Due to the way the School holidays fell this year we had to take our post-Easter break before Easter, and so took the opportunity of four nights in Vienna. We'd never been in that direction, and linguistically were way beyond the limits of my flakey O level German.
Interestingly, I'd never been to a city for the first time before where I had read so much about it prior to going - and yet once there found what I had read to be of almost no relevance whatsoever.
The 1683 siege by the Ottoman Turks was almost the moment that Islamic armies entered Western Europe. The Viennese held out for two desparate months as the Ottomans tried to undermine hte walls and break down the city's defences, only to be relieved at the last minute by the combined forces of the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Wheatcroft's book is fascinating. However, the Vienna of today with the exception of one or two cathedrals and the shape of the Ringstrasse bears almost no relation to 17th Century Vienna. There are no historic walls, and nothing in what we saw around the city to mark the place where the siege was acted out.
Interesting historical possible factoid of the week. The walls which saved Europe (hurrah!) were paid for by the exorbitant ransom (boo hiss!) that we paid in return for Richard the Lionheart (hurrah!) when he was held in 1192 by Leopold V on his way back from the Crusades.
Next on my reading list, although I didn't actually finish it until on the way home, was Patrick Leigh Fermor's account of his walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople (although the first book concludes with him standing on the bridge crossing into Hungary).
Leigh Fermor had passed through Vienna in the March of 1934. I found a couple of streets he mentions, but little else as he is vague about cafes and hostels he frequented. His travels coincided with the rise of Nazism, certainly on the German leg of his walk, and Vienna did not feel like that sort of place at all.
I did read that at one point in 1918 Freud, Stalin and Hitler all lived in Vienna - who knows where?
The Vienna of The Third Man has also disappeared too. No piles of rubble remain - in fact (assuming a major rebuilding exercise has taken place on large numbers of grand 18th and 19th Century buildings) the place looks untouched.
I understand that the film The Third Man is actually used as a form of archive of the degree of devastation that the city had expeirenced by 1945. The wheel in the Prater Park is still there, and one of the clips in the opening credits looks across the front of the Town Hall across to the Votivskirche near where we stayed, but it didn't feel like the city of Harry Lime.
I had also started Max Hasting's book Catastrophe: Europe goes to war 1914 and I have to say that the Austrians don't come out of this very well. Opinions differ, but I think he must be close to the mark with the blame.
No, theVienna we found was very different. I loved the calm orderliness - even the roudy beer festival in the gardens in front of the Rathaus were not in least bit threatening despite a large dose of moustaches and lederhosen.
I loved the feel walking around the place. I got some black and white street photos which are upon as a set on flickr and some colour ones of the buildings in the gorgeous spring sunshine.