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Vienna´s weekly European journal

From historical heritage to thriving young art scene



From historical heritage to thriving young art scene

“Culture” is a key concept whenever one thinks of Vienna and also one of the main reasons why tourists visit Vienna. It can be found everywhere in the city, starting from the historic city centre which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vienna: a total work of art

In a “gesamtkunstwerk”, or “total work of art”, each detail contributes to the whole image: a description that fits Vienna perfectly. Many buildings, such as the city’s world-famous symbol, the medieval St Stephen’s cathedral, are significant cultural entities which stand out as signs of Vienna’s long and lively artistic history. Groups of buildings such as the Hofburg with the Spanish Riding School, or the Austrian National Library are every bit as valuable cultural treasures as the monumental 19th-century buildings on the Ringstrasse boulevard such as the Vienna State Opera, the Burgtheater, the Albertina, the Museum of Art History, the Natural History Museum, the Academy of Fine Arts and many more besides.

The illuminated Albertina building
Main courtyard of the MuseumsQuartier, people sitting in a circle on yellow urban furniture

Chic on the outside, hip on the inside: Albertina and MuseumsQuartier

The so-called “Gemeindebauten” (municipal housing projects) are another characteristic of Viennese architecture: they were built by the Social-Democratic municipal government after World War I to alleviate the severe housing shortage of the time. Karl-Marx-Hof is the most famous of these ambitious projects.

The ongoing cultural development of the city is seen in buildings of the 20th century whether in Jugendstil/art nouveau (Secession), the functional, modern style (Adolf Loos House on Michaelerplatz), or the buildings of recent times, especially the Hundertwasser House (1985) or the Haas-Haus (1990) by Hans Hollein. The MuseumsQuartier, designed by the architects Laurids and Manfred Ortner and opened in 2001, gave Vienna not only a new modern landmark but also one of the world’s largest cultural complexes with three new museums and numerous cultural facilities. And the city is ready for the future, too: innovative concepts and leading names such as Jean Nouvel, Dominique Perrault and Zaha Hadid will continue to ensure quality architecture in Vienna.

The main hall of the Konzerthaus during a performance

From classical music to jazz to silent-movie matinees: Wiener Konzerthaus has something for everyone

Thriving cultural life

However, theatres and other cultural institutions should not only provide a beautiful facade, but should be accessible to the broad public. Figures show that Vienna's cultural events are well attended: the Vienna State Opera's performances are 97 percent sold out during the season, the Burgtheatre has an attendance of 90 percent and far more than one million people visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum every year. Surveys show that 94 percent of all Viennese are completely satisfied with the city’s cultural facilities – concert halls, theatres, museums and libraries.

Throughout the year Vienna has a plethora of cultural attractions for all social classes and for all cultural tastes.

An urban habitat of arts and culture

You only have to spend a few days in the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) to get at least an approximate idea of the diversity of Vienna’s cultural life. Practically everything is brought together here – and no wonder. The Vienna MuseumsQuartier, one of the world’s largest cultural complexes, provides a home covering 60,000m2 to over 40 institutions connected with modern and contemporary art and culture. Besides, it is located in immediate proximity to Vienna’s biggest museums: the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Art History (KHM) and the National Library.

Vienna has more than one hundred museums, including some unusual collections such as the Globe Museum, the Third Man Museum and the Museum of Fantastic Realism (Phantastenmuseum). The biggest crowd pullers, of course, are the big museums such as the Belvedere and the Albertina with exhibitions of world-famous paintings.

It’s all theatre in the world capital of music

What would Vienna be without music? Music is in the air everywhere in Vienna. This is probably due to the fact that the city was the home of many influential composers, most notably Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Strauss, Gustav Mahler, and Arnold Schönberg. World-famous orchestras such as the Vienna Philharmonic are based here. Venues such as the Vienna State Opera, the Volksoper, the Kammeroper, the Musikverein, the Konzerthaus and the Theater an der Wien all make for enjoyable music evenings in perfect settings.

Foyer of Theater an der Wien

Vienna’s newest opera house: Theater an der Wien

In the field of contemporary music Vienna is also considered to be a major centre of music: leading figures of world renown include jazz musician Joe Zawinul, contemporary composer Olga Neuwirth, and the likes of Falco and Kruder&Dorfmeister in the field of pop music. The latest trends can also be explored at the sound:frame festival that is devoted to the visualisation of electronic music, bringing together international VJs, DJs, video artists, sound producers and media artists in Vienna once a year.

For those who are more interested in the spoken word there are plenty of opportunities in Vienna to spend a pleasant evening at the theatre or to attend a reading. Of legendary renown are the Vienna Burgtheater and the Volkstheater. Children are also taken increasingly seriously as an audience in their own right, and with Theater der Jugend and Dschungel Wien there are two specific children’s and youth theatres in the city. The Kosmos Theatre is another special place as it is the only theatre in the world explicitly focusing on the works of female artists. The most important literary establishments in Vienna are the Literaturhaus Wien, the Alte Schmiede and the Central Library (Hauptbücherei) on the Gürtel ring road.

Vienna as a festival city

Over the past few year Vienna has also established itself as a leading festival city. Especially the classical music genre has a lot too offer with festivals such as "wien modern", Osterklang or Resonanzen. The festival season usually begins in early spring with the Accordion Festival, followed by the Vienna Blues Spring. Starting in May, the Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival) offer a diverse and spectacular programme of theatre and music performances over several weeks. Summer then brings the Jazzfest Wien, the three-day open-air Donauinselfest on the Danube Island, the festival of contemporary dance ImPulsTanz and the Opera Film Festival on Rathausplatz. Various film festivals such as Tricky Women, the festival of animated films by women, and the international festival of short films are gaining popularity as well. The Viennale, Austria’s largest film festival, takes place in autumn. Besides featuring the best international films, the festival creates a stage for the homegrown film business, which has lately received a lot of attention, with award-winning productions by Michael Haneke or Ulrich Seidl.

A young man playing the guitar
Visitors at the Popfest in front of St Charles Church

Young meets old: once a year Karlsplatz with the magnificent St Charles Church becomes a stage for Austrian pop music

Viennese design

When it comes to fashion and design Austrian artists have been attracting quite a lot of attention at international events in the past few years. And a lively and strong creative scene has emerged in Vienna, too.

Design is very much at the centre of attention in Vienna in autumn. Blickfang, Austria’s biggest fair of furniture, fashion and jewellery design, takes place at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in October, bringing more than 140 international exhibitors to the city every year. The Vienna Design Week in late September and early October focuses on product, industrial and furniture design. It takes place at the most diverse venues and offers a wide variety of exhibitions, projects, lectures and discussions for anybody interested in design.