30 years ago today: (April 30) A return to Vienna.

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At Schönbrunn Palace.

Previously: 30 years ago today: An April interlude in Interlaken and the Swiss road to Vienna.

Day 15 … Thursday, April 30
Wien (Vienna). City sightseeing

Day 16 … Friday, May 1
Vienna. May Day parade, Schönbrunn w/John Bridie Murphy

Day 17 … Saturday, May 2
Vienna. Military museum, Belvedere. Saw John off

Day 18 … Sunday, May 3
Vienna. Epic hike; Prater. → Night train to Firenze (Florence)

My second-ever visit to Vienna began with an early Thursday morning arrival from Zurich at the Westbahnhof station, just a few minutes from the Hostel Ruthensteiner.

To me, those halcyon early Vienna days are inseparable from the Ruthensteiner, an unaffiliated youth hostel founded in 1968 (!) by a native of the city and his wife from Pittsburgh, whom he had married after attending college in the States. The hostel was a rooted oasis of calm, friendly and efficient helpfulness, certainly one of the finest businesses of its type that I ever encountered while traveling.

With the Ruthensteiner family’s younger generations now in charge, the hostel remains alive, well and open for business in 2017, with a 50th birthday coming in 2018 – and as old at it might seem, this still isn’t as long as Emperor Franz Joseph reigned (1848 – 1916, or 68 years).

These days, the low season special for a bunk bed in a dorm room is a mere 10 Euros, or circa $12 U.S. The high season price was about $8 during my stay in 1985. That’s not bad, allowing for inflation and the passage of time.

In 1987, on Thursday night, I was occupying a bunk in just such a dorm room and was awakened in the middle night by some of the most cacophonous snoring I’d ever heard, although to say I  felt this snoring in my ribs is more like it.

Groggily concluding that a very large animal was in its death throes, you can imagine my surprise the following morning upon learning that the perpetrator was an older man (probably in his mid-50s), charming, genial and slight of stature.

His name was John Bridie Murphy, and he was a hoot. Snoring aside, we coincided for parts of two days, roaming and seeing the sights. John was one of the first persons I’d ever met who spoke freely about his undiagnosed learning disabilities, and how they hampered him in some ways but impelled achievement in others. He’d made some money shuffling papers, but thought of himself as an artist.

Seeing as Vienna is filled to the brim with art (which he knew) and history (my specialty), the basis of our camaraderie should be obvious.

In ensuing years, we exchanged cards and letters for a while. I’ll never forget his inscription on one of them: “We are kindred spirits!” It finally tapered off, and a few years ago I thought to google John Bridie Murphy of Newbury (or Newburyport) Massachusetts, uncovering a relatively recent obituary.

John apparently had a wonderful life. Rest in peace, sir, and thanks for the good times in Vienna way back when.

Insofar as how I experienced the city in 1987, there isn’t a great deal to add from 1985, with the obvious exception of the May Day parade, which merits a chapter of its own. These articles from my 1985 travelogue provide partial background of my fascination with the city and its Habsburg offerings.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 10: Habsburgs, history and sausages in Vienna.

From the moment I saw Vienna for the first time, stepping off the train from Venice into Sudbahnhof station, changing money and buying a transit pass, a steadily evolving fascination with the history of the Habsburg dynasty kept percolating in the back of my mind.

John and I visited the military museum so I could commune with Franz Ferdinand.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 11: My Franz Ferdinand obsession takes root.

The history of the Habsburgs was a major reason for my visit to Vienna in 1985, with the single most important objective being the city’s military history museum, appropriately located in a complex of 19th-century buildings called the Arsenal. I wanted to learn more about Franz Ferdinand’s life, and chose to begin with his death.

In 1987, I knew little of Stefan Zweig, but eventually learned.

The PC: Euro ’85, Part 12 … Stefan Zweig and his world of yesterday.

Stefan Zweig’s name seldom appears in lists of important 20th-century writers, and yet between the two world wars, he was prolific, and a veritable monolith of the written word. He wrote poetry, plays, fiction, biographies and newspaper commentaries, which were translated into numerous languages and sold all across the planet.

I took few photos apart from the parade. During frequent visits to Vienna in the years to follow, I’d come to understand the appeal of the city’s obscure byways and nooks, but in 1987, this was a learning curve still under development, and my focus tended toward the grandiose tourist attractions … though not always.

The Rathaus (city hall; left) and Burgtheater (right). The twin spires to the rear rise from the Votivkirche (church).

One of the gates to the sprawling Hofburg Palace complex in downtown Vienna. Until 1918, the Hofburg was the nerve center of the Habsburg dynasty.

Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library), with Heldenplatz (Heroes Square) in the foreground. Interestingly, the library includes a Museum of Esperanto and Collection of Planned Languages.

As for the equestrian statues, the one closest to the viewer in the first photo is Archduke Charles of Austria, from around 1860. The second photo in greater detail is Prince Eugene of Savoy (1865).

St. Stephen’s Cathedral dominates the innermost Altstadt. Like much of Vienna, is was heavily damaged during WWII, but subsequently restored.

Just a few miles removed from the Hofburg, Schönbrunn Palace was the “summer camp” retreat of the Habsburg dynasty. As the photo of me at the top of the page clearly shows, it has long since ceased to be a rural vicinity.

The Belvedere Palace always has been a personal favorite, and is put to good use as a museum.


The two Belvedere palaces were built in the early eighteenth century by the famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt to be used as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736). One of Europe’s most stunning Baroque landmarks, this ensemble – comprising the Upper and Lower Belvedere and an extensive garden – is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, complemented by the work of international artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann. Highlights from the holdings Vienna 1880–1914 are the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings (including the famous golden Art Nouveau icons the Kiss (Lovers) and Judith) and works by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. Key works of French Impressionism and the greatest collection of Viennese Biedermeier art are further attractions on display at the Upper Belvedere.

I’d noticed this mysterious Pilsner Urquell sign during my 1985 walks, and found it again in 1987. Only now have I thought to ask the Austrian beer writer Conrad Seidl what it was, and whether it still exists. He doesn’t know, but is investigating.

Not to neglect this antique neon touting the original Budweiser (brewed in then-Czechoslovakia).

The WWII Soviet memorial still stands amid regular calls to dismantle it.

It is the most obvious landmark on the Schwarzenbergplatz, sandwiched between Palais Schwarzenberg and the Hochstrahlbrunnen fountain, a relic from WWII: The Soviet memorial „Heldendenkmal der Roten Armee”. In Vienna, there are several slang terms for it: Looter′s Memorial, Memorial of the Unknown Rapist or “Erbsendenkmal” (pea memorial).

Public housing in Vienna was another topic that fascinated me at the time, although I didn’t entirely understand the concept until later. Inscriptions like this were (and probably remain) on virtually every block in the neighborhoods.

These folks looked like they were out for an evening on the town, and while I took this photo solely because of the Gösser Bier sign in the distance, now it seems more atmospheric and richly detailed than that. It’s a slice of life, and I wonder where these people are now?

Finally, a universal pictogram suitable for all languages.

Next: May Day in Vienna, 1987.

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