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Vienna: A World-Class Capital

Jun 1, 2004
2004 / June-July 2004

Imagine that New York, London, Paris or Rome had suddenly disappeared from the world stage, just sunk from view, like Atlantis, for almost a hundred years. Then one day the city began to rise again. That’s what has happened to Vienna, the capital of Austria. For more than 600 years, under the Hapsburg rule, Vienna was the center of an empire that stretched, at its height, from Spain to Hungary, and from the Netherlands to Italy. After its defeat in World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was reduced to the tiny republic of Austria, then further diminished when the country was bombed by the Allies and occupied for a decade after World War II.

Today Vienna has regained its place as a world capital with much of its illustrious past intact. Here are the houses where Mozart and Beethoven wrote concertos for their rich patrons and the palace where a 14-year-old Marie Antoinette celebrated her bethrothal to the future Louis XVI of France. There are still more than 100 palaces in Vienna, most converted into museums, some into luxury hotels.

The city attracts more than 3 million visitors a year, one quarter of them business travelers. Recent waves of immigration have brought a variety of cultures to this once stodgy metropolis. Today you can dine on couscous, sushi or kebabs when you’ve had your fill of the traditional wiener schnitzel, goulash and knödel. Trendy nouveau-Austrian, nuovo-Mediterranean and Pan-Asian restaurants share the streets with the legendary coffeehouses.

Austria slowly began to wake from its long sleep during the 1990s, as its Eastern European neighbors emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. In 1995, Austria joined the European Union, and two years ago the nation adopted the euro. Other Central and Eastern European countries have been moving in the same direction. This May, 10 more countries gained E.U. membership, including four that border Austria: Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. Each step strengthens connections throughout the region and helps to move Vienna back into the heart of a unified Greater Europe.

Vienna’s central location in the new Europe, along with its clean streets and low crime rate, have helped make it one of the three top convention cities in the world. Its impressive facilities include three large convention centers—one located in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the former winter residence of the Hapsburgs.

But not everyone is in town for a convention. Germans, Czechs, Poles, Italians, Brits, Russians and Americans come to Vienna to do business with its thriving financial services and automotive firms. Real estate, consumer goods and communications are other busy areas. Frequent flights
connect the city to Central and Eastern Europe, as well as to hubs in Western Europe and North America. While German is the official language of Austria, 64 percent of the people in Vienna—and nearly everyone in the business sector—speak English.

Vienna could never be just another stop on the business traveler’s itinerary. Trophies of that long-gone empire bedeck this city like the pearls that once bedecked the throat of Austria’s beloved Empress Maria Theresia. The city’s 98 museums run the gamut from anthropology to contemporary art. Where else can you see Rembrandts and Titians in the morning, move on to works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele after lunch, then break for Viennese coffee and pastry before taking in photo realism at the Museum of Modern Art? After dinner, you can choose between the opera or the Vienna Philharmonic, musical comedy or jazz. On the other hand, Viennese dinners are so civilized and relaxed, you might opt to pass the evening in the company of friends, sipping Grüner Veltliner, one of Austria’s seductive white wines.

Where to Stay

The K+K Maria Theresia Hotel Vienna
Just a stone’s throw from the MuseumsQuartier, Vienna’s impressive new complex of museums and restaurants, the Maria Theresia is ideally situated. This moderately price d hotel is Scandinavian-sleek, airy and friendly. It’s 117 medium-sized rooms and six suites are equipped with minibars, direct-dial telephones and PC/modem connections. The hotel offers a bar, a bistro and a buffet breakfast.
The K+K Maria Theresia Hotel Vienna, Kirchbergasse 6
Vienna, Austria, tel 43 1 521 23, fax 43 1 521 23 70

The Hotel König von Ungarn
Mozart lived next door to this 16th century house that’s been converted into a charming small hotel. It features a central courtyard that doubles as a lounge and atrium. Thirty-three medium-sized, moderately priced rooms are decorated with country-style furnishings and have minibars, digital safes, telephones and data ports. Conveniences include a bar and a restaurant. Located in the shadow of Vienna’s Gothic cathedral, it’s perfect for sightseeing.
The Hotel König von Ungarn, Schulerstrasse 10
Vienna, Austria, tel 43 1 515 84 0, fax 43 1 515 848

Palais Coburg
This 19th century palace in the heart of the city was recently transformed into a five-star luxury hotel with one of the best restaurants in Vienna. Its 35 individually designed suites range from imperial-style to loft-modern. The meeting and conference rooms are splendid: Johann Strauss once played waltzes in one, a pink-white-and-gold wedding cake of a hall with marble columns, crystal chandeliers and a glass ceiling. Then there are yellow salons, blue salons and green salons where you can imagine ladies still whirling in their spun-sugar gowns
Palais Coburg, Coburgbastei 4,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 518 18 0, fax 43 1 518 18 1

Hotel Sacher Wien
The legendary and luxurious Hotel Sacher was opened in 1876 by the son of the man who invented the famous chocolate Sacher-Torte. Over the years, everyone from Emperor Franz Josef to Yoko Ono has passed through here. Located in the center of Vienna, near the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Sacher has 108 rooms and suites of various sizes, done in traditional Viennese style and sporting all the amenities. There are also banquet and catering facilities, two restaurants, the atmospheric Sacher cafe and two lounge-style bars that are popular meeting places. (Note: The Hotel Sacher is scheduled to be closed from June 27 to Sept. 13 for renovations.)
Hotel Sacher Wien, Philharmonikerstrasse 4
Vienna, Austria, tel 43 1 514 56 0, fax 43 1 514 56 810

Where to Dine

Traditional Viennese cooking once emphasized meat, potatoes and dumplings. Today the better restaurants exploit a wide variety of ingredients and international cuisines. Still, wiener schnitzel and tafelspitz (Austrian-style boiled beef) remain Viennese classics, as does roast goose (in winter) and pike or trout prepared with fresh herbs. In springtime the local delicacies are asparagus and a soup made with wild garlic leaves. Those famous Viennese pastries are served year-round, and locals really do stop into their favorite coffeehouses to read the paper or chat with friends over a cup of Vienna’s finest.

Palais Coburg
Under the culinary hand of Austrian Chef Christian Petz, this elegant restaurant in the newly opened Palais Coburg is turning out modern takes on Viennese classics. Petz and his crew might whip up a cream of artichoke soup with foie gras ravioli, then follow it up with veal stuffed with Swiss chard and shallots or maybe a fillet of turbot in shrimp sauce. Wines come from the Coburg’s incredible cellar, and the sky is the limit.
Palais Coburg, Coburgbastei 4,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 518 18 800, fax 43 1 518 18 818

The trendy set come here to see and be seen. Once you push your way through the smoke and pulsing music of the bar, the sleekly paneled restaurant is harmonious and civilized, as is the nuovo-Italian cuisine, featuring starters such as artichoke hearts stuffed with squid and entrees like succulent grilled scallops.
Fabios, Tuchlauben 6,Vienna, Austria, tel 43 1 532 222

Ruben’s Palais
Located on the grounds of the newly opened Liechtenstein Museum, this restaurant features elegant but understated modern décor and fashionable cuisine. You can order dishes like spring salad with ham crisps, and sturgeon on a bed of julienned vegetables. Dessert might be an assortment of pastries-all made with poppy seeds.
Ruben’s Palais
At the Liechtenstein Museum
Fürstengasse 1, Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 319 23 96
fax 43 1 319 23 96

Plachutta Hietzinger Bra
For traditional, home-style Viennese cooking near the Schönbrunn Castle, this is the place. Its famous tafelspitz is prepared in a broth filled with vegetables and strips of German pancakes. For beef-eaters, this is a Viennese ritual not to be missed.
Plachutta Hietzinger Bra
Auhofstrasse 1,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 87 770 87, fax 43 1 87 880 87 22

Located in the famous Burgtheater, amid neoclassical marble columns and sculpted pediments, the Vestibül is an elegant but relaxed setting for lunch or dinner. The menu features such Viennese classics as wild garlic soup and beef dumplings, and there is a fresh fish of the day.
Vestibül, In the Burgtheater
Dr. Karl Lueger-Ring 2
Vienna, Austria, tel 43 1 532 49 99
fax 43 1 532 49 99 10

Cafe Central
Before WWI, Leon Trotsky pondered the inevitability of the Russian Revolution from his regular table here. These days, the Central’s clientele looks decidedly more bourgeois. Order wiener schnitzel for lunch or simply come for coffee, pastry and to peruse the newspapers. Either way, admire the graceful marble columns, neo-Gothic arches and turn-of-thecentury brass chandeliers.
Cafe Central, Herrengasse 14,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 533 37 63 or 64

Getting Out

Planter’s Club
Leather sofas, palm ferns and an assortment of whiskeys and rums: You’re guaranteed to feel comfortable speaking English at this spot that bills itself as “The American Bar” but looks like a British club from the colonial era.
Planter’s Club, Zelinkagasse 4,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 533 33 93 15

Onyx Bar
A fine view of the fabulous Stephansdom Cathedral makes Onyx Bar the place to see and be seen. Drink Viennese coffee here by day or stronger fare by night.
Onyx Bar, Stephansplatz 12,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 535 39 69

This popular disco and party complex near the Heldenplatz has a high-tech dance floor offering a variety of dance genres. In warm weather, there’s outdoor seating in the garden.
Volksgarten, Burgring 1,Vienna, Austria
tel 43 1 535 05 18

What to Buy

Vienna’s shopping opportunities tend to pale next to its museums, palaces and concert halls. But those intent on browsing will find Mariahilfer Strasse and Kärtner Strasse are the main drags. At Kärtner Strasse 8, Swarovski crystal is displayed to great and glittery effect and sells well. In the realm of fashion, Vienna offers some of the same designer boutiques you’d find in New York, Paris or Rome. But Helmut Lang, whose shop is at Seilergasse 6, is Austria’s own. Antiques and jewelry lovers will want to browse the little shops in the streets around the Dorotheum, Vienna’s leading auction house. This Alpine country is famous for its loden, a heavy wool used for overcoats. One of the best-known loden shops is Loden-Plankl, on Michaelerplatz, across from the Hofburg. Here you can assemble an entire Alpine outfit-if you’re so inclined.

For culinary delicacies, check out Julius Meinl, featuring a vast array of coffees and gourmet goods in the flagship store at Am Graben 19. And don’t miss Demel, once the imperial bakery for the Hapsburgs, at Kohlmarkt 14. The Demel cafe-and-sweet shop displays the most elaborate pastries and chocolates you’ll ever see. Dedicated foodies should be sure to visit the Naschmarkt on Karlsplatz. This outdoor market sells the finest-quality meat, fish and exotic fresh produce. There are specialty stalls selling gourmet sauerkraut, pork, vinegar and honey-not to mention absinthe and olive oil.

What to See

MuseumsQuartier, District 7, Museumsplatz 1. Cultural complex containing restaurants, shops and museums, including Leopold Museum, tel 525 700 and Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK), tel 525 000.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, District 1, Maria Theresien Platz, tel 525 24 0. One of the great art museums of the world, featuring works by Tintoretto, Titian, Velázquez and Rubens. Also features Egyptian, Roman and Greek collections.

Liechtenstein Museum, District 9, Fürstengasse, tel 319 57 67 0. The newly opened Liechtenstein Palace’s collection focuses on Rubens and Baroque painting and sculpture.

The Belvedere, District 3, Prinz Eugen Strasse 27, tel 7955 7134. Former summer palace of Eugene of Savoy; current home of the Austrian Art Gallery. Works by Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka in Upper Belvedere.

Hofburg Imperial Palace, District 1,Albertinaplatz 3. Contains many museums, including the newly reopened Albertina (vast graphics collection), tel 534 83 510, and the Imperial Rooms and new Sisi Museum (devoted to Empress Elisabeth), tel 533 75 70.

Schönbrunn Palace, District 13, Schönbrunner Schlosstrasse, tel 811 13 239. The Hapsburgs’ summer residence in the suburbs west of the city center. Musikverein, District 1, Bösendorferstrasse 12, tel 508 8190. Golden Hall where the Vienna Philharmonic performs.

Want to Go?

Austrian Airlines (tel 800 843 0002, www.austrian.com) flies nonstop to Vienna and beyond from New York (JFK) and Washington, D.C. (IAD). The airport is less than half an hour from the center of the city and is connected by the S-Bahn train line, No. S-7.

The city of Vienna is divided into 23 districts, beginning with the oldest, most central district as No. 1. Districts 2 through 9 are all directly adjacent to the central district and are easy to reach. Many of the attractions are within walking distance of each other. If you prefer not to walk,Vienna has an excellent public transportation system of trolleys, buses and U-Bahn trains (subway). Buy a Vienna Card for about 17 euros and you’re entitled to unlimited use of the public transit system for 72 hours.

For more information, contact the Austrian National Tourist Office (tel 212 944-6880, www.austria.info/us).


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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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