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Reinventing Vienna

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Photo: Adam Friedberg

Even the Hapsburgs have gotten in on the act—or rather, the German baroness Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza von Habsburg, wife of Karl Thomas-Lothringen of Austria. She would be in line to be empress and queen if the Hapsburgs still ruled, but as it is, her Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary collection and T-B A21 foundation are at the forefront of the local digital- and video-art scenes. In 2006, she commissioned a video installation by the Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman, who sailed up the Danube from the Black Sea to Vienna on a barge following the route of the Turkish invasion of Austria 500 years earlier, presenting the work at six cities along the way. Its peaceful, ecumenical message, offered up in a region best known for ethnic strife—the piece was subtitled “Küba! Journey Against the Current”—was suited to the moment.

“The Hapsburg empire was a multipeople, multilanguage state,” Waldner says. Central Europe is now being reorganized, he continues, so “many peoples can live together in relative peace. The European Union is a model, and Austria is one of its success stories. We are catching up with our glorious past.”

This city has long known the value of branding. Certainly, the MQ’s ubiquitous, Target-like red-and-white logo has helped establish it as the magnetic new open-late center of Viennese energy, with three museum buildings—the Kunsthalle Wien, for temporary exhibitions; MUMOK (short for Museum Moderner Kunst), for modern and contemporary art; and the Leopold Museum, whose collection of Austrian works includes the largest group of Schiele paintings and drawings in the world—plunked down on the site of the old imperial stables. Behind it is the up-and-coming Seventh District, a charming neighborhood of cobblestoned streets lined with restaurants, art and architecture studios, and shops. In front of it is the cultural heart of old Vienna, Maria-Theresien-Platz, flanked by the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, and beyond, the sprawling Hofburg Palace complex, the stronghold of the Hapsburgs.

Having lunch outside at Halle, one of several restaurants in the MQ quadrangle, can be either orienting or disorienting, depending upon your point of view. Ours took in the former emperor’s loge of the winter riding hall, the gray basalt façade of MUMOK, the old red-tile roof of the stables, and the weblike, modern steelwork of a grand outdoor staircase and elevator enclosure—every brand of modern Vienna, in a single vista.

Michael Gross is a T+L contributing editor.

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