A June 2005 trip
to Vienna by Wasatch
Quote: For centuries, Vienna was the most important city in the western world, the Imperial capital of the
greatest Empire between Rome and Britain. Today, there are few places where the past is more
alive than in the streets of Vienna, with its grand palaces, great museums, music, and food.
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Take the matter of chocolate cake. Who doesn’t know what chocolate cake is? Well, anybody who never ate chocolate cake in Vienna for one. In the USA, chocolate cake is pretty standardized – if you’ve seen one chocolate cake, you have seen them all – but not in Vienna. It takes a week or two of desserts to work your way through all the varieties of chocolate cake available in Vienna.
A German phrase book helps a lot in deciphering an Austrian menu, but Austrian German is different from regular German, so most translation books, which all seem to be for "high" German, only go so far. Here are some basics.
German has an unfortunate tendency to create single words for what would be an entire phrase in English, or else we would just invent a new word. A classic example is the German word for train station.
To decipher a German or Austrian menu, you have to first pick apart the long words into their components:
zeibelrostbraten: onions(zeibel) roast(rost) beef(braten) – a pot roast with a lot of onions
Backhendl: baked (back) chicken (hendl)
paprikahuhn: paprika chicken
Pastry shops present a special problem. I have never seen a translator book that translates the names or contents of pastries or most cakes. I have no idea what a Hipporolle means, but if you ever see one in a pastry display case, order a dozen or so. It looks like a spring roll, only it’s made of something like a waffle cone. The inside is filled with some sort of Bavarian cream and one end of the roll is dipped in chocolate. In a pastry shop, go to the display case and point. A fancy restaurant will present the desert selection to you, so, again, you point (same goes for the cheese course).
Here is an essential word for the pastry shop and desserts: take the word chalk and replace ch with Sh (shhh), for shaulk. Then make schaulk-oh-laa-duh – chocolate.
A schnitzel is a breaded, deep-fried chop, unless it is naturschnitzel – natural chop – meaning it is not breaded. Classically, schnitzels are veal (kolb), but schwein (pork) are also common because they are cheaper and approximate the taste of veal. Both are well worth the experience. European veal is invariably milk-fed veal, an altogether different experience than most US veal, which is simple calf meat. Pork, in the western European countries, carries no risk of disease because the governments strictly regulate how pigs are fed. Being free of disease, pork is served rare, a tender, juicy delight. It is highly recommended.
If you are not clear on whether the schnitzels offered are veal or pork, point to the item on the menu and ask, "Kolb oder schwein?" pronounced pretty much as it reads.
After 15 vacation trips to Austria, I feel confident in saying that beer should be drunk with meals, not wine. While there are some decent Austrian wines, it takes a lot of work to know them and more to find them. The rest have a resemblance to kerosene. Beer is another story. Not only does it go with all Austrian meals, it is great beer.
Coffee probably arrived in Europe by way of the Turks through Vienna. Like most European coffee, Viennese coffee is very strong and bitter. My wife, a confirmed American coffee drinker, won’t touch the stuff. I don’t like anybody’s coffee, so all I can say is to be careful.
With all that said about Viennese restaurant meals, eat at a pastry shop. For breakfast, go to a pastry shop. For lunch, go to a pastry shop. For a morning snack, go to a pastry shop. For an afternoon snack, go to a pastry shop. Put this high on your list of things you must do: go to a pastry shop. This is no joke – to visit Europe, especially Austria, without eating lots of pastries is a mistake. A slice of cake at a Viennese Backerai is a work of art.
While Viennese pastries are grand, it is the cakes (torte, phonetic: tort-ah) where Vienna really shines. Americans have no idea of what can be done with a cake. Eat a few dozen pieces of different Viennese cakes and you will be both educated and amazed. Cakes are sold by the slice.
Deml is the pastry shop to end pastry shops, at least in Vienna. I confess a preference for
Budapest’s Gerbeaud. Deml is small, very expensive, and very crowded, which distracts from the grand fin de siecle decor. Maybe hit Deml once to say you did it, but it’s not really worth the price when any backstreet Backerai comes so close for so much less.
There are lots of calories, but look at all the money you spent to get here. You would be a fool not live it up and enjoy the rare and great experience of the Viennese pastry shop as often as you can.
Haydn was born in poverty Rohrau, just east of Vienna near the Hungarian border. He died in
Eisenstadt, the richest, most famous musician in all of history until the Beetles. Haydn first came
to Vienna at age 12 as one of the Vienna Choir Boys, who still sing at services every Sunday at
the Hofburg. When his voice broke, Haydn was kicked out of the choir and became a poor music
teacher living in a Vienna slum. In short order, Haydn became court composer to Prince Nicholas
Esterhazy von Golgatha, probably the richest man in the world. Prince Nicholas provided Haydn
with his own Orchestia and opera company and concert hall. When Haydn complained the
concert hall was too reverberant, Price Nicholas ordered the costly marble floor be removed and
replaced with wood planks, which Haydn liked, and so it remains to this day.
All this was long before electricity, before CDS, before TV, before movies. Music was the great
entertainment in all the great cities of the western world, and nobody packed ‘em in like Haydn.
Nowhere was music more a part of life than in the greatest city of the western world, the Imperial
Sucking in immense wealth from the greatest empire since Rome, the Viennese nobility played a
great game of one upsmanship– who could build the fanciest palace? Who could assemble the
greatest art collection? Who could provide the best musical entertainment? Prince Nicholas
always won, for Prince Nicholas had Haydn.
With Haydn and money, Vienna became a magnet for musicians from all over Europe– Salieri
from Italy, Beethoven from Germany, Solomon from England, and Vienna created a musical
culture unmatched in history anywhere on Earth– Haydn, Beethoven, Salieri, Mozart, Brahms,
Schubert, Bruckner, Brahms, Mahler, Schoenberg, Johann Strauss father and son, Berg.
By the mid twentieth century, New York City was where the money was, but after he retired as
conductor of the NY Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein became principal guest conductor of the
Vienna Philharmonic because Vienna was where the music was.
The bottom line is this: A visit to Vienna is not complete without attending an opera or symphony
concert because classical music in Vienna is the world’s greatest cultural tradition.
The main music season runs from September into May, but somewhere, there is a concert every
day of the year. The crown jewel of the Viennese music scene is the State Opera, $5-250. For
$5, you stand in the back. Advanced bookings are advised, if not essential. Use the web.
There are four orchestras offering tourist concerts year round, $35-70, making it possible to hear
the top hits of Mozart and Johann Strauss Jr. almost any night of the year. The venues are old
concert halls from the Imperial era, two are in the Hofburg, the Kursalon in the Stadtpark was
built by Strauss for concerts by his orchestra.
Check the web sites for the Austrian National Tourist Office or for the City of Vienna for
programs, prices, and details.
The Hofburg rotunda above the passageway connecting In der Burg and Michaelerplatz is fine
spot for itinerant street musicians. I heard a good tenor singing a Schubert Mass, accompanied by
a boom box orchestra.
The State Opera House, the Musikverein, is also a spectacular building that can be visited on
guided tours, or watch PBS’s annual broadcast of the New Year’s Day Concert from the
Musikverein and get a virtual tour on TV.
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