Tuesday, October 29, 2002

See a View of downtown Vienna from the Belvedere Palace, with the spire of St. Stephen's Cathedral (partly encased in scaffolding, as they are repairing it) in the middle.

Well, I am back in Vienna, after a tumultous stay in Graz. I will be updating about events there, but for the moment you can see some photos Here. I checked into the cozy little Pension Bosch (See the surprisingly snazzy Web Site for this huimble but extremely comfortable pension - the music rocks!) on Keilgasse just off Rennweg Street. It was Count Metternich, who as you probably know was the engineer of the 1814 Treaty of Vienna, who said that despite what geographers say Rennweg Street is the real boundary between East and West. When you cross Rennweg Street to the east you are essentially in Asia. I noticed that one street leading off Renweg is called Metternichgasse, apparently in honor of Metternich. Since it is so close to Halloween I then decided to duck into the Hapsburg Crypt, where 133 members of the Hapsburgs are kept in coffins. The many famous Hapsburgs encoffined (if that is the word; you can't really say buried) are Maria-Louise, Napoleon's wife, whose marriage to Napolean was brokered by the above mentioned Count Metternich. See Coffin of one of the Hapsburg Emperors

See more Coffins of Hapsburgs.

See Skull on one of the incredibly elaborate coffins in the Hapsburg Crypt. This guy looks like a member of that famous rock group The Crypt Kicker Five.

Of course, no visit to Vienna is complete without a stop at the Cafe Central. Now mainly a attraction for more sedate tourists but once the center of Vienna's intellectual life, with such notables of Leon Trotsky, who along with Vladimir Lenin founded the Soviet Union, holding down regular tables. There's a story that one Vienna official, told by the Secret Police that Russian exiles in VIenna were plotting a revolution in Russia, said sarcastically, "Oh, and just who to going to start this revolution in Russia. I suppose you will tell me it's that Trotsky felllow who sits drinking coffee all day in the Cafe Central." By the way, I was once in the tiny village in Siberia where Trotsky, whose real name was Bronstein, spent time in a prison camp for his revolutionary activities. He eventually escaped from this camp and made his way to Irkutsk, where I lived for three years. Here collaborators in the underground gave him a new set of clothes, a train ticket, and a forged passport with a name on it that he used for the rest of his life and by which he became famous all over the world: Leon Trotsky. The inside has a high multi-domed ceiling not unlike that of a church or mosque with high rounded at the top windows. Very nice, very expensive pasteries. One can only wonder what Trotsky had to eat here . . . See Cafe Central, hangout of Leon Trotsky and many other notables.

Monday, October 07, 2002

The next morning at 6:58 I caught the train to Vienna. Arrived about 6:00 on a cool rainy evening and checked into a hotel right across from the train station. The next morning I walk down Mariahilferstrass to the so-called Inner Ring, the downtown area of Vienna. It was rainy and cool and St. Stephens Square was deserted. I ducked into a cafe right on the square and had a cafe creme while studying the immense St. Stephens Cathedral through the rain-streaked windows.

St. Stephens Cathedral in St. Stephens Square, Vienna

FInally about nine o'clock the crowds of tourists started gathering. I headed up the street to the huge Hofsberg, formally the residence of the Hapsburgs and now a complex of extremely confusingly arranged museums. Finally found my way into the Royal Treasure Room where all kinds of Hapsburg relics and treasures are found. Of course I headed straight for Room 12 where the crown of St Stephen and the so-called Spear of Destiny are kept. I have wanted to see the Spear ever since reading Ravencroft's book "The Spear of Destiny" two decades ago. According to legend this is the very spear which pierced the side of Christ while he was on the Cross. Historians have more-or-less disproved this legend and dated the spear to the eighth century. Ravencroft floats another legend which says that whoever possesses the Spear of Destiny controls the fate of the World. According to one of his informants Hitler came here to this museum when he lived in Vienna and stood for hours transfixed in front of the Spear. Whether this actually happened is questionable. But when Hitler finally did take over Austria and enter Vienna he did have the Spear removed to Germany. During the war it was protected from Allied bombing in a cave along with other art treasures. General George Patton, who also seemed to be obsessed with the Spear, took control of it and it was later taken back to Austria under direct orders from Eisenhower. It it now back in the very room where Hitler supposedly first saw it. An very interesting tale, but many more sober minded historians have questioned Ravencroft's sources, some of whom seem to have gotten their information by what is now known as 'channeling' . . .

Saturday, October 05, 2002

Berlin, Germany

On October 3 I flew from Ulaan Baatar to Berlin, Germany, with a 90 minute layover in Moscow. Left Ulaan Baatar at 9:00 am and arrived in Berlin at 1:30 pm. Cloud cover most of the way, so I did not see much. Fortuitously, the clouds did clear just over Kizil, the capital of Tuva, and I could see where the Ka Khem and Biy Khem rivers meet to form the main branch of the Yenisei, the fifth longest river system on the world. I had once stood at the source of the Biy Khem, in the extremely remote East Sayan Mountains of eastern Tuva . . .

The layover in Moscow was uneventful. A school group of musicians from some school in Moscow came on board for the hop to Berlin. From the Berlin airport I took a cab to my hotel which I had booked sight unseen over the internet. It turned out to be a typically anonymous tourist but quick luckily located right next to the train station where the trains left for Vienna.

Berlin, Old and New, just across the street from my hotel. The church was partly destroyed during WW II but has been restored.

When I arrived the lobby was full of huge American black guys, all over six feet six, perhaps a basketball team, and about a half dozen tiny black guys, all under five feet tall, who were apparenty their mascots. Then there were swarms of Japanese tourists . . . My room was not ready yet so I took a stroll around the train station and the nearby zoo. The sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and there were big lines to get into the zoo. It was a warm, sunny afternoon and the outdoor cafes were jammed with people drinking beer or coffee, all of which seemed kind of strange for 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Only when I tried to find a travel agent to get train schedules did I discover that October 3 is a big holiday in Germany - Reunification Day, this being the 12th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So that is what everyone was celebrating. Although a half dozen people told me about the holiday not one mentioned that a newly refurbished Brandenburg Gate was being unveiled that very evening and that Bill Clinton - yes, our very own Bill Clinton, was giving the opening speech. I found this out much later that night when in my hotel room and tuned in CNN to find out what was going on in the world. So I missed Clinton's speech . . .

But the next morning I got up early and went over the the Brandenburg Gate.

Brandenburg Gate from the West Side

On the west side workmen were just tearing down all the tents and concession stands. From the big piles of litter, much of it empty beer cans and bottles, it looks as if the citizens of Berlin had a huge blowout. The Gate itself was actually much smaller than it appears in photos. I crossed over to the square on the other side, where on one side of the Adlon Hotel, featured in many a spy novel and now considerably spiffed up. Just across the street is a Starbucks, for those who need a quick latte fix. I walked the whole way down the street to the museum complex and spent most of the rest of the day in the huge National Art Museum (Alte Nationalgalerie Staatliche ze Berlin) - some nice Caspar David Friedrich landscapes, Manets, Cezannes Manets, marbles and much, much else.

Elvis Rules in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie Staatliche ze Berlin

It would take a week to really get a good luck at everything. I had opened to visit the Museum of Indian Art, which has numerous frescos removed from the famous Bezaklik Caves near Turpan, in Xinjiang, China, which I had visited two years ago but I soon discovered that this museum was in some God-forsaken suburb in old East Berlin and a 40 minute ride by cab. Since I have heard that many of the frescos were in in fact destroyed during World War II bombing I decided to skip this visit until the next time I am in Berlin and have more time.

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Well, this may be my last post from Ulaan Baatar for awhile. Keep in touch here for updates on my upcoming wanders . . .

So Long!