The Pomposity of the Ringstraße
Or: Why I somewhat Dislike Vienna
Of all capitals in Europe, Vienna is among the more touristy ones, similar to its cousins Budapest and Prague. Rome, London and Paris are also flooded by tourists every summer, but otherwise, Vienna pretty much takes the lead in popularity when it comes to international visitors in Europe.
The city is full of historical architecture along the Ringstraße Boulevard, confirming Vienna′s position as the capital of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation (aka the German Empire) that it held for centuries - despite of the boulevard being built after Austria was kicked out of the German federation. As for historicism: Vienna has few buildings that pre-date the Baroque boom period after the defeat of the Turks in the 17th century outside of the first district, but never mind.
Vienna is safe. Remarkably safe, for a city of its size - tourists often marvel at the bags with daily papers that help to disperse them on public places on the weekends, when shops are closes. A small box for money is attached to them and people who take a newspaper just drop the money into the box based on some kind of honour system. I know of few countries where something like that could work in cities with almost two million residents.
Vienna is also very clean. Its public transportation is remarkably efficient and not particularly expensive either. The city is full of sightseeing attractions, museums and cultural events from top-notch opera and concerts to avant-garde electronic art festivals and alike. It is a fairly green city with lots of parks and hiking opportunities in the surrounding Vienna Woods ("Wienerwald"). All in all, Vienna is great, right?
Vienna: Biggest dog-toilet of Eastern Europe
At least the "Economist" seems to agree with that - every year, my favourite magazine ranks the World′s big cities according to the standard of living that they offer. Every year, Vienna makes it to the top 5 - usually alongside with Geneva, Zurich, Vancouver and the odd Australian city.
So if even a neutral algorithm (you surely won′t blame the Economist to have a Central European bias in their measurements) provides data that shows how great Vienna is, how come that I always write about Austria′s capital with a slightly disgusted under-tone? What′s wrong with me - or Vienna?
To me, Vienna is the most ignorantly self-loving city in the World. Surely it has lots of things to offer to its residents and visitors, but the pride that the Viennese display when it comes to evaluating their hometown is sheer narcissm. The arrogance and total absence of self-irony in the Viennese accent is so striking that I can only hope for you that you don′t speak German. The pomposity of the Viennese spirit is most obvious in the architectural style that is called "Ringstraßenstil".
A bizarre mix of quotes of historical styles, mostly from Renaissance, Baroque and a bit of Gothic, driven in a spirit of "the bigger, the better" that visitors can marvel at anywhere on the Ringstraße. Keep in mind that at the time when the public buildings of the Ringstraße were built in the second half of the 19th century, the empire was economically booming, but politically in decline.
Imperialist Madness in Stone: Selbstgefälligkeit
The pompous courts formed a capital for an empire with some 60 million residents - completely failing to acknowledge something that everybody could have anticipated at the time of the construction: That the nations of the empire were about to split and walk on separate lanes. Who cares? We are Vienna!
This is the sort of ignorance that forms a very fundamental part of the Viennese - or Austrian - personality. The size of the buildings, their ornaments and claim of superiority is something I find deeply disturbing; it can also be seen in the Rome of Emperor Diocletian and other late Roman Emperors, the "Germania" designs by Albert Speer or Washington DC. A compensation for fading power in brick and mortar.
The buildings of the Ringstraße can be read as a "Who-is-Who" of tasteless architecture - edifices that dwarf people and try to impress with pseudo-Baroque ornaments, heraldic symbols and sheer size: The Rossauer Kaserne, the Wiener Börse, the Votivkirche, the University, the Rathaus City Hall, the Burgtheater, the Houses of Parliament, the Kunsthistorisches and Naturhistorisches Museum, worst of them all, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, the Staatsoper, the Akademie der Bildenden Kunst, the concert hall of the Musikverein, the Museum of Applied Arts and finally, the disgusting climax of the Ringstraße, the former Imperial and Royal Ministry of War - a giant of a building with an enormous, double-headed eagle on top. To see these buildings, just walk along the Ringstraße or take tram number 1 that goes up and down this boulevard. Vienna is a joke.
Nowhere in Austria have I met more natives that have never lived outside of their province ever in their life - there are ten thousands of Viennese that are convinced that Vienna is the only "real" city of Austria, if not all of Central Europe. I would never doubt the many great aspects of living in or visiting Vienna.
But the fact that this city provides the highest standard of living in the World does clearly not mean that other places can′t be good - or, in certain aspects, even better. Self-centred arrogance does not contribute to an open mind. A message too many Viennese haven′t received yet.
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Vienna by District
District Overview - 1st (Innere Stadt) - 2nd (Leopoldstadt) - 3rd (Landstraße) - 4th (Wieden) - 5th (Margareten)- 6th (Mariahilf) - 7th (Neubau) - 8th (Josefstadt) - 9th (Alsergrund) - 10th (Favoriten) - 11th (Simmering) - 12th (Meidling) - 13th (Hietzing) - 14th (Penzing) - 15th (Fünfhaus) - 16th (Ottakring) - 17th (Hernals) - 18th (Währing) - 19th (Döbling) - 20th (Brigittenau) - 21st (Floridsdorf) - 22nd (Donaustadt) - 23rd (Liesing) - Ringstraße - Surroundings
A Travel Guide to the Ringstraße
Official website of the Vienna Tourist Information