Vienna is a complex city to describe. It is entrenched in the legacy of the historic Austro-Hungarian Empire that dominated Europe for nearly 100 years, yet also a modern metropolis ensuring that a space is carved out for it in the 21st-century world. It celebrates its heritage, hence the 100 museums and 4 opera houses that remain open to this day, whilst retaining its character as a dynamic, young city eager to advance.
I was lucky enough to be invited to spend the weekend there celebrating 150 years of the Vienna World Fair.
The History of the Vienna World Fair
I was here to find out more about the Vienna World Fair which will celebrate 150 years since it first began on 1st May 1873. Back then, Vienna was the 4th largest city in the world and the fair a means for the city to evolve into a truly global capital.
The road to the 1873 World Fair was rocky. After a mass cholera epidemic that saw the demise of a major chunk of the Austrian population and nearly consistent warring against other European super powers, the fair was anticipated as a welcome relief. Unfortunately, it got off to a rather bumpy start, with the grand opening coinciding with heavy flooding of Vienna’s Prater Park as well as a minor cholera outbreak and a huge stock market crash – causing investors to lose the bulk of their money. Worse was to come. Rather than the 20 million expected, only 7.3 million visitors ended up attending the exposition by its closure on November 2, 1873. The World’s Fair tore a gigantic hole in the state’s finances. But in spite of its financial downsides, the World’s Fair was here to stay.
The World Fair
150 years later, the Austrian capital reflects on this event that transformed Vienna into a truly global city. From numerous exhibitions at famous Viennese museums, here is a glimpse of the spectacular that can be expected:
A E Kochert Jewellery – This infamous establishment served the Austrian monarchy for over four generations, including providing Empress Elisabeth with one of the most famous sets of jewellery to emerge from Austria – “Sisi’s Stars”. The Empress owned 27 diamond stars which could be worn interchangeably, though most famously wore them embedded throughout her floor length hair. The original design has been revived in commemoration of one of the most famous European monarchs, as well as the shop (of which the interior has remained the same for the past 200 years) is opening its doors and inviting the public in to view their original designs.
200 Years of Lobmeyr (presented by the Museum of Applied Arts) – From collaborating with Thomas Eddison to create the first electric chandelier in Europe at the time, to crafting the highly esteemed lighting feature integral to New York’s Metropolitan Opera – Lobmeyr is a world-renowned corporation that will display its most valued pieces of art.
The museum will also be offering its 1900 rooms and its artefacts; paying particular focus to the influence of Oriental design on the Austrian art industry, in an echo of the 1873 World Fair where Japanese artwork was presented to this part of Europe for the first time, Japan having only opened its doors to the rest of the world during the 1860s.
Women at Work – Vienna Museum of Science and Technology will be doing a ‘Women at Work’ exhibition in commemoration of the Women’s Pavillion of the original World Fair. Atypically, the pavilion showcased female professions pursued by the lower social classes, including the industrial labour that they carried out, and went down in history as one of the event’s most significant presentations. The exhibition, which opened on the 3rd of May, was curated by 3 women with a drive to refute the male-dominated way of writing history.
Scheer – This custom footwear manufacturer takes luxury to a whole new level, as displayed by their clientele with their shoes worn by the likes of Franz Kafka and Kaisar Karl I. Every shoe is handmade in the same studio belonging to over 7 generations of the same family, the pictures of whom line the walls. Their shoes, which are essentially intricate works of art, will be on display for the public to admire.
I stayed at the Amauris Hotel for the weekend. The hotel is situated in the middle of the Ringstrasse Boulevard (often considered the most beautiful boulevard in the world) and between the Vienna State Opera and the Musikverein concert hall. This luxury hotel which is a member of the Relais & Châteaux association opened earlier this year in a noble residence that was a popular residence for the Austrian nobility and upper class until the end of the monarchy.
My first thought was that the hotel is simply beautiful – on arrival I was struck by the glamour of the lobby and reception – even more so after you have received your welcome drink of choice. The Amauris is keen to establish itself as a luxury boutique hotel – from every one of its 36 rooms to the 5 different types of marble that form its winding staircases, as well as the Italian marble that makes up the bedroom doors, no need here for a door handle.
In the bar and restaurant paintings on display come from the art collection of the owner’s family which has grown over generations, and deals primarily with Austrian fine art from around 1900. Everywhere is a perfect mix of old and new from the hydraulic lift that was commissioned at the start of the century to its beautiful modern furnishings and focus on a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner of travelling.
I stayed in a Grand Deluxe Room on the 4th floor with an outstanding view of the Ringstrasse. I loved the Italian marble bathroom, high ceilings and heated floors. The bed was comfortable itself with luxury Italian linens, and I especially enjoyed the Acqua du Parma toiletries as I finished my toilette in my sumptuous bathrobe. I also had complimentary access to the Amauris Spa with its indoor pool, Finnish sauna and steam room plus the more active high-tech gym.
The restaurant under the wings of Executive Chef, Alexandru Simon blends the cultural heritage of Vienna with bold new flavours and unique innovation, all done in an atmosphere of calm and serenity. I ate there and chose the 7-course tasting menu which was a beautifully presented selection of delicious dishes ranging from Norwegian lobster to classic Austrian delights such as Otscherblick pork. The restaurant décor is stylish, modern and elegant – a perfect pairing of culinary experience and stylish backdrop.
More Viennese Culinary Delights
Vienna is a city with a wide range of restaurants and I managed to work my way around a few of them over the weekend. Highlights included the chicken schnitzel with pickled red cabbage and cranberry sauce at Salonplafond and an exceptional dinner at the Michelin star Pramerl & The Wolf. The latter has foundations in the tradition of the Viennese Gasthaus found in every neighbourhood, and defined as casual fine dining you receive a regional and seasonable menu with wine pairings. From poached oysters topped with caviar, squid and smoked eel infused pasta, to pigeon garnished with radicchio, blackcurrant and umeboshi – this restaurant is certainly one of Vienna’s best.
5 Things Not to Miss in Vienna
- Feel like royalty by visiting the Habsburgs’ summer residence, The Schonbrunn Palace.
- Spend an evening in opulence at the Vienna State Opera.
- Stand in awe of St Stephen’s Cathedral.
- For some more light-hearted fun, spend an afternoon at the Prater amusement park located in the beautifully green Prater Park.
- Feel Sisi’s Aura at the Sisi Museum.
Impressions of Vienna
Viennese culture is one clearly based on focusing on having a life of pleasure. Vienna is a city that I will never forget, and already highly anticipate returning to. The fusion of its deeply entrenched, and highly intriguing, historic legacy combined with its current energetic personality really makes it come into its own – a truly unique gem of Europe.
To discover more, please visit: wien.info
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All imagery courtesy of Visit Vienna.