Recently I had a chance to visit Vienna, Austria. You know Austria. It’s where Julie Andrews sang to the hills in the 1965 movie, “The Sound of Music.”
The sound of music really does describe a lot of Vienna’s history. Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert and Johann Strauss II, among others, were associated with the city. You can visit a room where Mozart, a precocious youngster and musical genius, dazzled his audience with his virtuosity. There are concert halls that have heard the premieres of some of the finest music known to man.
There is a lovely opera house, the Wiener Staatsoper, first built in 1869 (and rebuilt after WWII). It was popular during the Third Reich with frequent performances of Wagner’s operas. Ironically the last performance before Allied planes started to rain bombs on the city was Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. The title “refers to a prophesied war among various beings and gods that ultimately results in the burning, immersion in water, and renewal of the world.” The bombing of Vienna must indeed have seemed like götterdämmerung. In February and March 1945 alone there were 80,000 tons of bombs dropped on the city.
I’m a bit of a history buff, especially about WWII, and I can’t visit Europe without reflecting on the horror of that war. It’s especially easy in Vienna because the streets seem so familiar from documentaries and movies. The mind’s eye can easily visualize Nazi troops marching down the broad strasses (streets) and brave partisans lurking in bombed out buildings. When I find myself in these places that have seen such awful destruction I often will think of a line from the Joni Mitchell song The Three Great Stimulants, “No tanks have ever rumbled through my street/And the drone of planes at night has never frightened me.” I have lived such a blessed life and certainly the #1 blessing is to have not experienced war first-hand. It is a wretched business and I am infuriated when someone of Donald Trump’s ilk throws out threats to Iran or North Korea or Venezuela. War is almost always a result of male egos.
But I digress. Back to beautiful Vienna, thankfully well recovered from world wars. It is vibrant and lovely. I was in the city for a medical cannabis conference and I had one day for sightseeing. I spent most of that day on a “hop on/hop off” bus which I rode around the loop twice. I was just seven weeks removed from having a hip replaced and my stamina was not what it could be. I was grateful to have made the trip at all so seeing Vienna from a bus that was filled (off and on, of course) with happy people speaking languages from around the globe did not seem that bad to me. Along the way I saw lovely boulevards, historic architecture and hot rods…yes, hot rods, miniature hot rods. Out of place? Definitely. I laughed out loud.
I knew I had one good foray in me in terms of walking and enjoying a particular site. It was a difficult choice. Friends who have visited the city before urged me to visit the opera house, or the Schönbrunn Palace, or one of the multitude of art museums, or the Lippizzaner stallions. But once I saw the Naturhistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum, and learned that it has the largest display of meteorites in the world I knew where I wanted to be.
The building is imposing, with 94,000 square. It opened in 1889 and was built to hold the collections of the Royal Habsburg family. Like so many institutions of that time the design exalts art and beauty. Entering the main hallway is like walking into enlightenment.
Obviously I did not manage to visit all 94,000 sq.ft. The meteorites were up the stairs and through the mineral rooms which had an extraordinary array of rocks, ores, and gems.
Just getting through the minerals was hard work but the gem room led to the Meteorite room and I must admit the museum has an extraordinary collection of cosmic debris.
The Knyahinya meteor, I have learned, is not exactly the largest meteor known to man but it was in 1866 when it fell to earth in the Carpathian Mountains in quite a spectacular fashion. The meteor weighs more than 600 lbs. and is quite lovely.
The Meteor Room, fittingly, led to the dinosaurs and, once again, the Vienna Natural History Museum did not disappoint.
This room was populated mainly with excited children who dashed from one model and display case to another. They were too hyper to sit which left the benches more or less open. Those who did sit were tired parents and contented grandparents. Perhaps some of them, like me, were reflecting on life’s fragility. One minute you are in Eden, the largest beings on earth, munching leaves and grass contentedly when a bright light above you seems to portend a change. Another götterdämmerung…. ❧