We have just been to Vienna for a short break. We had never been to Vienna and we thought it was about time we went. It was intended to be an entirely non-archaeological visit but inevitably archaeology intervened and I began to ask archaeological questions: how and why did Vienna become so important?
Vienna is a mystery. Towards the end of the 19th century and indeed coming through to the first half of the 20th century, Vienna was one of the great cities of ideas, yet at the time Vienna was ruled by a rather stuffy monarch. How did this ferment of ideas come about?
The dominating figure was Franz-Josef, King of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1848 — 1916. He seems to have been a very boring man. He got up at 4 am every morning, washed in cold water, and then sat down at his desk and spent the day reading documents and signing papers, pausing only to take part in highly formal ceremonial dinners. But it was he who created the architectural glory of Vienna, the Ringstrasse.
Yet during his reign, there was a vast array of talent of all kinds — Freud who taught us all about sex, Mahler for serious music, Strauss for popular music, the Secession movement giving us Art Nouveau, my favourite economists Mises and Hayek who in my opinion have the answers to our current economic woes, and of course for the archaeologists, the Polanyis.
Could we perhaps draw a parallel with the remarkable success of the Chinese Empire. The secret is to have a bureaucracy based on competitive examinations so that you have a lot of very clever people actually running things. Of course it helps if you have a dull and boring, but essentially decent long lived monarch like Franz-Josef who provided continuity.
I took hundreds of photos in the five days we were there, – that’s the trouble with digital cameras – but I have been through them and selected the best and put them up on the web. I looked for a suitable web site and found that all the Vienna names were taken but going through to Wien, the Austrian name for Vienna, I found that www.wien.org.uk was still available, so I have taken it and populated it. So if you like to take a look at my thoughts on the mystery of Vienna – and see lot of pretty pictures – do take a visit, and let me know how you get on!
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