Letters from Abroad

Voyage to Vienna

From March 15 to the 20, Dickinson took all of the students in Bremen on an excursion to Vienna, Austria.  As this was our first trip with both the full year and semester students, it was a great opportunity to bring the group together for some bonding time in another city.  The city itself is dazzling, and it has a vibrant energy that is nearly impossible to resist.  Maybe it was due to the nice weather, but the air seemed to buzz with excitement.

I would have to say my favorite realization, though, was how real Vienna felt to me.  To explain in other words, there are some cities that you visit, and though they are beautiful, they somehow feel like a hoax, intended to reel in the tourists.  Vienna did have its fair share of tourists, but it did not allow itself to become overwhelmed by them, and it certainly did not cater to them.  It is a tourist-friendly city, by all means, but it is also one of the largest cities in Europe: thousands of people live and work there.  To express the point better, I will tell about some of the many cool things we did.

On the first day, we saw the famous Stephan’s Cathedral, and went to the top for a spectacular view of the city from above.  Even from such a distance, you could truly feel the life of the city.

Later on in the trip, we went to the National Library.  There are 200,000 books within it, some of which are so old they have to be handled delicately with gloves.  The building itself had once been a church, and was later converted to its current form.  It was never destroyed during the Second World War, meaning that everything was practically in the original form.  And, to top it all off, it took only three years to build.  Maybe I am biased because I am an English major, since being surrounded by books is one of my favorite things, but the experience of this building and all its history was mesmerizing for me.

Later in that evening, we saw a performance of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni.  Between the gorgeous opera house, the exciting and humorous plotline and the talented performers, we were all blown away by how amazing it was.

It was not until our last day at Café Central, one of many famous Viennese coffeehouses, that I finally realized what I have been attempting to articulate in this week’s column.  I had been to a few other coffeehouses by that point in the trip, and really appreciated the atmosphere within them.  It also does not hurt that I am a coffee fiend of sorts.
The waiters are dressed in their finest, and serve you with an unexpected mix of candor and charm.  They are doing their jobs, and expect you to come prepared, which means you do not simply order “a coffee;” you need to know the specifics of what you want.  There are a seemingly infinite number of options from which to choose, and the same goes for the torts and cakes.

The coffee is also served in a certain fashion: just so, on a silver platter atop a small white dish, with a glass of water, a napkin, a spoon, and a small sweet cracker.  I realized that this was a slow, relaxed moment vital to every day in the lives of city-dwellers here.  No matter how busy they are, they are never too busy for a break at a coffeehouse with a good newspaper and good company.

Vienna is a city full of both modernity and tradition, with culture around every corner.  It is a city which uses both some of the oldest forms of the German language and some of the newest technologies.  And if you keep an open eye, and an appetite for “Kaffee and Kuchen,” you will be charmed by how warm a welcome into that world you will receive.