When most people think of Vienna, they imagine the city in its imperial heyday, a glittering capital of romance and gaiety, enchanting waltzes, luscious pastries, the operetta, and the Danube. No one conjures up these images of 19th-century Vienna more than Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-99) of "Blue Danube Waltz" fame.
As Vienna moves deeper into a new millennium, it's good to look back at its rich classical, culinary, and historical legacy to appreciate its present more deeply. The royal seat of the Habsburgs for 600 years, Vienna has always stood out as a center of art and music, as well as architecture.
As the capital of Austria, Vienna lives with its legacy. The little country was the birthplace of Mozart, Freud, Hitler, and the Wiener schnitzel.
In 2004, recognition came on two fronts: Elfriede Jelinek, the controversial writer, won the Nobel Prize for literature. On another front, Charles I, the last Habsburg to rule as emperor, was beatified by the pope.
Like the United States, the Austrian capital remains deeply polarized, and along similar lines. The establishment of the far-right Freedom Party in 2000 has brought Austria worldwide condemnation. In contrast, many citizens of Vienna, and Austria in general, are among the most liberal, advanced, well-informed, and tolerant on earth.
As one example of the more left-wing Austria, environmental awareness is on the rise. Recycling is more evident in Vienna than in any other European capital -- in fact, recycling bins are commonplace on the city's streets. The Viennese are often seen sorting their paper, plastic, and aluminum and steel cans.
Visitors today will find a newer and brighter Vienna, a city with more joie de vivre than it's had since before World War II. It's still the city where the music never stops. In spite of two world wars, much of the empire's glory and grandeur remain. Its treasures now stock the museums, and its palaces are open to visitors. Vienna has been called an "architectural waltz" -- baroque buildings, marble statues, lovely old squares, grand palaces, and famous concert halls are all still here, as if the empire were still flourishing.
Wolfgang Seipel, who waits tables in a local cafe, told us, "We have our guilt, the famous Viennese schizophrenia. We've condoned atrocities, and there have been some embarrassing Nazi revelations. If Freud were still with us, I'm sure he'd wear out a couch every month. But in spite of it all, Vienna still knows how to show you a hell of a good time."
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