Am Bratach No. 308
June 2017

Graeme at large
by Graeme Mackay

There is no doubt in my mind that Vienna is one the most beautiful cities in Europe. I was visiting the Imperial City last month with work, attending the Associations World Congress — basically an association for associations to discuss industry best practice. As part of my job I attend these events to sell Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire as the perfect destination to hold a conference or event.

We attended the trade show as Team Scotland, with partners from Glasgow and Edinburgh joining us, and let’s just say that an impromptu whisky tasting (led by myself) ended up with delegates leaving having had a fantastic experience of Scottish hospitality and a wee spring to their step. Just imagine what I could do if I could only get them to commit to a conference in Aberdeen!

It’s common practice during these events to be hosted at a city reception, and this one was no different; in fact it went above and beyond by welcoming us to the famous Hoffburg Palace. If you’ve been fortunate enough to visit Vienna you’ll appreciate how grand and palatial this impressive building is.

We arrived to a state drinks reception before being ushered up the marble staircase to the ballroom by two horn players — the atmosphere of the evening was incredible. The ballroom was simply out of this world, with marble carvings of angels looking down from the supporting columns, renaissance paintings covering the ceiling and large crystal chandeliers embellishing the atmospheric lighting of a baroque banquet hosted by the Habsburg family — the family of Austria.

Known as the House of Austria, the Habsburg family were among the most influential royal houses in Europe, producing emperors and kings for many of the great families of Europe. Their wealth had no boundaries, which explains the multiple adjoining palaces and their opulent hunting lodge a few miles away at the Schonbrunn Palace and gardens. When I say hunting lodge, I mean a perfectly symmetrical 1,441 room Baroque Palace complete with Palm House, Gloriette (large summer house) and an orangery: your average hunting lodge!

If this place is anything to go by, the Habsburgs were not to be messed with! It was here that the last of the House of Habsburg, Maria Theresa, lived for most of her 40-year reign. The final Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph I, died at Schonbrunn Palace in 1916 before the house fell to the hands of the state in 1918. Franz Joseph was the uncle of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was assassinated in 1914 in Sarajevo. This resulted in Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia, leading to the various alliances that resulted in World War One.

I also visited Belvedere Palace, the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. Franz Ferdinand was heir to the throne and required a house of distinction close to the centre of Vienna, and that he got! Now an art gallery, this expansive white palace is an impressive imperialist design with tiered gardens and breathtaking marble fountains which cascade down to the lower Belvedere residence.

Everywhere you turn in Vienna, the place is dripping with beauty, architecture, design and history — basically it’s a city for me! The legacy of the Habsburg family has left a clear mark on the city, and on history, and I’m looking forward to a return visit to learn more. Three days was simply not long enough!

If history isn’t your thing, then fear not. Vienna is also known as the city of music and gave the world famous composers including Mozart, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss. It is no wonder then that you find some of the greatest acoustic venues in the city for orchestras and operas — including the Vienna State Opera House and the Golden Hall of the Musikverein, where the Vienna Philharmonic is based. The city is proud of its musical heritage and so it should be: it has continued to provide the world with memorable and timeless pieces from the finest musicians ever to have lived.

Vienna has something for everyone and I only managed to scratch the surface of this historic city. I particularly enjoy the café culture, serving the famous Viennese coffee (but not the whirls — they are apparently a British creation) and apple strudel — delicious! I need to come back for more — more Schnitzel, more history and more architecture. There are apparently vineyards close to the city that I never got to sample, so it’s safe to say I’ll be booking my return flight to this beautiful city soon.


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