Vienna: Hip, Cool and Festive
By Tom Bross
Enhanced by Danube river crossings, a Celtic trading post came into early existence. Afterward—about 15 B.C.—Roman colonists established a strategic military encampment called Vindobona. So there you have the origins of this culturally rich capital city, now spread across 23 districts and home to more than a million and a half people. Its 160 square miles of urban terrain outdoes Munich and Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm. Travel planners like the central-continental metropolitan location, ideally positioned as an east-west, north-south hub for extended leisure and business trips.
‘Papa Haydn’ Anniversary Events
The death, in 1809, of prolific Lower Austria-born composer Franz Joseph Haydn makes the current year-long nationwide schedule of 200th-anniversary concerts and commemorative exhibits timely and attention-getting, certainly for your music-loving clientele. (His long career began early, with nine years’ youthful membership in the St. Stephen’s Cathedral choir). Extensive arrays of bicentennial specials—no surprise—are on the city’s current calendar. Exhibition venues include the National Library, House of Music (entire third floor) the Musikverein (“Joseph Haydn in London,” March through June) and Lichtenstein Palace (made tuneful by Sunday lunchtime concerts), plus Vienna’s own Haydn House (reopened last January) near the Sixth District’s busy Mariahilferstrasse shopping thoroughfare.
This year’s Haydn Festival enticements in the Musikverein’s gilded concert hall include a July 2 program featuring the Salve Regina motet and Te Deum chorale, guest-starring Utah’s Westminster Chamber Orchestra and the Atlanta Boys’ Choir. Then, on July 4 in the circa-1913 Konzerthaus, comes Westminster’s orchestra-and-chorus performance of the Lord Nelson Mass. The Hofburg Imperial Palace’s Royal Chapel has long been the “main base” of the internationally famous Vienna Boys’ Choir (formed in 1498). Classical Haydn Masses, with orchestral accompaniment, highlight their Sunday-morning repertoire during 2009; for instance his Missa Brevis (the “Youth Mass”) on June 21. Visit www.hofburgkapelle.at.
Special Interest Tours and Packages
Guided “Footsteps-of-Haydn” walking tours backtrack through Franz Joseph’s two decades in the city, where he wrote the Imperial Anthem to honor the birthday, in 1797, of Archduchess Maria Theresa’s grandson. Delving deeply into domestic and music-making history, wide-ranging two-hour walks cover more than a dozen pertinent Viennese locales, from earliest local residences to a burial-place tombstone in southwestern Meidling’s 12th district (not far from Habsburg royalty’s Schloss Schönbrunn summer palace and gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site). Get the specifics by logging onto: www.wienfuerhrung.com.
For clients’ stayovers, several noteworthy Haydn-themed packages (available April 1-October 10) mix four-days’/three nights’ accommodations in selected, appealingly situated hotels with sightseeing itineraries. Two well-established companies promote the best choices. Compare rates and inclusive features at www.panoramatours.com and www.pegasus.at.
Prefer not being immersed in all-about-Haydn? Two commissionable packages—introduced last year, applicable through next October and booked at www.vienna.info, treat participants to fascinating citywide insights and numerous inclusive features. “Vienna Waits for You” (marketed by a consortium of leading Viennese incoming operators) provides the 72-hour Wien-Karte visitors’ card, Schönbrunn and Albertina art-museum visits and choice of two- or three-nights’ accommodation at 31 participating four-star hotels. From $222 per person. Or consider the less pricey but comparably feature-filled “Joie de Vivre Vienna” alternative for two overnights (choices based on three rate-structured hotel categories). From $154 per person.
Available throughout 2009, dinner and concert evenings in Schönbrunn’s candlelit Orangerie or Kaiserpavillon would add a sophisticated touch to any group-travel agenda. Period-costumed waitstaff and musicians (accompanying singers’ arias and duets) set the tone; from about $85 to $102 per person. Visit www.classic-concerts.at
Feasts for the Ears, Eyes and Heart
English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s 17th-century opera, Dido & Aeneas, makes its Austrian debut during this year’s Vienna Festival, a three-week offering of classical and contemporary music in addition to dance, theater and opera; May 8-June 14 (more at www.festwochen.at).
Visiting songsters rehearse with the Vienna’s Boys choir for the ninth annual World Choral Festival in the Musikverein, June 23-27. Then comes an International Youth & Music Festival, July 11-14. Also that month: the Vienna Jazz Festival, July 1-31 at various indoor-outdoor locations (www.viennajazz.com). Wien Modern music festivities concentrate on contemporary compositions, mainly played in the Konzerthaus (long-time “home hall” of the Vienna Symphony Orchestra), Oct. 28-Nov. 30 (www.wienmodern.at).
Four different kinds of open-air specials accentuate the midyear entertainment lineup. Schlosspark Theresianum (not far from Schloss Belevedere (below) in the Wieden district) becomes an under-the-stars setting for renditions of best-loved operettas. This season: July 10-August 16 (www.wieneroperettensommer.at). Scheduled for a free-admittance evening concert on June 4, Vienna Philharmonic musicians will travel crosstown-west to Schönbrunn Palace’s formal grounds.
Wintertime watering makes the Ringstrasse’s Rathauspark a sensationally popular Wiener Eistraum skating rink (Jan.-Feb.), with the town hall’s spotlit 224-ft. neo-Gothic tower looming high overhead. Since 1991, the same mid-city open space is used for each summer’s after-dark Music Film Festival— projecting cinema adaptations of operas, classical concerts and dancing favorites onto a giant screen; July 4-Sept. 6.
Looking ahead to the latter part of 2009, the city’s cheerful November-December Christmas Markets add twinkle-lighted sparkle to six locales. For what we regard as the best and most evocative of this Advent-season bunch, bring your clients to the illuminated frontage of Schönbrunn Palace, (below left) where they can browse for crafts and trinkets while listening to trumpet music (Nov. 21-Dec. 26).
On the Operetta and Operatic Scene
The Philharmonic, a cultural icon since its 1842 inaugural concerts, attracts audiences to the Musikverein’s acoustically fine-tuned Golden Hall. A few blocks from there, by way of ritzy Kärtnerstrasse’s pedestrian shopping corridor: simular world-class prestige for sumptuous Vienna State Opera productions. This year’s May lineup typifies Staatsoper-quality blockbusters—new stagings of four epic Wagnerian operas, plus Verdi’s La Traviata and Aida, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, Tchaikovsky’s lyrical Eugene Onegin (on three dates) and three performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (with The Magic Flute coming three times in June). That month’s program also features Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor and Tchaikovsky’s Anna Karenina ballet.
Contrast those admittedly highbrow niceties with the 25th annual Danube Island Festival (June 26-28 weekend this year). On bridge-connected recreational parkland covering a narrow 13-mile flood barrier indented by two sandy beaches, performers on 206 stages will treat upwards of three million revelers to 600 hours of hip-hop, jazz, rock, pop, country, blues, cabaret acts and Wienerlied sing-alongs. Same period for 2009’s Vienna Jazz Festival, at specified indoor-outdoor venues.
A significant visitor attraction since reopening in 2003, the Albertina’s (www.albertina.at) cultural pedigree dates from 1805, when a son-in-law of Maria Theresa—Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen—made this enlarged townhouse a showplace for his prized art collection. Now it contains the world’s biggest amassment of connoisseur-quality graphic art, amounting to more than 60,000 drawings and 1,500,000 prints created by Old Masters ranging from Dürer, Raphael, da Vinci and Rembrandt to Michelangelo, Rubens, Matisse and Cézanne. On view through June 21: a much-anticipated “Age of Rembrandt” exhibition features works by 60 of the artist’s lesser-known, but talented Dutch contemporaries.
Choice sections of the on-site Hapsburg state rooms can be booked for group functions—concerts, cocktail receptions, workshops, product presentations and 250-seat dinners combined with private tours of the galleries.
Noteworthy In-Town Accommodations
Recent newcomers expand hotel decision-making for your FIT and group clientele. The 186-room Steigenberger Herrenhof opened last December near the Hofburg palace complex. The five-star property replaces a 1918-era coffee house favored by the local literati (www.herrenhof-wien.steigenberger.at). In the “upper-five-star-boutique” niche, the six-story, absolutely elite Ring exemplifies casual luxury-hotel ambience, its 68 guest rooms and public spaces converted from an imposing 19th-century landmark adjacent to the Kärtner Ring roadway; www.theringhotel.com.
Inbound travelers seeking more budget-friendly accommodations should know about two decently appointed properties marketed by the Vienna International company. Its three-star, 175-room Senator opened last December on the accessible east side of Vienna; www.senator-hotel.at. In early April, the four-star Rainers popped up on a south-side neighborhood site, comprising 152 rooms, meeting facilities for up to 350 attendees and full-fledged fitness facilities; www.rainers-hotel.at.
The All-Purpose Vienna Card
FIT visitors have learned to appreciate the cost-saving advantages of the Wien-Karte, still a bargain at 18.50 Euros (about $24)—valid for substantial price reductions at more than three dozen museums, plus theaters, concert halls, selected shops and restaurants, even eight of north-outlying Grinzig’s traditional Heuriger wine taverns. Card holders also save money on guided tours and bicycle rentals, and they ride free on Viennese buses, streetcars and the U-Bahn subway system. Three-day cards available at most hotels as well as the Tourism Information Office–alongside the opera house at Albertinaplatz.
Traveling To and Inside Town
Fresh off its 50th anniversary last year, Austrian Airlines (www.austrian.com) operates round-trip nonstop flights between New York JFK (Terminal 1) and Vienna VIE also from/to Washington Dulles IAD, plus Toronto YYZ. Thanks to Star Alliance code-share partnership with United Airlines and US Airways, travelers have a wide choice of departure/return destinations throughout North America. Schwechat Airport’s international gateway is located southeast of the city center.
Extra-advantageous for FITs, the green double-decker City Airport Train (CAT) began its speedy 16-minute, 11-mile commutes from and to the airport six years ago. Fares: about $10 one-way, $19 roundtrip. Arriving passengers disembark at the Wien-Mitte station, directly across the northeast corner of Vienna’s centrally situated Stadtpark. A supplemental CAT CAB van service costs $30 for swift station-to-hotel transport. For details and online ticketing visit www.cityairporttrain.com.
Overseas, the Vienna Tourist Board provides an online destination guide, event manual and photo database, plus a handy search engine that eases the task of making client-pleasing hotel suggestions. Stay “in the know” by relying upon this website, tailored for the tourism industry: www.b2b.vienna.info. Meeting and convention planners are welcome to visit: www.vienna.convention.at.
For general information, call the Austrian Tourist Office in New York City, 212-944-6880; Chicago, 312-644-5556; Houston, 713-850-9999; Los Angeles, 310-477-3332; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.austriatourism.com and www.Vienna.info.
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH: Eva Draxler, Media Management for the Vienna Tourist Board
Find Yourself in ‘Melting Pot’ Vienna
By Maria Lisella
Vienna has always presented itself as a bastion of art, culture, amid the work of old masters. But Vienna is shaking off its mantle of being the elder sister in favor of more playfulness. For instance, until March 8, City Hall Square is transformed into a giant ice rink for ice-skating enthusiasts, which topples a staid image. JF met with Eva Draxler, Media Management for the Vienna Tourist Board over bagels and lox in the Big Apple for a preview and some insight into the new Vienna.
JF: Hip trends, new attractions, accommodations?
Vienna: Besides its magnificence and its Old World charm, which is really undisputed, Vienna caters to deviation, it is custom made to cater to special interest travelers, which is a great development as Vienna is now a top destination for food and wine lovers.
About 700 hectares of vineyards are located within a 30 minute tram ride from the city center, within the city limits and the wine culture is over 2000 years old. Vienna wines have started to win prizes and awards internationally in the last few years.
The Hotel Stadthalle, the first urban zero energy hotel will open in November. Upon completion there will be 38 new rooms spread over six floors – the first to the sixth floors will all meet passive house standards.
JF: Is the current dip in economics affecting Vienna?
Vienna: Of course, we cannot escape that but we feel those who have an affinity for Europe in the coming months, will find their way to Vienna and Europe in general. Luckily, our international convention and meeting businesses — from Nov.- March – takes place when leisure traffic is slower. According to the latest statistics published by ICCA (International Congress and Convention Association), in 2007 Vienna ranked in first place worldwide as an international congress destination. Vienna hosted 2,764 national and international congresses and corporate events with a total of 395,093 participants and 1,419,044 overnights, a sector that accounted for 14.7% of overnight stays in 2007.
According to economic surveys, the annual value-added generated by tourism in the core Vienna area amounts to more than 4 billion euros, which represents about 6% of Vienna’s gross regional product, and more than 15% of tourist value added for the whole of Austria.
JF: What is the big news for 2009?
Vienna: Events and commemorations will spotlight Austria-born composer Franz Joseph Haydn in venues ranging from the National Library, House of Music the Musikverein and Lichtenstein Palace plus Vienna’s own Haydn House, which reopened last year. The key to understanding Haydn’s new relevance is that a lot of his work was inspired by folk music from our neighbors such as Croatia, and this reflects Vienna’s emergence as as a melting pot of Central European creativity as there is an influx of neighbors and new arrivals from former Eastern European nations who are injecting an enormous new energy in the arts and in society in general. Young artists, however, are very aware of working under the shadow of the masters in Vienna and this can be intimidating to new musicians, but we have found ways to cherish the old with modern variations.
JF: Can you tell us about Vienna’s green tendencies?
Vienna: Our air is cleaner than ever, traffic is calmer, we have an efficient public transport system, our bike lanes are being enlarged, we have established bike stations all over the city so people can rent a bike for as little as one Euro per hour and drop them off at various stations and Vienna is on its way to becoming an old/new green city…we have always preserved our heritage and our Imperial buildings so the same sensibility is being applied to the entire city.
An odd but salient fact is that Vienna is home to 114 goats, fruit and vegetable grown within the city limits is guaranteed not to be genetically modified, and Vienna’s farmers produce 50,000 tons of vegetables per year and in theory, the city is able to supply its own demand for fresh vegetables and wine.
JF: How would this affect tourism per se?
Vienna: We are seeing a more reflective tourism and Vienna is the perfect starting point for this trend. Our geopolitical situation lends itself to capturing this market as the U.S. is still in a healing mode post- 9/11; presumably, this recent election will accelerate that trend while tourism lends itself to that role as well: “Find yourself in Vienna.”
JF: Are there new attractions agents for younger clients ?
Vienna: Design Week was created for local tourism to provide real experiences and not just an elite idea of visiting art in formal establishments but to create unusual marriages between let’s say an exhibit of clothespins displayed in an artful format, in an old-fashioned store that sells household goods thereby combining form with function and breaking down barriers between the world of art and our daily lives. The now classic designs by Hoffmann and others are still being produced by traditional businesses, but are now joined by refreshing new ideas from young artists.
Passion Paths are trails that locals can follow that mix old, well established retail stores with the new creativity of young people who might display their own avant-garde creations side by side with those clothespins in an old retail shop run by a Viennese lady.
Conversely, Austria’s largest disco is at the Riesenradplatz right in Vienna’s Prater. Every weekend the Prater Dome opens for night owls on two levels with four dance floors; 12 theme bars with music ranging from technotrance, R’n’B, and soul to the 70’s, 90’s, salsa and latino. A highlight is the midnight opening: a spectacular laser show.
JF: Is Vienna growing in popularity among U.S. visitors?
Vienna: We had a record year in 2008 with a 5.8% increase in overnights compared to 2007; the 6th record year in a row. As the “world capital of music,” Vienna offers the world-famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, three opera houses, two imperial palaces, 50 theatres, a hundred museums, 7,500 restaurants and cafés, 20,000 shops, and 390 hotels and pensions with around 50,200 beds in the high season, a formula to build on that popularity.