This is an essay I wrote for a writing competition in 2019, based on my first experience in Vienna. I hold it near and dear to my heart and hope you enjoy it as a little divergence from the articles usually published on this blog.
The landscape shifts indistinctively as the train approaches Vienna. I have been glued to this chair with random thoughts for too long. I am not hungry or tired, nor am I in the mood for a cigarette or my book. I will go do the interview and return in time for a pleasantly uneventful weekend in my charming Bremen suburb I love.
The biting wind pierces through and I forget to smoke when I make my way into the taxi and then the hotel room. It’s slightly overheated and comfortable and there’ll be a decent breakfast tomorrow before the interview and that’s that.
After the interview, I find myself with plenty of time to kill as I’m still puzzled at how remarkably smooth and short the talks were. A numb indifference at the outcome leaves me wondering whether I should bother to go for more than the quick tour, a coffee, and a schnitzel.
“There’s a tram leaving soon and I’m supposed to show you around,” he says as he joins me outside, in the clean silence of the Viennese afternoon.
The hushed tones and respectful distances on the tram ride make me almost uncomfortable. “The entire city feels like a damn library” he smiles warmly, while black curls frame the sincerest hazel eyes.
There’s that and then the airy grandeur of the Ring Strasse. Paris and London are incomprehensible for the visitor because of their mere size, while Florence and Venice arouse museum-like claustrophobia. It just happens that they got the sizes right in Vienna, so it’s all becoming real by the time we passed the elegant monotones of the State Opera and reached the Heroes’ Esplanade. Frozen alongside two equestrian statues, the wide square is rather intimidating, with echoes of the long-gone imperial past and not so distant Anschluss reverberating through.
My guide mentions there’s an ice rink in front of the Town Hall that reminds him of Harry Potter, but I’d like to stick with the quick tour and reality for a second longer and walk through to the pedestrian area. There’s a free organ concert in one of the churches, a vendor with roasted chestnuts and mulled wine, people in suits enjoying their Viennese sausages at a street stand, families on their evening walk, and a charming sarcastic aloofness to the waiter that serves us coffee.
Outside the coffee house, I can hear the sound of my own steps in the hopeful spring breeze as I walk in the tracks of Mozart and Beethoven played by a flute on Graben and a blind tenor on Saint Stephen’s Square.
“I need to keep one euro for the music in my pocket,” I tell myself and I’m startled at the natural flow of the thought – I don’t even live here. Yet. Maybe?
My host is affable and friendly and while I’m normally not the social type, his chit-chat does not obscure my train of thought. I’m rather more anchored to myself as we converse along; alive and a tad drunk on the sentiment is how I feel and ice skating does not sound like a bad idea after all.
Dinner is at a French bistro where the chef is Greek and the waiter is Canadian and we discuss Turkish foreign policy with a few of his friends while savoring grilled goat cheese salads, mussels, and a white Bordeaux.
There’s going to be brunch at a newly open Levantine on Sunday and a jazz evening tomorrow, and maybe they’ll take me for a walk in the Prater or the Schönbrunn gardens, depending on the weather. I don’t remember having agreed to any of this, but I don’t question it either, since it’s real and right and I haven’t touched a cigarette in more than 24 hours. It seems rather fitting to end the day with cocktails at the Museum of Contemporary Art on the way back to the hotel while, strangely, my only concern is to wake up in time to wave my train goodbye in the morning.