Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Vienna, day two: Toilet Humour Transcends All Boundaries of Time and Language

Vienna, Austria (Wien, Österreich) 
Our second day in the capital began in the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (we simply called it the army museum), which houses a huge array of military history spanning from the involvement of Austria in the Thirty Years' War to the First World War. 
The museum itself is contained within a dominating neo-Byzantine style munitions store - the Arsenal. 
Inside we found so much more than we were bargaining for, and actually spent over three hours in the museum. There were uniforms through the decades on display, as well as a plethora of guns and swords, helmets and armour. The museum provided a detailed information sheet in several languages for each section, and they proved to be good reads. A particularly interesting piece was a (deflated) hot air balloon 'L'Intrépide' from the First Coalition War with France. On a nearby wall hung a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte as King of Italy. But one of my favourite paintings was a several meter tall war depiction of a man in full charge. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it, and it's very dramatic. 
The First World War was a topic given much floor space. In the Sarajevo Room rests the car in which the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were shot and killed on the 28th of June in 1914. The murderer was a Serbian nationalist, and things quickly escalated. The rooms following displayed artefacts from the war that arose from that event. The info sheet explains the contrast between the Sarajevo Room, with a stained chaiselongue that the Archduke took his last breath on, to "the bloody outcome of the war with approximately 9,500,000 casualties" that the rest of the rooms attempt to visualise. 
The final room was a showcase of photographs from three Czech photographers in the First World War: Gustav Brož, Jan Myšička and Jenda Rajman. It was Rajman, a worker in a military hospital, who took the above photo of a row of war ambulances. Many more of his works stood out as well, including one called "brain surgery under field conditions". Yikes!
Another poignant shot was that of grave digging. I stared at this one for a while for the stark landscape and their body language. 
It was unexpectedly lunch time by the time we emerged blinking from the museum. Feeling like elegant lunch-goers we dined on cheesy things and cold beverages at Café Sperl. Locals typed away on their laptops and read newspapers while we nibbled at chocolatey cakes and lamented the loss of brilliant handmade lemonades in the Czech Republic. We still enjoyed other drinks - too much, in fact, as the waitress was very hesitant to give us any more as clearly she felt we had outstayed our welcome. 
Delving back into Viennese history, we visited the Neidhart Frescoes. Located on the second floor of what is now a housing complex, we had to ring the intercom to be let in (their button was next to an intriguing "Dr Kinzel"). On the climb up the stairs, we noticed a random fresco under glass right on the wall of the stairwell! As the frescoes date back to medieval times, it's amazing that they've preserved them for so long in a well-used building (the frescoes were discovered under layers of plaster some years ago when it was undergoing renovations). 
The frescoes are on show in what used to be a medieval ballroom, and depict the "daily life and festive culture of the Middle Ages". I greatly enjoyed what was found to be a hilarious practical joke: a man comes across the first blossoming flower of spring and covers it with his hat in order to keep it safe while he runs back to the town to show a lovely lady. During his fetching, another man finds it and thinks it very clever to poo on the flower and cover it back up with the hat. Of course, when the turd is revealed the lady in question is highly offended (the booklet explaining the situation called this "excremental outrage"). 
Another scene showed a ball game between two groups of people. If you look closely at the above photo, you can see that the woman on the right holds the ball, readying to toss it. The booklet said that the ball seems to have a "vegetable texture", i.e. they used whatever they could find (I think it's an artichoke) for their game. 
A trip to the Schloss Schönbrunn Gardens yeilded not many flowers, but vast expanses of green. A climb up the hill to the Gloriette provided excellent views over the city. I feel that the photos we took (see the title photo) didn't do justice for the real sight. Somehow the city twinkled even in daylight like watching the sun reflect off the waves of a great sea. It was a wonderful way to see Vienna. 
We had planned to explore the sleepy town of Klosterneuberg before, as we were camping five minutes' walk away, but hadn't the time before our third morning in Vienna. The church was atop a hill and less easy to find than you might think. Once found, it proved impressive and next to it lay ruins of an old abbey, which was very unexpected. 
Breakfast consisted of pastries in a delicious smelling bakery. We attempted to eat at a table outside, but a persistent wasp forced us to retreat into the safety of walls and windows. Having not experienced much of Austria before, I feel that our trip to the capital gave me a much better understanding of Austrian culture and history (and pastries).