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Journals from Vienna, Austria

2013-09-30 In the Present, Part of the Past

“Klopp, klopp, klopp, klopp…”


I jumped onto the sidewalk just in time. Being run over by a horse and buggy would have been quite the story on my first day, but luckily I knew what Entschuldigung meant (it means “excuse me,” for those who do not speak German, which I assume means some of you).

The sudden jolt from almost being trampled by two equines heightened my sense of awareness. I realized I had been walking around aimlessly, confusing my brain with an endless stream of foreign language pulsing through my ears. Where was I?

Naturally I was standing in front of the Hofburg Palace, which used to be the winter residence of the Habsburg family. The Habsburgs ruled for a modest amount of time, and by modest I mean about 650 years. To put that in perspective, the United States declared independence from tea and crumpets and royal babies (I suppose our media coverage would suggest otherwise about the babies) just 237 years ago.

This palace was built in the 13th century, and here I was, surrounded by tourists and locals and horses and cars, staring at it as if it were just another building. I suppose it is another building-- even walls fall down, after all. But this day – this city – was a diamond, and the opportunity to just stare at the Hofburg is a privilege that I can take advantage of every single day.

These realizations were not only happening in my mind. Gabe and Ian live minutes away from the famous Hundertwasserhaus. The Austro-American Institute, the location where we will take most of our classes, is across the street from the gorgeous Opera House and next door to the wonderful Albertina museum. The Albertina just opened up a world class Matisse/Fauvism exhibit if we wanted to walk over and see it.

Needless to say, Vienna was overwhelming to begin with. On top of the important buildings and information we had to become acquainted with, we had to learn the U-Bahn routes, the S-Bahn routes (city trams) and bus routes. There are 23 districts (think of a district like a neighborhood), and if you want to end up in the 10th district, you best know how to get there. You don’t want to end up in the 16th district instead.

Actually, the 16th district is awesome and one of the most ethnically diverse districts in the city. The famous market, Brunnenmarkt, as well as the Ottakring Beer factory are two highlights, but if you want to hear Turkish and Romanian and Hungarian and….

Ok, I could go on and on about each district. Seriously, the 16th is excellent (one of our teachers took us on a walking tour through Brunnenmarkt and other parts of the district). But I am more partial to the second district. Mainly because I live in the second, just five minutes from the Prater (a massive park, which also has the theme park with the famous Vienna Riesenrad. Riesenrad is a Ferris Wheel), but also because the diversity paired with the location near the first district is ideal.

One of the benefits of the location is the proximity of the second district to Schwedenplatz. It did not take our group a long time to figure out that Schwedenplatz was the place to find numerous fun bars to visit on the weekend; however, the nickname for Schwedenplatz among the locals is the “Bermuda Triangle.” Once you enter, you may never get out until dawn. Or maybe you will never get out. That would be trouble.

Do not worry--we have all made it out without issue (flash to IPO wiping their brow) and made it back to our houses.

We all live with separate host families. We have had positive experiences with our host parents (only one of us lives with a family who has younger children in the house as well), and it never ceases to amaze us that they place trust in foreign students without a problem. There are circumstances that make it easier for them to do so, but the general idea of providing your home and cooking meals for a complete stranger is generous.

This is just another reason to take advantage of this opportunity. Explore the diamond for all it has.

Thinking back to that first day, I distinctly remember the horse incident and the Hofburg. I also remember thinking to myself: “How in the world will I get to know this city? It seems too big, too foreign. The stores close at 7:30 p.m.! What am I to do!”

Those worries were quelled quite quickly. The Hofburg is still amazing and the horses have never presented me with a problem ever again. But none of these things were the most striking parts of the day.

I stopped gawking at the Hofburg and walked in front of the National Library. There was the statue of Prince Eugene, the savior of Vienna from the Ottomans in 1683. There was a grassy knoll…

Wait a second. This was Heldenplatz. This is where Hitler spoke to the Austrian people (many by choice, some had no other choice) in 1938 when he officially announced the Anschluss (when Germany occupied and annexed Austria). I am standing in the exact spot where one of the most famous events this country ever had occurred.

There have been dark moments – the Anschluss is definitely included – and there have been bloody moments (the battle in 1683), and fantastic moments. These moments are part of the fabric of the city. These moments can be recounted and seen throughout the city.

We get to enjoy the results of this history on the U-Bahn, in the Opera, at the Museumsquartier, the Prater, the markets, the Danube Island and the Austro-American Institute. We can enjoy Würstl and Turkish Dürum at any time of day and beer that is 30 times better than what I imagine beer to taste like at home (I would not know after all. I am not 21 yet…). As the semester continues, I will give you tours of these amazing places in Vienna.

But the fact that we can be thrust back in time at any moment remains the greatest aspect of Vienna so far.

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