RICHTER thought people could not have a better time in Paradise than in Vienna. A boulevard nearly seventy feet wide circles the city like a loop, and consists of three streets abreast, separated by two car tracks, while on the outer side of these a broad bridle;path is shaded by two rows of trees. This Ringstrasse has more fine modern buildings on it than any other one street in Europe, for since the change of government in 1848, Vienna has spared no expense for embellishment, and the great public buildings are spread over a wide space of ground which gives them an approach that adds much to their appearance, and could Marcus Aurelius see this city, so changed from the Roman settlement that he died in here in 130, he would never believe that the days of miracles are over.
It is the home of princes and also the city of Jews, for the wealth of the former is only to be exceeded by the riches of the latter. The Jews still have their own quarter, although the old Ghetto to which they were obliged to return by night-fall, is today a relic of the past. They are spreading rapidly now all through the city; they entirely control the banking business and their names hang over the best shops and largest manufactories, while the Rothchilds and other prominent Hebrew families are among Vienna’s most notable citizens.
The landmark from which all distances are calculated, is the venerable old church of St. Stephen in the center of the town. It was begun in 1300, is the coronation church of Austria, and its old steeple rises nearly five hundred feet into the air and is visible from all parts of town. From the difficulty one has stumbling about to see the interior, it is easy to believe it is indeed a church of the dark ages, for no light has penetrated yet into the building. Here Eugene of Savoy is buried, the warrior who helped Marlborough win the great battle of Blenheim, and in his vast Belvedere palace he collected such fine paintings that they became the nucleus of the collection in the Art Museum.
The Lichtenstein family, one of the most influential in Vienna, also have a highly adorned chapel in St. Stephen’s, and so famous is their home that the present Prince allows strangers to go through on certain days to see their rare paintings. This old church was used for many hundred years as the Imperial Vault.
The Karlkirche was erected by Charles VI. at the cessation of the plague in 1716, and the beautiful Votive Kirche this Emperor Francis Joseph decided to build after his life was spared from an assassin’s dagger. It resembles the Cologne Cathedral, and standing quite apart, its beauty is well seen from all sides.
A square or two farther on comes the imposing Rathhaus, town hall of such extraordinary proportions that besides the municipal offices, it contains a large museum where Vienna’s great musicians’ manuscripts, pianos and other possessions are displayed. There, too, are the paintings of “Mozart’s Last Hours,” “Schubert Among His Friends,” and many other great works. One sees a few of the Empress Maria Theresa’s personal belongings; trophies captured from the Turks when they were driven from the city; and other relics of Vienna’s generals and famous men and women. The building alone cost seven millions.
The Houses of Parliament with their splendid bronze chariots on top, have for rivals the two great Museums, one of natural, the other of art history. They make a sumptuous home for such a collection, for the buildings themselves are adorned with different colored marbles and frescoed by artists of the highest ability. Although the collection of pictures is large, there are only a few masterpieces, Durer’s “Trinity” ranking first. Nevertheless there are fine Velasquez portraits of hoop-skirted, high-ruffled Infantas of Spain, priceless Van Dykes, Rembrandts and Titians, and that picture of “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” that every schoolboy knows. The colleclection of armor is the most complete in the world, for it not only gives specimens from all ages, but also the very coats of mail, helmets and weapons used by famous fighters.
The cameos are not the least among the treasures, but the object which challenges all interest is a jeweled bouquet given by Maria Theresa to her husband, Francis I. It stands about a foot high, and every flower is made of precious stones. There are little daisies of diamonds, different roses of pink topaz, and some of yellow; red roses of garnets, forget-me-nots of turquoise, violets made of amethysts, etc., while a jeweled butterfly rests on a white enameled edelweiss and a beetle walks over a glistening anemone. It is a most brilliant collection of jewels, and the flowers are so dexterously made, and clustered so nicely together, it was a unique present, fit indeed for a king. Here too is the marvelous salt-cellar that Benvenuto Cellini, the prince of goldsmiths, made for Francois I. of France. It represents a sea of gold, over which Neptune, a large gold figure with trident in hand, presides, while a little exquisitely embossed gold boat rides on the waves and holds the salt. On the pedestal all sorts of sea serpents are engraved, every detail being minutely carried out to the wonder of all ages.
If in the Mugeum one does not have his fill of paintings, the Academy is rich in works of all schools. It is both museum and art school, and a very appropriate place for students to work among these old masters. The Treasury makes one feel some one must have waved a magic wand. It is the part of the palace where the dazzling paraphernalia of the Austrian empire is exhibited. The Emperor’s crown has pearls and rubies as large as hazelnuts, and one of the largest sapphires in the world on the top. The collection of Hapsburg jewels here is quite unequaled. Maria Theresa’s enormous emeralds are displayed, mounted in a necklace, diadem, watch and corsage; the celebrated Tuscan pearls, mammoth diamonds, including the great Florentine, and the bridal rubies in a tiara, girdle, necklace, ear-rings, corsage and watch of Marie Antoinette of France, have glistened in their unrivaled beauty for many years. The diamond crown of the late, Empress Elizabeth must have been too weighty for such a small head, but its design in great pearls and diamonds alone, was a fit ornament for any one as beautiful as the Empress. Nearby is all the insignia of Napoleon’s coronation as King of Italy, and one sees also the regalia of that vanished realm, the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne wore its crown in 800; in a case is kept his sword, the spear which is believed to have been in the Lord’s side, also the jeweled .book of the Gospels that was buried with Charlemagne in Aix-la-Chapelle, and years afterward dug up. The other holy relics are rather amusing; a piece of the Holy Cross, of the Manger, of the tablecloth used at the Last Supper, a bone of St. Anne, tooth of John the Baptist, and links from the fetters that bound Peter, Paul and John.
The bronze monument of Maria Theresa that stands in the large square between the two art buildings, is well worthy of its fame. The great Empress, “a woman with-a heart of a king,” and the highest sense of justice for all, sits with one hand on that scepter which, to hold fast, she had to undergo so many wars with other nations, while the other hand is extended in greeting to every passerby. Her reign (1740-80) was the glory of Austria, and the clever ministers of her time are grouped about ‘her on this monument, while Gluck, who gave her children piano lessons, stands near Haydn with Mozart by the hand. All Maria Theresa’s large family were talented; one sees their paintings on the castle walls of Schonbrunn, and the young Mozart used to go to court to play duets with little Miss Marie Antoinette to the approval of the great Mother Empress. She was-an extraordinary personage, a practical business woman,.with rare executive ability, and had, in addition to her sound common sense, a beauty and grace that won over many a recruit to her cause. She was first and last an aristocrat, and was always surrounded by such an air of majesty no one could ever doubt, when she appeared, if it were the sovereign or not.
Several of her sixteen children were equally celebrated. Everyone knows the fate of Marie Antoinette in France, and another daughter, Marie Caroline, was driven from her throne in Naples by Napoleon. The Empress’ son, Joseph II., was quite the opposite of his mother, and loved to mingle incognito with the people, studying. their ways. He conceived, as heir to the throne, many improvements for their happiness when he should be king, but had everything in his life go wrong, from the untimely death of his first beloved wife to his en-forced marriage with the second, and after a disappointing reign of ten years, he desired these words on his tomb:
“Here rests a prince whose intentions were pure, but who was so unfortunate as to see all his plans miscarry.”
It was he who gave the Prater, Vienna’s fine park, to the people. In early reigns it had been a shooting-box, but no longer wishing to restrict it to royalty only, Joseph threw it open to all. Now, with the Prater, Stadtpark, Volks and Hofgarten, and other pleasure grounds, there is outdoor life in Vienna, bands and beer for rich and poor. Wienerwurst means sausage of Wien, the German name for Vienna, and there are cafes enough to give everyone the celebrated Vienna rolls, doffee, chocolate or Wienerwurst five times a day. Who does not know Vienna is the home of Strauss’ magic orchestra? and the “Wiener Blut,” “Beautiful Blue Danube,” and other airs dear to the heart of the Viennese are heard at every turn.
This has been the home of so many favorite musicians that many of their possessions have been left in their houses and they have been opened to sightseers. Thus, the Beethoven, the Handel and the Wagner Museums are frequently visited, and out in the Central Cemetery lie Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Millocker and many other famous composers.
Maria Theresa’s favorite daughter, Marie Christine, has the world-renowned Canova monument in the Augustiner Kirche. The marble figure of Virtue veiled, carries an urn with the Archduchess’ ashes, followed by Goodness helping an old man, and the carving is so exquisitely beautiful it was thought worthy to be copied for the sculptor’s own tomb in Venice. In the Loretto chapel of this same church are kept the hearts of the various Hapsburgs. On a stone ledge stands a row of different-sized vases, for evidently some had bigger hearts than others, in more ways than one,, but this barbarous custom of removing the heart is now no longer carried out.
The royal palace is called the Hofburg. It is not merely one edifice,’but a collection of buildings, so mammoth that it covers acre after acre of ground in the very center of the city. It is very old, but a modern addition has made the home life of the sovereign more comfortable, while the furnishings are so sumptuous, and it contains such paintings, art treasures, and has such vivid historical associations, that it ranks as one of the finest royal palaces in the world. In the Imperial Library, which is part of the Hofburg, the old Psalter of Hildegarde, wife of Charlemagne, is exhibited, with Tasso’s “Jerusalem Delivered,” in his own handwriting, and many illuminated manuscripts and rare editions.
The University of Vienna should not be missed by even the weary. The great quadrangle inside is two hundred and twelve by one hundred and fifty feet, and with forty-six arches leading from it to the beautiful cloisters, it makes a bewildering sight, while the nine courts give room enough for the six thou-sand students to come and go without crowding. The reading-rooms are vast in proportion, and every part of it is so well equipped, and the instruction is so excellent, that any one securing here a diploma goes forth into the world with good intellectual capital.
The Royal Opera House and Royal Theatre are the pride of the Viennese, while the staff of the former numbers about seven hundred, and includes a dressmaking establishment, carpenter shop and scene-painting studio. The buildings are enormous, supplied with all the latest appliances for shifting the scenery by electricity and doing away with men in the flies.
There are innumerable exits, for the horror of the fire in 1881 is not forgotten. The Emperor erected after it, on the site of that old theatre, a so-called House of Expiation, the rents of its apartments are given to charity, and every year, on the anniversary of the fire, a mass is held there for the souls of the victims.
The fine pavements make driving doubly delightful, and it is a striking contrast to other cities to find all the street cabs with two horses, white ones far outnumbering all others. There is very little harness used, and the expert coachmen drive so fast one scarcely sees a carriage before it has dashed by. It is said the Viennese cabmen are so skillful they could drive around a ten cent piece. The street cars are electric, with an underground wire, and the system is so extensive that with these and the innumerable busses one can get anywhere without a cab. The fare is according to the distance; three cents take one a Sabbath Day’s journey, and it is customary to give the conductor half a cent for his great trouble and kindness to collect your fare. In going about the streets the large number of statues to famous men is often remarked, and it must be that the Viennese feel as Longfellow, that “Lives of great men all remind us We can make our own sublime, And departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time.”
The money of Austria is at first so puzzling one envies the boy who said he could do sums easily because his mother was once bitten by an adder. The present currency consists of kronens (twenty-cent pieces) and hellers, a hundred of which make a krone. So far it appears simple, but upon entering one of the enticing shops in the Graben, to buy something you have seen marked ten in the windows, which you supposed to be ten kronens and hence only two dollars, you find the shop-keeper is still using the old coinage and meant florins, so you must pay just twice as much or go without. This Graben took its name from the fact of its having been the moat of the old fortifications, but it is now the center of the shopping district, and at noon is thronged with fashionably dressed women.
Nothing is given away in Vienna and prices are so high one readily understands Why so many banks are needed, and only regrets that there are not enough for everyone to have one apiece. Leather goods reign supreme, and the novelties in the exclusive shops on the Ringstrasse beckon to one until the kronens jump out of one’s pocket over the counter, never to return, and to resist temptation in these alluring windows, one should wear blinders like a horse.
The Dienstmen on the corners make life in Germany a thing of rest, for they stand ready to run errands for any one for a mere pittance., They will buy opera tickets for you, carry bundles or post letters, and in fact all one need do is to open the window and express a wish, and an honest-faced, red-capped, old Dicnstman does the rest.
The Archduke Albert’s palace, called the Albertina, contains two hundred thousand engravings, which include drawings by Raphael, Rembrandt, Durer, Rubens, and other great masters, as well as a collection of over fifty thousand books. Indeed, many palaces like this are open weekly for the advantage of the public, and the art treasures stored away in the homes of the aristocracy give Vienna a proud place among the great cities of the world.