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Book Browsing in Vienna and Budapest

abstract:The Viennese will tell you the best time to visit is in summer or at Christmas, but arriving in balmy September after the departure of crowds affords enjoyment of the outdoor café life, and is a wonderful way to meet locals and discuss books. 


September 18, 2004

Bookstores appear on every fourth block of the old city; many used and antiquarian booksellers are interspersed with cafes and shops. There is a rich history of academia; the University of Vienna (Universität Wien) was founded in 1365 by Duke Rudolf IV and is one of the oldest universities in Europe, with nine past Nobel Prize faculty members.

The Altstadt Hotel is a four star hotel residence with impeccable service, minutes from the city center Museum Quarter and Hapsburg Winter Palace. Located just outside what is now Ringstrasse (formerly the old city wall) with its free trams and access to underground.  A sumptuous European breakfast of cold cuts, cheese, yogurt with musueli and fruit along with delicious Viennese breads and coffee affords a great start to exploring the city.

Imperial History

European history revolved around the House of Habsburg. From the Middle Ages to the Ottoman invasion, to the Napoleonic wars and ending in World War I, Habsburg rulers dominated the political affairs of Europe. The Habsburgs were Holy Roman Emperors, Emperors of Austria, kings of Bohemia

About The City

Like Parisian arrondissements, Vienna is divided into 23 concentric districts spiraling outward like a snail shell from the center location of the Hapsburg Palace, which makes orientation easy—just look for the district on the corner of each street-address sign. The seven-story Rocco and Modern Renaissance architecture is impressive in grandeur, scale and detail.  Every square has a monument commemorating people and events from history: monarchs; victorious battles; beloved composers and philosophers; writers and poets.  There are monuments to the Second World War Jewish atrocity, monuments to Freud, churches erected after the plague and assassination attempts. 

Music and Culture

Of course Vienna is the city of music, the opera and the waltz, where luminaries of the classical music world were born, died or composed much of their important work: Mozart, Beethoven and the Schuberts are closely identified in the hearts and minds of the people.  (Standing in a bank line, three youths behind me instantly broke into a hum when the first few beats of waltz rang on a cell phone call. NorthAmerican youths would not likely duplicate that feat.)  Pre-reading of musical biographies and familiarizing yourself with the repitoir is recommended. 

From the Opera House, to the Waltz halls which are open each night, to tours of the residences where Mozart and Beethoven lived, composed and died, infuse you in this history.

Locals say that the Viennese pays more attention to the current amorous attachments of their favorite opera divas than politics or economics.  And you must stop into the Hotel Sacher (currently constructing two new floors) next to the Opera House for some Sachertorte mit schlagg after the performance.  Franze Sacher created the confection in 1840, which consists of chocolate cake, apricot jam and a smooth chocolate ganache coating, famous worldwide.  A notorious legal battle ensued when a rival baker started selling the cake. The Sachers prevailed; 100,000 cakes are baked and shipped from the Sacher Hotel basement each year.

Authors & Books Set in Vienna

In February 1948 Graham Greene came to Vienna for the first time - to find inspirations for a screenplay that was to become one of the blockbusters of his career: The Third Man. He came again in 1957 to attend the German language premiere of his religious drama The Potting Shed.

Hollywood Personalities from Vienna

Many film artists have made their way from Vienna to Hollywood. Among them are producers, directors, actors, composers and cinematographers. Names like Erich von Stroheim, Max Reinhardt, Otto Preminger, Max Steiner, Fred Zinnemann, Billy Wilder, Leon Askin, Peter Lorre or Hedy Lamarr have become household names.

Films set in Vienna

Even after 50 years of his death in the sewers of Vienna, Orson Welles' Harry Lime still haunts the city. The scars of the war have long disappeared but surprisingly, most of the locations of Carol Reed's 1949 film noir classic have remained unchanged. Depicting the days of Allied occupation, Cold War espionage and the black market.

And Finally... The Bookstores, Some Titles and Authors

The Berger Bookstore on Kohlmarkt recommended these titles as their most popular: 

  • Elia Barceló, Das Geheinmnis Des Gldschmieds
  • Andrea Camilleri, Das Kalt, Lächelin Des Meeres
  • Kathrin Rögglo, Wir Schlafen Nicht
  • Qiu Xiaolong, Die Frau mit Dem Rotten Herzen

(Death of a Red Heroine)

  • Audry Niffenegger, Die Frau des Zertreisenden

(The Time Traveler’s Wife) interview of author)

And the book that corresponds to Joyce’s Ulysses, and is the first internal monologue entirely set in the city of Vienna over the course of a single day;

Arthur Schnitzler’s, Leutnant Gustl that is read by all native Viennese and Austrian literati. A later story of his Dream Story, was the inspiration for Kubric’s final film “Eyes Wide Shut” which actually takes place in Vienna not New York, as depicted in the film. Arthur Schnitzler was a contemporary of Freud and traveled in those circles; he practically lived in the most famous cafe in Vienna, Cafe Central where he received his mail and accepted telephone calls.

Side Trip to Budapest

Just a few hours on the train across the flat grasslands and you are easily in Budapest, Hungary for the day.  Both Vienna and Budapest are situated on the Danube so a boat trip down river is another alternative. Buda is on one side of the river and Pest is on the other, with stunning views from the hilltop.

The center of the city has the St. Stephen Basilica, an imposing Baroque masterpiece recently refurbished and in pristine condition.  This is one of the few churches whose structure and artifacts were left undisturbed by Communist occupation from 1947-1990.  The whole plaza in front and surrounding hotels, restaurants and shops are a focal point for tourists.  Tours can be picked up from this location. Contact Emese Pozdena

Just down the street is the most amazing bookstore. Bestsellers is an unlikely English named establishment with a large collection of English and other foreign language books in addition to the native Hungarian. 

The favorite classic novel written by Hungarian native, Antal Szerb Journey by Moonlight is a must read belonging with the master novelists of the 20th century. Beckoning back to turn of the century it is an evocative story coinciding with the rise of fascism at home and abroad and probes the national obsession with suicide (or, rather an eroticised death-wish), the psychological and ideological. Brilliantly ironical but never cynical it is at once a love story and transcendence from adolescence to manhood for the main character Mihály. 

Written in 1937, it is the story of a man who accidentally gets separated from his wife on honeymoon and begins to wonder if he is really meant for this world. I won't spoil it for you by saying more, but no one who has read it has failed to love it.

The author was a quintessential man of letters, not just admired by widely loved. Of Jewish ancestry but a cradle Catholic like most Budapestians, he lived through the most traumatic of Hungarian, indeed European history.  He died horribly at the age of 43 in the forced-labor camp at Balf because of his ancestry and his long stance against fascism.

We hope that these glimpses into travels at home and abroad are of interest, and that you are inspired to read novels by authors in the places you travel. 

Paula Shackleton, Founder



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