A Birthday in Vienna
I’m on a plane back to Hamburg after having spent the last four days in Vienna. This trip was a gift to me for Christmas, from my wife and son and very much a grand suprise. The best surprise of all was that we would be celebrating my birthday at the same time. We stayed, in Baden, with some good friends from Hanoi, who’s hospitality was superb.
They spent time to make us comfortable, and to show us around this former, grand capital of an empire. My birthday lunch was in a restaurant that traced it’s continuous operation back to 1447, and we were also blessed to be able to watch a Greek Orthodox Ceremony – The Blessing the Waters on the Danube Channel. Lastly, we had a lovely afternoon tea with our friend’s mother, in a wonderful apartment overlooking the Karlskirche Square.
This is the first time anyone from my family has been back in this city, for three generations. It is hard not to walk around wide eyed, naive and blind to the daily operations of this city. I enjoyed my visit, but it has given me pause to think… and distractedly think… for Viennese people can be described as friendly, aloof, or downright rude. One wonders the reason for such rudeness. But then you look around at the remnants of a former glorious capital of a recently downsized empire made redundant by external factors, maybe there Is reason for it.
By recent, I mean within the last one hundred years. And by examining this it is not hard to see where this apparent rudeness might come from. Once these people were the Princes of the Universe, when the banner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire owned the air that coursed through the lungs of Europe… and Vienna, a capital populated by people, that were born to rule. There are still some alive who can recount the days of former Empire, and a vast generation of those brought up in the shadow and dust of it’s calamitous demise. The rudeness, in my opinion, does not come from arrogance so much, but from a deep, internalised bitterness over the sudden change of fortune of a noble ruling class and their underlying societal strata that buoyed them up, a strata in which everyone knew their position, and status was respected.
Now, no longer the home of the ruling elite, or the city at the heart of the sun, the people of Vienna have fallen from grace and are now no, more special, than anyone else in the world, the person on the street, is just another individual. Yet that unfocussed, personally internalised and unacknowledged bitterness remains, even to be commented on by the Viennese themselves, sometimes when a waiter of a well established venue may rudely rebuke a customer for not knowing the local practice or custom. Uppity waiters that smack the hand that feeds them, information desk clerks that snap answers that are more confusing than the situation that caused the asking, their time is passing, and they feel it, and thus the bitterness grows.
Vienna is a town of stunning architecture, grand boulevards, long history and long established businesses, of people who are friendly, generous, helpful, and bafflingly rude. But then, so too is Hanoi.
For today, that’s what’s in my
Line of Sight