Sitting down for music and more

Updated: 2012-10-21 08:04

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

 Sitting down for music and more

The Golden Hall of Musikverein sets the stage for musical moments in a gilded age. Photos by Raymond Zhou / China Daily

A day trip to Vienna can be hectic, but Raymond Zhou finds many interludes of repose that are suffused with quiet excitement.

I went to Vienna for music, but I stayed for a place to sit - at least to give my blistered feet a rest. Everyone knows the Austrian capital is a great city for music, both making and enjoying it, but never did I expect it to be a wonderful hangout for relaxation - reclining on a chair and refreshing myself while taking in the scenery and the architecture, and of course the myriad people moving around, some in period costumes.

If you spot a Mozart lookalike, don't be surprised. The music prodigy used to live here, and Mozarthaus, where he stayed for three years, is now a museum.

Sightseeing in Vienna is both convenient and cost- efficient. A 6.7-euro ($8.70) ticket allows one to use almost all public transport for a day.

I started by taking the subway to the main attractions, but I soon realized I was skipping a lot in-between. The Historic Center of Vienna, which is on UNESCO's World Heritage list, covers 3.71 square kilometers with a buffer zone of 4.62 sq km, therefore easily accessible for those who prefer walking.

Everywhere you look, there are imposing baroque buildings that evoke grandeur and history. St. Stephen's Cathedral stands out for its late-Gothic style and its milling crowd. But if you veer off to the back, you may well end up in the alley of Mozart's residence.

As I had only half a day for tourist activities, or, gawking around, I was dashing from place to place without any plan. Yet, I managed to cover a wide area that let me gain a firsthand knowledge of the city and its legacies.

My first lesson learned was that the "blue Danube" is not really blue. Also, flowing through the city are a Danube, a New Danube that runs parallel to it and a Danube Canal that skirts the historic center.

I'm not complaining. The Vltava river in Prague, on the ensuing leg of my Europe itinerary, was even a bigger letdown for someone who got the first impression of the waterway from Smetana's symphonic poem of the same name.

However, that is a bit unfair because the musical depiction is for the stretch of the river through Bohemia, where I did not set foot on. Anyway, the beauty of a place should be judged on its own merit, not by the artistic renderings associated with it - that's my lesson and my advice.

However, I can totally imagine the pomp and pageantry that Vienna - the City of Music - enjoyed in its heyday with Johann Strauss' music. It was the Waltz King, not Beethoven or Mahler, whom I conjured up on my brisk walking tour.

There were many musical events in town, even in summer when the regular seasons of the symphony and opera were in hiatus.

Whatever shows on offer were tailor-made for tourists, who probably yearned for merriment more than anything. The summer Mozart concerts are even presented in period costumes, perhaps to add a touch of visual flair and authenticity.

Viennese really know how to put on great music. Every day in August, a film festival at Rathausplatz projects an opera or concert onto a giant screen outdoors. It is not even a live broadcast, but a recording. Still, throngs come for it. People simply cannot get enough of music.

When people are not sitting down for a collective art immersion, they can loll almost anywhere. In no other city I've visited have there been so many public seats, or such variety of seating.

In one park, the chairs line up in a semi-circle, functioning as a kind of curb.

In Sigmund Freud Park, orange-colored lounge chairs with the words "Vienna lies good" dot the lawn.

The most innovative "chairs" are in the Museums Quartier, a cultural district reminiscent of Beijing's 798 Art Zone.

They are in vibrant colors and bold configurations. You can park yourself on any shape conceivable, the most comfortable being to tilt back and put up your feet - face-to-face with your conversation partner. The position is so cozy I noticed some had dozed off in the warm sunlight.

By contrast, the seats at the Golden Hall of Musikverein, where the globally televised New Year concert has seduced a non-stop army of Chinese converts to visit, are less than stellar.

If you stand up during the quiet passages of a piece, the wood floor may creak so audibly the sound will provide inadvertent counterpoint to the harp playing on the stage.

The hall looks magnificent on television, but when you're inside, the glittering gold is a bit overwhelming.

That may also explain the appeal for Chinese musicians lured here. We feel right in the middle of a gilded age. Now, what we need is our own Johann Strauss.

Another complaint I have about Vienna - and other cities in Europe - is the overselling of niche museums.

Tempted by a barrage of advertising on the flight and at the Vienna Airport, I made it a point to visit the Wien Musem at Karlsplatz, which claimed to have everything by Gustav Klimt, the Austrian artist known for his symbolist paintings.

It turned out there were hundreds of his sketches and only one well-known painting. Only then did I find out that the 150th anniversary of Klimt is celebrated in 10 venues across the city. You'll have to be a true Klimt devotee to embark on a complete pilgrimage at this time.

Unless you are a specialist on a research mission, it is safer to stick to the large, national museums where the vast array of exhibits offers something for everyone. But whether you're into bar hopping or museum hopping, in Vienna you can always loosen up and savor the sights and sounds of a grand old city.

Contact the writer at

 Sitting down for music and more

A buggy ride through the streets is like going through a time warp to Vienna's glory days.

 Sitting down for music and more

The innovative seating arrangements in the Museums Quartier are in vibrant colors and bold configurations.

(China Daily 10/21/2012 page16)