When were you last in Vienna and why were you there?
I visited Vienna in November 2017 for my Austrian son’s wedding to his Russian fiancée – Vienna has always been a melting pot of European people, mainly from the countries of the old Austro-Hungarian empire. I took advantage of the trip to revisit my old haunts. My son once had a holiday job waiting in the Cafe Landtmann – he showed me the table where Sigmund Freud used to sit!
Why do you love the city?
As someone focussed firmly on the past, I love Vienna because it is old fashioned in the best sense. With all the mod cons of a contemporary city, you can still detect echoes of its elegant, old world history.
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What three locations in the city would you recommend people visit, and why?
Can I cheat and say two art galleries? The Kunsthistorisches Museum for its works by Brueghel, and the fantastic Leopold collection of Egon Schiele paintings in Vienna’s new Museums Quarter. Schiele (1890–1918) was an Expressionist erotic artist who died in the Spanish flu epidemic at the end of World War One, aged just 28. Even so, he left a huge body of work behind. He is my favourite artist.
The Crown Jewels in the Hofburg which includes the legendary ‘ spear of destiny’ alleged to have pierced Christ ‘s side on the cross. It is certainly very old.
The Kaisergruft (Imperial Crypt) beneath the Capuchin church, which contains the mortal remains of the Hapsburgs, down to the last Empress, Zita, who survived until 1989. These last two choices may seem macabre, but that is part of Vienna: they have always been half in love with death.
When in history would you have most wanted to visit Vienna?
Definitely the first decade of the 20th century when Vienna was bursting with culture and you could have rubbed shoulders with some of the century’s most famous figures in the Cafe Central. It was also a time of great decadence, as though they all knew what awaited around the corner in 1914 and were determined to squeeze the last drops of juice out of life before it all fell apart.
Nigel Jones is author of eight historical books. He co-founded and leads tours for the travel company historicaltrips.com