Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wein: ein kultureller Brennpunkt // Vienna: A Cultural Hotspot

March 19, 2015

A few friends and I embarked on a three day/four night adventure through three "eastern" European countries over the weekend before our spring break. A student travel agency based in Germany organises many such trips and the price was so good that we decided to give it a chance. We set off late Thursday evening on a bus full of students from Mannheim and a few other German cities and made our way overnight to the beautiful city of Vienna, Austria.

We arrived in Vienna mid-morning after witnessing an indescribably gorgeous sunrise over the Alps. The rest of our morning was dedicated to a group tour, conducted by an adorable older Austrian woman who took us to several important buildings and told us facts and stories about Vienna’s importance and rich cultural history. We saw the various wings of the Imperial Palace - parts of which are now dedicated to other purposes like a citywide library - a section of old Roman ruins from the 2nd-5th centuries, and the famous Lipizzaner horses.

After our small breakfast provided by the tour group and walking around the city all morning, we were more than ready for lunch. A group of ten students from Mannheim and Heidelberg split off from the larger group to dine at a place called Morris in an alley off the main square, which had Wiener schnitzel - an important dining experience in Vienna - and a unique starter course of “pancake soup,” which was strips of pancake in beef broth (strange but delicious). I also got a cup of coffee, another important part of Vienna’s culture.

Within our group of ten we had differing plans for what we wanted to do with the rest of the day, so myself and two friends left to do our own thing with the idea to meet back up with the rest of them later. We first went to a coffee shop called Café Coffee Day so that Shannon and I could get more coffee, then to the Albertina, an art museum we passed on our tour.

Shannon was able to convince the entry guard that she was 18 and got in for free, but my other friend and I had to pay the 8.50€ student entrance fee. Despite the steep price, I felt it was worth it inside. The Albertina has many traveling exhibits, currently including a selection of drawings from Renoir and Degas in the basement and a selection of Impressionist pieces from artists like Monet and Picasso on the top floor.

Located in the gallery across the hallway from the Impressionist collection was a set of artwork from an artist named Elaine Sturtevant, who the three of us thought was incredible. She worked during the 1970s and though she didn’t do much original work, she turned the idea of originality on its head and destroyed sexist norms in the art world by making perfect copies of famous male artists’ works to the point that the original and her copy were indistinguishable from each other.

"Sleeping Woman With Flowers" by Marc Chagall 
Drawing by Elaine Sturtevant 

We spent most of the rest of the afternoon wandering around several of Vienna’s well-manicured green parks and eventually met up with the rest of our group for a mini picnic in the park across from Maria-Theresien-Platz, one of the main city squares. The guys wanted to stay and drink some more but the girls wanted to further explore the city, so we left and went back to the shopping centre of the city, stopping for gelato on the way. We spent the rest of the evening shopping and looking for grocery stores, though they had all closed by the time we found them.

Our bus left at 8:30pm to travel the remaining hours to Budapest, Hungary, the next stop on our itinerary. After spending 12 hours on the bus the night before, we did not want to continue on for another 3 hours, but we had no choice if we wanted to make it to Hungary.

Some final thoughts from Vienna:
  • Vienna had much of the same feel as Washington DC does to me – old and impersonal, though much older and with a greater cultural impact on the world. Because I only had about 12 hours to spend in the city, I didn’t feel like I had enough time to really get to know the city or leave the main city centre, so all I saw was the touristy, commercial-washed front of the city and I didn’t get to explore all the more personal spaces or see any of the local culture (or any local Austrians at all, for that matter).
  • Because German is the main language of the country, I found it very easy to get around and find things, and I often forgot I wasn’t in Germany anymore because it felt very similar to what I’m used to.
  • Vienna was one of the cities I really wanted to see while I was abroad so I’m happy I got to visit it, but I do wish I had gotten more than just a surface view of what the city had to offer. 
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