In Kraków – back again for a short visit and a Fondue with friends

Also this year I am flying to Kraków, just for two days. I want to see my friends and share a cheese fondue with them. I also intend to visit some of my favorite places.


Friday morning – 4 am – this IS early

The alarm clock wakes me up at 4am. This IS early. The taxi driver talks about the philosophy of the Dervishes and about how much he wished tolerance between religions in this world – he is from Konya. I agree with him.

Shortly after 9 am my plane lands in Kraków airport. The new airport is now in use – there is much space and all is modern. Perhaps Berlin should come and learn from the Krakówians, how to complete building an airport… An hour later I am already in the city center.


The yoghurt with nuts and honey in the Magia Coffee Bar strengthens me

The Magia is one of my favorite coffee bars in Kraków. The internet welcomes me immediately. I am hungry and order the yoghurt with nuts and honey – delicious as always. I feel better after my early flight.



The Christmas market on the Rynek

The Christmas market is busy. The Krakówians have set up a colorful Christmas tree in front of St. Mary’s cathedral.


The weather must have been very windy – some of the angels are hanging heads down.


I stroll amidst tourists. The dragon or smok of Kraków is omnipresent, in all colors. I did not know that dragons can be black and pink and even purple as well… are dragons not green “in reality”?


It is chilly and I take a Zurek (a sour rye flour soup) to warm me up.



Saying hello to some of my favorite places in Stare Miasto

I enter St. Mary’s Church for a short moment of reflection, slender through the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall from Renaissance times) and sadly look at the tower that remained from the old 14th century townhall (Ferdinand of Vienna and Habsburg, why did you destroy this town hall in 1820?). I move on to the old university of 1364 (Collegium Maius). Then I stop in the solemnity of the gothic Franciscan church and admire the gorgeous modern art window “Become” by Wyspianski.


The baroque Peter and Paul Church is being renovated. There is a youth choir festival in Kraków and young groups are singing in this church.


The romanesque Saint Andrews Church is next to St. Peter and Paul’s church.



Continuing to Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter

Walking by the Wawel castle I enter Kazimierz, the former Jewish city. I reflect woefully what I had read in my faithful guide book, when eating my yoghurt with nuts this morning: Former Kraków was a tolerant city. Christians (from catholic and orthodox belief), Muslims and Jews lived together peacefully, and later, also protestants joined. Poland guaranteed the freedom of belief in 1573 (Source: M. Niedzielska and Jan Szurmant:”Krakau”, Michael Müller Verlag 2011). Then in 1697, a hundred years later, August the Strong from Saxony converted to catholism, when he was elected king of Poland. Today we perceive Poland as being a Roman catholic country. And here in Kazimierz I am reminded of what has happened to the Jewish community in the 1930s and 1940s. I always feel guilty for that.

Today, I discover Jewish life again: The Kupa Synagogue has been reopened, and visitors are invited. I have never been in a synagogue before and enter respectfully.


This is the view from the second floor where the women pray.


There is a photo exhibition here. I am impressd by this statement:


I wish we would find back to tolerance –  as wished my taxi driver from Konya early this morning. Happily I say good-bye to this small synagogue that I hope will be another sustainable start for tolerance, not only in Poland, but also in this world. And I do hope that especially Poland might find back to its earlier roots, when people with various religions and from various countries lived together here. And when it was a center of European culture and education.


Tea in the Czajowina and a walk along the Wisla

It is chilly and I need to warm up again. I have an Assam tea in the cosy Czajowina in Józefa street. There are so many cosy coffee and tea places in Kraków and this is one of my favorite.


At four pm it is already dark. I walk down to the Wisla and follow it. The white Stanislaus church on the rock shines in the dark.


I walk around the Wawel hill to catch up with Kanonicza street. This morning I had also learnt that the last years of the golden age of Kraków happened during Renaissance and that king Sigismund I had taken his wife from the Sforza family in Milano. She hired Italian architects and consequently the Kanonicza street with its Renaissance palaces could be located in Italy, but no, we are in Kraków right now.


The history of towns is present in their architecture, and I always discover more of the history of Kraków, when I return.

With Radek, I close the day in the Sushi restaurant Zen near the Rynek. We have not seen one another for a year, there is a lot to chat. I look forward to another day in Kraków and our fondue evening.



To the north of Vienna – Grinzing, Altenberg and Neuburg

It is a rainy October day in and around Vienna. Our friends take the car out of the narrow, narrow garage and drive north of Vienna to the hills of the Wienerwald and the wetlands of the Danube.


Grinzing – THE tourist place for Heurigen

This is a quick impression of Grinzing located north of Vienna. It is THE tourist place for “Heurigen” (taverns that serve new wine). The Trummelhof is their most traditional tavern – its roots go back to the times of the House of Babenberg around 1150.



Altenberg and the wetlands of the Danube – the home of excellent scientists

We continue our way to Altenberg where my friends have family roots. They were neighbors of Konrad Lorenz that here, in the wetlands of the Danube, studied geese, crows and dogs (he owned a mixture of chow and shepherd). My gift drawer always contains his book “So kam der Mensch auf den Hund” (“Man meets Dog”). Another of their neighbors was Karl Popper – his thoughts about conjectures and refutations (Verifikation und Falsifikation) had shaped my critical mind about statistical analysis and making hypotheses. And all these achievements had their foundation in this small village of Altenberg north of Vienna.


The Wienerwald with Lourdes

The hills north of Vienna are called “Wienerwald”. Wienerwald? When I was young, this was the name of a chain of restaurants that provided poultry with french fries – often in baskets. Now I see, this is also the name of the hills north of Vienna. From here the Polish king Sobieski attacked and defeated the Turks in 1683, when they besieged Vienna.

In the hills there is a pilgrimage place called Lourdes (pronounced Lurd-e-s). The Granma of the cousin of my friends had donated the land to set up the pilgrimage, though being protestant. Today we are alone here in the pouring rain. We find the guard in his small wooden house near the site and buy a map. He is surprised to see guests on this rainy day.


Nearby we escape the rain in the restaurant Waldhaus (there are even rain drops on my optical lens).


We sit down in the cosy room. I  have roasted pork with Serviettenknödel. I learn that for “Serviettenknödel” you roll up the paste in a napkin (Serviette) and then cut pieces from the resulting “snake”. My meal was solid, but tasty. With it we drink “Sturm”. This is freshly fermented raisin juice – and when it becomes available in Vienna, they announce it as “Sturm-Alarm” (“storm alarm”).


Kloster Stift Neuburg – Monastery and Wine Cellar

After our tasty and solid meal we stop in Neuburg on a rocky hill above the Danube.  The margraves and dukes of Babenberg are still very present here. Hotels and restaurants are called after them. The Babenbergs had died out in the 13th century – then the Habsburgians took over in Austria.

The Babenbergs founded the monastery  Kloster Stift Neuburg in the 12th century. It was an Augustinian monastery for women.


The church inside is baroque.


We visit the wine production and the caves that go down 35m in the rock to reach the level of the Danube. The walls are 10m thick, with a gap that allows the air to circulate and keep the cellar dry. The oldest wine bottle stored here is from 1938. Also the museums of Vienna use the excellent climate of the cellars to store material in it.


I learn about the Austrian white grapes called Rotgipfler  and Zierfandler. This is an assemblage of the two.


I buy some St.Laurent, a Pinot Noir that made a gold medal and Patronis, which is dedicated to Leopold and Agnes, the founders of the monastery.

There is a legend related to the foundation of the monastery. When Margrave Leopold III of Babenberg married Agnes von Waiblingen, a sudden windswept carried away the veil of Agnes. Nine years later Leopold found the veil in the forest on an elder bush – undamaged. He decided that this must be a sign of Heaven telling him to build the monastery here – and he founded this monastery – Kloster Stift Neuburg. The plate at the entrance to the wine cellar illustrates the legend.



Culture in the evening: Tschaikowskij in the Musikverein

We finish off the day in the Musikverein (Grosser Saal). Vladimir Fedosejev directs the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. He is 84 years old and vital. The orchestra plays Tschaikowskij. Andrei Korobeinikovs (born in 1986) plays the piano in the b-Moll-piano concert. The young pianist makes a great impression on me. The comment about this Russian evening is enthusiastic. Thank you for this.

Vienna – visiting some churches

Let us visit some of the churches in Vienna (see Feliz Czeike: “Wien. Kunst, Kultur und Geschichte der Donaumetropole”, Dumont 2013) .

The best known church is the Stephansdom or St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It dominates the skyline of the city center – this is the view from the Softel tower.


Its construction lasted from 1230 (romanesque style – west facade) to 1523 (gothic style). The tower – 136m high and called “Steffl” – was useful to observe the Turks, when they attacked Vienna in 1529 and 1683.

The oldest church in today’s Vienna is the romanesque Ruprechtskirche near the Danube Channel. It is assumed that part of it was built around 825 during Carolingian times (Dumont, p. 170).


Not far from here we find the gothic church Maria am Gestade or St. Mary’s on the Bank from the 14th century, squeezed into the narrow streets of the city center, but well visible for the former mariners on the Danube. Today this church is used by the Czeks in Vienna.


Near the Hofburg, we visit the gothic Minoritenkirche or Minorites Church today used by the Italians in Vienna. The original tower had been destroyed in 1683 and then topped with this flat roof. The sacistry house was added in 1909 – from outside the Minoriten church does almost not look like a church.


I like the solemn atmosphere inside and particularly this statue of Maria (Madonna della famiglia from ca 1350)


The main chapel of the imperial Hofburg had to fit into the narrow streets around the castle.


Many of the churches in Vienna are of baroque style. In the city center we visit the church that the Jesuits had built from 1623 – 27, next to their university.


Inside the church has been opulently decorated.


South of the old city walls is the Karlskirche or St. Charles’s Church (erected by Charles VI in 1716-1737 and dedicated to Charles Borromeo). The two towers remind me of minarets (apologies, and yes, I read in Dumont that they remind us of Roman victory columns and that they show the life of Saint Borromeo (Dumont, p. 244)).


Charles Borromeo was a counter-reformer in the 16th century. The cupola is 72m high and can be accessed using a lift (and paying 8 Euros). Up there we find this painting of Luther going to hell and an angel burning his bible. Dramatic scenery.


Well, in 2017 Germany will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther having posted his 95 theses in 1517. Luther’s heritage has persisted longer than this painting may have suggested.

With the Karlskirche we end our church tour through Vienna, leaving more churches for our next visit – “my” Dumont recommends particularly the Augustinerkirche (Augustinian church) and the Michaelerkirche (St. Michael’s church).


Vienna – a day in the museums quarter learning about Vienna architecture and the Secession

Maria-Theresia was the brave empress of Austria who had married Franz of Lothringen and given birth to 16 children while ruling over Austria in the 18th century. Her monument stands across the Hofburg and outside of the old town wall which is now the busy city ring. We say hello to her. Behind her back we enter the museums quarter. Wikipedia says it is “the eighth largest cultural area in the world”. So many museums – we do not know where to start!


The museums quarter is an impressive combination of historic and modern buildings.



The Architekturzentrum – well curated overview of Vienna’s architecture in the 20th/21st centuries

Then we make a deicision. We want to learn more about architecture in Vienna and enter the architecture center (Architekturzentrum) that shows the evolution of Vienna’s architecture in the 20th and 21st century. Otto Wagner, professor of architecture and member of the Vienna Secession, was the predominant architect of Vienna around 1900. This is his S-Bahn (Rapid Train) station at Karlsplatz (“real” foto taken at night).


He is famous for many buildings, including some villas and the Postal Office Savings Bank.

After 1918 a social construction movement lead to houses for the working class being constructed. This is the museum display of the Karl Marx Hof, the longest single residential building of the world.  Karl Marx stands in front of the building that bears his name. The appartments comprise about 40m2 for families. It was the years of “Red Vienna” that lasted until 1934.


At the same time there was an initiative towards “functional housing” (Wohnmaschinen). Margarete Lihotzki invented a kitchen that maximized comfort and equipment while minimizing space. This reminds me of Taylor who studied the work flow to optimize industrial production. Lihotzki’s kitchen is the predecessor of our modern built-in kitchens. The kitchenette looks like a laboratory and everything needed is within convenient reach.


In the Second World War Austria had to join Germany. Later Vienna had to be protected in the air raids. Three complexes of huge bunkers remain from that time – and with their thick concrete walls they cannot be blown up now.


So they keep shaping the city line. These are the northern bunkers seen from the Softel tower.


After the Second World War there is another wave of construction to create room for living that was scarce, as one fourth of the houses had been destroyed by bombings. These community buildings are omnipresent. A very visible though excentric proponent of the architecture after 1945 was Friedrich Hundertwasser (born “Stowasser”; “sto” = hundred in slawic languages). This is the “House of Hundertwasser” near the Donau Channel that we visited later – together with lots of tourists from all over the world.


From the metro we always see his garbage incineration – adding color to the grey concrete of  an industrial area.


I illustrate the latest modern architecture with this view from the bar of the Softel Tower – the Danube channel is reflecting in the glass wall.


The Architekturzentrum gives a well curated architecture overview. Along the wall there is a timeline that shows what has happened in the world – to add some background information to the construction activities of the 20th/21st centuries .


The Leopoldmuseum –  fascinating displays from the times of the Vienna Secession, modern art and exhibitionism

After a quick lunch in the museum bistrot we head for the Leopold Museum with its collection of paintings and artefacts of the Vienna Secession and Modern Art (Jugendstil) as well as the transition to Exhibitionist style.

The Vienna Secession was founded in 1897 by a group of artists that wanted to move away from the historian architecture style that had prevailed so far. Their first president was Gustav Klimt (his most famous painting is “the kiss“).

For their exhibitions they built this “temple” with the inscription “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit” (meaning: To every age its art. To every art its freedom). Later the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna’s Workshops) were founded for the production of their artefacts designed such as furnishings and even hats.


The Leopold exihibition starts with the windows that Kolo Moser had designed for the Church am Steinhof. Kolo Moser was one of the most influential members of the Secession.


On display are also works designed and produced by the Vienna Workshops. This chair with the flexible back has been designed by Josef Hoffmann. He calls it “sit engine” (Sitzmaschine). My grandpa loved his sit engine – it was much more massive with its leather upholstery, but now I learn, it was the design made by Hoffmann.


The green liquor bottle by Joseph Maria Olbrich was used for flowers in the household of my parents. I grew up with it and now I find it again in the Leopold Museum. Unfortunately I do not know, where our “vase” has gone.


From the painters I am particularly impressed by Richard Gerstl. He was supported by Arnold Schönberg, but then fell in love with his wife and eventually committed suicide.

Egon Schiele I already knew from the Beyeler museum where they had shown his paintings of women that I do not feel fully comfortable with. Now I discover he also produced powerful expressionist paintings of landscapes and towns. Schiele died from the Spanish flue in 1918 – he was 28 years old then.


Also young Oskar Kokoschka was member of the Secession. This is a paiting of “The Croci” in the Dolomites.


In the museum shop I buy the book “Wien 1900” which gives an excellent overview of the time, the Secession movement, the Vienna Workshops and also the general atmosphere in the society that found their expression in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytics and in the poems of Georg Trakl. Europe is at the verge of World War One. The Secession  artists made a great impression on me. Four of their most important artists died in 1918: Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser and Egon Schiele, while Kokoschka left Vienna to move to Dresden to become part of the Bauhaus movement.


Vienna and the charm of their humor and of the Austrian language

In Vienna I fell in love with the charm of the Austrian humor and of the Austrian flavor of German.

The city tries to avoid dog’s mucks on the pavement. This rhyme only works in Austria.


The dog says: “Take a small sack for my small ….”

In the metro, dogs are only allowed on the leash and with the muzzle, as this nice little sketch clearly illustrates. Note that in Austrian, a muzzle is a “Beisskorb” which means it is a “basket for biting” (hopefully preventing the dog from doing that). In Switzerland we call it a “Maulkorb” indicating that this is just a “basket” for the “muzzle”.


The #echtshopper initiative wants to support the shops in Vienna – and suggests that you go to the “real” shops returning home with a “chic bag” (“chices Sackerl”) instead of buying online and receiving a “brown parcel” (“braunes Packerl” that comes by post). “Sackerl” and “Packerl” – a nice rhyme that no one can resist to, I assume. I do wish Vienna many buyers in their shops.


People from Basel – my town – are called “Basler Bebbi”. In Vienna I come across the “Leberkas-Pepi”. This “Pepi” (resembling our “Bebbi”) provides meat loaf (Leberkas or Leberkäse).


On the Naschmarkt I found the “Zum Gockelhahn”. Literally “Gockelhahn”  translates to “Cockcock”, because “Gockel” means “cock” and “Hahn” also means “cock”. It is two words for the same, combined to one word which makes it all clear that this shop sells products made from cocks, right?


The “Würstelstand” (stand for little sausages) also offers Pizza, Falafel and Kebab – Vienna is international – including the “Würstel” or “small sausage”.


The bakery of the discounter Billa is inventive.  They say: “The bread is fresh from the oven. Honestly.” Well, not exactly… Billa plays with the word “honestly” – in German: “Ehrenwort” (literally “honest word”). Instead of “Ehrenwort” (“honest word”), Billa writes “Ährenwort” or “spike word” (“spike”= Ähre) and, if you speak that out loudly, it also sounds like “Ehrenwort”, but alludes to the ingredients of the bread. This is a punch that only works in German and it was invented in Austria. I have to admit, the Billa bread was delicious, honestly or – excuse me – Ähren-/Ehrenwort.


In Vienna even ATMs have an imperial touch, as the sign for this “Geldautomat” or “money engine” shows.


Yes, Vienna’s humor and their flavour of German have a special charm, do you agree?

Vienna – the Center of Europe: A mighty emperor and his noble entourage

My Austrian friends that have shown me so much around my own home town, Basel, are now taking me to Austria. Under their knowledgeable guidance I set out to discover Vienna.


My “old” perception of Vienna as a peripheral town – and now I understand why the Turks attacked Vienna twice – this would have been strategic for conquering Europe

Somewhat Vienna had always been peripheral in my perception: It was located close to the Eastern border of a small country – Austria – and this border in addition was the impermeable Iron Curtain until 1989. Though I knew that Vienna was the main seat of the Habsburgians that we, the Swiss, fought against in the 13th, 14th and 15th century – a long time ago. Though I knew that the Habsburgians provided emperors  to the German Holy Empire for about 400 years. Though I knew that in today’s Vienna you find famous theatres, opera houses and museums, white dancing horses and famous coffee houses selling “heavy” sweets. And – yes – though I knew this joke about Crown Prince Otto von Habsburg who is accredited of having said: “A football match Austria-Hungary – interesting – and who is the opponent?”.

Yes, I know that Vienna must have played an important part in history, but nevertheless during my lifetime it was the rather peripheral capital of Austria, a country not much larger than Switzerland.

Now I understand better. It becomes obvious when seeing the historical center of Vienna. The Habsburgians resided in the Hofburg which is a huge castle that has grown over the centuries and that is the ostentatious manifestation of imperial power. Around the Hofburg I discover a cluster of luxurious baroque styled palaces that the noblemen built to be close to the imperial center of power. The streets here are narrow, but not as narrow as in the medieval centers of towns such as in my home town Basel. I immediately fall in love with the charm of the Vienna city center (or district one)with its palaces, coffee places and k&k court providers (k&k Hoflieferanten).

The Turks knew, how important Vienna was as a gate to Christian Europe and attacked it twice, in 1529 (they gave up, when the winter started) and in 1683 (they were defeated by an allied army led by King Sobieski from Poland). Austria was then able to expand gaining possessions from the Ottomans (also thanks to Prince Eugen of Savoy) and Eastern Europe (Galicia). It became one of the European Great Powers – still continuing to provide emperors to the Holy German Empire until 1806. They continued to be the emperor of Austria and the king of Hungary (k&k stands for Kaiser – emperor and König – king). However after having lost the battle of Königsgrätz in 1866, the Austrian emperor never became emperor of the new German Nation now excluding Austria. Instead it was Wilhelm II from the Prussian family of Hohenzollern who took over and became the last emperor of Germany.

After the Second World War, Vienna became this city close to the Iron Curtain, now cut off from their former hinterland. Today the international flavour is back in Vienna and we hear al lot of slawic languages and also Hungarian.

Yes, I immediately fall in love with the charm of this city center with the castle, its palaces, coffee places and k&k court providers. Let us stroll through the district one.


The imperial Hofburg of Vienna is celebrating the “eternal emperor” Franz Josef I

The “eternal emperor” with his characteristic  sideburns is now omnipresent in the Hofburg, as it has been a hundred years ago that he died after having reigned for almost 70 years.


The neighboring Albertina is named after Duke Albert of Saxen-Teschen. We visit the luxury rooms (Prunksäle) – and they are luxurious, indeed.


Emperor Franz-Josef hated that servants permanently followed him to ask, whether he wants to drop this or that – he just invented “silent servants” and dropped this or that on them. Very practical.


Amongst Albert’s private collection I find the “Hare” by Albrecht Dürer. I have grown up with a copy of this hare – great to see the original. You can see every single hair of his fur and almost would love to take one of them with you as a souvenir.


The Albertina in addition hosts an exhibition from pointillists to impressionists and also Picasso. Well curated and well worth a visit.

In the imperial library I almost get lost: So many books and ladders leading to the tops of the shelves!


The library hosts an exhibition about the life and reign of emperor Franz-Josef. He was a handsome young man who had to take over the empire at the age of 17. He married Sissi – a dream couple at the time. But he lost her and his son, the crown prince – very sad. He loved nature and I like this portrait of him hunting.



The lush palaces around the Hofburg

It is great to stroll through the narrow streets around the Hofburg and see all the palaces of the noblemen that wanted to be close to the center of power. Some of the palaces are reflecting in the glass facades of more modern buildings.


We visit the Kinsky palace. This is the gate…


… and the decoration inside.



The Kinsky palace hosts auction exhibitions.

Located on a hill outside the very city center we visit the Castle Belvedere. It is the palace of Prince Eugen who around 1700 fought many victorious battles for the Austrian emperors, also against the Turks. Inside the upper palace there are exhibitions of sacral art, of impressionists and – also here – portraits of emperor Franz-Josef. The pond is covered with life jackets installed by the Chinese artist Wai-wai.


Prince Eugen has selected a beautiful place for his Belvedere – the view of Vienna is great, indeed, with the Stephansdom and the Kahlenberg.


The lower palace Belvedere is reflecting in the pond.



Culture and K.u.K. court providers

Around the Hofburg are theatres (famous is the Burgtheater) and opera houses – the name of Franz-Josef is again omnipresent.


The imperial court was an economic factor as it needed many services such as tailors, butchers, this K.u.K. Court Barber…


… or the famous K.u.K. Hofzuckerbäckerei or Chocolate Provider Demel – his chocolate looks enticing.


Note that in Vienna the puff paste around Apfelstrudel is almost inexistent – it is very, very thin – Demel knows how to prepare it.


There are so many cosy coffe places in the city. This one of them, Griensteidl.



Where the citizens live

The “normal” citizens live outside the former city walls – and, when wealthy, they live in huge appartments. This is such a house – and they have added a modern apartment on top.




In summer, the emperors, noblemen and wealthy citizens loved to stay in the mountains and at the lakes. This habit is called “Sommerfrische”. Well – you can really refresh yourself at places like this – the Mondsee near Salzburg.