I don’t claim to speak German, or anything resembling German. Since I work with students all day, and the word “no” is often on my lips. This includes such timeless teacher treasures as, “no, you can’t go to the bathroom” (use may!), or “no, you can’t play a game/watch YouTube/text your friends during class.” I also like to mix it up by saying “nada”, “nein”, “niet,” and “nope”.
So, when asked if I speak German, I would reply with “nein.” This meant, to some people, that I could indeed speak German, and a hail of German would ensue. My confused look would convince them otherwise. I picked up a smattering in my travel there (and it’s hard not to sing “Danke Schoen” [thank you, Ferris Bueller]), but I definitely can’t have a conversation in German. I’ve really come to appreciate people’s willingness to use English with me, even if we ended up resorted to hand signs, pointing to menus and pictures, or me Googling what I needed in order to assure we were in agreement. I admire the brain of bilingual people because I’m all sorts of half-lingual but not fully in any language other than English. Practice. Practice and immersion.
This comes down to my inability to pronounce Kunsthistorisches Museum – the large, fanciful art museum in Vienna, across from its equally beautiful twin, the Naturhistorisches Museum (natural history museum). So, I just called it the art museum. It works because it’s full of some pretty amazing artworks from European history – and Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern history.
The building itself is a piece of art. It looks rather like a palace. The interior boasts a huge central staircase, sculptures tucked into corners, and Klimt art adorning the walls. In fact, it took me awhile to find the Klimt paintings so artfully (yes, artfully) installed into the arches of the stairwell ceiling. I kept looking for a massive painting, but no, it was several canvases across the wall, slipped between the shiny marble wall pieces.
I won’t go on and on about art, but if you’re a tourist who enjoys art as culture, the Kunsthistorisches is a must-do in Vienna. Consider that Bruegel, Caravaggio, Raphael, Vermeer, Velazquez – totally just name-dropping here – are all decorating the walls. Yes, we are not worthy.
Whilst I love some art history – Chicago’s Art Institute is a home-away-from-home every time I’m back in the Windy City – my most favourite part of the museum is the Kunstkammer. Consider it a palatial, wealthy family’s hoarding tendencies revealed. It makes you wonder why you have a simple saltshaker on your table when you could have a golden, sculpted salt cellar, such as the Saliera (Cellini). Or, why drink from a peasant’s red Solo cup when you can take a dignified sip from the Dragon’s Cup – all covered in lapis lazuli (Miseroni)? I always prefer a little lapis lazuli myself when I need a diet Coke.
The Kunstkammer is chock-full of intriguing items that rich folks used to own. It made me wonder why they would need all those things, but then I recall that the Home Shopping Network is our modern equivalent of that need to acquire unique – but relatively useless – items. I loved the gemstone-bedecked items, things with shark’s teeth, and the large, polished shells of mollusks gleaming with golden tips. Not to forget the miniature sculptures, fantastical items from lands just recently explored, and the like.
The Egyptian art is a pretty amazing exhibit, if you’re into mummies, tombs, and hieroglyphics. The jade hippo is quite gorgeous. The Greek and Roman art collection contains a lot of heads of dead people and pieces of dismantled buildings. Of course, I’m very much oversimplifying what is in there, but I was rather worn out by the time I visited this part, and the museum was going to close in about ten minutes. It just wasn’t as much of a highlight for me as the first two parts.
It was definitely time for a meal after two and half hours at the museum – and that was low-balling the time you should spend there. Three or four might do it to really see and appreciate it all – and to get around the big tour groups that pop up and stand around the one painting you probably wanted to see.
I opted for dinner near the MuseumsQuartier and the Volkstheater, on Breite Gasse 4 – Glacis Beisl. Your eyes have to be sharp to spot the signs leading down to the restaurant, which has a lovely outdoor space, glassed-in area, and restaurant area. Whilst it was Easter Sunday evening and it was quite reserved up, they still seated me since I promised I wouldn’t linger long. Despite that, service was pleasant and let me hang out as long as I could to plan my next day.
I went for the classic wiener schnitzel as the main and a wild garlic soup to start, with a large Viennese beer to wash it all down. I nearly stayed for dessert, but I was quite full at that point. People were starting to pile in for dinner, and I wanted to make sure the table was available. Thumbs up for this restaurant if you’re in the area.
In fact, thumbs up all around for this day – Schöenbrunn Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum, and a must-have wiener schnitzel for dinner. You could do worse for a first full day in Vienna.