April 25, 2015

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

Belvedere Palace, Vienna

Source: Shutterstock

A recent column in the FT had me mad as hell and not about to take it any more. The writer, Simon Kuper, calls Vienna a backwater, a bit like calling the Queen a busted flush because of her age. Sure, he writes how great Vienna was back when the Habsburgs ruled the roost, attracting people from all over, “some of them nuts.” He includes Freud, Hitler, Stalin, and Trotsky. Not the nicest bunch I can think of, but then the paper is a pink one at that. He fears London might go the way of Vienna, and price itself unaffordable to everyone but a few Chinese, Russian and Indian billionaires. The trouble is he’s right about London and dead wrong where Vienna is concerned. Vienna, incidentally, is dirt cheap.

“Surely the FT columnist must have been drugged by people unknown when he called Vienna a backwater.”

Feeling myself inflate like a blowfish at the insult to my beloved city, I thought back to all those Schoenburg – Hartensteins gallivanting in fancy pantaloons around those beautiful palaces since the beginning of the 18th century. These were noble German counts who moved to Austria and became princes, a smart course however upwardly mobile. The place is still full of them, and my daughter recently visited Vienna and reported back that it was the most livable city in Europe. That it is. At one million seven hundred thousand inhabitants, Vienna is the perfect size. Yes, there are Muslims, but most of them are Turks and Bosnians, since the Austro-Hungarian Empire included parts of the old Yugoslavia.

Last time I was in Vienna it was summertime and the city was sleepy. The Ringstrasse, that is lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks, was empty of cars and it felt like being back in the good old days when the Austro-Hungarians reigned supreme. The Schoenburg palace, off Schoenburg strasse, is now let out for parties and such, a bit of a comedown, I admit, but the Brits have been selling their souls since time immemorial. (A nation of shopkeepers and house rentals, according to Napo and Taki.)

What I don’t understand is how can one call a city a backwater when the quality of life is the best by far in Europe? Vienna is the city of music and of the waltz, the city of wonderful cafes and two of the most beautiful palaces of Europe, the Hofburg and the Belvedere.

Surely the FT columnist must have been drugged by people unknown when he called Vienna a backwater. Surely nobody could be so base, and yet in this The Kardashian Century, the worship of bigness overrides the respect for beauty and class. Mind you, I’m being a bit tough on Monsieur Kuper. It was a throwaway line, about Vienna, that is, his column being about London becoming a place no normal person can afford to live in.


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