Ten reasons to like Austria, ranging from flak towers in Vienna to food, lakes, mountains, statues, counterculture, art, traditions and ancient mysteries.
As the coronavirus crisis continues, I’m writing upbeat posts to celebrate countries I’ve lived in.
Here are ten reasons to like Austria, where I lived from 1984-87 and have again since 2016. I’ve tried to pick some non-obvious things as well as favourites – comments welcome. Here we go.
1. Vienna has more flak towers than – I think – anywhere on earth. Did you know that “flak”, as in a “flak jacket”, stands for Flug Abwehr Kanone or anti-aircraft gun? They were built during the Second World War and mostly stand empty, although one is occupied by a climbing wall and an aquarium.
Flak tower in the Augarten, Vienna (all photos RP). Never again, indeed.
Flak tower, climbing wall and aquarium
2. Austria has a lively counterculture. If your taste is for a dog-basket, a T-shirt of Karl Marx or a public toilet with opera music (sadly now closed) you can find it here.
“Who shaves, loses”
Happy dogs in the Prater
3. Austria is full of art of every kind. I had to be selective here but feast your eyes on this lot:
This “Man on the Ball” by Stephan Balkenhol is in Salzburg. The ball is 5 metres in diameter and weighs two tons
He is gazing up at the fortress on the hill
These decorations by Klimt are on the ceiling of the Kunsthistorisches Museum
I am a big fan of the bizarre Messerschmidt heads at the Belvedere in Vienna, and even wrote a short story about them, The Three Heads.
4. Austria has maintained some charming traditions which have died out elsewhere, such as a full-blown ball season and the only Spanish riding school in the world.
My mum with the Lippizaner horses at the Spanish riding school
Being fitted for a “Frack” (white tie outfit) for the Opera Ball
The Opera Ball is spectacular
The main staircase at the Opera Ball
5. Austria is full of ancient mysteries. Amongst the most ancient are the tunnels of Styria, whose purpose and history no-one fully understands.
Going through one of the ancient tunnels of Styria
6. Austria features some mouth-watering food, both traditional and less traditional. Let the drooling begin!
Traditional pork dish at the Salm Bräu in Vienna
The Steirereck is one of the finest restaurants in Vienna
I immensely enjoy a late-night Käsekrainer (cheesy Bratwurst)
7. The country is full of beautiful mountains and lakes. Again, I have had to be selective, but here are a few:
This is the Dachstein, viewed from the north
The Wörthersee is in Carinthia
Above Mittersill, in Salzburg province
The Bodensee (Lake Constance) in winter
8. Austrians seem to appreciate public statues:
This fountain at the Hofburg in Vienna, dating from the 1890s, represents Austrian naval power
Canova’s “Theseus defeating the centaur” is from 1819
Vienna’s public housing projects feature fine decorative art
9. Austria’s Heurigen are open-air taverns – some located right in the vineyards. In few places does a glass of local wine and a snack taste better.
This Heuriger overlooks Vienna
You won’t get closer to a vineyard than this
10. Austria has many spectacular ancient and modern buildings. Again I have been selective.
A U-Bahn (underground) station in Vienna
A ski lift station in Innsbruck designed by British architect Zaha Hadid
The Austrian National Library dates from the 18thC
This villa by Adolf Loos dates from 1928
Otto Wagner’s Kirche am Steinhof was completed in 1907