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Mr. Teitlebaum, Your Table's Waiting ...

August 16, 2007 By:
Aaron Dalton, JE Feature
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Synagogue in Vienna

 It is said that in 1938, several pages in the Viennese telephone directory were filled by the name "Teitlebaum," a typical Jewish name of the day.

Then came the German annexation of Austria (the Anschluss), followed quickly by Reichskristallnacht, soon after the mad dash for safety and emigration, and then the Holocaust.

The Teitlebaums all disappeared. But today, the name has been reborn, if only in corporate form as the title of the little eatery alongside the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna (www.jmw.at/en). Café Teitlebaum thus not only serves good salads and soups, but as a reminder of what was lost, and what measure of tolerance and respect and remembrance has been regained.

Vienna was the site of reportedly the world's first Jewish museum. Opened in 1895, it lasted until 1938, when it was closed and its contents seized by the Nazis. This second Viennese Jewish Museum opened its doors in 1993; it contains not only a collection of traditional memorabilia from throughout the former Austro-Hungarian empire, but also a fascinating holographic timeline of Jewish life in Vienna.

As is the nature of holographs, the picture changes depending on the perspective and position of the viewer -- an apt metaphor for the nature of history.

As befits a city with so many hundreds of years of strong Jewish history, Vienna hosts a second Jewish museum in the Judenplatz ("Jewish Plaza"). At Judenplatz 8, you can descend below ground to see the archaeological remnants of a Middle Age synagogue that was once one of the largest in Europe.

Back above ground in the middle of Judenplatz sits the Memorial to the Austrian Victims of the Shoah. The library speaks to the Jewish attachment to learning and to the written word in the Torah itself. The names of places where the Nazis murdered 65,000 Austrian Jews are carved on the base of the memorial, while computer terminals inside the museum provide a means of obtaining information on Austrian Holocaust victims.

From such a dark subject, it's comforting to think that the Nazis were not able to erase all the beauty of Viennese Jewish life. The gorgeous City Temple, an 1824 synagogue resembling an ovoid Grecian theater roofed by stars, was saved from Kristallnacht by its architectural integration within a block of apartment buildings.

Information on the opening hours and costs of admission to the museums and to the City Temple can be found at: www.jmw .at/en/infodesk.html. Note that tours of the museums are apparently given only in German, but interesting brief tours of the temple are given in English at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., Monday to Thursday, except on holidays. Our guide also told us that Jews are welcome at the City Temple to participate in services on Shabbat or the Jewish holidays.

Where Vienna once had nearly 200,000 Jews, the community today formally numbers approximately 7,000, with perhaps another 5,000 Jews unaffiliated and unaccounted for.

A poignant reminder of what was can be found on Tempelgasse Street, where soaring white pillars mark the height to which a synagogue there once soared.

The synagogue is gone now, but the street is filled once more with Jewish life -- a kosher food shop, several small synagogues, a man in a kipah making his way with the ease and natural gait of someone comfortable in his own city.

There is so much to do here ... Vienna has plenty of non-Jewish attractions, particularly for fans of classical music. You can tour the homes where luminaries such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn once lived. Wigged vendors dressed in period costume will stop you on the street to offer tickets to classical concerts held in bejeweled rooms at Schoenbrunn Palace (www.imagevienna.com/english) or Vienna Imperial Hall (www.imperial-classic.at).

Visit the splendid art collections housed in the Belvedere palaces (www.belvedere.at). Then take a tram out to the Central Cemetery to see the graves of Beethoven, Brahms, Johann Strauss (father and son) and Schubert. The cemetery contains both old and new Jewish sections.

If you've any interest in the ego or the id, don't forget to pay a visit to the former office and home of dear old Dr. Sigmund Freud. Now a museum (www.freud-museum.at, Berggasse 19), this is the place where Freud saw patients, lived with his family and wrote The Interpretation of Dreams.

Opera-lovers should not miss a show at the Vienna State Opera (www.staatsoper.at). But don't show up late! While patrons were once permitted to wander in and out as they pleased, composer and conductor Gustav Mahler put a stop to that when he took up the directorship of the opera in 1897.

Mahler, by the way, was born a Jew, but converted to Catholicism to be eligible for the post of opera director.

Where to stay and eat: Lined with beautiful buildings, monuments and parks, the Ringstrasse that encircles central Vienna may be one of the most magnificent boulevards in the world. Convenient, comfortable and stylish, the Hilton Vienna Plaza is located right on the Ringstrasse, just across the street from the imposing Börse building that once held Vienna's stock exchange.

Sip an "ice coffee" (really a sort of coffee and ice-cream float) and listen to live piano music under the arches of Café Central. Around 100 years ago, Jewish intellectuals like Peter Altenberg and Arthur Schnitzler could frequently be found meeting with other literati at the Central.

Continue your classical music exploration with a quick overnight trip to the picturesque city of Salzburg, where you can stroll the historic city center that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

Pay a visit to Mozart's birthplace and also Mozart's Residence, where he lived from 1773 to 1781. Then cap off your day with a dinner concert of Mozart arias at the Stiftskeller St. Peter, a restaurant where Charlemagne is reported to have dined some 1,200 years ago (www.mozartdinnerconcert.com).

The book Juden in Salzburg provides an excellent account of Jewish life in Salzburg dating from the 11th century C.E., when Jewish settlers came from Italy.

During the Holocaust, all of Salzburg's Jews fled or perished, but a tiny Jewish community did re-establish itself after the war, and despite the odds, a Jewish community persists in Salzburg today. In 1968, the Salzburg synagogue was reconsecrated, and is now one of few functioning Austrian synagogues outside of Vienna.

If you do visit Salzburg this year, time your visit between now and Aug. 31 to experience the Salzburg Festival (www.salzburgfestival.at), one of the world's premiere festivals of drama and classical music.

To learn more, visit the Vienna Tourist Board at: www.vienna.info, and the Jewish Welcome Service at: www.jewish-welcome.at.

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