The buildings now are famous buildings, not just apartment buildings.  :-O  I won't try to identify them all; you'll have to come to Vienna yourself if you want to figure out what is what!

  Those last two photos are details from a doorway that dates to 1553.  Wow.  Onward:

  We now reached the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial:

  I imagine its very plain style is an intentional contrast to the baroque style of the buildings all around it, as an expression of shame.  What kind of a culture can produce such astoundingly beautiful art, architecture, and music, and can then turn around and commit genocide?  A human culture, of course; none of us are above this reality.  The names of all of the concentration camps are inscribed in the stone around the base.  Interestingly, this monument is smack in the middle of the district where are the hip young folks come to party until dawn.  One may hope that the sobriety of the monument occasionally hits them, in the midst of their drunken revels.

  By the way, I have been surprised and pleased to see quite a few Jews in Vienna.  The neighborhood north of the canal where I ate lunch seemed to have many Orthodox Jews walking about, in particular.

  And onward:

  I don't know what the story is with the skeletal child depicted in the first photo there.  A memorial to the plague, perhaps?  Pure speculation.  The brown building in the last photo there is said to be the oldest church in Vienna, St. Rupert's Church.  According to that Wikipedia page, it is not known when the church was founded, but it was likely around 800 AD.  It also has the oldest bells in Vienna, apparently, dating to roughly 1280.

  Here's a really gorgeous Greek Orthodox church which was surrounded by such a rat's nest of powerlines that I gave up on getting a clear shot, and instead tried for an artistically geometric composition:

  And that's all, folks!  Whew!  I don't expect most of my posts to be this long, but I covered a lot of ground yesterday.  Until next time...

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