Europe

Wien

Pompous in Wien

Not even we can fall in love with everywhere we travel, and Vienna has always been an ambiguous experience.

First, the Hapsburgs. There is nothing particularly heroic in the way they built the empire here–through marrying off their children to boobs like Louis XVI of France and cynically manipulating peace conferences after other countries took the brunt of the fighting. Judging by how ill-prepared Marie Antoinette was for her fate as Queen of France, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the only part of her that mattered was her child-bearing mechanism.

All empires are built on the long-suffering backs of innocents, but in the Hapsburg’s case, the administration seems to have been unusually ill-tempered, persnickety, and even parasitic. You don’t have to like Napoleon Bonaparte to admire the way he brought modernization along on his conquests, but it’s hard to see what the Hapsburgs ever offered their Serb or Hungarian, much less Belgian subjects.

And then there was the Anschluss of 1938, when Lockhart’s step-mother, a 14-year-old Jew, was hounded out of town into two years of sheer terror wandering the roads of Europe one step ahead of the Nazis. At the end of the war, she returned to her fine house in Vienna to find it owned and occupied by a former neighbor. “What are you doing here?” the woman demanded rudely at the door. “You’re supposed to be dead!” Somehow the meager lifetime pension coughed up by the Austrian government seems inadequate.

Still, the cakes are nice, although we think the Germans do a better job of Schwarzwaldkuchen, and the celebrated Sachertorte is really just soft gingerbread with whipped cream. The roasted chicken at the original Wienerwald used to be world-class, although in the last few decades, they seem to have morphed into a fast-food chain.

Most countries erect monuments to their great military and civil leaders–here, it seems to have been a matter of which ego had the cash to foot the bill. In our not-so-humble opinion, the smug faces on this monument in Vienna reek of an undeserved self-satisfaction. As you can see, the gentlemen are covered in netting to prevent the birds from decorating. We say, take away the nets and let the pigeons have at them.

And by the way, nothing we say here applies to the rest of Austria. We love the place, and would very comfortably live here. It’s just the last four hundred years of Hapsburg and wartime Vienna that gets our goat.

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