Friday, September 16, 2011

Vienna or Bust

By Howard Larkin

Evidence of its imperial past, as well as the outsize personalities of its rulers, artists and warriors is never more than a short walk away in this eminently walk-able city of Vienna, site of the XXIX Congress of the ESCRS. There’s something for every interest. But watch out for horse-drawn fiacres on the narrow cobblestone lanes of the ancient city center.

Rising dramatically from the tunnel-like strasses of the city center is the Gothic cathedral Stephansdom. It’s hard to miss the gigantic Habsburg coat of arms emblazoned in green, white, red and black tiles on the roof. The foundations of this house of worship date back to the 12th Century. Since then friezes, frescos, alcoves, alters, pulpits, sarcophagi, and entire naves and towers have been added by a succession of patrons.

Many commemorate triumphs over evil in scenes mirroring Christ’s triumph over death in the resurrection. The Pulpit of Johannes Capistrano outside features a cherubim-bedecked gilt sunburst glorifying the enraptured Franciscan warrior standing over a writhing Turk. Nearby, a pious couple kneel beneath the risen Christ astride writhing demons. Inside, the master designer Pilgram looks out over his work, tools in hand.

Marble portraits of Kaisers past, including Mathias, Maximilian, Leopold I and Karls II & IV, along with Marie Antoinette, look over the crowds at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Oil portratins and allegorical paintings by Reubens, Cranach the Edler, Rembrandt and more line the walls. The triumph of good over evil resonates throughout, from the allegorical Theseus defeating a centaur to the mythical St. George slaying the dragon to the literal Judith with the head of Holoferens.

On the campus of the University of Vienna, the Pathologisch-Anatomisches Museum chronicles the history of medicine. Samples of tubercular organs, venereal diseases and some of the oldest hip prostheses are on display. Domiciled in the former home of the psychiatric ward of the General Hospital, the barred windows and thick stone walls give further testimony to how far medicine has advanced in the past century.

And there’s Mozart and Strauss and Harry Lime. Get out and see it. Just a short walk.

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