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Searching for the elusive St. Charles' Church

sunny 70 °F

When you book hostels, most dorms are “mixed” meaning for guys and girls. But many hostels have female-only dorms as well (of course for extra money), so the mixed dorms usually end up being all guys. My roommates were fine, but they were quiet. All but one was gone from my second night to the first. The way they usually have dorms set up is with bunk beds, but this hostel had one bunk bed and then two beds side by side…close enough together to be kind of creepy. Unfortunately when I checked in, the bunks were already taken so I spent a night within arms reach of some random guy. When I went to bed last night, it looked as if I wouldn’t have a neighbor, but when I woke up there was a girl within arms reach. I give her a lot of credit for staying in a mixed dorm. I know a lot of girls who wouldn’t dream of doing that. Never met her though, because I woke up, checked out and was off! Unfortunately, my hostel was on the other side of town from the train station, so I wouldn’t be able to leave my stuff there without going way out of my way to pick it up to leave, so I was carrying my full backpack all day.

First on the list was the South Tower of St. Stephan’s. This one was accessible by elevator, so it was a quick trip up. It houses the world’s second largest hanging church bell!

Being on the South side also gives you a much better view down onto Stephansplatz (aka Stephan’s Square).

As I descended, I realized that my ticket was also good for the Church’s treasury. Since I found myself with an extra day in Vienna without a full day’s worth of plans, I decided it couldn’t hurt to check it out. It turns out that the treasury itself wasn’t too exciting, but the views it gave of the church an its organ were unparalleled. Plus I was the only one up there!

St. Stephans also has a 10,000 pipe organ that was paid for by West Germany to restore good relations after the war. I’ve never been able to see an organ up close before.
Also, when I looked extra close, I could see little pieces from each organ pipe cut and rolled down. I’m guessing it was for tuning, but I took a ton of pictures figuring Grandpa Jim would like to see them.

As I exited, I ran across a couple Mozarts.
I can’t believe I have neglected to mention them up to this point. They’re trying to sell tickets to opera and orchestral concerts and most of them dress up like Mozart. Vienna is very high class with its Operas, its roots in classical music, its horse drawn carriages and its world-renowned Spanish Riding School, but these Mozarts are a welcome diversion that pokes a bit of fun at all of that posh entertainment.

Next on my list was the Austrian National Library. It seemed like an odd tourist attraction, but it had phenomenal reviews online, so I decided to check it out. Plus it had a temporary exhibition on Austria in WWI which I was excited to check out. The library houses some 200,000 books published between 1500 and 1850. The building itself was completed in 1726 and is absolutely exquisite.
They had a few sweet globes in there. Apparently globes used to be exclusively sold in sets of two…one “terrestrial” globe that depicted the oceans and continents and another “celestial” globe that showed the positioning of the stars and constellations. While I found the globes beautiful to look at, I wasn’t compelled to go to the world’s largest globe museum next door :-)

The library’s two wings are named the War and Peace Wings. Interestingly, War and Peace were not seen as opposites but as complementary aspects of an orderly world. The monarch was said to bring balance and harmony between the two.

The exhibition was also fascinating. I love to learn about history that I already know the general storyline, but get to hear it from the perspective of another country. On June 28th, 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Austrian prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie (daughter of Sisi – that poor cursed family almost rivals the Kennedys!) The Austrians drew up an ultimatum for Serbia and threatened war if they didn’t comply. Germany essentially said they would stand with Austria if they declared war, while Russia (and later the UK and France) threw their support behind Serbia. When Serbia didn’t comply, Austria declared war and then everyone else was begrudgingly pulled in. The Austrians had poor leadership and few victories in WWI, which led to tens of thousands of desertions.

Italy complicated matters for Austria. They had been a part of the pact with Germany and Austria since 1882, but wanted to stay neutral in the war. Then, they tried to get Austria and Germany to give them land in order to stay neutral, but they refused, which opened up a southern front for Austria’s war efforts. One of the few bright spots in Austria’s war effort was being able to fend off Italy on their Southern border. One funny piece they had from WWI was a certificate for the Raise the Hat campaign. Gentlemen who paid to join the club got one of these certificates that said they didn’t need to tip their hat in public (which was customary at the time). There’s some out of the box thinking for fundraising!

Germany felt confident that they would win the war and gave unconditional support to its allies in terms of troops, money and food. They even recruited Turkey and Bulgaria to join in. Their ultimate plan was to have all of Central Europe under German control. While this was supported by the German speakers of the Hapsburg Empire, the other 10 nationalities of the empire weren’t crazy about the idea. Franz Joseph tried to get Austria out of the war, but Germany compelled him to continue the war until it was too late to turn back. In 1916, Emperor Franz Joseph died, which was the start of the collapse of the monarchy. In the aftermath of the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was essentially dismantled and with it went the power of the Hapsburgs.

As the allies closed in on the borders of the empire, the people living on the borders fled inland. Many cities were overwhelmed by the mass of homeless refugees. Over 200,000 came to Vienna. Many cities had to shut down to refugees. 8.5 million men from Austria-Hungary served in the war, with 1.2 million losing their lives and over 3.5 million wounded. Many more ended up in POW camps, with 2 million Austro-Hungarian soldiers being held in Russia. Clearly they paid a heavy toll.

Another unique Austria perspective from their war efforts was their “Fatherland Education.” At the beginning of the war, all of the deceased soldiers were published in the newspaper, but as the death tolls racked up, it was suspended because it was killing morale. To try to keep the morale high for future generations, they created stories and sold war toys while incorporating enthusiasm for the war in schooling through art projects and writing assignments. They actually had some of the art on display and even an essay entitled “How I would defeat the English” by a primary school student. It was an incredible collection. The library actually started collecting testimonies of the war from the very beginning through photos, posters, war diaries and other first-hand accounts. After the war was lost, the collection was neglected for many decades before being recently brought back out for display.

After the library, I checked my map and looked at the listing of sights to be seen. One church I hadn’t been to that I had seen all over the place on artwork and souvenirs of Vienna was Steinhof Church. I decided to check it out. It was a bit outside of town and only really accessible by bus, so I hopped on. Not only are the Austrians very compliant folks when it comes to crossing the street, but they’re so compliant that you don’t even have to show a ticket to get on the bus. They’re just that trustworthy I guess. I can’t imagine that would ever fly in America. Bus companies would go out of business in a month.

Steinhof church was not an easy place to find. It was so far out of town that it was off my map, but the map said which stop to get off the bus and made it seem like it would be a piece of cake from there. Not the case. I didn’t see any signs whatsoever, which was unusual for a tourist attraction. I headed one way down the road until it started looking like a residential area, then doubled back and headed the other way past the bus stop. Eventually I saw a sign for Steinhof park and figured that would be the way, but after wandering there for a bit, started to question that logic. Actually the harder it was to find the more excited I became. If this church was so hard to find but still featured prominently on Vienna’s many souvenirs, it must be a pretty epic church. Luckily I found a guy in the park and asked him about the church. Turns out he works there and was walking home. He opened up his backpack and gave me a map. The church was up a massive hill on the grounds of a hospital that I had passed a half mile back.

The church was beautiful, although didn’t quite meet my sky high expectations that had been building up. It was very simply decorated, but elegant in it’s simplicity.
It’s perch atop this large hill with Vienna on the horizon was a sight to behold. After wandering the church, I went out to admire the view and pulled out my map. I was exhausted after walking around all day carrying my full backpack and I was ready to call it a day and head to Munich. Just then, I caught a glimpse of the map’s picture of Steinhof Church. I wondered how they had got the shot. It was from quite a distance and seemed to be taken on the same level as the church. Such a shot would not be possible here. Standing from the same location would put you quite a bit down the hill from the church. It was then that I started examining the church and the picture more closely. Then, my heart sank. Both churches were a bright white with green (oxidized copper) domes edged in gold. Both had two towers in front. But they weren’t the same church. It was then that I realized my error. Looking at the map again. I saw that the picture was referring to St. Charles’ church ABOVE the photo instead of Steinhof below. I had just spent a few hours taking a bus and climbing a hill and didn’t have to do any of that to see St. Charles’, which was walking distance from center city. I had to laugh. Now determined to conquer this church, I mustered the energy to head back to the city and make one more stop before the train station.

As I looked for possibilities to turn my side trip into a positive experience, I found plenty to help make my case. First, I got to see my favorite car in the world up super close. The Audi R8.

Also, I walked by a street fair and got to check it out. There were a variety of neat crafts for sale. By far my favorite was this guy selling colorful lederhosen.
I seriously considered buying some. I would have paid $50, maybe $75 to connect with my German roots. But $250? Not so much. Nevertheless, they were awesome.

There were some guys playing didgeridoos too!

On an unrelated note, I passed by a gym. It's the first one I’ve seen since I got here. It always astounds me how rare it is to see a gym in Europe. I suppose I’m not necessarily in the residential areas, but still. You can’t go 5 blocks in NYC or Boston without seeing gyms.

After a bit of a hike, I found St. Charles Church at long last. I couldn’t tell if it was a really beautiful church or if I was just phenomenally happy to have conquered the journey to get there.
The reflecting pool was pretty epic too.

I tried to get inside, but they had just closed the stairs to get to the top of the dome and for some reason they wouldn’t let anyone in the church for another 15 minutes. Plus, getting in the church would cost the same amount as the climb to the top plus getting in the church. I decided not to wait and that I could still call it a victory and also decided not to make my customary walk to the train station, but instead to take the subway to the train station since there was a subway station right below St. Charles’. I was phenomenally happy with both decisions, because when I got to the train station, the next train to Munich was leaving in 10 minutes. The following train wouldn’t leave for another hour and a half, so now I’ll be able to get into Munich at a reasonable hour. Great success!

The countryside was beautiful. With the speed of the trains, however, it was almost impossible to capture.
The train even had train attendants that sold food on a cart like in an airplane. I’ve never seen that before!
It was then that I realized that it was midsummer! The longest day of the year! I wished that I could be in Sweden to see the festivities! As I watched the sun finally go down, I noticed that somebody somewhere close by was getting to watch a solar eclipse, which is a rare enough occurrence by itself, but at sunset on midsummer? Wow.

If you look closely, you can see both the sun and the moon…

As soon as I stepped off the train in Munich, I loved the place. There was a certain energy about it. I quickly realized why. My hostel was less than a mile from the train station, but as I walked down the street, there were at least a half dozen bars on each block showing the world cup. Then, I realized that it was the Germany game! How lucky I was to be there to catch the second half!

Before I left the train station, however, I saw my old favorite from Berlin, currywurst. It’s basically just a hot dog with curry powder but for some reason it’s very popular and makes me feel like I’m having an authentic German experience. Bernd and Elke introduced me to Currywurst in Berlin last year. This currywurst, however, took it to the next level. They had 8 different levels of spiciness. I couldn’t walk away from a currywurst stand touting the hottest currywurst in Germany! Of course I had to take the hottest one too. It seared my mouth and made my eyes water, but it wasn’t unbearable.

Anyways, back to the game. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t realized that Germany was playing. I stopped for a few minutes at each bar along the way.
It was so neat to see the town ground to a halt as everyone gathered around a tv to watch the game. My mouth was still burning, so I eventually stopped at one bar to watch the last 20 minutes or so and try out a famous Munich beer. I chose the "franziskaner weissbier," which was pretty solid. If there is a monk on it, you know its good!

It was truly a treat to be able to sit alongside the Germans and watch a World Cup game with them. Just a shame there wasn’t a win to cheer about. I’m just glad that I’ll be safely out of the country by the time they play the US!

A few other things I saw along the way. First, a store actually selling lederhosen and traditional Bavarian gear. Amazing! I love this place.

Also, next to the bar I stopped at, there was a pharmacy that had it’s doors almost completely closed, but people were lined up and the pharmacist would come to the door to take a fill their orders. Not sure what to make of this. It’s safer than staying open I guess? Or she was just trying to leave and closed the doors and a line started forming? Not sure.

When I finally got to my hostel, there was a party going on in the lobby,
but I was completely spent and went directly to sleep.

Posted by atbrady 16:44 Archived in Austria Tagged st. church train world to cup charles munich lederhosen

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