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Sound of Music, Taste of Chocolate

November 22, 2006 By:
Rita Charleston
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Mozart and munchies, favorites of Viennese aficionados

The works of baroque masters and today's artists blend beautifully.

The music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the melodies of Richard Strauss pour into the streets from dozens of cafes and restaurants offering some of the finest cuisine in the world. The royal flair of the past oozes everywhere, while the opportunity to make brand-new friends is also ever-present.

The home of some of the world's most illustrious minds -- Mozart, Beethoven, Sigmund Freud, Franz Kafka -- can be seen here.

And it all comes together in Vienna, undoubtedly one of Europe's most beautiful cities, to create an unbelievable and unforgettable experience.

We were fortunate enough to be headquartered in the Sacher Hotel, a must for those craving a glimpse of traditional Vienna and for its exceptional service, located in the Ringstrasse that puts you right in the middle of all the activity.

Adjacent to the main shopping venue -- just across the street from the glorious Opera House and near the Museums of Fine Arts and Natural History, Parliament, City Hall and more -- the five-star hotel is home to the legendary Sachertorte. Once a well-kept secret dating back to 1832, the Torte is probably the world's most famous cake loaded with enough calories to sabotage any diet -- but well worth it. We were even able to watch the famous Sachertorte being made, although you can forget about getting the recipe.

But when you visit Vienna, all thoughts of diets must go by the wayside. Chocolate heads the list -- with other popular Viennese goodies to follow. We visited Wolfgang Leschanz, master of confectionery and known as the Chocolate King. We had lunch with Fritz Wieninger, one of Vienna's top wine-growers. We took a cooking class with one of Vienna's top chefs, Peter Kirischitz.

A new activity gaining popularity with many travelers who love to indulge in local cuisines is trying their hands at producing them. So we peeled potatoes and chopped parsley, tasted the soup and made the little crêpes that floated inside, made a horseradish spread from scratch, and even a tasty dessert.

And then sat down to taste it all. Delicious, if I do say so myself!

But if Vienna's cuisine is remarkable, so is everything else this lovely city has to offer. One night we were fortunate enough to attend a Verdi opera at the magnificent Vienna State Opera. All aglitter with beautifully attired women and nattily dressed men, this city surely knows how to do it up right.

The next day we changed to jeans and sneakers to walk around the city, visiting the homes of Beethoven, Mozart, Freud and others. This was the end of the celebration of Mozart's 250th anniversary, so men in period costumes with powdered wigs were all over the city, as were plaques and flags advertising the event.

We stopped in at the Belvedere to view the biggest Gustav Klimt collection in the world, including the famous art-nouveau painting, "The Kiss." The Liechtenstein Museum opened its doors with its Rubens collection, while "Pablo Picasso: Painting Against Time" was the highlight at the Albertina.

And if you have the time, be sure to take in the famous Vienna Woods, a popular recreation area with many wine taverns, as well as the fabled blue Danube.

Also, vist the Museums Quartier, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

With all the beauty and all the festivities and good food, it's not as if Vienna -- and Austria -- are not without disgraces in their history.

When Germany swallowed up Austria in the Anschluss (connection or political union) in March 1938, the union received the enthusiastic support of most of the Austrian population. Widespread anti-Semitic actions and political violence quickly followed.

Austria's leading politicians were imprisoned, and anyone opposing Nazi rule was subject to arrest, torture and death -- particularly the Jews.

When Hitler took over Vienna, he called the city "a pearl to which he could give a proper setting." But the setting he left behind seven years later was one of ruin and destruction -- a physical, spiritual and intellectual wasteland.

Which makes examining Vienna's Jewish ancestry a major component of any visit today.

So don't leave without checking on your Jewish roots. During the past two decades, the city has stepped up efforts to face up to the history of Jews in Vienna, including both positive and negative aspects, and to re-examine Vienna's Jewish heritage.

In addition to the Jewish institutions that have sprung up over the past few years, a number of museums and memorials evoke the city's Jewish heritage, including the Jewish Museum of the City of Vienna, the Sigmund Freud House and the Schoenberg Center.

The traditional religious center of Jewish life in Vienna is the Vienna City Temple, the only synagogue that survived the pogrom of November 1938.

The building complex at Seitenstettengase 4 houses not only the synagogue, but also the offices of the Vienna Jewish Community, the Vienna Chief Rabbi, the editorial offices of the official community newspaper Die Gemeinde ("The Community"), the Jewish community center and the Library of the Jewish Museum. A kosher restaurant has also reopened on the site.

And so, if you have plans to visit Europe, be sure to put Vienna at the top of your list. There's more to see and do here than you've ever imagined.

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