Vienna First Impressions Of The Capital
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I have at last seen the thousand wonders of this great capital, this German Paris, this connecting-link between the civilization of Europe and the barbaric magnificence of the East. It looks familiar to be in a city again whose streets are thronged with people and resound with the din and bustle of business. It reminds me of the never-ending crowds of Lon-don or the life and tumult of our scarcely less active New York. The morning of our arrival we sallied out from our lodgings' in the Leopoldstadt to explore the world before us. Entering the broad Praterstrasse, we passed down to the little arm of the Danube which separates this part of the new city from the old. A row of magnificent coffee-houses occupy the bank, and numbers of persons were taking their breakfasts in the shady porticos. The Ferdinand's Bridge, which crosses the stream, was filled with people; in the motley crowd we saw the dark-eyed Greek, and Turks in their turbans and flowing robes. Little brown Hungarian boys were going around selling bunches of lilies, and Italians with baskets of oranges stood by the sidewalk.
The throng became greater as we penetrated into the old city. The streets were filled with carts and carriages, and, as there are no side-pavements, it required constant attention to keep out of their way. Splendid shops fltted up with great taste occupied the whole of the lower stories, and goods of all kinds hung beneath the canvas awnings in front of them. Almost every store or shop was dedicated to some particular person or place, which was represented on a large panel y the door. The number of these paintings added much to the splendor of the scene; I was gratified to find, among the images of kings and dukes, one dedicated "To the American," with an Indian chief in full costume.
The Altstadt, or "old city," which contains about sixty thousand inhabitants, is completely separated from the suburbs, whose population, taking the whole extent within the outer barrier, numbers nearly half a million.* It is situated on a small arm of the Danube and encompassed y a series of public promenades, gardens and walks, varying from a quarter to half a mile in length, called the "Glacis." This formerly belonged to the fortifications of the city, but as the suburbs grew up so rapidly on all sides, it was changed appropriately to a public walk. The city is still surrounded with a massive wall and a deep wide moat, but, since it was taken y Napoleon in 1809, the moat has been changed into a garden with a beautiful carriage-road along the bottom around the whole city.
It is a beautiful sight to stand on the summit of the wall and look over the broad Glacis, with its shady roads branching in every direction and filled with inexhaustible streams of people. The Vorstaedte, or new cities, stretch in a circle, around beyond this; all the finest buildings front on the Glacis, among which the splendid Vienna Theater and the church of San Carlo Borromeo are conspicuous. The mountains of the Vienna forest bound the view, with here and there a stately castle on their woody summits.
There is no lack of places for pleasure or amusement. Besides the numberless walks of the Glacis there are the imperial gardens, with their cool shades and flowers and fountains; the Augarten, laid out and opened to the public y the Emperor Joseph; and the Prater, the largest and most beautiful of all. It lies on an island formed y the arms of the Danube, and is between two and three miles square. From the circle at the end of the Praterstrasse broad carriage-ways extend through its forests of oak and silver ash and over its verdant lawns to the principal stream, which bounds it on the north. These roads are lined with stately horse-chestnuts, whose branches unite and form a dense canopy, completely shutting out the sun.
Every afternoon the beauty and nobility of Vienna whirl through the cool groves in their gay equipages, while the sidewalks are thronged with pedestrians, and the numberless tables and seats with which every house of refreshment is surrounded are filled with merry guests. Here on Sundays and holidays the people repair in thousands. The woods are full of tame deer, which run perfectly free over the whole Prater. I saw several in one of the lawns lying down in the grass, with a number of children playing around or sitting beside them. It is delightful to walk there in the cool of the evening, when the paths are crowded and everybody is enjoying the release from the dusty city. It is this free social life which renders Vienna so attractive to foreigners and draws yearly thousands of visitors from all parts of Europe.
We spent two or three hours delightfully one evening in listening to Strauss's band. We went about sunset to the Odeon, a new building in the Leopoldstadt. It has a refreshment-hall nearly five hundred feet long, with a hand-some fresco ceiling and glass doors opening into a garden-walk of the same length. Both the hall and garden were filled with tables, where the people seated themselves as they came and conversed sociably over their coffee and wine. The orchestra was placed in a little ornamental temple in the garden, in front of which I stationed myself, for I was anxious to see the world's waltz-king whose magic tones can set the heels of half Christendom in motion.
After the band had finished tuning their instruments, a middle-sized, handsome man stept forward with long strides, with a violin in one hand and bow in the other, and began waving the latter up and down, like a magician summoning his spirits. As if he had waved the sound out of his bow, the tones leaped forth from the instruments, and, guided by his, eye and hand, fell into a merry measure. The accuracy with which every instrument performed its part was truly marvelous. He could not have struck the measure or the harmony more certainly from the keys of his own piano than from that large band. The sounds struggled forth so perfect and distinct that one almost expected to see them embodied, whirling in wild dance around him. Sometimes the air was so exquisitely light and bounding the feet could scarcely keep on the earth; then it sank into a mournful lament with a sobbing tremulousness, and died away in a long-breathed sigh.
Strauss seemed to feel the music in every limb. He would wave his fiddle-bow a while, then commence playing with desperate energy, moving his whole body to the measure, till the sweat rolled from his brow. A book was lying on the stand before him, but he made no use of it. He often glanced around with a kind of half-triumphant smile at the restless crowd, whose feet could scarcely be restrained from bounding to the magic measure. It was the horn of Oberon realized. The composition of the music displayed great talent, but its charm consisted more in the exquisite combination of the different instruments, and the perfect, the wonderful, exactness with which each performed its part—a piece of art of the most elaborate and refined character.
The company, which consisted of several hundred, appeared to be full of enjoyment. They sat under the trees in the calm, cool twilight with the stars twinkling above, and talked and laughed sociably together between the pauses of the music, or strolled up and down the lighted alleys. We walked up and down with them, and thought how much we should enjoy such a scene at home, where the faces around us would be those of friends and the language our mother-tongue.
We went a long way through the suburbs one bright afternoon to a little cemetery about a mile from the city to find the grave of Beethoven. On ringing at the gate a girl admitted us into the grounds, in which are many monuments of noble families who have vaults there. I passed up the narrow walk, reading the inscriptions, till I came to the tomb of Franz Clement, a young composer who died two or three years ago. On turning again my eye fell instantly on the word "Beethoven" in golden letters on a tombstone of gray marble. A simple gilded lyre decorated the pedestal, above which was a serpent encircling a butterfly—the 'emblem of resurrection. Here, then, moldered the remains of that restless spirit who seemed to have strayed to earth from another clime, from such a height did he draw his glorious conceptions.
The perfection he sought for here in vain he has now attained in a world where the soul is freed from the bars which bind it in this. There were no flowers planted around the tomb by those who revered his genius; only one wreath, withered and dead, lay among the grass, as if left long ago y some solitary pilgrim, and a few wild buttercups hung with their bright blossoms over the slab. It might have been wrong, but I could not resist the temptation to steal one or two while the old gravedigger was busy preparing a new tenement. I thought that other buds would open in a few days, but those I took would be treasured many a year as sacred relics. A few paces off is the grave of Schubert, the composer whose beautiful songs are heard all over Germany.
We visited the imperial library a day or two ago. The hall is two hundred and forty-five feet long, with a magnificent dome in the center, under which stands the statue of Charles V., of Carrara marble, surrounded y twelve other monarchs of the house of Hapsburg. The walls are of variegated, marble richly ornamented with gold, and the ceiling and dome are covered with brilliant fresco-paintings. The library numbers three hundred thousand volumes and sixteen thousand manuscripts, which are kept in walnut cases gilded and adorned with medallions. The rich and harmonious effect of the whole can not easily be imagined. It is exceedingly appropriate that a hall of such splendor should be used to hold a library. The pomp of a palace may seem hollow and vain, for it is but the dwelling of a man; but no building can be too magnificent for the hundreds of great and immortal spirits to dwell in who have visited earth during thirty centuries.
Among other curiosities preserved in the collection, we were shown a brass plate containing one of the records of the Roman Senate made one hundred and eighty years before Christ, Greek manuscripts of the fifth and sixth centuries, and a volume of Psalms printed on parchment in the year 1457 by Faust and Schoeffer, the inventors of printing. There were also Mexican manuscripts presented y Cortez, the prayer-book of Hildegard, wife of Charlemagne, in letters of gold, the signature of San Carlo Borromeo, and a Greek Testament of the thirteenth century which had been used y Erasmus in making his translation and contains notes in his own hand. The most interesting article was the "Jerusalem Delivered" of Tasso, in the poet's own hand, with his erasures and corrections.
The chapel of St. Augustine contains one of the best works of Canova—the monument of the Grand Duchess Maria Christina of Sachsen-Teschen. It is a pyramid of gray marble, twenty-eight feet high, with an opening in the side representing the entrance- to a sepulcher. A female figure personating Virtue bears in an urn to the grave the ashes of the departed, attended by two children with torches. The figure of Compassion follows, leading an aged beggar to the tomb of his benefactor, and a little child with its hands folded. On the lower step rests a mourning genius beside a sleeping lion, and a bas-relief on the pyramid above represents an angel carrying Christina's image, surrounded with the emblem of eternity, to heaven. A spirit of deep sorrow, which is touchingly portrayed in the countenance of the old man, pervades the whole group.
While we looked at it the organ breathed out a slow, mournful strain which harmonized so fully with the expression of the figures that we seemed to be listening to the requiem of the one they mourned. The combined effect of music and sculpture thus united in their deep pathos was such that I could have sat down and wept. It was not from sadness at the death of a benevolent tho unknown individual, but the feeling of grief, of perfect, unmingled sorrow, so powerfully represented, came to the heart like an echo of its own emotion and carried it away with irresistible influence. Travelers have described the same feeling while listening to the "Miserere" in the Sistine Chapel at Rome. Canova could not have chiselled the monument without tears.
One of the most interesting objects in Vienna is the imperial armory. We were admitted through tickets previously procured from the armory direction; as there was already one large company within, we were told to wait in the court till our turn came. Around the wall, on the inside, is suspended the enormous chain which the Turks stretched - across the Danube at Buda in the year 1529 to obstruct the navigation. It has eight thousand links and is nearly a mile in length. The court is filled with cannon of all shapes and sizes, many of which were conquered from other nations. I saw a great many which were cast during the French Revolution, with the words "Liberte! Egalitel" upon them, and a number of others bearing the, simple letter "N."
The first wing contains banners used in the French Revolution, and liberty-trees with the red cap, the armor of Rudolph of Hapsburg, Maximilian I., the emperor Charles V., and the hat, sword and order of Marshal Schwarzenberg. Some of the halls represent a fortification, with walls, ditches and embankments, made of muskets and swords. A long room in the second wing contains an encampment in which twelve or fifteen large tents are formed in like manner. There was also exhibited the armor of a dwarf king of Bohemia and Hungary who died a gray-headed old man in his twentieth year, the sword of Marl-borough, the coat of Gustavus Adolphus, pierced in the breast and back with the bullet which killed him at Uitzen, the armor of the old Bohemian princess Libussa, and that of the amazon Wlaska, with a steel vizor made to fit the features of her face.
The last wing was the most remarkable. Here we saw the helm and breastplate of Attila, king of the Huns, which once glanced at the head of his myriads of wild hordes before the walls of Rome; the armor of Count Stahremberg, who commanded Vienna during the Turkish siege in 1529, and the holy banner of Mohammed, taken at that time from the grand vizier, together with the, steel harness of John Sobieski of Poland, who rescued Vienna from the Turkish troops under Kara Mustapha; the hat, sword and breastplate of Godfrey of Bouillon, the crusader-king of Jerusalem, with the banners of the Bross the crusaders had borne to Palestine and the standard they captured from the Turks on the walls of the Holy City. I felt all my boyish enthusiasm for the romantic age of the crusaders revive as I looked on the torn and moldering banners which once waved on the hills of Judea, or perhaps followed the sword of the Lion-Heart through the fight on the field of Ascalon. What tales could they not tell, those old standards cut and shivered by spear and lance! What brave hands have carried them through the storm of battle, what dying eyes have looked upward to the cross on the folds as the last prayer was breathed for the rescue of the holy sepulcher.