In the footsteps of Beethoven, Mozart and Midge Ure in the Cité de la Musique


For me, VITAL preparation for any city break is compiling a playlist, especially during my visit to Vienna, dubbed the city of music. Austria offers an abundance of classical composers who were born, lived or died in the nation’s capital and there’s no shortage of pop culture references either.

My first musical stopover concerned a composer closer to home, Cambuslang in fact. While filming the promo for Ultravox’s single Vienna, released in January 1981, singer and co-songwriter Midge Ure visited the city’s Zentrafriedhof cemetery.

He paid tribute to revered piano maker Carl Schweighofer whose grave is featured in the video and on the single’s cover art. The vast cemetery contains the last remains of Beethoven, Mozart and, perhaps less revered, Falco who scored international pop hits with Rock Me Amadeus and Vienna Calling.

Once you arrive at Vienna International Airport, the City Airport Train takes 16 minutes to transport you to the center, where I find Café Korb, a traditional café with a Warholian pop art twist.

Owned by model Susanne Widl, her glamorous presence is omnipresent in various photos that feature on every wall. Once known as The Face, she also enjoyed a busy career as a film and television actress, working with Burt Lancaster, Sydney Pollack and Columbo star Peter Falk.

I order a Viennese breakfast consisting of coffee and two rolls with butter and jam. The old gentleman at the next table orders a Maria Theresia coffee; a double espresso with Cointreau & whipped cream. Other popular variations include rum or brandy.

Guests appreciate the establishment’s traditions, which opened in 1904, and its family roots; Widl inherited the cafe when his mother died in 2000 and has been running it ever since. Patrons have included Sigmund Freud, Andy Warhol and Arthur Miller. Even the toilets have their own reputation: it’s like walking on the set of A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick – mixing 60s Art Nouveau with colorful futurism. No doubt the main character of the film, Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell, would have found it “real horror movie”.

As he would The Beethoven Frieze, a painting by Gustav Klimt in the Secession Building that pays homage to the composer’s 9th Symphony. Vienna’s Ludwig van Beethoven Walk passes the Austrian Academy of Sciences where his 7th Symphony was premiered in December 1813. The House of Music also features a large city map showing Beethoven’s many homes in the city.

Café Korb is close to another Viennese icon; St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The gothic tower dominates the skyline and is immediately identifiable as the main symbol of the city.

I decided not to climb the 343 steps to see the praised view from the tower room as there was enough to see at ground level with priceless treasures and masterpieces which include the Chapel of St. Marble-fronted Catherine and the 15th century sandstone pulpit with snakes, lizards and frogs all crawling up the banister. Elsewhere, gargoyles defend themselves against demons, while saints and martyrs adorn the columns that support this massive structure.

During World War II the cathedral was heavily damaged but gradually rebuilt after the war. After leaving the cathedral, I walked the short distance to Judenplatz where I found Rachel Whitehead’s large box-shaped stone monument dedicated to the 65,000 Jews murdered by the Nazis. The stone structure, described as an “introverted and inaccessible library”, is placed on a plinth displaying the names of the concentration camps where the victims perished. Each book represents the life that was lost in this once Jewish ghetto, the doors firmly shut with no way out.

The Jewish Museum does not shy away from tackling difficult subjects such as Austria’s initial reluctance to admit its role in the Holocaust and its complicity in sending many musicians who played in the Philharmonic Orchestra to their deaths. from Vienna.

Scientists and thinkers such as Sigmund Freud were also forced to flee in order to survive.

From there, I walk to the Hofburg Palace. I was happy to admire its splendor up close but decided not to enter as I was informed that I would have to spend at least half a day here.

On my way back to my hotel, I noticed a flak tower built by the Nazis that has been converted into an aquarium. The anti-aircraft monstrosity looms large as another ugly reminder of the past.

More appealing to the eye is the Apollo Kino, an art deco cinema and once a vaudeville stage, built in 1904. My abode for the night is Das Triest where I receive a warm welcome and shown to my spacious room, colorful and functional. As I walked past a nearby room, a puff of smoky air escaped, despite it being a non-smoking hotel. I wondered if it was a blackish character in a trilby living out a third man fantasy where the characters were often overwhelmed by drifting cigarette smoke.

For dinner, I was recommended the wiener schnitzel (a vegetarian alternative is available) at Glacis Beisl. Krautfleckerl (a cabbage and pasta bake) was another popular choice. This is a friendly restaurant popular with locals and tourists.

Alternatively, a sausage and drink at the famous Bitzinger Würstelstand sausage stand has well-heeled punters, tourists and shoppers all queuing patiently for a cult classic. Some sit around the stall chewing their hot dogs, others wander the streets with a dog in one hand and a beer in the other. A local in front of me says he’d rather eat here than at the best restaurants in town. My next stop was the Leopold Museum which contains over 6000 works and artists such as Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, old record covers inspired by David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Schiele’s weird and twisted human distortions are often unsettling and immediately reminiscent of iconic covers such as Bowie’s Lodger and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot.

Bowie also referenced Schiele’s expressive movement on the cover of the iconic Heroes album. Schiele’s career was short, his death in 1918 at the age of 28 was the result of the Spanish flu pandemic; he died three days after his pregnant wife Edith. To mark 100 years since Schiele’s death, a 2018 City of Vienna public poster campaign featured works by Schiele from the Leopold Museum in cities including London, Cologne, Hamburg and New York. Works such as Girl With Orange Stockings were censored in every city except New York. The ad suggested: “Sorry, 100 years but too bold today”. The promotional effort has undoubtedly brought new attention to Schiele where public intellectuals have argued its value and asked the age-old question: is it art or pornography?

From there I walk to the Danube and back to Johann Strauss II’s playlist and Blue Danube. My entry point into this song (like many others) was trying to plumb Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey before my age entered the double digits. This provided a welcome last minute alternative to the locked museum door and was the perfect place to end my whirlwind tour of the city of music.


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