Author Archives: Lisa

Schloss Ambras: Curiouser and Curiouser

On a couple of occasions in my long and diverse teaching career, I’ve been asked to teach a course on museum studies. A prominent feature of that course — and it’s a really fun course to teach, by the way — is a series of lectures on cabinets of curiosities. These are essentially the early modern precursor to the museum, ad hoc collections of all manner of materials strange, unusual, marvelous, and beautiful. The cabinet of curiosities is a concept with enormous range — with origins in Italian studioli (little studies) and royal treasuries, it takes a particularly elaborate form in the collections of the Austrian Habsburgs, who bought, stole, commissioned, or were given every imaginable kind of object.

I’ve written about some of the fruits of this collecting before—indeed, the newly reopened Kunstkammer in the KHM in Vienna has the very best objects from the Habsburg cabinet of curiosities (at its height called a Wunderkammer); these objects were, in the late 19th century, split off from the paintings and sculptures, and from the naturalia, that became the basis of the rest of the KHM and of the neighboring NHM (about which I’ve also written). But if you want to see the collections of rare and precious objects presented as they would have appeared in the 16th century—that is, at the height of European craftsmanship—you need to head to Innsbruck, and to Schloss Ambras. Here, the collections of Archduke Ferdinand II, ruler of Tyrol, can be seen still in their original setting, some of them in their original display chambers. It’s a rare and extraordinary window into Renaissance collecting—and also just some really cool shit.

The castle/palace complex is 16th century, with gardens set against a spectacular Alpine backdrop that you unfortunately can’t see while looking at the palace, rather from it (who gets the good view? The inhabitants, that’s who):

Schloss Ambras

 Schloss Ambras, Grounds

 Inside, the first room you come to is a large hall of armor—some of it rather interesting. The armor has an incredible intricacy; this was, after all, the 16th century, and Habsburg gear. It was more likely to be used for parades than for riding into actual battle. Also, these people were seriously tiny.

Armor Ambras

There were also some pretty weird choices—like these helmets given the shape of Moors’ faces, to be worn by archdukes and their like.

Schloss Ambras, Inexplicable Objects
Um….what?

“What were they thinking?” you ask. Good question. In further rooms you can see the cabinet of curiosities as it was originally displayed in the 16th century. This is a rare, indeed unique, opportunity, because most objects that were originally part of these collections are scattered, with their original settings destroyed, and only inventories give a sense of how they might have been assembled. At Schloss Ambras, you can see that the collection is organized according to a set of taxonomic principles that make little sense to modern minds. That is, by material, regardless of any other consideration (for example, art vs. nature).

Schloss Ambras, Curiosities

Among the highly curious objects in the collection, a sort of carved coral diorama of the Crucifixion:

IMG_6891

A carved wood dancing death:

Dancing Death

And, in a corner that it shares with a tree trunk that has grown around a set of deer’s antlers, you will find a taxidermied forerunner to the early work of Damien Hirst:

IMG_6909

Shark Ambras

Wait…let’s get a better look at those antlers, shall we?

Antlers Ambras

The collection does not distinguish, as I said, between works of art and nature, and so it includes a series of paintings of the extraordinary hirsute family of Pedro Gonzalez, a Spanish man who was part of the court of Margaret of Parma, the governor of the Netherlands:

The Family of Pedro Gonzalez

No doubt such hirsutism caused the family distress. But surely it was better than a sharp stick in your eye. Not sure? Consider the trials and tribulations of one Gregor Baci, unsuccessful jouster:

Ambras Injury

Gregor’s portrait is just one of the dozens upon dozens in Ambras’ extensive and quite quality portrait collection; you can also see many of the original rooms (including an incredible bathroom with a deep pool meant to be kept warm with heated stones). In contemplating what picture to give you in closing, I choose this incredible example, which I think captures the curiosity’s concept of limitlessness. Why live in a world with a concept of the impossible, when you could instead live with this guy:

My God, that is a hat and a half. The whole idea of riding a horse in that thing is incredible. Why is the horse not running from it in terror? Perhaps he is. Perhaps that is what this painting is really of.
My God, that is a hat and a half. The whole idea of riding a horse in that thing is incredible. Why is the horse not running from it in terror? Perhaps he is. Perhaps that is what this painting is really of.
Posted in Adventures, Around Austria, Art, Culture, Regan Writing | 1 Comment

Now You Know

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to go to a giant flea market, where I saw a set of airline seats for sale, presumably to decorate some lucky person’s home. As I recall, I snarked about the fact that nothing says “living room” like the experience of flying coach, and a sharp-eyed commenter pointed out that these were, in fact, seats from first class. I think that only marginally improves things, but ok.

But in case you were wondering who would actually buy a set of used transit seats and put them in their home, look no farther. Last week our downstairs neighbors moved out, and temporarily placed a row of blue seats in the building’s entryway. I can’t tell if they’re van or bus? They still have seatbelts attached. I ran to get a camera. Here they are:

These seats do not recline. They also do not belong in our hallway.
These seats do not recline. They have no tray table to put in the fully upright position. They also do not belong in our hallway.

You’d think they were here prior to being thrown out, but no. A pair of large men came with a van and took away these seats along with a giant pile of boxes. The seats were moving on to a new apartment as well, it seems.

It takes all kinds.

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Absence and Presence

Jewish Vienna is a constant balance of absence and presence. The history of Jews here is sitting in the open, and it is hidden everywhere. This may be why I resonate with it so strongly. I am entirely Ashkenazi Jewish on my mother’s side; my grandmother’s mother was born in Lithuania, my grandfather’s parents in Poland. All of them were in the US long before the second world war—they arrived closer to the Civil War. I know literally nothing about them beyond this. They are specters, along with all the family they left behind in Europe.

Pre-Sabbath shopping, facilitated by a scooter.
Pre-Sabbath shopping in the 2nd district, facilitated by a scooter.

And yet, the Holocaust is a kind of proxy for knowledge; it gives a false sense that one can understand something of the ancestral experience vicariously via the six million. People who would be my distant cousins — who would be “me,” had my ancestors not struck out for foreign lands — went through a sequence of experiences that it’s possible via historical narrative to imagine (again, falsely) that one could know. And at the same time, the past is past, and shall remain as such. These things are irreconcilable. Yet they coexist. I am deeply drawn to that conflict; and since it can’t be resolved, I try to live within it.

Vienna is constantly, uncomfortably exposing the seams between various pasts and the present. In Vienna, the story of Europe’s Jews, and their near eradication, is laid out spatially across the city’s geography.  The messages these sites send are complicated, troubling. They refuse to nurture that desire that the past be contained and narratable, owned by the present—and rightly so. Here, for example, is a sculpture along the Ringstrasse (the main road encircling the city center, built on the eradicated foundations of the medieval city walls):

Not exactly a humble monument, either.
Karl Lueger, orating. Not exactly a humble monument, either.

That is Karl Lueger, surveying the Platz that bears his name. In fact, there used to be an entire section of the Ring named for him; it’s now called the Universitätsring in an effort to address increasingly loud complaints about Lueger’s name all over Vienna’s most important street. Karl Lueger is bit by bit losing his eponymous locations. Lueger was mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910, though he’d been elected earlier — his opponents, including the emperor, temporarily kept him from office. He was the founder of the Christian Social Party, which succeeded largely by channeling the religious, social and economic frustrations of German-speaking Austrians and petit-bourgeois business people. He was populist, but anti-capitalist and anti-socialist, both systems he attributed to Jews. He was vocally anti-semitic, blaming Jews for the financial struggles of Austrian workers and shopkeepers.

Typical apologies for Lueger’s attitudes involve a sense that his anti-semitism was merely political (as if that makes it better); that he had friends who were Jews (leading to his famous statement, “I decide who is a Jew”); that he didn’t actually try to murder any Jews (though he did limit their participation in government and education); and that he modernized Vienna by regularizing the water and gas systems and integrating the outlying districts (the old “Mussolini made the trains run on time” line).

Thin gruel—though all of these excuses, such as they are, are true. Including that he was vocally anti-semitic, aware of the benefit this attitude was to his political ambitions, and that he abetted a thread of Austrian anti-semitism so virulent it even surprised the Germans upon their, um, arrival. Despite constant complaints about Karl Lueger Platz and the sculpture upon it, it remains in place. Most tourists have no idea who he was; most Viennese give the whole thing a shrug. I am conflicted, having gone from being scandalized, to thinking that whitewashing history by erasing its shameful elements doesn’t do anyone any favors. I don’t like Lueger; I also don’t like whitewash. I would prefer that Karl Lueger Platz provided some context not only for who Lueger was and the moment in which he lived, but also for why a previous generation had such an unconflicted attitude to him. Of course, that is not what monuments like this do.

From Karl Lueger Platz, head north and west and cross the Canal into the second district, and you will find a rather different sort of landmark. Here, you are in the historical Jewish district of Vienna, the Leopoldstadt (ironically, it is named for the emperor who expelled the Jews from Vienna in 1670). This was never a ghetto. But the Nazis did force Jews to relocate to this district, and eventually deported them from it. 130,000 or so Jews emigrated from Vienna as a result of Nazi efforts; some 65,000 were deported from Austria and murdered. The 2nd district was besieged over a seven-year period beginning with the Kristallnacht, and the traces are present—if you know where to look for them. Here in the Grosse Schiffgasse, for instance, is what looks at first glance like any other empty lot:

Between the corrugated metal and billboards was once a synagogue.
Between the corrugated metal and billboards was once a synagogue.

I’m going to give you a piece of advice:  In this part of Europe, always suspect the empty lot near the urban center. In this case, the lot in question was the site of a 19th century synagogue. There were a couple dozen of these in Vienna in the 1930s; only one survived the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938. It wasn’t this one.

There may be a plaque in the area to commemorate the loss, as there are on other former synagogue sites (I’ll show you some another time); if so, I couldn’t find it. The building next door was a part of the original complex, and now hosts a couple of Jewish institutions, invisible from the street. But the original site of the Schiffschul (named for the street) still stands empty, with no decision as to what it will be, and therefore what it will mean.

The entire second district near the canal needs to be looked at in terms of these kinds of losses, and the way that the city has, like thickly poured oil, both filled and exposed them. Only a few obsessives like me know what this empty lot was, or means. But would it be more “true” to the history of the place if there were a monument there, something modern, apologetic, and inspiring?

What do you say to this ground floor room, in a building near the Karmelitermarkt, which a history of the Jewish establishments in the 2nd district tells me was once a prayer room, now an architecture office:

Once a prayerhouse, now an architecture office.
Once a prayerhouse, now an architecture office.

Should it be emptied out? Returned to someone (to whom? How?)? Is it sufficient, or excessive, or unnecessary, or fortuitous, or essential, or intrusive, that I, an American half-Jew, showed up here and looked up its address and told its current occupants that, before 1938, it was a place for Jewish prayer (not a synagogue — something much less formal)? The occupants were surprised and pleased to know of its long history. I was happy to discover and share that history.

None of which resolved anything at all.

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A Sunday Afternoon in the Augarten

The Augarten is Vienna’s oldest Baroque park, opened in 1775 by Emperor Joseph II on the grounds of an earlier Habsburg hunting ground and later mansion. Now it is the setting for a porcelain factory and the Vienna Boys’ Choir, as well as various other institutions. It’s a true Baroque garden, with carefully laid geometric flower beds, tree-lined avenues, and an anti-aircraft tower.

Ok, so that last isn’t so Baroque. Most people love the Augarten for its idyllic vegetation and flat lawns, but I love it because of its typically Viennese split personality. Because set in the midst of its shady lanes and bright flowers are two Nazi-built Flaktürme, or Flak towers. The more massive of the two is the G-tower, which rises ominously over the park:

The Augarten is place of peculiarly Viennese juxtapositions — a beautifully regular Baroque garden provides the setting for a massive Nazi anti-aircraft tower (a second tower, used as a bunker, is further north in the park). On a sunny day in June, the idyllic atmosphere smooths these contrasts, making the Augarten the ideal place for a jog, walk, or sit.
The Augarten is place of peculiarly Viennese juxtapositions — a beautifully regular Baroque garden provides the setting for a massive Nazi anti-aircraft tower (a second tower, used as a bunker, is further north in the park). On a sunny day in June, the idyllic atmosphere smooths these contrasts, making the Augarten the ideal place for a jog, walk, or sit.

A second and smaller tower, the L-tower, is further north.

Here is the L-tower, which I believe was a radio tower while the other was for anti-aircraft guns.
Here is the L-tower, which I believe was also a control tower.

The L-tower was a bunker, but the G-tower was a platform for massive anti-aircraft guns; it’s now the backdrop to some serious June sunbathing and football-playing:

There's something grand and decadent and also so Viennese about the juxtaposition of the Flakturm with all the sunbathing, ball-playing, lounging, and general hedonism of the Augarten on a Sunday.
There’s something grand and decadent and also so Viennese about the juxtaposition of the Flakturm with all the sunbathing, ball-playing, lounging, and general hedonism of the Augarten on a Sunday.
There's something beautiful and fascinating about the Flakturm.
The Russians attempted to demolish the tower, but it’s too massive to bring down. Damaged and supported by cables, it endures.

What I love about the Augarten is the juxtaposition of the Flakturm and the violence in our midst with the elegant lanes of trees, perfect for a civilized stroll:

Go ahead, stroll. The trees invite you.
Go ahead, stroll. The trees invite you.

The other great thing about the Augarten is the bakery situated on its southwest side:

When you come out the western end of the Augarten, you will detect the extraordinary odor of fine baked goods coming from the Bäckerei Prindl. Do not resist. They are open 7 days/week because they know you need them.
When you come out the western end of the Augarten, you will detect the extraordinary odor of fine baked goods coming from the Bäckerei Prindl. Do not resist. They are open 7 days/week because they know you need them.

I’ll write about Flaktürme another time — there are others in Vienna, and they’re extraordinary. Some have been repurposed in surprising ways.

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A Tale of Two Sauces

When I come to Vienna, there are two things I always bring with me: a pound of brown sugar, and a bottle of sriracha sauce. The brown sugar is because they have none here, and if you try to bake without it you wind up with some pretty strange results. It is possible to make your own, of course, by mixing white sugar and molasses. But they don’t have molasses here, either. To get molasses you need to go to an international grocery, and by the time you’ve made that effort, you don’t feel like baking anymore. So I pack a pound of sugar in my suitcase and figure that’s a free pound I have for gifts on the return trip to the US.

The sriracha is a somewhat more complicated matter. They actually do have sriracha here, lots of it, in all the Asian grocery stores and some non-Asian ones as well. Go out for fast food noodles and they’re likely to have a bottle of it on the counter. It is, however, subtly different from the familiar kind you get in America. Here, take a look:

Do not be fooled. Just because they are both winged birds with short tempers does NOT mean that they taste the same.
Do not be fooled. Just because they are both large birds with short tempers does NOT mean that they taste the same.

The bottle on the left is American sriracha, hand-imported from California by me. The bottle on the right is Viennese sriracha, of the sort you get everywhere here. The American has a rooster; the Viennese has a goose. The American is more orange in color; the Viennese a rustier red. The Viennese is a little thicker and less squirtable (squirtability being essential for those of us who spritz the stuff all over our pizza). And the American also tastes roughly 100,000x better than the Viennese.

I’m not sure what it is. There’s kind of raw spice flavor to the goose sauce that I don’t care for; it tastes like a slightly different pepper variety; it’s also not got that perfect sriracha balance of sweet with hot; and it doesn’t have as much vinegary goodness. Whatever the mix that’s used for the rooster sauce, it accepts no imitators. But unfortunately, the rooster is seriously hard to find here.

My solution to this has been to bring a gigantic bottle with me every time I come from the US. (Note the scale of the rooster bottle in comparison to the already large-size goose bottle.) I’ve also conducted a search of most of the Asian stores in Vienna, in the Naschmarkt and wherever else I encounter one (there’s one in the second district, for instance, that I’ve searched several times). I finally came across one, lone, jumbo-sized rooster bottle nested amidst a sea of geese at this store, on the Rechte Wienzeile by the Naschmarkt:

I tracked down a bottle of rooster sauce in this store, on the Rechte Wienzeile by the Naschmarkt. It was the last bottle they had in stock. I bought it even though I still have some at home. I am that worried about getting my hands on this stuff here.
I tracked down a bottle of rooster sauce in this store, on the Rechte Wienzeile by the Naschmarkt. It was the last bottle they had in stock. I bought it even though I still have some at home. I am that worried about getting my hands on this stuff here.

If you’re visiting Vienna, remember, it’s BYOS(auce). And, rooster, not goose.

Posted in Culture, Food, Regan Writing | Tagged | 7 Comments

The Natural History Museum: Where Imperial Hunting Trophy Meets Scientific Specimen

Vienna’s Natural History Museum is an extraordinary place. If you like your natural history museums super old-school, with taxidermied animals that the emperor and his buddies shot back in the 19th century; if you enjoy a specimen case that blends handwritten labels from early in the last century with formaldehyde-embalmed animals that are probably even older; if you are looking to identify giant rook that attacked your head while you were out jogging the other day and thus want to search through an exceptionally rich collection of dead birds; if you consider the empress’ dog, taxidermied, to be an element of natural history; if you like to see your modern touches (an animatronic dinosaur, for instance) against the backdrop of 19th century nude sculptures—well then, friend, the Vienna NHM is the place for you.

There were so many amazing sights in this museum (it’s the one straight across from its more famous twin, the art museum or Kunsthistorisches Museen) that I can’t embed them in the post. Check out this gallery though, and click on the images to make them full-size and learn about all that is strange and wonderful at the NHM.

 

 

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Brno: The Poor Man’s Prague

Last weekend, tired of rainy, cold Vienna, we decided to head for the Czech Republic, where the sun actually briefly shone. The usual destination would be Prague, which is all the rage these days as a next stop for Vienna visitors, but if you only have a day or two for traveling, you might want to do what we did and head for Brno instead.

Prague is over 3 hours by train, and too rich a city for a weekend trip. Brno, on the other hand, is about an hour and a half by train—not far across the Czech border. But though it’s a short jump away, it feels very unlike Vienna. Some features are recognizable—the Habsburgs were obviously there, for instance. One can see it in the architecture:

So it looks. Our hotel — 4 stars, and with an interior worthy of Bela Lugosi — is on the right.
So it looks. Our hotel — 4 stars, and with an interior worthy of Bela Lugosi — is on the right.
Facade of house in Brno, Czech Republic
Bits of Brno recall the way Vienna must have looked before recent cleanings gave it its current sugar-sweet appearance. The architecture is familiar, yet alien and atmospheric. I loved it.

And in things like this over-the-top fountain (by the Viennese court architect Fischer von Erlach):

The Parnas Fountain, a late-17th-century extravaganza by the Viennese court architect, Fischer von Erlach.
I like the mold all over this. You’d never see that in Vienna, but it’s so atmospheric.

At the same time, there was a pleasantly Eastern European feeling of socialist-style architecture and run-down businesses. Vienna is too rich for this sort of thing these days:

You don't see stuff like this in Vienna anymore, more's the pity. I love me some Eastern Europe.
You don’t see stuff like this in Vienna anymore, more’s the pity. I love me some Eastern Europe.

In the city center, a vegetable market is held against the backdrop of a mishmash of these historical moments:

I love the mix of medieval, Baroque, and Soviet-era architecture on this main market square, where the sun was shining and the potatoes were plentiful.
I love the mix of medieval, Baroque, and modern-era architecture on this main market square, where the sun was shining and the potatoes were plentiful.

On the upscale side, take a bit of a walk uphill out of town (winding through the edges of the city, where we took the photo of the lonely Tabak) and you come to an extraordinary early functionalist villa by Mies van der Rohe. The Villa Tugendhat was built for a young Jewish industrialist couple; it was seized by the Gestapo after they fled to Switzerland, and eventually transferred to the city of Brno, which, at times in cooperation with the family, has restored it several times. The villa has reopened after its most recent restoration, in 2012; its ownership is contested by the family, who have asked for restitution (for a summary of those events, read this). Its history is bitter and conflicted, but the building is an unmixed statement of purely functionalist architectural principles:

The Villa Tugendhat, seen here from the garden side, is inaccessible, both geographically (it's well outside the city center) and logistically (to go inside, you need to book months in advance). But it is a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of early functionalist modernism, and well worth the hike up the hill.
The Villa Tugendhat, seen here from the garden side, is inaccessible, both geographically (it’s well outside the city center) and logistically (to go inside, you need to book months in advance). But it is a Mies van der Rohe masterpiece of early functionalist modernism, and well worth the hike up the hill.

Back in town, you can visit a Capuchin crypt, where bodies, mummified in the open air, provide a bracing confrontation with one’s mortality:

I feel that I have erred thus far in my life by taking too little interest in Capuchin monks, who do these crazy open-air mummifications in sprawling crypts. The one in Rome is, I gather, the lodestone of Capuchin crypts, but this one was a good introduction. Here you see one room among the dozen or so filled with skeletons (most of the others are in coffins). Without exception, all of the other visitors when we went were families with children. Keepin' it real, Europe!
I feel that I have erred thus far in my life by taking too little interest in Capuchin friars, who do these crazy open-air mummifications in sprawling crypts. The one in Rome is, I gather, the lodestone of Capuchin crypts, but this one was a good introduction. Here you see one room among the dozen or so filled with skeletons (most of the others are in coffins). Without exception, all of the other visitors when we went were families with children. Keepin’ it real, Europe!

Oh, cheer up. The beer in the Czech Republic is some of the best in the world, and there were also fresh peas:

My motto is, "Everything's better with peas." SUPER PEAS!!
My motto is, “Everything’s better with peas.” SUPER PEAS!!

One last reason to visit Brno:  Because trying to pronounce Czech is fun!! Schladzscky! Moravuschky! Hurayescheschk! Or something.

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Cultural Differences, Television Edition

Europeans have a higher tolerance for government intrusiveness than do Americans. I don’t think anything in that statement will surprise my American friends, nor yet my European ones. But there’s saying that, and then there’s the ways it plays out. This brings us to the example of the ORF—that is, Austrian public broadcasting. Specifically, the TV and radio.

Americans, familiar with PBS’ sad-sack pledge drives, weepy pleas to “get up off your good intentions and get to the phone,” and tote bags that look like they came with the dinginess pre-applied, will find the behavior of the ORF unrecognizable. Basically, if you have a television or radio in Austria—even if you literally never turn it to ORF (which is impossible, because ORF has multiple channels, including regional ones for each state in the country, plus a sports network)—you are obligated to pay up. It’s not that cheap: somewhere around 30 euros per month. And you pay that even if you are also paying for cable.

Ok, you say, that’s fine, my American tax dollars go to pay for PBS even though I hate Garrison Keillor (as you should). And that’s true, they do—but the IRS collects those dollars and gives them to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Here, the ORF come to your house and demand to inspect the interior, and if they find a television or theoretically even just a radio there, they can slap you with a fine (which can be up to around 2,000 euros) and then make you pay monthly for all eternity. In principle, they can even fine you if you just have a computer, since you can watch or listen to the ORF online, though the TV is the biggest target. All this for the dubious privilege of watching Dancing Stars (yes, it’s the same show, and no, the stars are not any more famous).

Let me reiterate—inspectors roam the city, insisting on entering people’s private homes and looking at their media devices. And not only that! If the ORF has reason to believe you are malingering on your dues-paying duties, I am told by a semi-reliable source that they can return to your house with the police, and force you to let them search the place for televisions!! I have even heard a rumor from a highly reliable source (that being my spouse, who is German, not Austrian) that the ORF has special television-detecting vans in which they drive around the city, searching with their TV-dedicated radar vision for apartments that have televisions but are not paying the monthly fee.

I know. 

A couple of thoughts on this. First of all, what the fuck, Austria? The whole benefit of the European method of taxation is that it’s supposed to be more efficient than ours—everybody pays a giant load of taxes in return for a whole bunch of services. Why, of all things, is the ORF the one form of payment done piecemeal? They should just do what we still (barely) do in the US, and tax everyone on the grounds that the shared airwaves are a limited public resource. Also, how inefficient is it to go house to house and ring doorbells, especially since every single person in this country by now knows better than to answer the door during the day? (The foreigner is of course the last to learn. Sigh.)

Lastly, can you imagine anything like this in the US? Just how many PBS inspectors would have to get shot in the face on people’s front porches (or in the back, running down their front steps) before we would call it off? Even I—a law-abiding citizen of quiet habits—would under no circumstances let the police in my house in the absence of a valid search warrant and the advice of a lawyer. (Do bear in mind, however, that the Austrian police are much less violent and terrifying than their American counterparts. Even so.) And not just me; even dedicated right-wingers would start believing in the virtues of the search warrant.

Seriously, Austria. Throw off the chains of ORF oppression. You should not have to hide your televisions!!

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On the U-Bahn the Other Day

Not long ago, I had cause to mention the concept of Tracht, that is, traditional Austrian clothing. I was sorry, though, that my photographic example on that occasion was so static, because the real pleasure of Tracht is seeing it on the hoof, so to speak. That’s why I was thrilled the other day when I came out of the gym and went into the U1 station at Kagran, and found this guy waiting for the train:

This man and I exist in the same universe. In fact, we are going to ride the same train.
This man and I exist in the same universe. In fact, we are going to ride the same train.
It's not every man who can pull off this head-to-toe ensemble, but this guy's got it.
It’s not every man who can pull off this head-to-toe ensemble—Lederhosen, Tyrolean hat, two different plaids!—but this guy’s got it. And he’s going to take it all the way into the city center.

Yep. And that’s how it was that day.

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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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