Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Clearly Not the Vienna I Knew!

I visited my BFF in Vienna, Austria for two weeks this past April. The trip was my first time back to Europe in five years and the first time in Vienna since my children were three and one years old. Nearly 26 years had passed and I didn't always have great memories of that time in my life.

I was a young American mother of two toddlers and Vienna was a very proper city with very proper Viennese people. It was a grown up city with old world charm where people dressed well even when they went to the market which used to be two times a day. Elderly ladies I didn't know often chastised me on the trams and buses in German for not dressing my children properly in summer, in the rain or for not putting hats on my children in the fall. I was learning German at the time, but it didn't matter--I knew I was being chastised!

Vienna hadn't been my favorite posting as a young Army wife. We were the first American Army family to live in the city,so we broke ground in many ways. Life was tough. We had one car which my husband took to work every day which left me with public transportation. Not an easy feat with a bulky stroller and two toddlers. My husband, two children and I lived in Vienna for three years and my mother's three month-long visits during that time kept me sane :) Life became easier during our third year as the children were older and when I could defend myself in German against the 'old lady brigade' on the trams. You'd best believe I learned to listen for the weather before leaving our house and dressed my children accordingly! Ha!



The historic city center of Vienna was the same as I'd remembered with the grand palaces, many Gothic and Baroque cathedrals and churches, and old world cafes. That hadn't changed a bit. Vienna is a beautiful, fascinating and clean city, no doubt about that. But as K and I descended the stairs to take the boat tour of the city, I was blown away by the fantastic street art I saw along both sides of the Danube River that runs through the city. What an unexpected surprise! I looked around half-expecting the graffiti police to run down with white wash in hand! There were some pieces that were clearly political and I'm sure they ruffle some city feathers, but for the most part, the graffiti was pleasing to the my artist's eye.

The Vienna I knew 26 years ago was not a city that would have smiled on or tolerated graffiti. I was almost giddy when K went to the ticket booth to buy our cruise tickets, I took a dozen photographs with a huge smile on my face. As an artist, I have a great appreciation for any form of artistic expression, but this took the cake! How had this freedom of expression happened and was it really tolerated?



I don't know when street art became accepted in Vienna, but it was great to see that the prim and proper city I remembered had relaxed. I love when modern and old come together. The past and the present. The result is often vibrant, alive and beautiful. The Viennese have always had a love and appreciation for art, music and culture as do I, but seeing this young form of expression really made me happy for a different reason--the city seemed to have evolved and changed with the times. Had the city embraced street art or had they tired of painting over it, I wondered!



Before the boat tour left the city area for the pastoral part of the cruise, K and I saw throngs of young people sunbathing along the river and enjoying the open air cafes. Young people everywhere waved at us as our boat passed by. I loved seeing the young clearly enjoying themselves among the graffiti--their personal art gallery. I had to chuckle. Had the Viennese powers that be, given the young Viennese their own area along the river? Had the agreement been to keep street art out of the city center and the communes of Vienna in exchange for the river area? Well, it worked for me and apparently, street art in Vienna is alive and well! I loved it and the rebel side of me cheered them on ;)


The weather was glorious that day. K and I had a great time sipping white wine spritzers along the Danube and taking photographs, but was it the best cruise we'd ever been on? Not really, but the street art made it special for me and spending time with K in her newly adopted city was awesome. Kudos to all the artists!


Peace and love,
Ellie

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