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Vienna

Imperial capital very nearly on the Danube. Renowned for things that go round, such as the Prater, waltzes, dressage and the Ring. I never expected to visit the city, but when the boss says 'Jump' the wise consultant jumps.
V/003

It felt very foreign, especially when one of my little excursions took me to the far side of the Danube, and not as open as Brussels. Something about the tall, blank-faced apartment buildings and the understated uniformity of the house-number plaques made it easy to remember the secret police of the Austrian empire. A certain heaviness, a ghost of the punctilio that made it so important to enumerate Herr Professor Doctor Engineer in the right order ... you couldn't imagine Freud making discoveries about repression in fin-de-siècle Brussels.

Schubert this and far too much Mozart that, no sign of Haydn apart from an early edition of some piano sonatas in an antiquarian's window, and I passed only one of Beethoven's houses, unintentionally and on the other side of the road; that was after the gorgeous Palais Ferstel and the quite unexpected discovery of one of my favourite elements of urban architecture – a street that crosses another street on a bridge. And a very fine bridge it was too, Art Nouveau in eau-de-nil, picked out here and there with white and gilt and thoughtfully floodlit.

The architecture lacks the sense of enjoyment that characterises Brussels; no feeling that architects ever sat down at their drawing-boards thinking "what can I include to make this building fun?" Even the Secession, geometric Art Nouveau, is more earnest than exciting; also, clearly unloved. I didn't see a single postcard of it, there's a bus-station in front of it so you can't get a good view, and the flood-lighting is reluctant and begrudged. The Karlsplatz pavilions fare little better, conscientiously well cared for but not cared about. The Hundertwasser building is rather more popular, more Barcelona than Mitropa, and a heating plant with an irregular gilt ball halfway up the smokestack makes the Seventies office blocks it stands among look singularly drab and unimaginative.

Eating in Vienna offered many unexpected combinations, like the white sauce and dill on potatoes or the truly comforting association of (continental) lentils and dumplings ... even the IBM canteen offered a meat-loaf stuffed with frankfurters and pickled gherkins, and a poppy seed pastry held together with plum paste as dark and thick as mastic. Wiener Schnitzel with a light salad and a glass of dry white was an extremely civilised meal, and biting absent-mindedly into a dense rye roll spiced with caraway seeds came as a sophisticated surprise: Haydn slipping a peasant dance into the middle of a menuet.


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