The Tempo of Vienna ; Adrian Mourby Tunes into the City Thatas a Wealth of Architecture, History and Art

Article excerpt

FROM Mozart to Harry Lime, Freud to Klimt and Wittgenstein to Adolf Loos, Vienna is a cultural capital par excellence.

In the long heyday of the Hapsburg Empire this mighty city controlled territories that stretched from the Netherlands down to the Turkish border. No wonder so many ambitious writers, artists, architects and intellectuals came to live here.

But it is for its musicians that Vienna is best known. Gustav Mahler did battle with audiences at the Staatsoper. Johann Strauss II was remarried at the splendid Karlskirche. Wagner decamped to the Hotel Imperial after finding the Grand too simple for his tastes and Mozart married in the Stephansdom without his father's permission. Schubert's birthplace is found north of the old city walls in walking distance of the lodgings where Beethoven incurred the wrath of his landlord by getting workmen to install an illicit extra window.

One of the best introductions to Vienna is to start in front of the gold filigree dome of the Secession Building, a revolutionary piece of late 19th century architecture that still surprises as much as it delights. After visiting the basement for Gustav Klimt's glorious Beethoven Frieze (you'll recognise its sublime and sordid images), walk down Operngasse to the Staatsoper with its superb marble foyer on the first floor.

The Viennese are a conservative lot.

When they installed the busts of 14 great opera composers here in 1869 Wagner and Verdi were omitted because it was thought they might be a passing phase.

Heading down Kartnerstrasse towards the Stephansdom it's worth pausing to marvel at the opulent 19th-century facades of shops such as Lobmeyr the chandelier-maker or the tiny -- but world-famous -- American Bar. This groundbreaking design by Adolf Loos introduced Modernist architecture to Vienna in 1908 and has hardly been altered since. Skirting the towering Gothic bulk of the Stephansdom, it's possible to visit the Figarohaus (now a museum) where Mozart, short of money as ever, composed the Marriage of Figaro. All that culture in pretty much two streets. No wonder Vienna is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Deciding how to spend your time is a major undertaking as there is too much Vienna and not enough hours in the day. The Hofburg Palace complex is probably a day in itself. Just walking round the public areas takes you through courtyards and gardens constructed for the enjoyment of Europe's first family. It's possible to pick up a fiacre in front of the new palace wing that Emperor Franz Josef constructed for himself on Heldenplatz. These horse-drawn carriages are a familiar sight around Vienna but personally I'd say stay on foot and stroll around the Hofburg complex at your own pace. At the Stallburg Stables you may well see some of the Lipizzaner stallions being prepared for the Winter Riding School. …