A main hub of activity along the Danube Canal on the inner city side of Vienna this time of the year is at Schwedenplatz. A lively pedestrian street emptied into this small plaza which is anchored on one corner by Castelletto, my favorite gelato cafe. In this eclectic Italian institution, a wide assortment of cakes and gelato, plus great people-watching, often kept me there for hours while I worked on the Internet.
Colorful trolleys, their bells clanging, moved people in and out of the waterfront area. The ubiquitous fast food wuerstelstand next to the bustling entrance of the U-Bahn (underground train) was always engulfed with customers, especially during lunchtime and rush hour.
Ferries plied the canal taking people to and from the nearby capital city of Bratislava, Slovakia. This grand city, which was part of the Hapsburg Monarchy from 1526 to 1918, was a fascinating place to visit for a couple of days. (more on this later)
The Danube River
The Danube River is the second longest river in Europe flowing from West Germany through the capital cities of Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade. It empties into the Black Sea in Romania and Ukraine. The Danube Canal, an arm of the Danube River in Vienna, got its present shape in 1875. It borders Vienna’s city center and flows approximately 13 miles through the metropolitan area.
When I started writing this posting about life along the Danube Canal in Vienna, I realized that the special time I had with all three of my English-speaking Viennese *Servas Hosts had exposed me to various past and present aspects of life along the river.
This is my story of the special experience I had with my first hosts, Christina and Michael. My experiences with the other two Servas Hosts will follow shortly.
Christina and Michael invited me to stay for a couple of nights in one of their two in-town, one-room flats which are located in a building that overlooks the Danube Canal near Schwedenplatz. They stay in one of them periodically, but spend most of their time in their lovely multi-family home on the outskirts of town.
Diagonally across the street from their building, on the site of the former Interpol Hotel, was the Memorial to Victims of the Gestapo. The hotel, which had been bombed during the war then later demolished, had been the notorious Vienna Gestapo headquarters during *Anschluss (Annexation)
Christina acquainted me with her historic neighborhood one day. Her building backs up to a steep wall which once formed part of Vienna’s inner-city Jewish Quarter. The climb up the neighboring stairs brought us to a cobbled street area that made me feel I had just stepped back in time. The hill where we stood at the top of the stairs was crowned by St. Rupert’s church, which is considered to be the oldest church in Vienna.
I was able to tour the huge, lovingly-restored Jewish City Temple (Wiener Stadttemple) nearby, dated 1825. Multi-lingual tours were offered regularly. The Synagogue was not completely destroyed during Nazi times, as most of the other synagogues in Vienna had been, because it had been designed to fit into an apartment complex so it wouldn’t be visible from the street. It was a legal requirement at that time.
Christina introduced me to two long-standing traditions of Vienna – the old Viennese coffee house (kaffeehaus) culture and the attire of attendees at Viennese traditional balls.
In an elegant, old-fashioned kaffeehaus I sipped tea while she drank traditional Viennese melange coffee (an espresso with steamed milk, topped with a little foam). We shared a decadent piece of dark chocolate cake. Sharing that moment with Christina, who obviously felt very much at ease in those surroundings, made me feel completely at home in old Vienna.
The tradition of Carnival balls continues to thrive in Vienna. The Vienna ball season reaches its peak every January and February. We strolled by fashion stores on the old town’s pedestrian streets with windows full of mannequins suitably dressed for a Viennese ball. She had attended many in her youth, she told me with a chuckle and a delightful twinkle in her eye. She left it at that.
*Servas is a non-profit international peace organization of hosts and travelers. http://www.Servas.org
**Anschluss (Annexation) – Uniting Austria into Nazi Germany (the German Reich) on March 12, 1938
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