Love, War, Death - Oh Vienna...
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
“Sophie, Sophie! Don’t die! Live for our children.”
Filled with panic and grief Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to the Austrian throne, uttered the words to his wife, Duchess Sophie von Hohenberg, as she died in his arms.
A bullet had passed through the metal skin of their 32-horsepower, open top Double Phaeton car and pierced the Duchess’ abdomen. Seconds later the Archduke would also be dead, felled by a separate but equally deadly bullet.
It was 10.45am on 28th June 1914 and it had taken just seconds for 19 year old Bosnian student, Gavrilo Princip, to fire two shots at the imperial car on Sarajevo’s Latin Bridge.
He was not acting alone but had been part of a Serbian independence organisation called The Black Hand, however, whilst the Royal deaths might have appeared like the work of an experienced assassin, Princip was largely untrained and his deadly shots were more luck than skill.
Nevertheless, in achieving his aim, to strike a blow for Serbian independence from Austro Hungary, the naive teenager had just triggered the deadliest chain of events the world had ever seen and, over the next five years, millions of people across the world would die in abject misery as the First World War gathered momentum.
I was transfixed.
A shiver passed through my spine as I eyed the bullet hole in the Royal vehicle, originally built by Vienna’s automotive manufacturer Graf and Sift, disbelieving of the fact that I was in the presence of dramatic history.
Earlier that morning I had taken tram D from the Harmonie Hotel close to Vienna’s Bauernfeldplatz, and made the half hour journey to Hauptbahnhof Ost S, the stop at which I would disembark for the short walk to Vienna’s Museum of Military History.
It was a cold day, but no more chilling than standing in one of the museum’s galleries and bearing witness to those tragic events of June 1914. Days earlier the world had stood in silence as it marked 100 years – to the hour – when the so-called Great War eventually came to an end.
A tingle ran down my spine as I looked at the Archduke’s bloodstained jacket, observed the bullet hole in the Royal car and tried to imagine the horror of those moments more than a century ago.
Although the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife took place in Sarajevo, the full story of their deaths, and all associated artefacts, including the gunman’s 9mm FN Browning pistol, model serial number 19074, are now on permanent display in the Vienna museum’s ground floor gallery.
It makes for a sobering morning.
I must have spent an hour in the small ‘assassination’ gallery, somehow unable to leave as I sought to absorb the scale of those events unfolding in front of me. A small TV screen transmitted a grainy black and white film, shot on the fateful day. Captions appeared below the silent footage: ‘..the dead couple laid out at the governor’s residence (Konak) in Sarajevo’ and ‘Anti-Serb riots after the assassination, with the Latin Bridge in the background.’
I had a quick look around the remaining parts of this majestic edifice, but was unable to linger. It was as if I no longer had the stomach to learn about man’s inhumanity to man, to discover how egos had obscured clarity of thought, or come to appreciate why British politicians and media at the time were so arrogant, or naïve, to believe that the Great War would ‘be over by Christmas’. Did they know?
Comatosed in thought I left the museum and made the short walk to the Upper and Lower palaces of Belvedere, built in the 18th century as the summer residence for the important general Prince Eugene of Savoy. He chose one of the most outstanding Baroque architects of the period, Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt, to design his summer home, which features extensive gardens and is now one of the world’s finest Baroque landmarks.
As well as housing an impressive art collection, there is a spectacular view of Vienna from Upper Belvedere’s Marble Hall.
But do not leave the palace without a Kiss to remember!
Upper Belvedere provides a home to work produced by Austria’s most famous artist, Gustav Klimt, including his undisputed masterpiece the Kiss. Klimt was at the heart of some fiery controversies during his lifetime, rejected by many, including artists, intellectuals and Austria’s conservative public, but lionised by others. Now, his work is the ultimate selfie backdrop for puckered lip teens!
Vienna is a gloriously beautiful city with an integrated transport system that many countries dream about but rarely achieve.
Trams, buses, taxis and bicycles criss-cross the city above ground in an intricate weave of roads, paths and cycleways, whilst the subway system purrs beneath the ground, linking seamlessly, to the international airport via a 16-minute express City Airport Train costing around 21 euros return. On arriving you can also buy an ‘all transport’ city pass, well worth the investment.
Vienna also has free pick-up and drop-where-you-stop electric scooters, providing you have downloaded the necessary app required to use them.
For whatever reason, Tram D seemed to be Vienna’s transport panacea! It seems to thread through the heart of the city taking you seamlessly from Belvedere to the Viennese State Opera, the first address on the famous Vienna Ring road and doubtless one of the most important opera houses in the world. After being damaged in the Second World War it was reopened in 1955, offering musical art and theatre at the highest level, for more than 300 days a year.
It is also the adjacent home to Bitzinger, one of Vienna’s famous outdoor sausage stands, only these bangers have real bite and come with mustard, ketchup a bottle of beer and a slice of German bread!
Seconds from Bitzinger is the Albertina Museum, home to one of the largest and most important print rooms in the world, whilst a short walk away along the nearby shopping precinct, you will bump into the glorious St Stephen’s Cathedral.
Located in the heart of the city, St Stephen’s is not only the most famous sight in Vienna, but also the most famous example of gothic architecture in the entire country and, inside, there are numerous things to discover from the catacombs, to the private rooms of the tower keeper and the largest bell in Austria.
Vienna is a city that will keep you entertained for days – probably years - and if you have a low boredom threshold it is the perfect tonic. There are Christmas markets, you can even take tea in Supersense, a wonderful ‘analogue’ café on the outskirts of town, where you can do all those ‘non techy’ things like printing, reel to reel audio and even have your photo taken on a Polaroid!
There’s the breathtakingly beautiful 1,441 room Baroque Schonbrun Palace, originally the main summer residence of the Habsburg rulers, but now one of the most important architectural, cultural and historical monuments in the country…..
…..and, within the palace grounds, there is something special for the kids, the Marionette Theatre Schloss Schonbrun, which keeps the puppet tradition alive through the use of state-of-the-art stage technology, and the staging of internationally acclaimed plays including Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.
Vienna is a special city blending imperial tradition with contemporary creativity and, with the highest ratio of green space in Europe - woods, grassland, parks and gardens account for almost half its area – and an annual ‘all city’ travel pass costing little more than £300, it is not surprising that Austrians guard their city jealously.
It had 15.5 million overnight stays in 2017, beating the previous record set in 2016 by 3.7 percent, and yet, this city of 1.8 million people is the original jewel in the Austrian crown, and still very much one of the best kept secrets in Europe!
Military Museum of Vienna - www.hgm.at
Information about the city:- www.vienna.info
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Love, War, Death - Oh Vienna..., 15th December 2018, 12:05 PM