|December 14, 2010
Today was our last full day in Vienna before heading to Salzburg tomorrow. We had a couple of things we still wanted to do and so that was where we started our day. I still hadn’t found my wedding ring so that wasn’t helping matters and it didn’t make me feel any better when I had to fork out for another day of travel passes, too!
Our first stop today was the catchy-titled Heeresgeschlichtes Museum, commonly called the HGM for obvious reasons but also known as the Military Museum. It was based in the old arsenal buildings on the edge of the city and the buildings themselves were very impressive. The museum was also massive and we found ourselves spending a lot longer here than we’d imagined and even after nearly 3 hours we’d not listened to a whole lot of the audio guide, being quite selective about which pieces we listened to. We’d have been here for a couple of days if we’d listened to all of it! We started off in a large hall containing a number of columns adorned with statues of Austria’s great leaders before heading up stairs to the main hall, the Hall of Fame. This room had four large frescoes around the ceiling depicting various battles fought and won by the Austrian empire, conveniently forgetting defeats in between! The first main exhibit room was about Austria and Europe in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. One of the main things here was about the marriage of Napoleon to Marie Louise, an archduchess of Austria. At the time Napoleon was running all over Europe, or at least trying to, and this relationship which first bonded France and Austria eventually caused something of a rift. This rift ran so deep that their only son, who eventually became Napoleon II, ended up having to live his life in Austria and rarely saw his father. His title in Austria was the Duke of Reichstadt (a title made up for him) but he died of tuberculosis at the age of 21 so he had little time to better his father’s legacy. Having gone into the wrong room first, we “continued” into the details about the 17th and early 18th Centuries. Here there were lots of old army uniforms and weapons including a couple of cannons. One of these cannons was responsible for over 2,000 Turkish deaths during one war after a shell “accidentally” hit a Turkish gunpowder store! The final room on the upper floor was about Empress Maria Theresia. I don’t know a whole lot about her reign but I was amazed by some of the medals handed out during her reign to various officers in her armies. However, it was interesting to read that none of these officers actually got to keep their medals as after their death they were required to be returned to the state. It seemed you could be rewarded for your efforts but only in your lifetime.
The lower floor contained more recent history and started with a display showing articles relating to the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 in Sarajevo. Amongst the exhibits here were the car he was in when he was shot, the uniform he wore (complete with bullet-hole near the neck and red blood stains) and the chaise longue on which he was pronounced dead. It was really interesting to see these pieces which the Austrians recovered from Sarajevo and placed on display within 6 months in a museum for all to see. Given this was the cause of the First World War it was surprising that it went on display so quickly but I guess it was a good propaganda tool, too. The remainder of the lower floor told the story of WWI and WWII and the years in between as well as a small section on the Austrian Navy – I guess this section would be small for a land-locked country!
By the time we left the museum the weather had considerably changed. It was cold this morning but it had been dry but by the time we left the snow had started to fall and settle and it was fairly blustery as we headed to our next stop. We didn’t know if we’d have time for lunch or what there was around this area so we had planned ahead and bought a couple of pastries to tide us over until later in the afternoon and we ate those as we walked. Thankfully, the next site was very close and this was the palaces of the Belvedere, of which both the Upper and Lower buildings are home to art museums but it was just the Upper Belvedere that we (Elizabeth!) was interested in. This building houses the largest collection of works by Gustav Klimt anywhere in the world and Elizabeth was quite excited about seeing some of his better known works. We started off walking around the main galleries and there was a lot of portraits and landscapes and yawning until we at least found a room full of impressionist art and some Monet’s and Manet’s and a van Gogh. The highlight up until this point was an Asian girl waving her arms hysterically at a painting of Napoleon. Maybe she thought Bonaparte had a different meaning. We didn’t have long to wait though as through the next door we found the majority of the Klimt paintings. There had been a couple in the room before but this room housed 9 or 10 other works including his well known works “Judith” and “The Kiss”. I say “well known” but I would understand if you didn’t have a clue what I was talking about as quite frankly I wouldn’t have known who these paintings were by a year ago, let alone known who had painted them. I guess you call that educayshon. Anyway, Elizabeth was suitably excited and I was suitably under-awed. The fact that I didn’t like his work very much prior to coming here was almost overtaken by the blandness and, well, lack of style or structure in most of his other works. His famous paintings using the gaudy gold were done around 1906-7 but the museum had a series of simple landscapes from around 1911-12 which were just plain. You imagine that most artists develop a style and experiment more as they become more famous but it seemed like Klimt regressed. Maybe he thought doing more “normal” works would sell better and make him more money? Maybe his gold extravaganzas had made him rich and famous so he thought he could produce and sell any old rubbish? Who knows? Not me; not enough to care and research that’s for sure! His works from 1918 were quite interesting but more so for the fact they coincided with his death and were unfinished. They certainly appeared to have a bit more substance than most of his works from that decade. The rest of the gallery was pretty much as you’d expect with a load of baroque, gaudy religious paintings accompanying the so-called masterpieces. If you can’t tell, I’m becoming weary of art museums and am struggling to understand how some of these pieces can be bought and sold for millions of dollars. I have the same argument with sports players, too, but I’ve yet to lose interest in that!
Coming out of the Upper Belvedere we were greeted by a snow covered lawn with most of the bushes hidden by the snow. We had to walk to the other end of the lawn so we decided to ignore the warning signs barring our way and trod our own footsteps through the snowy gardens until we reached the Lower Belvedere. We weren’t planning on going in the building to see the exhibits here but we were planning on trying the beers in the attached brewhouse! By this time we were really hungry too, our pastries barely denting our appetites. We were a little early for happy hour beers so we ordered a small beer each (lager for me, wheat beer for Elizabeth) to accompany our Viennese sausage and mustard. By the time we had finished our food happy hour had started and so this time we ordered a large beer (Märzen red beer for me, mixed light and dark for Elizabeth) and all for half the price. It was even cheaper than happy hour beers at the hostel!