APFELSTRUDEL, NIGHTS AT THE OPERA AND MUSIC-MAKERS HARRIET BEDDER ENJOYS A WHIRL WIND WEEKEND IN VIENNA
With the aim of experiencing Beethoven’s life and his legacy to music I, a classical music enthusiast and
opera lover, am thrilled to be spending a magical weekend in Vienna. The Kensington & Chelsea Review has been invited to experience one of the most special events in the city’s history - a year of celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth - with a variety of exclusive exhibitions and performances held throughout our stay for us to experience.
We are told that, to this day, Vienna reigns supreme as the ‘Capital of Music’: not only does it hold 15,000 concerts each year and boast a whopping 99% attendance rate at the Vienna State Opera, but it is also home to 120 music and theatre venues. Love and admiration for classical music runs through the veins of almost every Viennese resident; indeed, the world-renowned balls - held every November since 1814 - are a great example of the city’s commitment to its musical culture. With 400 to choose from, ranging from the Confectioners’ Ball and the Medical Doctors’ Ball, to the Vet’s Ball and the Patisserie Chef’s Ball, there’s an opportunity for everyone to obtain tickets and experience the grandiose, somewhat imposing, surroundings, elegant formal attire and beautiful classical music. Lonely Planet describes the Viennese ball as ‘a magical event everyone should experience at least once in their lives.’
We begin the ultimate Beethoven experience by taking a short taxi drive out of the centre to Probusgasse 6 in the 19th District’s Heiligenstadt, where Beethoven once lived in a modest 40m² apartment. Now extended to an impressive, 14 room, 265m² museum, the rooms show Beethoven’s move from his hometown of Bonn to Vienna, his love of nature and how he came to become a musician. We learn about his love interests, his social isolation and passion for the countryside. The most impressive room offers an audible demonstration of Beethoven’s premature deafness and the sound quality he experienced even as a young man; almost deaf and still composing entire symphonies - even completing his most famous, the 9th - as a completely deaf man, and not able to hear the applause on its opening night.
Next, we visit the ‘Beethoven: Human Realm and Sparks of the Gods’ exhibition at the Austrian National Library.
Here, surrounded by thousands of books in an impressive double-height atrium - complete with Renaissance-style ceiling murals - Beethoven’s original letters and manuscripts are on show. The exhibition includes pages from the 9th Symphony, as well as the manuscript of Beethoven’s only violin concerto (op. 61). Not unlike the Beethoven Museum, this exhibition at the National Library walks you through a complete timeline of Beethoven’s life in one digestible room.
One of the primary reasons for which we’ve come to Vienna is the opening night of Fidelio, one of many birthday celebrations performed by the Vienna State Opera to mark Beethoven’s 250th Birthday. We are lucky enough to have obtained tickets in the heart of the hall - the stalls circle – which sold out in seconds, months previously. The Opera, Beethoven’s only, premiered three times: the first version in 1805 at the Theater an der Wien; the second, modified version the following year, and the third - completely revised - edition in 1814 at the Court Opera in the Kärntnertortheater. Though the latest version of Fidelio plays every season at the Vienna State Opera, this celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday means that opera fans have the opportunity to experience the original version, never performed since 1814.
I found the performance to be mesmerising, with an interesting modern take on the classic love story of romance, murder and prison. But despite a world-class cast, the production itself left the audience torn between a standing ovation (for the singers) and boos (for the stage operations and artistic production). The evening was ultimately thought-provoking and surreal, and the experience of watching an opera in, arguably, the most famous Opera Hall in the world, was magical.
For the duration of our whirlwind trip to Vienna, we stayed at the Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski. A five-star superior hotel, The Palais is located conveniently – a walking distance of the city centre and within easy reach of the popular sights. The hotel is also very well connected to public transport; with a tram practically at the door, we rarely had to catch a taxi anywhere, managing to get to both the Opera and the famous traditional ‘Kaffeehaus’ Café Schwarzenberg within minutes.
The hotel is large, comprising 152 impressive rooms and suites arranged over three floors, and highly coveted residential apartments at the top. Designed by the famous architect Theophil Edvard Hansen, it welcomed visitors to the World Exhibition in 1873 and reopened in 2013 with Kempinski.
Our suites are arranged in a ‘loop,’ with the foyer acting as entrance to both bathroom and lounge, which in turn connects to bedroom and large walk-in closet through a series of connecting doors, giving the feeling of city apartment living - complete with high ceilings and, in the bedroom, an impressive TV that rises from a cupboard underneath vast windows, which overlook the main Schottenring 24 below.
Evenings can be spent in the hotel lobby listening to a classic pianist performing for families and couples, or at the award-winning cigar lounge ’26° East’ - accessible as a separate bar on the street for non-patrons. The Kempinski also has a classic hammam spa, with vivid Moroccan influences, offering therapist-free relaxation, as well as a variety of massage and facials, for patrons throughout their stay. The hotel is often used for international business meetings, and has eight function rooms for this purpose, alongside a ballroom that hosts exclusive events.
As well as being a cultural hub for opera and all-things-classical music, Vienna is also known to be a travel destination synonymous with gastronomic adventure. We don’t need to travel far to experience this: the Hotel’s restaurant, EDVARD, has held a Michelin star every year since 2014 and is, justifiably, well-known as one of the top fine-dining restaurants in Austria.
Combining fresh and seasonal products with an Alpine and Mediterranean approach - and the unrivalled skills of chef de cuisine, Thomas Pedevilla - EDVARD offers its diners the option of either five, seven or nine-course wine-paired tasting menus. One of the most remarkable things about the restaurant is that the chefs personally meet every producer and supplier, to ensure the ingredients used are of the highest possible calibre.
Continuing the theme of gastronomic celebration in Vienna is the iconic Apfelstrudel, which unites Viennese people in passionate discussion, despite each of them making it in their own way. The restaurant’s in-house patisserie offers private classes, where the resident pastry chef teaches the technique of strudel-dough-pulling and takes us through a step-by-step class on making the famous pastry, plus the secrets to the apple sauce. We finish by devouring hot apple strudel, straight from the oven, while the one we have helped to make is to be served to guests later in the day, in the impressive atrium of the hotel.
Another – and brand new - service offered by the hotel is ‘Kempinski Waltz Time’. Offered as a unique package from the hotel, this involves an individual waltz, composed individually and premiered in the Presidential Suite of the Palais. A professional film team captures the special moment for the guests who, prior to arrival, have had video conferencing with the composer, facilitating a level of acquaintance that enables the composition of something unique to them.
After listening to their individual waltz, guests are invited to spend three nights in the city’s largest presidential suite and enjoy dinner at EDVARD. Also available is a concierge-booked night at the opera to listen to a classical concert, complete with door-to-door limousine transfers.
Before we depart the city, we are taken to visit Bärbel Bellinghausen, a violin manufacturer in Viktorgasse, the 4th district. Bärbel spends two hours passionately explaining to us how she came to be a violin maker in Vienna, and the joy she feels at consistently turning 400 grams of wood - the equivalent of only 4 bars of chocolate! - into an instrument of joy and wonder. Bärbel tells us about her upbringing in Germany, her training in Bavaria and her subsequent 30 years of making violins for people all over the world. On average, she makes only 5 instruments per year, and it’s clear to see the craft that goes into every single detail of the piece. It’s wonderful to hear Bärbel’s clear love for her work, and we leave her workshop in awe of her drive and fervour.
It’s been a whirlwind weekend in the city, and we decide to take a final stroll to Marketplatz, where an abundance of shops, Korean and Italian restaurants, cheese delis, wine bars, spice markets, fishmongers, beer specialists - amongst countless other trades- await us. We take a seat at the Kaffeehaus and watch the world outside go by. It’s a rainy day, and we find that it’s a particularly apt location to sit, relax and reflect on our time in the city in a place where - according to UNESCO – “time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”
For more information
about vienna visit www.vienna.info
Stay at Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna:
Baking Class at Hotel Palais Hansen Kempinski Vienna 48€.
Beethoven Museum - ticket price 7€ - www.wienmuseum.at
Restaurant Labstelle - www.labstelle.at
“Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven at the Vienna State Opera www.wien.info/en/music-stage-shows/beethoven-2020/beethoven-at-the-opera
Plachutta Gasthaus zur Oper restaurant www.plachutta-oper.at/en
“Beethoven. Human realm and sparks of the gods“ at
the Austrian National Library 3€ www.onb.ac.at