Vienna’s Palmenhaus

Perhaps my favorite part of Vienna is its café culture; home to some of the best coffee and cakes you will find in Europe, they are more than just a place to grab a snack or your caffeine boost. In the past, they’re where intellectuals such as Freud, and major politicians met to work and discuss ideas, sometimes play a round of chess. While this is still true today, coffeehouses are now also home to tourists, friends who love to people watch, and any resident who suffers from an apartment without air conditioning in July.

No two cafés are remotely alike, and they’re everywhere. From the famous Café Sacher to the newly opened and critically acclaimed Jonas Reindl, each has its own character waiting to be discovered. For me, it was Café Palmenhaus (conveniently next door to the National Library when too much time had passed wading through research). Palmenhaus also serves as a perfect crossroads within the city, and a symbol of Vienna’s evolution. Sandwiched between the Hofburg (once the Imperial Palace), the Albertina (another palace converted into a museum), and in view of the Opera (no longer exclusively for aristocrats), Palmenhaus manages to plant itself in the heart of the city while feeling like a cool oasis overlooking a park (which, too, used to be the royal garden of the Emperor).


MuseumsQuartier Wien: Vienna’s Vibrant Cultural Center

On any given afternoon, the courtyards of the MuseumsQuartier Wien are bound to be bustling with tourists and local Viennese alike. Originally serving as an imperial stable complex in the early 18th century, the space was converted into one of the world’s largest art and culture complexes. Opening its doors in 2001, the MuseumsQuartier offers an impressive array of facilities and activities open to the public year round. Whether you are looking to immerse yourself in one of the many cultural offerings, or just enjoy a cup of coffee in a trendy café, the MQ is the place to be.

The Leopold Museum, one of the highlights of MuseumsQuartier, hosts the largest collection of works by Austrian artists like Gustav Klimt and Egon Shiele. The Mumok museum, with its distinctive modern exterior, also boasts an extensive collection of works by Jasper John, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and many other contemporary artists. The MuseumsQuartier is also home to Tanzquartier Wien, Austria’s first center for contemporary dance and performance. A couple of mornings a week, you can usually find me taking dance class in one of their spacious dance studios, then doing some readings on the geometrical lounge chairs in the main courtyard.


By night, the MuseumsQuartier turns into a hub of social activity. Large groups of friends gather in the main courtyard to dine, drink, and socialize during beautiful summer evenings. Here some of us are, taking in the lively atmosphere of MuseumsQuartier at night, and enjoying our final evening together after a wonderful summer spent in Vienna.

MQ  night

A Concluding Sunrise

As I watch the sun slowly begin to light the sky on this, my final, morning in Vienna, I find myself slipping into a space of reflection. I am packing away the last few things that I don’t plan on leaving behind in the hotel room, and every glance I make towards the window shows a morning that, with increasing swiftness, is overtaking the night. And in this strange space between day and night (well, not so strange, as they usually call it dawn), I seem to have found a perspective that hasn’t yet hit me, at least not in full, over the past six weeks. I am realizing how incomprehensibly large my time in Vienna has been. Though it seems to have flown by, especially now in these last moments where one begins to field unreasonable regrets of time expenditure, I feel that it, at the same time, passed by in an infinite number of smaller pieces. For all the feeling knows, I might have been here all my life. In those smaller pieces, as well, were numbers of opportunities with an equally endless horizon.

And now, as distant doors begin to sound as they slam against their frames, I can see that the sun has completed its journey up the horizon without my noticing. In just the same way passed these past few weeks, with debatably extraneous noise scoring enchanting glimpses into the unconscious, reaching their end not so soon as they began. Now, to catch a plane.


A Sunrise

Cafe Central: Vienna’s Meeting Place

I travelled to Café Central on four separate occasions, staggering them throughout the week and at different times during the day to grasp the most accurate account of the establishment’s feel as possible. A newspaper rack holds various Austrian, European and global dailies, but the papers are barely touched. An Asian couple sits next to the newspapers and a row of pretty pastries, looking not at each other but at their smartphones. Enormous portraits of revered Emperor Franz Josef and beloved Empress Sisi look down upon the elegant dining room, as a nearby piano rumbles into life.

In the evenings, however, the tourist crowd dies down a bit and Central returns to a gathering place for Viennese locals after work. I order a Wiener Melange (essentially a large cloud of foamy milk sitting atop traditional cappuccino). The murmur of local talk over espressos replaces noisy tourists posing for awkward photos. An older financier advises a junior partner over an espresso while discussing moments from work earlier that day. The older man in a suit cracks a joke about a rival bank to his co-worker, before they both get up to head home for the night. Next to me, a well dressed yet laid-back Austrian man meets his wife for coffee at the end of the day. For these local Viennese, Café Central’s rich history may be a nice afterthought, but the primary purpose of the space is simply for a nice coffee and a relaxed chat.

Violating expectations

I came to Vienna, admittedly, without thought. Emerged from the darkness of feverish Reunions, blinded, emerged from the Währinger Straße station, a stiff 100 degrees.

It took Mariam and I at least 40 minutes to get from the U-Bahn to the hotel. Crossing and recrossing the street. 43 44 D? What’s a tram anyway? Not an indication that Hotel Boltzmann was anywhere nearby. Tired eyes laid on nothing at all familiar. Turn corners, turn over suitcases in the middle of the road. These damn tram lines on the road cut into my suitcase. Turn corner.



Turn around. Two weeks later, on a Hofer-dinner night, we took Währinger Straße in the opposite direction. Cobblestone and Freyung, Ferstel Passage to the right. To the left? Stephansdom and Haas Haus…are near Hoher Market which is near Bar Blue, our Viennese staple. Figlmuller is on Lugeck which is but also near the canal, and the canal slips by Flex, graffiti-ridden nightclub.


We lost sight of the “Ring” for one hot 98.6 degree second. Normal, Vienna had become home. Stadiongasse is really at Volksgarten which is National Library’s yard which is the “back” of Burggarten which hugs Palmenhaus which turns its back to Albertina which looks over Opera.

Albertina, looking at the roof of Palmenhaus and the National Library

Albertina, looking at the roof of Palmenhaus and the National Library

On the other side, I am accosted by Mozart-wig-donning ticket salesmen when I was just trying to go to Kunsthistoriches. Museumsquartier is better if you roll through with a “squad” but during the day you can sit alone and think about all the Austrian art in the Leopold collection that you would not have seen otherwise. Or don’t think at all. There’s nothing at all required of you.

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Museumsquartier on a Saturday night

On the way home, there is the opal-lit Votivkirche. These blessed tram lines cut into Schottentor. 12 lines run through it; cheaper by the dozen, it’s family. Jonas Reindl to my right – loyalty card in my back pocket; Charlie Ps is somehow still lit, but it’s a Monday. 10:45 pm. Rathaus will continue to be lit until 1 am, and its film festival goes until September.


Rathausplatz during the film festival

What were corners turned are now steps blindfolded. We have become part of everyday life here. We are spoken to now mostly in German, although albeit we cannot always respond. The Viennese are beginning to see that we see what they see.

In a few days we will remove ourselves from the equation almost seamlessly. The trams will continue to circle around the ring. Karsplatz will continue to be the last stop on the U2 U-Bahn line. There will continue to be shortcuts that circumvent the genius of trams, and will lead the Viennese and those who are not the Viennese to see the beauty of cobblestones, alleyways, backs of buildings.

Somewhere behind Schottentor,  last night

Somewhere behind Schottentor, last night

Turn around.

A ride on the Riesenrad

Yesterday, I used my last Saturday afternoon in Vienna to experience the Riesenrad, Vienna’s iconic Ferris wheel. Built in 1897, the Riesenrad is a historic Viennese landmark and continues to offer a remarkable view of the city today.

the Riesenrad from below     cabin

After buying a ticket for €8.50 and waiting in line for awhile, I entered one of the (slightly creaky) wooden cabins with around ten other people.

The afternoon sun poured in through the glass, and the open windows let in a lovely breeze. Because the Riesenrad is a part of the Prater amusement park, which offers many other attractions, I could hear screams and laughter floating up from the several roller coasters underneath me.

roller coasters     3

The ride, one trip up and back down again, took about twenty minutes. The wheel moved slowly, leaving plenty of time for me to appreciate the view and take pictures. I enjoyed picking out various Viennese landmarks from above, such as the Rathaus, the Votivkirche, and Stephansdom, which is in the picture above.  I was also able to see parts of the city that were less familiar to me, as in this scene:


As I enter my last week here in Vienna, I’m very glad that I was able to take this opportunity to see the city from a new perspective.

Mozart in Vienna

During the 11 years that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived in Wien, Österreich, he changed addresses 13 times; the most time he spent at one residency was two and half years in his apartment on Domgasse 5, which was previously known as Schulerstraße 8. The apartment originally belonged to court stuccoist Alberto Camesina in 1719 and remained in the possession of the Camesina family while Mozart lived there from 1784 to 1787. Located two wooden doors and a cobblestone alley to the east of St. Stephens Cathedral, it was Mozart’s most expensive home and also the only one in Vienna that remains intact.

Now a three story museum known as Mozarthaus, the building attracts hordes of international visitors who hope to get in touch with Mozart’s music. However, I soon found out that few local Viennese people know about its existence. While the museum appears in almost every museum guide or tourist map, the local people who I approached almost directly outside the building did not know where it was. While they recognize the importance of Mozart to Vienna, the most common example of a connection between Mozart and Vienna was the Mozart chocolates that appear throughout the city’s souvenir shops. It seems that the name “Mozart” has transformed from a reference to a musical figure into a cultural brand for the city of Vienna.


Research in Vienna

For the global seminar in Vienna, our independent work focuses on a space or building that each student gets to choose in Vienna that correlates to the readings done in class. Part of the course deals with anti-semitism in Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; Freud was hampered in his professional pursuits by being Jewish, and many notable intellectual elites in Vienna like Stefan Zweig were Jews as well. I chose to research Jewish life in Vienna at this time to understand the role Judaism played for these Jewish intellectuals, and to discover the extent of anti-semitism. The space I study is the Stadttempel, built in 1826, that is located in the Innere Stadt 1st district. The Stadttempel, or the city temple, is the main synagogue of Vienna and is the only remaining synagogue from World War II. Why the Stadttempel survived can still be seen today: its location is squeezed in between housing complexes, resulting out of a rule banning synagogues from having facades that consequently caused the synagogue to exist in a standard building complex, which ironically made it impossible to demolish the synagogue without inflicting damage to neighboring buildings. Inside the building though, rests a beautiful synagogue created by the Jewish elite. The synagogue captures a theme summarizing Jewish experience as a repressed and hampered life of restricted opportunity as evident by the synagogue’s forced plain looking facade that conceals and limits its true character inside. While researching has been illuminating from an historical perspective, it has also been interesting to use the synagogue as a way to understand the current Jewish community in Vienna in relation to Jews in the past, which will likely be the focus of my research paper.

Eine Kleine Weisheit in Wien


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At Augarten, a Hapsburg-hunting-lodge-turned-public-park, there looms a flakturm, an anti-aircraft bunker built during the Nazi regime. Most of the people at Augarten describe it as a bleak and unwanted reminder of darker times. But when I asked an older gentleman, he responded, “Well, they would come in their planes and bomb us. We had to defend ourselves.” His words surprised me; had he lived through the war? “Of course. I served as a German soldier against the Russians.”

The ethnically German veteran was born in Silesia, an ever-contested region of Poland: “my people… we were displaced people. We were not allowed a home.” He was seventeen when he joined the army and was subsequently wounded in Russia. After the war, he came to Vienna to study civil engineering. Now, he visits Augarten to exercise his injured leg and “see the young people” who frequent the park. He was delighted to discover that I attend “Prinsch-uh-tihn”, and thanked me for listening.

We have always learned that in the Second World War, Germany was the “bad guy.” With this perspective, it’s easy to view the people as the machines of an evil institution, rather than as complex individuals. But as this veteran has shown me, nothing is ever that simple. In my hour with him, I was the recipient of fascinating stories from a beautiful human being. He and Vienna have reminded me that the more we see of the world, the more we realize how much there is to learn.

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Visit to Salzburg

On Saturday, the 20th of June, 12 students from the Vienna global seminar visited Salzburg. The students who went on the trip were Jon, Nick, Hadley, Oscar, Christina, Paige, Sumer, Laraib, Mariam, Rachel, Shruti and Allison. Having only seen Vienna, we were excited to visit Salzburg and experience another side of Austrian culture.

We took the train both there and back. Although it was raining, we did not let that dampen our spirits, and explored as much of the city as we could in one day. We first went and saw the garden where parts of the sound of music was shot. After the girls had taken numerous photographs there, we visited a local flee market. Sumer, Jon and Nick also went to h&m and took advantage of the 50% off sale to buy some great stuff. We then went to a traditional Austrian restaurant, where we feasted on the local delicacies.


The highlight of the trip though, was our visit to the Hohen Salzburg fortress. It was on a hill, so we could see some breathtaking views of the entire city. Everyone was struck by how green it was! The fortress had exhibits about the history of the city, and we even saw the torture chambers. I am attaching a picture of the view from the fortress.