Danube Odyssey, Part 8
Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace
Index to Photos / Page Updated Jan. 19, 2008 -
(More than 200 additional photos taken on the Nolans' two-week cruise through
parts of Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia are posted in several Lewis
Nolan albums at www.ritzpix.com, a website that requires sign-in)
By LEWIS NOLAN
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Nov. 19, 2007, Monday - In Vienna,
Betty and I have toured several fabulous homes of the ultra
rich and famous in the United States,
including the Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, N.C. and the sprawling California spread built by newspaper magnate
William Randolph Hearst. But none
compare to the colossal Schonbrunn
Palace in Vienna, home of such European rulers as the
Empress Maria Theresa, Napoleon and Emperor Franz Josef. Schonbrunn has 1,400
rooms, of which 40 are open to tour.
TV's Rick Steves' guidebook says Schonbrunn is the best tour
palace on the continent. It is located in the central part of Vienna in an area once reserved for royal
hunting. The Hapsburg family was a dynasty that ruled much of central Europe
from the 1700s until the end of World War I, when Austria was on the losing side and
the family gave up its castles, titles and much of its wealth. Ironically, the
family is still rich and thrives in Austria, where
it is heavily involved in international diplomacy. The Hapsburg name is still
golden and the family is afforded many privileges by governments.
Here is what Steves has to say about Schonbrunn: "While
the exterior is Baroque, the interior was finished under Maria Theresa (who
became a beautiful, young empress after a political struggle) in let-them-choke
Rococca. The chandeliers are either of hand-carved wood with gold-leaf gilding
or of Bohemian crystal (the biggest room of the palace reminded me of the
Venetian Room at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis
on steroids). Thick walls hid the servants as they ran around stoking the
ceramic stoves from the back and attending to other, behind-the-scenes matters.
Most of the public rooms are decorated in neo-Europe, as they were under Franz
Josef (reigned 1848-1916). When World War II bombs rained on the city and the
palace grounds, the palace itself took only one direct hit, thankfully. That
bomb, which crashed through three floors including the sumptuous central ballroom,
was a dud. . ."
Walking through the front grounds of the palace from our
tour bus gave me a sense of the long-gone royalty that once ruled Austria and
other European countries before the 20th Century
Democracy movement pushed them into the dustbin of history. Maria Theresa had
16 children. One of them married a son of Napoleon. Her taste dominates the
elegant style of the palace interior.
We were told about some of the oddities of the day. The
royal guests were signaled the length of their welcome by the length of the
hundreds of candles placed on chandeliers. The highest honor one could receive
was for the monarch to walk precisely 21 steps to greet a visitor. Of course,
the dozens (sometimes hundreds) of courtiers would carefully count the steps to
ascertain the visitor's all-important status.
The "rules" were said to be well-known to the
royalty and hangers-on, making it possible to tell if a visitor was "one
of us" or a hick from the sticks.
After our tour, we had a nice lunch back at the boat. I went
for a hot tuna sandwich with French fries, which helped satisfy an inner urge
for American food.
We rode a shuttle bus from the boat's dock in an industrial
area to central Vienna.
The shuttle appeared after one of our fellow passengers squawked loudly about
its surprise cancellation. We walked a short distance from the drop-off point
to the Jewish Museum with a delightful, Jewish couple from Southern
California, Max and Sonia Mittleman.
The museum's show, "Sex! Wilhelm Pol! Reich
Energy!" was an interesting display about the work of Sigmond Freud's
compatriot, William Reich. The star of Vienna's
psychoanalysis community was born in 1897 and died in an American jail in 1957.
A brochure said ". . .among the 1960's generation he enjoyed cult status
as the father of the sexual revolution."
Also on display at the small museum were a series of
poster-sized holographs about Jewish history and a big display of a collection
of Judiaca that included 10,000 religious items assembled by a benefactor. Many
had been recovered from synagogues burned by the Nazis during the 1930s and
1940s. Included were silver pieces that held candles, incense, torch crowns,
Kiddush cups, Chanuka lamps and other ritual materials. I was surprised to
learn that the Nazis didn't melt them down as they did a lot of European silver
We walked a few blocks to the ghostly, historic Judenplatz,
a town square rich with history. An art gallery there featured the colorful
paintings of a onetime inmate of the Auschwitz
death camp. In the center of the square is a blockish, stone Holocaust Memorial
in a place that was once occupied by a synagogue. Described by Steves as
"a library turned inside out," the memorial symbolizes the murdered
Jews as "people of the book." It is an attribute to the 65,000
Austrian Jews killed by the Nazis.
Museum was founded with
the help of the European Community government, global banks and American
donors. It was built to look like a high-security, bank vault, with heavy,
steel doors and arched concrete walkways. At its downstairs center are the
excavated ruins of what are said to be the oldest synagogue in Europe that dates to 1221.
Since Christians were not allowed by early church doctrine
to lend money, Jews became Europe's money
lenders. As Steves quips, "When Viennese Christians fell too deeply into
debt, they found a convenient cause to wipe out the ghetto - and their debts at
the same time." There were a series of pograms over the centuries that
killed thousands of Jews and served as a gruesome warmup to the Nazi horrors.
After our tour, we rode a taxi back to the boat for a little
over 12 Euros. I had some very good broiled salmon for dinner and Betty had
quiche Lorraine, which she judged to be the least pleasing meal of the trip.
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