The World of Yesterday
I’ve focused a lot on Vienna’s past when recollecting our family’s holiday there this past Christmas. It’s easy to do in a city like this, a metropolis that was the centre of a grand imperial project, especially when surrounded by architecture and cityscapes that hearken back to some bygone golden age. Austrian author Stefan Zweig’s memoir The World of Yesterday captured the last years of the Habsburgs during and after World War II, famously documenting a specific early 20th Century Central European zeitgeist that revolved around Viennese culture. The Vienna of his memoirs was already very much removed from the Vienna of the time of his writing in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when post-imperial Austria fell into civil war and was eventually annexed by Nazi Germany. That rose-coloured distancing between the old Vienna and the new is then even more so for the likes of myself.
It’s not exactly fair, however, to limit the idea of Vienna to some outdated – by more than a century – and idealised construction of a place. One glance at the Economist’s annual Global Liveability Index will give an indication of where 21st Century Vienna stands amongst the sun-kissed and coffee-loving vibes of Sydney and Melbourne, the modern Asian metropolises of Osaka and Tokyo, and the well-run and understated Canadian cities of Calgary and Toronto – right at the top of the list, where Vienna has been named the most liveable city in the world for two years running.
So I’ll wrap up my last thoughts on Vienna here, a city that has blended its imperial past with its modern present to create a place that can celebrate both. Centuries of Habsburg ambition carving out a legacy in Central Europe and beyond, geographically doomed to miss out on much of the global colonisation endeavours that filled the coffers of their European rivals, and brought to its knees by the vulnerabilities within its own cosmopolitan constitution, only to find itself a century later at the top of the new global measuring stick – not one based on geopolitical power or wealth of treasury, but simply on how well it treats its citizens.
Anyway, here are some photos from the rest of our time in one of the most photogenic cities I’ve seen.
The Habsburgs may have built their empire around Vienna, but their multiethnic collection of kingdoms and fiefdoms resulted in a slightly more decentralised dispersion of cities and population centres than the average European empire, some impressive capitals in their own right. One in particular, and our base for the last few days of our holiday, has a pedigree that could rival the Habsburgs’ own city on the Wien – the seat of kings and emperors, a major centre of continental trade and commerce, at the forefront of Renaissance-era arts and sciences, and even, for a brief period, the capital of the whole empire. I am, of course, talking about Prague.