Vienna, city of dreams

The beginnings of Vienna start with the dream-like name of Vindobona. Arising from the celtic tribes that settled the area BCE, Vindobona would move through several incarnations before becoming the city it is today. After its Celtic beginnings, Vindobona was settled by the Romans in the 1st century. By the 2nd century, what started as a military camp beside the Danube soon developed into a full Roman settlement and was awarded the status of a municipium in 212. Traders came and went along the Danube and the municipium grew in size.

By the end of the 4th century the Roman Empire in the west was coming under increasing stress. At the same time the Völkerwanderung (the migration of peoples, especially of Germanic and Slavic peoples into S and W Europe) had begun and the nature of Vindobona changed again. Celts, Romans, Germans and Slavs all became part of the dream. People came and went and Vindobona grew again until a calamitous fire in the 5th century almost destroyed the dream completely. But Vindobona rose phoenix like and was soon trading across the Danube basin and the Pannonian plain. The Celts, Romans, German and Slaves were joined by Lombards and Avars as well as traders from the great Byzantium. For the next three hundred years Vindobona grew and prospered until 881, when the Salzburg Annals record a great battle between the Germans and the Magyars at the settlement of Weniam. Vindobona had changed and Wenium had arrived. The Germans and Magyars continued to fight each other sporadically over the next few centuries with the Germans finally proving triumphant and around the year 1,000 Wenium reappeared as Wein or Vienna.

Vienna, the city of dreams sat between east and west, it sat on a great trade route and it was militarist strategic. The dream became that of control of the city. Duke Henry II of the Babenberg dynasty elevated Vienna to his capital in 1155. This was followed a year later with Austria becoming a duchy in the Privilegium Minus and Vienna as the seat of the duke. The Babenberg’s dream of greatest was enhanced and entwined with that of the city.

Just before Christmas 1192, in Erdbery near Vienna, the legendary King Richard the Lionheart was captured by Duke Leopold V the Virtuous. Richard was ransomed for 50,000 Silver Marks. This fabulous sum paid for the the construction of city walls and the establishment of a mint. Vienna was a place where dreams of great wealth could be realised. By 1221, Vienna had received the rights of a city and as a staple port (Stapelrecht). This required traders passing through Vienna to offer a percentage of their goods for sale in the city. Goods from across the known world were now bought and sold in Vienna. Chinese silks, Indian spices, Cornish tinware, amber jewellery and much more. The trade flourished to such an extent that Vienna could easily rival Venice and even the great Constantinople in terms of its merchant trade.


Vienna 4

In 1278, Rudolf I took control over the Austrian lands after his victory over Ottokar II of Bohemia. And Vienna started on a new dream, a Habsburg dream that would last for over 600 years. With trade established, the Habsburgs turned to other civiv improvements. Duke Albert II had the gothic choir of the Stephansdom built. Frederick the Handsome published his edict allowing the city to maintain an Eisenbuch (iron book) listing its privileges. Rudolf IV founded the University and began the construction of the gothic nave in the Stephansdom. In 1438, Duke Albert V was elected King Albert II and Vienna became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. By 1469, Vienna had its own bishop, and the Stephansdom became a cathedral and in 1556, it became the seat of the Emperor.

Vienna 3

In 1529, however the dream started to become a nightmare. Vienna was besieged by the Ottoman Turks. The city, protected by its walls, survived. In 1683, the Turks returned n but were defeated by the army. The dream returned and the next centuries were characterised by building activities. Vienna became a dream baroque city; lavish gardens and sumptuous palaces arose.
By the 19th century however, the dream was under threat again. Napoleon took the city twice, in 1805 and 1809. By 1810 the skies had cleared again. After Napoleon’s final defeat, the Congress of Vienna took place between September 1814 to June 1815, in which the political map of Europe was redrawn. Vienna was the capital of a new Austria, one that embarked on a period of intensive industrialisation. But with industrialisation came unrest and the European Revolutions of 1848 infected Vienna. A saviour arose in the person of Emperor Franz Josef I and the city of dreams flourished once more.
Arts, architecture, culture; the city of dreams was in full bloom, it was the Golden Era. The elegant Ringstraße boulevard was built. The city dreamed and the world joined in. In 1873 Vienna held the World Exhibition and the world came and saw and stood in awe. By 1900, the city dreamed about the arts and that dream became a reality with the Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), the Vienna Secession. At the same time Sigmund Freud the scientific dreamer of dreams was walking the Ringstraße. The city expanded again under the mayor, Karl Lueger who introduced the social policy known as the Wiener Hochquellwasserleitung, bringing fresh water from the mountains to Vienna and the creation of a belt of meadows and forests around the city. However, the dark shadows of anti-Semitism, were gathering, threatening the dream. The Great War of 1914–1918 saw Vienna threatened by food shortages. The Viennese survived by dreaming of times past while brewing coffee with acorns. The end of the war was also the end of Austria-Hungary and in November, 1918, the Republic of Deutsch-Österreich, was proclaimed in front of the parliament. After 1918 the city was plunged into revolution and by 1921, Vienna had separated from the surrounding Lower Austria and become a state in its own right. The political turmoil continued over the 1920s as both right and left dreamed of power. By 1934, the city of dreams had descended into civil war.

Vienna 5
Four years later, in 1938, the nightmare that had been brewing since Leuger had been in power came to a head when Nazi Germany annexed Austria in the Anschluss. During the Reichskristallnacht on November 9, 1938, the synagogues, shops and homes of Vienna’s Jews were destroyed. However, despite many instances of anti-Semitism, Vienna was less supportive of the Nazis than the rest of Austria. The city was bombed throughout the war and was then invaded by Soviet troops in 1945. The city of dreams became the city of destruction. After the end of the war the dream was shattered into five occupation zones between the Soviet Union, the United States, the UK, France, and with the first district being patrolled by all four. But although damaged the dream did not die and slowly it rose again.


Climbing vines and flower pattern surrounding windows on art nouveau Majolica Building, Otto Wagner, 1898-99, Vienna, Austria
In 1955, the four-power control of Vienna ended and the Austrian State Treaty was signed. The treaty included a law of neutrality that ensured modern Austria would not align itself with NATO or the Soviet bloc. Vienna turned its back on world politics yet its position between east and west Europe made it the perfect setting for espionage during the Cold War. Vienna had created yet another dream: the film the Third Man could not have been set anywhere else.
And in the 21st century? Well, history, art, architecture, music, psychoanalysis, espionage: whatever your dream, you will find it it Vienna.



This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s