Monthly Archives: May 2013

Believe It Or Not, I Was Given No Incentives to Write This Post

Vienna can be a very expensive city, which is why the spouse and I were happy to learn about delinski.at. I’m sharing this link with you, my readers, as a PSA, because I am too dumb to have obtained any favors in exchange for laying my excellent reputation on the line in support of this company. Delinski is a website that lets you book tables at well-known Viennese restaurants and, for a 5 euro per-booking fee, get 30% off your total bill—including drinks. (The site is in German, but easy to navigate even if your Deutsch is, like mine, erratic.) The restaurants are sorted by district and include some of the best in town, and there are usually reasonable reservation times available. We’ve done this twice now with fabulous results, each time eating both well and affordably in restaurants that under ordinary circumstances might be considered a splurge. Hello, date night!

Concrete example:  Saturday night we went to Nasch, which is the restaurant located in the Hilton on the Ringstrasse. The restaurant concept is Viennese tapas, which was why I chose it over some of the better-known options, because I really wanted to know what that would be like. And what it was like was fun! The restaurant itself was fairly small, which I prefer:

Nasch

The menu, on the other hand, was enormous—this is only one of its several pages (though not all pages had this many offerings). Choosing what to eat was an intense and at times quite funny marital negotiation:

How can two people ever agree on 10 things from this menu? It will strengthen your relationship.
How can two people ever agree on 10 things from this menu? It will strengthen your relationship.

Here are the cold plates that arrived — pepper ham (all the meat and cheese, as far as I noticed, was Austrian) and salmon lachs with little potato rösti and zucchini:

Salmon and ham at Nasch
Austria’s finest Fleisch and Fisch.

And then came a plethora of hot dishes, including a Bärlauch gnocchi gratin sort of thing, and paprika chicken, and a plate of these meatloafish patties that the Austrians call Butterschnitzel with the express purpose of confusing Americans who only know of the regular kind of schnitzel, and also some lovely ravioli with walnut butter. Oh, and lamb. Here, see for yourself:

This is not all that came -- oh, no -- this is merely one stage of the flotilla of little plates that arrived at our table.
This is not all that came — oh, no — this is merely one stage of the flotilla of little plates that arrived at our table.

Sadly, the lamb wasn’t great, but it was the only thing that wasn’t, which is a solid hit rate. They had good wines by the glass and mixed a tasty cocktail, and both were, again, 30% off. For two people, with aperitifs and wine as well as ordering something like ten dishes, we dined for 75 euros, including Trinkgeld. I give that a nicht schlecht!

One note: we do try to tip on what the original bill would have been so as not to take our discount out on the servers.

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Of Flea Markets, Dirndls, and Crime-Solving Dogs

With spring comes the return of the Flohmarkt, or flea market, a famous feature of the Viennese landscape. To be honest, it’s possible they were here all year, but the weather was so bloody awful that who would have known? So, a couple of weekends ago I hit the Flohmarkt Trifecta:  three flea markets in 2 days. Curious what there is to buy—and what single purchase I finally selected from among the tens of thousands of objects on offer? You will never guess.

Flea market at Freyung in Vienna
What the hell is this stuff, and why does it haunt my dreams?

The first flea market (which was also the smallest) gave me an unfortunate false sense of what to expect from the others. This consisted of a few stands in the neighborhood of the Freyung (last seen on this blog here). It was there that I saw a table of totally scary paraphernalia from both World Wars as well as associated other military campaigns, liberally mixed with crucifixes, dolls, and other items familiar from horror films.

This photo is incapable of conveying the terror instilled by this display — but I couldn’t take better pictures because the totally scary guy manning the stand was looking at me and probably putting a curse on me.

 

So naturally after that I was curious about what to expect from the semi-annual Neubaugasse Flohmarkt, held in the 7th district. This is a gigantic flea market running up both sides of a long street and consisting of dozens of stands and a bewildering collection of objects. Allow me to set the scene:

Neubaugasse flea market in Vienna's 7th district
Thank God it wasn’t raining.
Turtle shell from Neubaugasse flea market in Vienna
This noble sea creature did not die in vain. Not at all.

 

At Neubaugasse you could find an incredible range of objects, from a turtle etched with images of the first American presidents and a giant bald eagle, to a pair of airplane seats, to cameras of every possible variety.

Airplane seats from Neubaugasse flea market in Vienna
Because there’s nothing you long for more in your own home than the experience of flying coach.

 

 

 

 

Overwhelmed by this display, we headed downhill and into the 6th district, and thus into the rear portion of the Naschmarkt. The Naschmarkt is best known as Vienna’s largest outdoor food market, but it also has a flea market at its far end. This flea market is only on Saturdays, but takes place year round.

 

Flea market at the Naschmarkt in Vienna
At the Naschmarkt, if you want stuff rather than food, head out back.

 

 

 

I can now unreservedly say that this is where you want to go if you are in search of Tracht.

 

That’s right. Tracht.

 

Tracht at Naschmarkt flea market
Why do I write Tracht with a captial-T? Because in German one capitalizes nouns, and Tracht is a Thing.

 

What is Tracht, you ask? Tracht is traditional regional clothing—your dirndls, your lederhosen, your little green felt cavalry jackets with brass buttons that probably have a name but I don’t know what it is. Also, Tyrolean hats (not pictured here).

 

 

 

By now you are wondering what purchase I made—what single object I selected from this glory to bring into my home and represent my identity. Was it a dirndl? Was it a dead animal? Well, it was at Neubaugasse that a certain book among the thousands upon thousands displayed there caught my eye:

Kommissar Rex book in Vienna
Here I am and there is Rex, right under my hand, as though I am petting his adorable head.

It’s a commemorative picture book from the first season of Kommissar Rex, a television program about a crime-fighting German Shepherd. It is my favorite TV show, it is teaching me German, and it was a flea market, damn it! A flea market is a temple to misguided purchases.

I make no apologies.

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Bosch, Bruegel, Rubens, Rembrandt—A Review

Until June 30th the Albertina has a show of prints and drawings, “Bosch Bruegel Rubens Rembrandt.” I’ve been to see it a couple of times and found it overall mixed, with a couple of high points. First, I’ll give you a quick overview of what to expect; and then I’d like to show you a couple of things in the show that are very much worth seeing.

The exhibition has as little to hold it together as its title suggests; Bosch, Bruegel, Rubens and Rembrandt were all fascinating (though quite distinct) painters who executed less-famous though superb graphic works; their careers span a timeframe of about 175 years. Bruegel was profoundly influenced by the work of Bosch, at that moment a popular artist; Rembrandt drew from a couple of Rubens’ works, and may have had a more extensive interest in the artist who was the most famous of their shared moment. But Bosch and Rubens or Bruegel and Rembrandt have little enough to do with each other. Presumably to give a sense of connection, a couple of additional categorical divisions are thrown into the mix—Haarlem mannerists, for instance, as well as landscape. It’s exactly as arbitrary as it sounds.

Structure is imposed by the layout of the gallery itself, with the Bosches (including the famous Tree-Man drawing) and Bruegels (the prints of the Seven Deadly Sins) off in the split-level side room (frequent Albertina visitors will know the space well). The remainder of the works sprawl through the remaining gallery space broken into loose subcategories, sort of. The effect is of a kind of intellectual disorder punctuated briefly by extraordinary experiences. I suggest we just take a look at the latter.

For example, among the Bruegels, and far more interesting than the engravings of the Seven Deadly Sins, one finds his pen and brush drawing of Big Fish Eat Little Fish:

Big Fish Eat the Little Fish

The father in the boat gestures toward the fishy mayhem and says, according to the inscription present in print versions, “Look, son, I have long known that the big fish eat the small.” The truth of this maxim is being demonstrated in every direction — not only by the whale in the background, disgorging fish from mouth and gut, but within the boat itself, where another man cuts open a large catch to reveal a small one.

Like most of Bruegel’s works that are often posited to present a “moral message,” the meaning of the work is profoundly unclear. That we are supposed to learn something important is indicated by the gesture of the man in the boat to the boy; the boy, like the viewer, is in the role of “student.” But what is the lesson taught by this marine mass slaughter? Presumably we humans are the biggest fish of all—this would be the logic of the Great Chain of Being, after all—and at first glance this would appear to be the case both within the boat, in the actions of the fisherman, and in the world more broadly, where a pair of men—who, though not the largest figures in the composition, are wielding the largest knives—are stabbing and gutting the massive whale.

But wait. Look up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…a flying fish?

Little Fish Eat the Big Fish Eating the Little Fish

The lesson, such as it is, seems to be that everyone thinks he’s the big fish—until he isn’t. Indeed, there is only one true Big Fish, and we are not he. For he is God. And he is coming after us (using nature as his tool?), in the same way we are slashing our way through his creatures. The play is on the idea of Christ as a fisherman/a fisher of men, and on the idea that man is too quick to think of himself as in the position of the fisherman, rather than as part of the catch. That the world can turn on you in a moment—that the big fish can, in fact, become the small—is amusingly indicated by the oysters and mussels clapping hold of the occasional fish, and by the creature off to the right that has sprung a pair of human legs and is walking off with a smaller fish in its mouth.

How do you feel now, little fish?

Need some cheering up? How about a nice, jolly Bosch drawing of…something:

Bosch Gone Wild

Of course, not for nothing was Bosch a source for Bruegel, since this print, like most of Bosch’s paintings, seems to be about the idea that the result of our human inability to take control of our bodies (as a metaphor for the dominance of spirit over matter, itself a polite way of saying stop sinning, you fool!) means that we will eventually become instruments ourselves—rather dramatically rendered by the figure having a bird driven into his rectum by a lute-wielding man. Go ahead, laugh and play, live it up in your joyful, pleasurable body; chase a few birds. But then prepare to be cracked like a wishbone, played like a lute, or, as in the case of the Garden of Earthly Delights in the Prado, strung on a harp. Because God is not your friend, and he didn’t make this world for you to have fun in. In fact, he made it to trap you.

That was fun and all, but the real highlight of the exhibition for me were the two side-by-side impressions of Rembrandt’s drypoint of The Three Crosses in States III and IV. For those new to printmaking, a state refers to all of the impressions drawn from a plate without any alterations to the surface of the plate itself. If the artist recuts the plate, whether for artistic reasons or because it has worn down, and then pulls more impressions, this constitutes a new state of the print. The Three Crosses exists in four states, and clearly between the third and fourth states something radical has happened. Here is state III:

IMG_5801

Obviously, it’s a play on light. Christ on the central cross rises into a Close Encounters-styled cone of light that dissolves the figures at the base of the cross even as it defines him as a collection of sharp lines, pushed toward the viewer. The trappings of his material life—the nobles on their horses, the observers behind the cross, Virgin and Marys and other followers, all are treated to an equalizing force of radiance that, in erasing line (print’s only formal tool), eradicates form. The figure of the “good thief” who has accepted Christ (unusually on Christ’s left, though of course on the plate and in preparatory drawings he would have been in the mirror image position, on Christ’s right) has given himself over to the light. His physical collapse paradoxically rises upward, arcing over the top of his cross. The “bad thief” who denies Christ, in contrast, slides inexorably downward, weighed down by ink and line. The lit area lightly touches the edges of the crowd, and at its edges the figures take on definition as they come nearer to the world of the viewer.

In contrast, take a look at what has happened in State IV of The Three Crosses:

Three Crosses, State IVThe world has gone dark. Christ still rises in the center of the composition, he is still clearly modelled, but his isolation is complete. Dense, heavily cut lines—a near wash of black, a heavy sleet of ink—has swamped the good thief on the right; the holy family likewise, with the exception of the lone figure desperately clutching the base of the cross. The rider who was leaving the composition on the left in State III has turned and is riding inward, an ominous hint of cruelties to come. The groom who had been holding his horse’s head is now behind him, and is now grabbing the head of a panicked, rearing, riderless horse, converted from a previously tame figure of a mounted rider. The new figure is a kind of specter of fear, dimly glimpsed. The work on the plate here is remarkable—take a look at the heavy lines that make up that horse, and think about how Rembrandt has gouged at the plate:

Three Crosses, State IV, detail of horse

The mood here is obviously grim, and ominous. The consolations of light offered by State III have been completely reversed to produce a dark world of specters:

Three Crosses, State IV, detailThe viewer’s role here is not to interpret, as in the third state, but to experience. State IV is not just a different image—it posits a different role for artist and viewer. The work we do in front of the image is fundamentally different than that demanded by Bosch and Bruegel—it is not allegorical.

I’d just say that, in the face of such a radically different kind of representation, there might have been a more meaningful way of understanding the relationship between these artists than via the category “Landscape.”

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How Vienna Does Labor Day (And We Should Too!)

In the U.S., May 1st is the first day of May—and that’s all it is. In fact, if you polled Americans, I would bet that a very small minority would have any idea what May 1st means in the rest of the world. Labor Day in the U.S. is safely quarantined in September, where it can in no way join with labor movements elsewhere to create any kind of actual advocacy, and is associated primarily with barbecues (family over solidarity) and end-of-season-sales (everybody in service industries works on Labor Day).

Vienna, however, is a socialist city in a country with a long history of socialism (as well as fascism, of course, which only makes the resonance of socialism stronger) on a continent with an endemic tradition of socialist activism. If you think anyone expects to go shopping here on May Day, otherwise known as International Workers’ Day, otherwise known as the true Labor Day, you can think again. Everything is closed, everything is red for the day, and the public presence of the SPÖ, otherwise known as the Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs, otherwise known as the Austrian Social Democratic Party, is ascendant.

Invited by friends who are party members and functionaries, I successfully infiltrated the annual massive May Day parade and waved a flag, carried a balloon, and shared a cheese-filled sausage, all in the name of international labor rights. Below is my photojournal.

The first thing to know is that Vienna is structured by its districts — 23 of them. On May Day, all of the districts gather and march, loosely organized under sectional banners, toward the Ringstrasse, which circles the city center and along which one finds the major structures of government. Eventually the parade passes by the Parliament (not to mention the former Habsburg court and even the Opera) on its way to its final destination, the Rathaus, or town hall, where the Mayor and other government functionaries await on a viewing stand.

Here, our particular troop is under way as representatives of the 5th district, called Margareten (full disclosure: none of us actually lives in the 5th, but one of our party is a High Ranking Official in the SPÖ for the 5th, so in the name of Solidarity, we were all Margaretens for a day).

My people: Section 19 from the 5th district, Margareten. Bunt statt Braun = Color not Brown (brown being the color of fascism, i.e. brownshirts).
My people: Section 19 from the 5th district, Margareten. Bunt statt Braun = Color not Brown (brown being the color of fascism, i.e. brownshirts).

Our route led through the crowded streets of the 5th, eventually passing by the Naschmarkt, or giant food market.

Allow me to present my comrades, who include professional employees of the SPÖ, as well as folks who have been out all night partying (I name no names).

 

Red is a jolly color for happy workers.
Red is a jolly color for happy workers.

 

In general, as we headed toward the Wienzeile (nice scenic route we had), there was a celebratory air, fueled in part by the first “pause,” a stop at a little bar that, in solidarity, fortified the marchers with a spread of free bread, meats, sweets, and, of course, the worker’s elixir, vodka.

 

Speaking of solidarity, along the way one sees its signs (literally):

From the windows spectators watch, occasionally with banners.
From the windows spectators watch, occasionally with banners.

Eventually, we arrive at the Ring, and hang a left at the historic Opera.

Freedom. Equality. Justice. Solidarity.
Freedom. Equality. Justice. Solidarity.

As we march along, we pass other districts waiting to make the turn onto the Ring:

At the Ring, the different districts wait at the end of the feeder streets they marched in on, waiting their turn to join the massive procession making its way toward the Rathaus. Here, "No More Privatization!" Drumming passes the time.
At the Ring, the different districts stop at the end of the feeder streets they marched in on, waiting their turn to join the massive procession making its way toward the Rathaus. Here, “No More Privatization!” Exuberant drumming passes the time.

Each group has its own drummers and musicians, and cultivates a distinct identity:

The banner says they fight for Vienna, and for justice. Behind it, Capoeira dudes go like crazy.
The banner says they work for Vienna, and fight for justice. Behind it, Capoeira dudes go like crazy.

I got a huge kick out of this unconventional juxtaposition:

Traditional brass band with dirndl-wearing women marches happily along in front of the "Adoption Rights for Homosexuals!" banner. Love it.
Traditional uniformed brass band with dirndl-wearing women marches happily along in front of the “Adoption Rights for Homosexuals!” banner. Love it.

As we go, we pass many of Vienna’s public landmarks, including the Parliament:

In front, Wien's red W, with an invitation for the Nazis to get out of Parliament. In the background, Parliament.
In front, Wien’s red W, with an invitation for the Nazis to get out of Parliament. In the background, Parliament.

Eventually — so very eventually — we arrive at the Rathaus simultaneous with the districts coming in the opposite direction (the Ring is a circle, after all). We alternate turning into the Rathausplatz, where a giant crowd cheers from behind barricades, and the mayor awaits on a viewing stand:

Eventually we arrived at the Rathaus (the town hall), where a giant crowd stood cheering. "We fight for a just Austria!"
The crowd in front of the Rathaus (the town hall). The sign reads, “We fight for a just Austria!”

The view from behind our banner:

A marcher's view of the Rathausplatz.
A marcher’s view of the Rathausplatz.

I have to say, I love this picture. Thanks to whoever handed me a flag just in time:

No one could have suspected that this jolly SPÖ flag-waver is in fact a capitalist American under cover. Disguise courtesy of my 10-euro "designer" sunglasses.
No one could have suspected that this jolly SPÖ flag-waver is in fact a capitalist American under cover. Disguise courtesy of my 10-euro “designer” sunglasses.

After passing through the Rathausplatz we were disgorged back onto the Ring, where we had the opportunity to view a few of the districts still waiting to make their way in. Like these guys:

Alsergrund is the 9th district, here arriving at the Rathaus.
Alsergrund is the 9th district, here arriving at the Rathaus with a truly quality banner.

Or my favorites, these guys:

These two horses stood very quietly in line—directly in front of the Guys on Bikes. They waited their turn, and then very pleasantly walked up and made the turn into the mad crowd at the Rathaus, with the motorcycle contingent revving and honking right behind them, and the crowd going nuts. Amazing.
These two horses stood very quietly in line—directly in front of a swarm of motorcyclists (pictured next). They waited their turn, and then smoothly walked up and made the turn into the mad crowd at the Rathaus, with the motorcycle contingent revving and honking right behind them, and the crowd going nuts. Amazing. I would have taken either one of them home in a heartbeat.

Directly behind them, this contingent:

They belong to no district. They are free men, riding their bikes for a free society, freely revving their engines and tooting their horns.
They belong to no district. They are free men, riding their bikes for a free society, freely revving their engines and tooting their horns. In freedom.

Yikes. And it wouldn’t be Vienna if wine did not make a significant appearance:

This is the Heurigen Express, the faux train that takes tourists up to the wineries in the hills above town, and brings their drunk asses back down again. If they only knew that it is a front for the radical socialist politics of the 19th district!
This is the Heurigen Express, the faux train that takes tourists up to the wineries in the hills above town, and rolls their drunk asses back down again. If they only knew that it is a front for the radical socialist politics of (I think) the 19th district!

After you leave the Rathausplatz, directly across the Ring is the “Red Market,” that is, a pop-up outdoor cafe for drinking giant quantities of beer and wine — and liberally populated by firefighters, who are a prominent presence at May Day festivities:

Because firefighters have for over a century been a bastion of leftist politics and workers' rights, they are very publicly represented at all May Day festivities. Later, in the Prater, a large contingent showed off several firetrucks and firefighting equipment to enthralled children. Start 'em young, guys!
Because firefighters have for over a century been a bastion of leftist, anti-fascist politics and workers’ rights, they are very publicly represented at all May Day festivities. Later, in the Prater, a large contingent showed off several firetrucks and firefighting equipment to enthralled children. Start ‘em young, guys!

Later in the day, the festivities move over to the Prater, Vienna’s giant public park, where there is music, food, more drinks, and balloons for the kids:

After the parade, all of Vienna goes to the Prater, where there is live music, food, plenty of beer....
After the parade, all of Vienna goes to the Prater, where there is live music, food, plenty of beer….

 

...and BALLOONS! Because nothing inculcates a new generation into radical politics like a bright red helium balloon.
…and BALLOONS! Because nothing inculcates a new generation into radical politics like a bright red helium balloon.

May Day. It’s my kind of holiday.

Posted in Adventures, Culture, Regan Writing | 3 Comments