Vienna is a magical city; it is considered to be one of the most livable cities on earth. I was pleased to get back to visit; for one thing, I missed the Bruegels in the Kunsthistorices Museum, and I wanted to see them, particularly “The Tower of Babel.”
Vienna is still a Habsburg city. The funerals of the late Empress Zita and her son, the former Crown Prince Otto, usually known by his doctorate, were indicative that the Habsburgs have not been forgotten. The Empress, who refused to give up any of the titles God had given her, died for that reason in Switzerland, but she was still buried in the Capuchin Church in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, as was her son. The crypt is virtually full, and I doubt the touching ceremony of receiving the dead Habsburg for burial will now not be repeated. The Empress’s coffin was brought through the streets of Vienna on an 18th c. hearse with six black horses (she should have had eight by virtue of her rank, but the hearse was too fragile), while her son was denied even six horses. When the imperial corpse arrived at the door of the Kaisergruft in the Capuchin Church, a Capuchin asked who it was when the emissary knocked at the door. The answer was a recitation of the Empress’s titles (including “Queen of Jerusalem), to which the cleric answered he did not know her. The question was repeated, again answered with a list of titles. (In the case of her son Otto, his Habsburg titles were replaced the second time with his rather less imperial European Union titles.) Again, the clerical response was that he did not know who it was who requested burial. Finally the third time the correct answer was given: the request came from “a poor, sinful mortal.” That time the Capuchin knew who it was and allowed the coffin to come in.
The Imperial Crypt is open to the public. I went in years ago to see the monumental 16th century sarcophagi, sometimes showing a skull at each corner under one of the Habsburg crowns. I was quite dismayed that, in trying to make out the Latin inscription on one of the coffins, I inadvertently leaned forward to feel the coffin of Crown Prince Rudolf move very slightly under my hands. I was most upset. The prince, whom Empress Zita always claimed was murdered, was believed to have killed his mistress and himself at Mayerling, so you can imagine I was more than a little shook up myself.
The Habsburg dynasty did not fare well after World War I; though both Emperor Carl and Empress Zita are on their way to Roman Catholic canonization, their days of terrestrial empire were over. While they lived, they lived in great style. The Hofburg, their winter residence, has among other things a Treasury that included the “Spear of Destiny,” supposedly the spear of St Longinus that pierced Christ’s side, though this seems most unlikely according to modern evidence. It also includes imperial crown jewels and the regalia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the Burgundian order that was eventually given out by both the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs.
One of the things that saved the Habsburgs was the neglect of the King of England in saving the Romanovs. Horrified at their martyrdom (which has earned the Romanovs canonization as “Passion Bearers” in the Orthodox Church for the Christian way they bore their deaths), the King sent a British ship to rescue the Habsburgs. Both the Tsar and the King look more like twins than cousins, and the King was not having another imperial murder that he could prevent occur again.
We visited St Stephen’s Cathedral, where the funerals of the Empress Zita and her son took place, then instead of the Hofburg, we went out to one of the most delightful palaces in Europe, the Habsburg Summer Palace in Vienna, the Schönbrunn. It is a large Baroque palace with lovely gardens. Its most famous room is the Great Gallery, sometimes the site of waltzing in television concerts. It’s painted ceiling is surprisingly light and airy, and one can dream of dancing there with a beautiful women in white with a collar of emeralds. Of course, the Opera Ball would also do very well for that as well.
We did not visit the rooms favored by the Empress “Sissi,” whose assassination “by chance” was another of the great Habsburg tragedies, but there were plenty of other rooms which delighted visitors. A pair of rooms had Chinese vases mounted on the walls, but it was the “Millions Room” that I found most delightful. Made of rare rosewood, it featured cartouches of paintings cut to fit from original Indo-Persian works of art. The effect is rich and yet also charming.
The gardens were equally effective, with a large fountain and the “Gloriette,” a folly opposite the palace itself. In the summer, there are concerts in the gardens, and the good citizens of Vienna flock to them to hear music even greater than the palace itself.
Vienna is a delight, and the Schöbrunn an effective representative, not only of Habsburg power and glory, but of the charm of the city. A former student of mine, Monica, who used to bring me the most delicious baked goods, has taken up teaching English in Vienna, and I do envy her the city. It is a great place to live, especially for a Culture Vulture such as myself. It is the city of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, a legacy of music so grand that it would almost be enough without the pleasures of Strauss waltzes. I can almost hear the “military” introduction to “The Emperor Waltz” and its lilting dance as I write. I can almost fancy myself dancing to it in the Schönbrunn with a beautiful woman wearing a collar of emeralds.