The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph I of Austria – head honcho of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for nearly 70 years – presents a grand opportunity to delve into Vienna’s imperial past while catching up on some of its more contemporary delights as well.
No, not Archduke Franz Ferdinand – whose assassination in 1914 triggered the onset of the first World War – but his older brother Joseph, who is perhaps best remembered for his long reign as emperor and for sporting ultra-masculine mutton chops so thick as to make late Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister’s look like scraggly whiskers.
A set of special exhibitions organized by Schönbrunn Palace examines the life and times of the Habsburg emperor. Chief among these is Man & Monarch showing at the palace until late November. The show hones in on Joseph’s personal life as well as his place in the Habsburg lineage and the key events occurring during his reign.
Want to learn more? Other temporary exhibitions about Franz Joseph are on at the Imperial Carriage Museum on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace at the Imperial Furniture Collection in Vienna’s 7th District, as well as at Schloss Niederweiden near the Austria-Slovakia border.
For exhibitions featuring considerably less imperial pomp, there’s plenty to take in. Indeed, a list of Vienna’s most revered galleries and museums would be lengthy, but here is a look at a few highly esteemed art spaces worth visiting. In the shadows of St Stephen’s Cathedral is Bäckerstrasse 4, representing a range of international artists, slightly more than half of which are Austrian. ‘The Artist is Present’ is the first solo show in Vienna by Swiss-born, Vienna-based artist Heir Häfliger, comprised mostly of vivid, large-scale sculptures and “canvasses” made of toilet paper with no additional colouring or other items added.
Galerie Hilger Next at Brotfabrik – think of a Viennese version of Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery – provides a glimpse into edgier up-and-coming artists’ doings from near and far, with an affinity for subversion and street art. For some of Vienna’s more out-there art, from the deeply transgressive to the downright kooky, a visit to Galerie Lukas Feichtner in the heart of the city is in order. Georg Kargl Fine Arts offers smart curation of mostly playful pieces at its space in the midst of the hipster quarter of Vienna’s 5th District, Margareten.
Out of the galleries and into the public art venues, 21er House is Vienna’s ideal spot for viewing art from the 20th and 21st century. The attractive, clean lines of the building itself, designed by Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer, demand a look-see from fans of modernist architecture.
Continuing with the topically current sightseeing theme, a stroll through Campus Wu of the University of Economics and Business (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien) is equally a must for architecture adherents, especially those interested in the work of recently passed Zaha Hadid. Without doubt the showpiece of the campus is her Library & Learning Center – a wonder to behold from inside and out.
Cafés – Antique and Vintage
Ready for a coffee break? You’re in the right city. Immerse yourself in the grandeur of Vienna’s imperial past at Café Landtmann, which has been serving outstanding coffee in an elegant and smartly situated addresses since 1873.
In business since 1904 – with interiors reflecting a refurb during the 1960s – Café Korb near St Peter’s Cathedral is a comfortable place to relax whether for a quick espresso pit stop or over a long and leisurely lunch. Korb offers an especially yummy version of apple strudel too. Apparently it was good enough for some of Vienna’s most celebrated citizens, such as Emperor Franz Joseph and Sigmund Freud.
Falling short of the imperial era but indulgently anachronistic nonetheless, Supersense – a non-digital, totally analogue café-restaurant-shop-studio in Vienna’s trendy 2nd district – boasts some of the city’s best espressos, cushiest sofas, and quirkiest shopping.
Daniel Bakery, in the lobby of Hotel Daniel near the Belvedere Garden, hinges its aspirations for exceptional espressos on its Faema E61 Legend. Placed amid a charming array of postmodern accoutrements and vintage bric-a-brac, the revered coffee machine is the focal point of the bar. Daniel does a hearty lunch with a menu that’s a smart balance of international favourites and Austrian specialties.
Speaking of menus…
The noble pursuit of viewing compelling art and sipping the perfect cup of coffee can make for a meaningful Viennese excursion – but can also work up a mean appetite. A safe bet for sensational bites (with a Michelin star stamp of approval) is at one of local chef Konstantin Filippou’s two restaurants.
With a focus on regional ingredients and seasonal dishes, Filippou draws on the tastiest moments of his upbringing (Austrian mum, Greek dad) to create a flavoursome and robust cuisine. The city’s most deliciously exclusive seats are at the Kitchentable of Filippou’s eponymous restaurant; there’s room for two allowing for cosy primetime viewing of all the kitchen action.
Whether your hope is a tasty date at the Kitchentable or seating elsewhere, reservations are a smart idea. For more casual dining and a mind-blowingly broad selection of natural wines, head a few steps over to Filippou’s bistro, O Boufés. When it comes time to toast the town, an amazing vantage point for drinks with a stunning vista is 18 storeys up at Das Loft cocktail bar atop the Sofitel hotel.
For a more down to earth experience, but a drinks menu that’s no less lofty, try the centrally located Heuer am Karlsplatz with knowledgeable bar staff producing very down-able drinks such as a rich Bermuda Chocolate Punch and the classic Kentucky spritzer, the Horse’s Neck. It’s a fine ending to a stay in this beautiful city.