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  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves, back with more of the best of Europe.

  • This time we're celebrating the good life in Vienna.

  • Thanks for joining us.

  • When I think about Vienna, I think about good living:

  • elegant parks, romantic Danube River, imperial art collections, and great music.

  • After centuries of rule by the Habsburg family, today the people are calling the shots...

  • and they seem to be getting it right.

  • We'll marvel at the awe-inspiring Schonnbrunn Palace and enjoy the imperial city's fine

  • art, then we'll relax in a hillside wine garden. And we'll visit a world class opera house

  • and catch a little Klimt before touring the Danube countryside with its striking Melk

  • Abbey.

  • Vienna was the grand capital of the formerly grand Habsburg Empire - which once stretched

  • across much of Europe. Its superpower days are now long gone. And today, the city enjoys

  • the cultural and physical remnants of its Imperial age as both an inspiration and a

  • playground for living well.

  • Vienna sits along the Danube River. St. Stephen's Cathedral marks the center of town. The old

  • town - with most of the top sights - is bound tightly by the Ringstrasse, marking what used

  • to be the city wall.

  • The palaces of the imperial Habsburg family still create a buzz. The Royal family wintered

  • downtown in their Hofburg Palace and they summered here - at the Schönbrunn Palace.

  • Among Europe's grandiose palaces, only Schönbrunn rivals Versailles. It's big, with over 1400

  • rooms, but don't worry - only 40 are shown to the public.

  • While the exterior is Baroque - the favored style of divine monarchs in the 17th century,

  • much of the interior was finished under Maria Theresa in Rococo - the frillier let-them-eat-cake

  • style that followed. The chandeliers are either of Bohemian crystal or of hand-carved wood

  • shiny with gold-leaf. This one was lit by 72 candles.

  • Maria Theresa, who ruled in the late 1700s, was the only woman to officially run the Habsburg

  • Empire in that family's six century reign. She was a strong and effective empress famous

  • as the mother of 16 children - most of whom survived to adulthood. Imagine that the most

  • powerful woman in Europe was either pregnant or had a newborn for over half of her 40 year

  • reign.

  • The original practitioner of "make love not war," Maria Theresa expanded her empire while

  • avoiding wars by cleverly marrying her children into other royal families. During her reign

  • the rest of Europe recognized Austria as a great power. Her rival, the Prussian emperor,

  • said, "When at last the Habsburgs get a great man, it's a woman."

  • In room after luxurious room, the palace heralds the story of a powerful family. Frescos in

  • the grand ballroom were propaganda: the good life under Maria Theresa. A contemporary of

  • George Washington - but worlds apart politically, she presides like the divine monarch she was

  • over a vast multi-ethnic empire at peace: Tuscany with the bottles of good Chianti,

  • the Netherlands with the wild sea, Hungarians with their Magyar hats and animals were all

  • part of her realm in about 1750. There was peace - but only through strength. This fresco

  • shows off her state-of-the art military. Her infantry moves forward in alternating lines,

  • firing and loading with a horrifying speed and efficiency.

  • A walk through the imperial garden, now overrun with commoners, celebrates the evolution of

  • our society from autocracy to democracy. It's been nearly a century since the last emperor

  • checked out. And, if access to once out-of-bounds royal gardens is any measure, the people are

  • doing quite well.

  • While the Habsburgs may be gone, their appreciation of finer living is alive and well, as you'll

  • learn in the cafes. For many Viennese, the living room is down the street at the neighborhood

  • coffeehouse. Each comes with its own individual character. The venerable Café Sperl is still

  • furnished just as it was on the day it opened back in 1880.

  • While a bit tired, often smoky and with a shabby patina, a Viennese café is a welcoming

  • place. They offer light lunches, fresh pastries, a wide selection of newspapers, and "take

  • all the time you want" charm for the price of a cup of coffee.

  • Divine monarchs like the Habsburgs liked their art divine too, in other words, Baroque. Charles

  • Church offers perhaps the best Baroque in Vienna with the unique combination of columns,

  • a classic pediment and an elliptical dome. We're dropping in for a peek at the painstaking

  • and costly restoration work going on all the time to keep the cultural treasures of Europe

  • looking good. Here, tourist admissions help pay the bill.

  • The church, which dates to the early 1700s, was built and decorated with a scaffolding

  • system essentially the same as this one. Ascending the elevator high into the dome, you're in

  • the clouds with cupids and angels. Many details that appear refined and realistic from ground

  • level - such as gold leaf, frescos, and fake marble - look rough and sloppy up close. It's

  • surreal to observe these distorted figures from this unintended angle.

  • As always, the art had a purpose; teaching...or propaganda - depending on your perspective.

  • Here, Faith, Hope, Charity, and Catholic priests triumph and inspire - while Protestants and

  • their trouble-making books are trashed. At the very top, you'll see the tiny dove representing

  • the Holy Spirit, surrounded by a cheering squad of nipple-lipped cupids.

  • Nearby, Imperial Austria's greatest leader, Maria Theresa, looks upon the country's greatest

  • collection of art, the Kunsthistorisches Museum. As you enter, you'll be dazzled by the space

  • and reminded of the former glory of the Habsburg's multi-national empire.

  • At their peak of power in the 1500s, the Habsburg family ruled Austria, Germany, northern Italy,

  • the Netherlands, even Spain. And this museum offers great art from throughout the realm.

  • The Italian collection is particularly strong.

  • Around the year 1500, Italy had a Renaissance, or "rebirth," of interest in the art and learning

  • of ancient Greece and Rome. In painting, that meant that Greek gods joined saints and angels

  • as popular subjects.

  • The collection spans the all-stars of the Italian Renaissance:

  • Titian - the Venetian - seemed particular intimate with the pre-Christian gods and their

  • antics. Here, in Mars, Venus and Amor, a busy cupid oversees the goddess of love making

  • her case that war is not the answer. Mars - his weapons blissfully discarded, sees her

  • point.

  • The 22-year-old Raphael captured the spirit of the High Renaissance, combining symmetry,

  • grace, beauty and emotion. His Madonna of the Meadow is a mountain of motherly love.

  • Mary's head is the summit and her flowing robe is the base - enfolding baby Jesus and

  • John the Baptist. The geometric perfection, serene landscape, and Mary's adoring face

  • make this a masterpiece of sheer grace. But the cross the little tykes play with foreshadows

  • their gruesome deaths.

  • As the baroque age succeeds the Renaissance, it brings more emotion and melodrama. Caravaggio's

  • Rosenkranz Madonna provides a strong contrast to Raphael's super-sweet Madonnas. Caravaggio

  • shocked the art world with brutally honest reality - ordinary Madonnas, hands that seem

  • to speak...saints with dirty feet.

  • In David with the Head of Goliath, Caravaggio turns a harsh light on a familiar Bible story.

  • David shows off the dripping head of the slain giant. The painting, bled of color, is like

  • a black-and-white crime-scene photo. This David is not a heroic Renaissance Man like

  • Michelangelo's famous statue, but a homeless teen that Caravaggio hired off the street.

  • And the severed head of Goliath...is none other than Caravaggio himself, an in-your-face

  • self-portrait.

  • Art of the Northern "Renaissance" was different. Funded by the economic boom from Flemish and

  • Dutch trading, it was more secular and Protestant than the Catholic-funded art of the Italian

  • Renaissance. Rather than Madonnas and saints, and Greek gods, you'll see peasants, landscapes,

  • and food.

  • Paintings are smaller, full of down-to-earth objects, designed to appeal to the thriving

  • merchant class. Northern artists embraced the details, encouraging the viewer to appreciate

  • the beauty in everyday things.

  • Pieter Brueghel the Elder was the Norman Rockwell of the 16th Century - the undisputed master

  • of the slice-of-life village scene. While a city-slicker himself, Brueghel dressed down

  • to observe country folk at play. Even as he highlighted the rustic simplicity of their

  • lives, he showed their quirks as universal examples of human folly.

  • In his "Farmers' Dance" there's not a saint in sight, but there is a message. Bagpipes

  • symbolized hedonism. In this scene, the church is ignored while the piper gets all the attention.

  • Perhaps the best way to match this rustic conviviality today is to head into the nearby

  • Vienna Woods. Here in the foothills of the Alps, locals enjoy their natural backyard.

  • And, amidst the famous vineyards, they gather for the ritual of tasting the new wine.

  • The uniquely Viennese institution of the Heurige is two things: it's a young wine, and a place

  • to drink it. A long time ago, when the Habsburg Emperors allowed Vienna's vintners sell their

  • young wine tax-free, several hundred families opened up these wine-garden eateries clustered

  • around the edge of town - and a tradition was born.

  • Today, there are more than 1,700 acres of vineyards within Vienna's city limits, and

  • countless Heurige taverns. For a Heurige evening ride a tram into this wine-garden district,

  • wander around, and choose the place with the best ambience.

  • Many locals claim that it takes several years of practice to distinguish between the young

  • Heurige wine and vinegar.

  • To enjoy a more refined wine some vocabulary helps. Try the grüner Veltliner a dry white

  • wine. Since Austrian wine is often sweet, remember the word trocken, that means dry.

  • While waitresses bring your wine order, the food is self-serve.

  • As is the tradition, they don't serve fine cuisine - only simple dishes and cold cuts

  • from a hearty buffet like this. Clearly, no one's goin' hungry tonight.

  • So, here we have everything you can imagine in a traditional Viennese country restaurant:

  • you've got your sauerkraut, your red kraut, schweinbraten, Alp cheese, mountain cheese

  • and potato salad and something I think is very important-schmaltz - this is lard actually.

  • And it's something young people don't eat much but the old timers love it. Mmm, takes

  • you way back. Lard.

  • Vienna has fine art and architecture from just about every age and particularly interesting

  • is the art from the last decades of Habsburg rule - art nouveau. Vienna gave birth to its

  • own curvaceous brand of art nouveau in the early nineteen hundreds - jugendstil. Playful

  • examples are all over town. Whether architecture, coffee, cakes, or music...it's all part of

  • the good life Vienna style.

  • The Belvedere Palace, with its elegant Baroque gardens, was the lavish home of Prince Eugene

  • of Savoy, the still-much-appreciated conqueror of the Turks. Eugene was the greatest military

  • genius of his age and highly valued by his emperor.

  • When you conquer great enemies, as Eugene did, you get really rich. Since he had no

  • heirs, the state inherited his palace. In the 19th century, Emperor Josef II converted

  • the palace into Austria's first great public art gallery.

  • It houses the Austrian gallery of 19th- and 20th-century art. As Austria became a leader

  • in European art around 1900, that age is the collection's forte, with fine works by a school

  • of respected romantics, Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt.

  • In the room full of sumptuous paintings by Klimt you can get caught up in his creed that

  • all art is erotic. He was fascinated with both the beauty and the danger of women. He

  • painted during the turn-of-the-century, when Vienna was a splendid laboratory of hedonism

  • - the love of pleasure. For Klimt, Eve was the prototypical woman; her body not the apple

  • provided the seduction. Frustrated by censorship, Klimt refused every form of state support.

  • While he didn't paint women entirely nude, he managed to capture a bewitching eroticism.

  • Here, Judith is no biblical heroine but a high society Viennese woman - with an ostentatious

  • necklace. With half-closed eyes and lightly parted lips, she's dismissive yet mysterious

  • and seductive. Holding the head of her biblical victim, she's the modern Femme Fatale.

  • In perhaps his most famous painting, The Kiss, the woman is no longer dominating...but submissive,

  • abandoning herself to her man in a fertile field and a vast universe. In a glow emanating

  • from a radiance of desire, the body she presses against is a self-portrait of the artist himself

  • - Gustav Klimt.

  • At the Hofburg, the Habsburg Winter Palace