Vienna for Design Lovers
By Justin Ocean
Shhh?it's a (open) secret: Br?no isn't really Austrian. There is no Funkyzeit Gay TV. But now that Sacha Baron Cohen has blazed a trail 'round the world for Austrian fashionistas, Out Traveler sets the record straight by taking a trip to Vienna to get a look at the design-o reality behind the satiric trickery. What we find is a surprisingly vibrant city for a capital of its size (pop: 1.7 million) and a haven for modern design lovers -- especially those of a queer bent. (No surprise, the city has a long and permissive gay history.) Pocketed between, and often within, its grand imperial trappings and ostentatious fa?ade, standout shops, restaurants, galleries and nightlife meld the old and the new, coupling tradition with a vivacious innovation that belies the city's quaint first impressions. It ain't all coffee houses and black-tie balls, though there's that, too, if you want it.
Thanks to Hitler's love of the city (he was Austrian, after all), Vienna's historical center still flaunts plenty of Imperial flair and nostalgic romanticism and largely survived WWII unscathed, except for a few squat anti-aircraft concrete pillboxes that remain part eyesore part history lesson.
Allied bombings instead hit about 30-percent of the outer city, mostly around the main-traffic artery called the G?rtel, a ring road that circumscribes the city and includes an elevated railway by starchitect of his day Otto Wagner. (Not to rest on its architectural laurels, Vienna now boasts buildings by five Pritzker Prize winners.)
Most everything you'll want to see -- aside from the glass-and-steel skyscrapers of the new town across the Danube -- is contained within the G?rtel and the Ringstra?e, a grand inner boulevard lined with fin de si?cle gems, a historicist building style combining gothic, baroque, classical and Renaissance styles with no small about of pomposity. Starting with District 1 centered on the massive cathedral in Stephansplatz and numbered to 23 radiating out like a conch shell (similar to Paris' arrondissements), most of the noteworthy museums and shops are in the first few districts and the 7th "design district" Spittelberg. Although imminently walkable, numerous trams, buses and subway trains -- not to mention public bike rental kiosks -- make movement easy for the weary.