Secession building, Karlsplatz, Hofburg and more

Vienna Travel Blog

 › entry 4 of 6 › view all entries
Albertina. Already closed by the time we got there, will have to visit this another time...

So far, so good...  This city is beautiful.  And the hotel is just fine - the bed is ok… the room is spacious… clean… and very very quiet.  I slept really well - didn’t hear a single noise the entire night.

Again, I woke up early, and after laying there for a while in the dark, got up, opened the curtains, took a shower and headed downstairs for breakfast.

  It was about 8 a.m.  I love hotel breakfasts… A good hotel breakfast and a newspaper are something I really enjoy.  If I was to rate the breakfast here at the Suite Hotel 900m zur Oper on a 1 to 10 scale (1 being the best, 10 being the worst) I’d give the breakfast at the hotel here a 5.  Average.  It was ok...  The coffee's not too great, there's not too much to choose from as far as food goes. It doesn't matter much, but I had read that this hotel has such a wonderful breakfast that I am a little disappointed. 

We were up early and intended to head straight for Hofburg but when we reached Karlsplatz I noticed the Kunsthalle and wanted to take a look.  From there I saw the Secession Building with an interesting gilded dome on it (I read that they call this “the cabbage” or at least they did when the building was first opened).

Skull sculpture at Kunstplatz by the Kunsthalle
  I didn’t realize it was so close to the hotel.  It was built in 1898 as a showcase for Secession artists.

About the Secession:  The Secession (aka the Union of Austrian Artists) was formed in 1897 by a group of artists who had resigned from the association of Austrian artists due to the prevailing conservatism of the organization at that time.  The building here was designed by one of those artists, Joseph Maria Olbrich. 

The building makes use of a lot of symbolism.  Laurel leaves, gorgons...  Of those symbols, the laurel leaf is the dominant one.

Secession building
  I think it represents achievement, perhaps excellence.  I'll have to look that up.   It can be found on the pilasters of the front wing and the entrance niche, as well as in the various garlands along the side elevations and it hovers over the building in the form of the 3000 gilt leaves and 700 berries of the dome. 

The entrance area is decorated by the masks of the three Gorgons, which symbolize architecture, sculpture and painting. The side elevations also feature owls that were formed by Olbrich himself. The Gorgons and the owl are attributes of Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom, victory and the crafts. Joseph Maria Olbrich integrated a symbolic language in the building, which is given a fresh and not so academic or pedantic interpretation here. I wanted to see some examples of this Jugendstil architecture so this was aperfect opportunity!   

The Secession building, which is now recognised as one the high points of any visit to Vienna, was heaped with derision at the turn of the century.

Karlskirche
The building was described as a "Temple for Bullfrogs", "A Temple of the Anarchic Art Movement", a "mausoleum", a "Pharoah's Tomb", "The Grave of the Mahdi" and a "crematorium", the dome was known as "a head of cabbage", the whole building dismissed as a "a bastard between temple and warehouse" and "a cross between a greenhouse and a blast furnace".

I also want to see some of Klimt’s work so we went in and saw his Beethoven frieze which is located in the building and is of his most famous works.   It was designed and finished in 1902, covers three walls and is 34 meters long.  Its interrelated groups of figures are supposed to be a commentary on Beethoven’s ninth Symphony.

New Testament Angel in front of the Karlskirche
 I enjoyed seeing that a lot.  The building is more interesting on the outside than what we could see of the inside (the mural is in the basement and all we could see of the ground floor level we entered on was a reception area and a small counter where they sell you the 3,50 Euro ticket to go down into the basement to see the frieze).  However, I've seen some pictures of other rooms in the building which look pretty nice.  Unfortunately, here like in most of the other museums I visited later, you aren't allowed to take any pictures... So, I found a few pictures of the frieze to upload so you can see what I'm talking about.

Our next stop was the beautiful Karlskirche.  Aside from being very beautiful, it has an interesting story:  In 1713, the Black Plague swept Vienna, and Emperor Charles VI made a vow: if the plague left the city, he would build a church dedicated to his namesake, St.

Interior of the Central Café
Charles Borromeo. St. Charles was a 16th-century Italian bishop famous for ministering to Milanese plague victims.

The emperor's prayer was answered, and construction on the church began in 1715. The Karlskirche was built on what was then the bank of the River Wien and is now the southeast corner of a park complex.

A Baroque master named Johann Bernard Fischer von Erlach did the original work from 1716 to 1722. After his death in 1723, his son took over and saw the project through to completion in 1737. An artist called J. M. Rottmayr painted many of the frescoes inside the church from 1725 to 1730.

The ambitious, creative design of the Karlskirche combines architectural elements from ancient Greece (the columned portico), ancient Rome (the two Trajanesque columns - Trajan was a Roman emperor best known for an extensive building program which re-shaped Rome), and contemporary Viennese Baroque (the dome and towers).

Greenhouse at Hofburg Palace.
The green copper dome rises 236 feet high, making it a major landmark on the Viennese skyline. In front of the church there are two angels, one representing the Old Testament and another representing the New Testament. In the evening it is beautifully lit up.

The design of the church is not a typical Baroque design, was never imitated and according to what I have read was always regarded as something of an architectural curiosity. But this gives it great interest among the more conventional Baroque churches of Austria and it really is a magical sight, especially when illuminated at night.  

To me, the most incredible and awesome feature of the church are the two great columns of the facade, designed in direct imitation of Trajan's Column in Rome with a Baroque touch at the top.

Entrance to Hofburg
The reliefs depict scenes from the life St. Charles Borromeo.

The interior of the church is much more conventional than the exterior, with High Baroque decoration. The vault frescoes depict St. Charles Borromeo begging the Holy Trinity to end the plague in Vienna. We spent quite a while wandering around the church, taking pictures and then watching it snow...

After Karlskirche we took the U-bahn to Kerrengasse.

Another shot of the angel representing the New Testament
  There I noticed another beautiful church. This one looks like it has been rebuilt after damage or something.  We decided to step inside. I saw that most of the information in the exterior is in Italian.  It is called the Minoritenkirche (In English: Greyfriars Church or Minorite Church, or "Italian National Church of Mary of the Snows") by Minoritenplatz. The site on which the church is built was given to followers of Francis of Assisi in 1224. The foundation stone was laid by Premysl Ottokar II in 1276. Duke Albrecht II later supported the building process, especially the main portal. The Gothic Ludwig choir was built between 1316 and 1328, and used as a mausoleum in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Old Testament Angel. You can see part of one of the two fantastic carved spires with scenes of the life of St. Charles Borromeo in the background
Construction of the church was completed in 1350.

The top of its bell tower was damaged during the first Austro-Turkish war, rebuilt, then again destroyed again during the second Austro-Turkish war; the top was then replaced by a flat roof.

Inside, there is a life-sized copy of Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper on the church's northern wall. It is a mosaic made by the Roman mosaic artist Giacomo Raffaelli which was ordered by Napoleon I in 1809, but it was not finished before Napoleon's abdication. Francis II of Austria bought it, wanting to install it in the Belvedere in Vienna. As it was too large for the building, it was set up on the north wall of the church, where it remains to this day. The mosaic is 9.18 x 4.47 m and weighs about 20 tons. 

 When Joseph II gave the church to the Italians as a present, they transferred the name Maria Schnee ("Mary of the Snows") from a nearby chapel which was subsequently destroyed.

Brahms monument
So, that explains all of the Italian - to this day it is used for Vienna's Italians. 

Before continuing on to Hofburg we stopped at a beautiful café called Café Central.  It is located in a building called Palais Ferstel which is really beautiful. This café is exactly what I expected a grand and stately Vienna café would be like.  If you go ever go to Vienna, do this!! The coffee and pastry were terrific and the service was perfect...  but more important than the coffee or the pastries is the atmosphere. Most likely a Viennese person might scoff at this and say that this is a tourist thing...  I don't know... Even if that's so, I still recommend it!  The café was opened in 1860, and in the late nineteenth century it became a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. Key regulars included Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

Art Nouveau train station at Karlsplatz
Until 1938 the café was called the "Chess school" (Die Schachhochschule) because of the presence of many chess players. 

 The Café Central is open Monday-Saturday from 8 am to10 pm. There is piano music every evening from 4-7 pm. The address is Herrengasse 14. Phone 533-3763

The Café Central was closed at the end of WW2 and was not reopened again until the building was restored in 1975.  I think that the original may have been in another part of the building.

We walked over to the Hofburg Palace and wandered around the whole perimeter of the complex, saw the gardens and greenhouse before reaching the entrance... The walk around the whole complex, in the snow, was a good way to work off some of the pastry from the Café Central.

Secession building
  It was snowing pretty hard; large snowflakes were piling up everywhere. I think it’s a beautiful way to see the city - in winter, with snow.  With the proper clothing and shoes it’s not a problem at all.  I much prefer snow to rain. 

Our first stop inside Hofburg was the Habsburg Silver Collection where you can see the enormous state collections of cookware, table linen, dishes, cutlery, silverware, copperware, bathroom accessories (“sanitary porcelain”) like chamber pots (there were no bathrooms in the palaces until the very late nineteenth century so they needed plenty of special accessories for bathing, toilet, and such), etc.  I didn’t realize that the “household” numbered up to 5000 people.  Obviously, catering to such a large number of people in a very formal manner required a lot of effort, organization and personnel.  Some of this was truly interesting to see although it wasn’t the most exciting visit.  I was a little surprised to see how they set the table.  All of the silverware on the right side of the plate and all of the forks are placed with the tines pointing down.

Central Café
  It is logical that what you’d use first was closest to the plate but I don’t know what Mom would think about this! she’s pretty strict about forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. The tables were always decorated with elaborate centerpieces.  Some are so large that you wouldn’t be able to see the person sitting across from you!  Although they also say that conversation was only permitted with those sitting on ones immediate left or right. No shouting across the table over the golden centerpieces...

An interesting thing that I learned about is something called the “footwashing” ceremony.  This was a centuries old tradition (I actually saw it before on the Camino de Santiago where some of us pilgrims had our feet washed before a mass somewhere along the way).  The Habsburgs had this tradition for centuries in the Viennese court.  The emperor and empress washed the feet of 12 men and 12 women each year on Holy Thursday (the last Thursday before Lent starts).

  It was performed on elderly paupers who were instructed to wash thoroughly (!) before presenting themselves!!  The paupers were given a meal and gifts including an earthenware jug of white wine, a silver beaker marked with the double eagle and the year, dishes of food and a pouch containing 30 silver coins.  A special golden washing set (on display) was used for the ceremony.

After the silver collection we headed to the Sisi Museum and Imperial Apartments (Kaiserappartements).  This turned out to be another interesting visit.  I was surprised to see that the Sisi museum is so dark ��" mostly painted a dark deep blue.  Again, her reality has little to do with the cinema version and the melancholy, depressing feeling that the exhibit conveys is appropriate.  I guess it’s fitting for such a depressed, unhappy woman who had an unhappy life and a tragic death.  The fragments of her poetry, letters and such paint a picture of a self-absorbed, bitter person.  Not at all like how she is portrayed in the movies.  There were a number of interesting exhibits, but such a dark and sad place.

Habsburg way of setting the table. All the silverware on one side.
  I enjoyed seeing a reproduction of her private train car that she used to travel to “escape” from Vienna.  The Sisi exhibit ends with details of her murder and funeral.    The Imperial Apartments are the final part of the visit and you work your way through about 18 rooms seeing their waiting and audience rooms, studies, bedrooms (Franz Joseph and Sisi slept in separate rooms), Sisi’s dressing and exercise room, her bathroom (with painted porcelain toilet in the form of a dolphin and galvanized sheet copper bathtub), salons and dining room.  The visit guide points out (and it is interesting to note) that while Franz Joseph surrounded himself with pictures of his wife and children, Sisi only kept pictures of her family in Bavaria.  The whole visit was very worthwhile.  I will leave this city knowing a lot more about the Habsburgs.

After the Imperial Palace we wandered around St. Michelsplatz upon which is the grandiose entrance to the Hofburg.

  We went inside Michaelskirche which at one time was the parish church of the court. The earliest parts date from the 1200s.  If I don’t organize the pictures immediately, all of these churches are going to be hard to tell apart...

 

Graben and Kohlmarket

This is a nice area for a stroll.  This is a pedestrian area with upscale shops like Tiffany’s, Gucci and such.  Being Sunday, just about everything was closed but there were plenty of people in the street and aside from shop windows and people watching there are some beautiful buildings to look at.  Nearby is the Peterskirche whose current structure is from the 1700s.

The Opera
  We loooked in there and saw that aside from the historical details, homage is paid to a twentieth century man canonized by the Catholic Church.

We had a late lunch again at Mnozil’s Gastwirtschaft zum Kellergewölb.  Our timing isn’t so great.  We’re so wrapped up in seeing things that we forget about eating until we're really hungry and by then its late and rather difficult to find places that are open.  Finally we found Mnozil’s which turned out to be a very good choice.  I had seen a soup on the menu at the place yesterday that is some sort of broth with pancake strips in it.... well, I decided to try that and was pleasantly surprised.  There’s a way for you to use up your leftover pancakes - just cut them in noodle-sized strips and add them to your soup!  Actually, it was pretty good and being so cold a hot cup of soup was a great choice.

Breakfast at the Suite Hotel 900m Zur Oper.
  Anyhow, I like to try things that seem a little strange to me.  Michał had a vegetable soup that he really like too.  Then we had goulash (10,90 €) and stroganoff with homemade buttered noodles (13,90 €).  It was all really good.  The whole meal with a couple of beers came to 38,60. 

Mnozil’s Gastwirtschaft zum Kellergewölb

Seilerstätte 13

A-1010 Wien

A great thing that I am noticing about Vienna is that many things to see are conveniently located very close together.

Wiedner Hauptstrasse
  Just wandering around the Stephansdom Quarter we walked by a number of places to see.  Also, with a little map it’s pretty easy to find your way around.  The next stop was a place I wanted to see beforehand and just happened to be very close to where we had lunch, the Haus der Musik.  The entrance fee here is 10 Euros.  This was a fun visit and provides a great way to learn about the science of sound as well as just about everything you could want to know about composers like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Shubert, Mahler, Strauss, Schonberg and more. 

The museum occupies four floors and starts with recreating what a fetus hears while in the womb.  Aside from learning about the composers and getting a chance to hear many samples of their music, you get a lot of information about the science behind sound with many interactive exhibits in which you can experiment with your own voice.

Wiedner Hauptstrasse
  One exhibit lets you TRY to conduct the Vienna Orchestra.... This was too much for me.  I tried a couple times and the orchestra got pissed off and booed me off my podium!  It’s pretty funny! the musicians really get angry.  Like nearly all of the attractions here, at the end of the visit you pass through a gift shop where many interesting souvenirs are on sale.    In all, this is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon.

The route after our Haus der Musik experience was to head down Seilerstatte to Krugerstrasse to Maysedergasse to Albertinaplatz right by the Opera House.  Again we were lucky to walk right by another famous Viennese café called Café Mozart.

  This café has been around since 1794.  It’s an elegant, spacious feeling place with wooden paneling, crystal chandeliers and elegantly dressed waiters.  (The sense of space is heightened by the very high ceilings and use of crystal mirrors).  You really feel like you’re in Vienna in such a place!

I had “Lendtmann’s Orangenpunsch” (4,40 €) (hot spiced orange juice with rum ��" perfect for a cold afternoon) and Apfelstrudel mit Vanillesosse (5,40 €)  If I convert these prices to Zlotys I’d be horrified, so we’ll just leave it at Euros.  Anyhow, I would (and will) do it again if I get the chance.  Everything was delicious, my first experience with scalding hot orange juice was satisfactory and the place is really beautiful.  We sat there for quite a while ��" I’m spending most of this down time trying to soak up the atmosphere of this amazing city and writing about it. 

When we’d had enough of that, we headed across the street to check out the Albertina which by that time was already closed.

  I took some nice pictures from the upper outdoor level and walked into the film museum which is open and shows movies in the evenings.  This must be a fantastic place to see films.  Maybe another time...

Finally, after a lot more walking around, we headed back to the hotel.  Again we’d walked for miles and I had no problem falling asleep.

sylviandavid says:
Stephen.... What an absolutely Fabulous blog!!!! I loved it so much! I loved where you went, I loved the churches and loved the food descriptions... Thanks so MUCH for this.... Sylvia
Posted on: Feb 21, 2009
sarahelaine says:
Thanks for all the tips - I'm hoping to go to Vienna in June. :)
Posted on: Feb 20, 2009
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Albertina.  Already closed by the …
Albertina. Already closed by the…
Skull sculpture at Kunstplatz by t…
Skull sculpture at Kunstplatz by …
Secession building
Secession building
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
New Testament Angel in front of th…
New Testament Angel in front of t…
Interior of the Central Café
Interior of the Central Café
Greenhouse at Hofburg Palace.
Greenhouse at Hofburg Palace.
Entrance to Hofburg
Entrance to Hofburg
Another shot of the angel represen…
Another shot of the angel represe…
Old Testament Angel.  You can see …
Old Testament Angel. You can see…
Brahms monument
Brahms monument
Art Nouveau train station at Karls…
Art Nouveau train station at Karl…
Secession building
Secession building
Central Café
Central Café
Habsburg way of setting the table.…
Habsburg way of setting the table…
The Opera
The Opera
Breakfast at the Suite Hotel 900m …
Breakfast at the Suite Hotel 900m…
Wiedner Hauptstrasse
Wiedner Hauptstrasse
Wiedner Hauptstrasse
Wiedner Hauptstrasse
This sculpture on Kunstplatz was i…
This sculpture on Kunstplatz was …
This sculpture on Kunstplatz was i…
This sculpture on Kunstplatz was …
Secession Building
Secession Building
ok, maybe a little overkill with a…
ok, maybe a little overkill with …
Thats the Karlskirche in the back…
That's the Karlskirche in the bac…
Karlskirche - a beautiful church. …
Karlskirche - a beautiful church.…
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Train Station at Karlsplatz
Train Station at Karlsplatz
Karlskirche
Karlskirche
Theres a Hopper exhibit going on.…
There's a Hopper exhibit going on…
Minoritenkirche
Minoritenkirche
Minoritenplatz
Minoritenplatz
Minoritenkirche
Minoritenkirche
Exterior of Café Central. The bui…
Exterior of Café Central. The bu…
Café Central
Café Central
Café Central
Café Central
Café Central
Café Central
Café Central. This was good...
Café Central. This was good...
Display windows
Display windows
Display windows
Display windows
Cool sign for a shoe shop
Cool sign for a shoe shop
Display windows
Display windows
Display windows
Display windows
Statues around Hofburg
Statues around Hofburg
Statues around Hofburg
Statues around Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
Hofburg
St. Michaels church (Michaelerkir…
St. Michael's church (Michaelerki…
St. Michaels church
St. Michael's church
St. Michaels church
St. Michael's church
St. Michaels church
St. Michael's church
St. Michaels church
St. Michael's church
St. Michaels church
St. Michael's church
If I remember correctly , that is …
If I remember correctly , that is…
Lots of cool details on the buildi…
Lots of cool details on the build…
St. Peters Church
St. Peter's Church
St. Peters Church
St. Peter's Church
Inside St. Peters Church.  Human …
Inside St. Peter's Church. Human…
Peters Church
Peter's Church
Peters Church
Peter's Church
Peters Church
Peter's Church
Peters Church
Peter's Church
Kohlmarkt
Kohlmarkt
Kohlmarkt / Graben area
Kohlmarkt / Graben area
Voluptuousness, Wantonness, Sin...
Voluptuousness, Wantonness, Sin...
The end with true loves embrace.
The end with true love's embrace.
Inside Central Café
Inside Central Café
Gnawing sorrow...
Gnawing sorrow...
The Secession after WW2
The Secession after WW2
Detail of the Secession building e…
Detail of the Secession building …
The hostile forces!
The hostile forces!
Detail of the Beethoven Frieze.  T…
Detail of the Beethoven Frieze. …
Vienna Sights & Attractions review
Interesting Visit in Vienna
When visiting Vienna, don’t miss this museum, housed in a building where Mozart lived with his wife and children from 1784 to 1787. Of the eleven h… read entire review
Vienna Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Beautiful Café in Vienna
A leisurely stop in a café is something not to be missed during a trip to Vienna. We stopped at a beautiful one on the way to Hofburg called Café C… read entire review
Vienna
photo by: EmyG