This is part of a set of pages describing our trip in March 2012 to Europe.
Thursday, March 22d
We started our first full day in Vienna slowly, enjoying a bit of a lie-in. This suited our pre-teen, who had been woken at a variety of times over the past few days, all of which were much earlier than she was entirely happy about. Unfortunately, Leila had contracted some sort of bug and we weren’t sure whether she was up to coming with us. In the end, we decided to do something that she wasn’t that fussed about seeing and then return to see how she was feeling at noon.
As I have said on earlier pages, military history powers a lot of our family holidays. Wars create an interesting context within which to learn history and events that are attached to war are often important for non-military reasons. We have visited civil war sites across the Eastern and Middle states of the U.S. One of the museums that fit our basic rules was the Museum of the Austrian Army, housed at the Arsenal, also known as the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum. Isn’t that a great name?
The museum houses weapons from the 1600s on through to the end of World War II and the building in which it is housed is incredible. It was the most obviously eastern-influenced (Turkish?) building that we visited, as you can get a sense of by the main entrance. When we entered, we purchased our tickets and started to view the exhibits.
Since it was just me with the three children, we really benefited from the common feature of museums (at least the ones we had selected) that give free admission to children, often under the age of 19. The lack of an entry fee can give you more comfort in trying a museum or experience and, if it isn’t going well or the children aren’t engaged, give it up to try for something else more interesting.
Our daughter was not that thrilled with the idea of the armory. This was clearly one of those itinerary stops meant for the two boys. Weapons! Cannons! Bang, pow! In the end, it turned out to be a far more interesting museum than I could have anticipated.
We rode the street car from the Burg Ring, about a 5 minute walk from the hotel, down to the SudBahnHof. Similar to the bus in Germany, we had to buy tickets on the tram while it was in motion. It was one of the few times that we needed cash and we had enough coins to cover the fares. We rode past a building that we later learned was the French Embassy as well as a monument, erected by the Soviets, honoring their liberation of Austria at the end of World War II. It was a short ride and we had a brief walk across a park to get to the Arsenal.
The weather in Vienna was very odd, as it had been for months. Earlier, it had been exceptionally cold but now spring was coming early and the flowers were starting to bloom in the park. Families were out, some children were playing on a playground in the park. We kept moving, with the vague idea that, with enough energy, we might stop and join them later.
The museum is quite incredible, both as a physically beautiful structure as well as for its collections. There are massive paintings of battles, row upon row of pikes and spears, and just about any kind of weapon you can imagine. There were officer uniforms from the Austrian armies over the centuries, as well as other artifacts related to the military history of the empire. It was interesting to compare the uniforms and weapons of the 1800s in Austria to those that we know were worn by the American Civil War armies, especially the Confederate officers. It was clear that some of the U.S. uniforms may have been inspired by European, if not Austrian, examples. Certainly, the muskets and rifles were just as similar.
It was also interesting to see some of the renowned weaponry of later wars, including the infamous Maxim machine gun from World War I, and other infernal devices. There was an extensive section on World War II, the invasion of Hitler’s armies but also the period prior to the war. The one item we had especially come to see was the car of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It is the actual car in which he and his wife were assassinated, the act that led to the slow ratcheting up of threats and declarations of war between countries until World War I, the Great War, began. His uniform coat is laid out in a case, showing the hole where the bullet entered. It’s a remarkable sight to see.
There was a superb naval exhibit, with a massive cutaway of a war ship that must have been 20 feet long. There was an outdoor tank collection as well, that would have been interesting to see but which wasn’t opened this early in the year. We took a quick peek through the window out to the area where the tanks were, but couldn’t see much.
We returned home quite more worn out than we’d expected, having bypassed the playground since we’d exerted our energies in the museum. Even our daughter had found the information on Sarajevo and World Wars I and II to be more interesting than she’d initially thought. Leila was feeling better so, although still looking quite pale, we decided to head out again after lunch and see some more of the city.
We walked down to the Burg ring (again) taking a slightly different route, through the Museumsquartier, past the Maria Theresa statue that looms over the garden, and to the Neue Burg palace. This is part of the massive Kunsthistorisches Museum complex which includes the Treasury we saw the day before as well as many other collections. There are a number of combined tickets for the museums. We chose one that allowed access to the Treasury and Neue Burg and, with the kids still being free, made it very economical. The Treasury drew us with the Holy Roman Emperor’s crown, among other things. The Neue Burg houses a huge set of Greek marbles – the Ephesus Museum – as well as a massive set of arms and armor.
We looked at the 70 feet of marble walls. Well, my wife and daughter and I did. It was incredible to see one piece with Marcus Aurelius, Antonine, and Hadrian carved on it. As my daughter immediately registered, we have previously walked on Hadrian’s wall and driven past Antonine’s in the United Kingdom. It was an unexpected connection to be able to make. The boys weren’t that taken with the marbles, but there was a massive topographical model of what the ruined site must have looked at it. They spent ages staring at it and talking about the different aspects. I didn’t have the heart to tell one of them that the small gaps they saw and thought were hundreds of “burial chambers” on the hills above the city were actually just the joints where the various pieces of wood met!
The arms were as impressive in their own way as those in the Arsenal. They were often more ornate, with incredible wood inlay on musket stocks and gold and jewels on the hilts of swords. There was a surprising (not so much after a bit of thought!) collection of weaponry from Persia, where I had only really thought about Turkish weapons. There was also an interesting Samurai suit of armor and swords.
We moved from the arms and armor to the incredible musical collection, where we saw krummhorns and sackbuts as well as intricately detailed keyboards. They were remarkable pieces of furniture as much as they were instruments. It was an eclectic collection that was fun to just wander through, coming across new items that one might never have heard of before.
Mozart’s in the Closet
Let him out, let him out, let him out. We were all pretty wiped out by this time and it was getting on for dinner but we decided to just keep going. We walked out of the museum area and headed towards St. Stephens Cathedral. It’s a landmark for Vienna and has a gorgeous roof. As we got closer, we started to experience the masses of tourists in the city that we had so far been able to avoid. The place around the cathedral was crazy with street performers and others. We sat down to catch our breath and had some gelato from one of the many stores that open right out onto the street.
We went into the cathedral and looked around. It’s beautiful but you can’t just wander around, or we couldn’t at any rate. We came back out again and decided to see one more thing, although it was definitely dusk and getting colder. We walked down from St. Stephens about 100 yards and turned in to where Mozart’s apartment was in the 1700s. One of them, anyway, and the only place that he lived that remains for people to visit. We are all fans of Mozart’s work, as well as that of other Viennese composers, but it would seem wrong to come to Vienna and not visit his house.
The Mozart Haus museum is quite well document and everyone had the audio tour, with the kids getting one geared to them. The youngest just loved to type in the numbers and listen and I was relatively sure that was what he was getting out of it. But afterwards, he talked about a number of things that I had not picked up myself. In fact, I found the adult’s version of the audio tour a bit tiresome and long-winded and skipped a head a number of times. It was worth it to visit, though, just to see what his music looked like and to learn about Mozart outside of the character created by Peter Shaffer.
Now night had fallen and we had really worn ourselves out. We walked back through the city, going past the fountain in front of the Spanish Riding School, past the Neue Burg and the statue of Maria Theresa, and hope to the hotel. The boys and Leila had a rest while my daughter and I ran down to the grocery store and picked up some odds and ends for dinner. More cheese, more meat, some crisps, some bread, some soup, and some lemonade! We had a picnic and then all went to sleep.
Tomorrow would be our last day in Vienna.