Vienna in detail

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Klimt in Vienna

The works of Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) – the shining star of Austria’s Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) age – are as resonant and alluring today as they were when he sent ripples of scandal through the rigid artistic establishment in fin de siècle Vienna with his exotic, erotic style. For total immersion, your first port of call should be the Schloss Belvedere, which is home to the world’s largest Klimt collection.

The Kiss (1908; Upper Belvedere)

Klimt believed that all art is erotic, and gazing upon this most sensual of artworks, who can disagree? A couple draped in elaborate robes are shown entwined in an embrace in a flowered meadow. Rumours suggest this to be Klimt and his lifelong lover, Emilie Flöge, a porcelain-skinned, red-headed beauty. With a sinuous waterfall of gold-leaf and elaborate patterning set against a stardust backdrop, the couple appear to transgress the canvas with their dreamlike, rapturous state.

Adam & Eve (1918; Upper Belvedere)

Klimt was working on this biblical wonder when he suddenly died of a stroke on 6 February 1918. The painting is an ode to the female form Klimt so adored. Adam is less prominent in the background, while in the foreground stands Eve, a celestial vision of radiant skin, voluptuous curves and a cascade of golden hair, with anemones scattered at her feet.

Judith (1901; Upper Belvedere)

One of Klimt’s seminal art works, this is an entrancing evocation of the Old Testament heroine Judith, a rich widow who charms and decapitates Holofernes (look for his severed head in the right-hand corner of the canvas). Here Judith is presented as a femme fatale: a pouting, bare-breasted Assyrian goddess with a halo of dark hair and a glimmer of ecstatic desire in her eye. The use of gold-leaf and mosaic-like detail is typical of Klimt’s golden period, which was inspired by the Byzantine imagery he saw on his travels to Venice.

The Beethoven Frieze (1902; Secession)

Painted for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, this monumental frieze is a phantasmagorical depiction of Beethoven’s Ninth symphony, anchored in mythological symbolism and the conflict of good and evil. Klimt’s golden touch and love of mosaics give a decadent flourish to nymph-like creatures who drift across the walls in flowing white robes and choirs of flower-bearing angels. The trio of gorgons (symbolising sickness, madness and death) and the three women embodying lasciviousness, wantonness and intemperance caused widespread outrage – the latter were considered obscene and pornographic.

Klimt & the Female Form

Klimt’s fascination with women is a common thread in many of his paintings. The artist was most at ease in women’s company and lived with his mother and two sisters even at the height of his career. Despite his long-term relationship with the fashion designer Emilie Flöge, Klimt was a philanderer who had countless affairs with his models – in his studio, he apparently wore nothing under his artist’s smock – and he fathered around 14 illegitimate children. Though of humble origins, Klimt rapidly climbed the social ladder and was sought out by high-society ladies wishing to have their portrait done.

City of Music

With Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and Schubert among its historical repertoire, Vienna is the world capital of opera and classical music. The rich musical legacy that flows through the city is evident everywhere, from buskers hammering out tunes on the streets to formal performances in one of the capital's renowned venues. Music also takes centre stage during festivals held throughout the year.

Habsburg Musical Tradition

The Habsburgs began patronising court musicians as far back as the 13th century, and by the 18th and 19th centuries they had created a centre for music that was unrivalled in the world. Many of the Habsburgs themselves were accomplished musicians. Leopold I (1640–1705) played violin; his granddaughter Maria Theresia (1717–80) played a respectable double bass; and her son Joseph II (1741–90) was a deft hand at the harpsichord.


Hofmusik (music of the royal court) had its beginnings in the Middle Ages when it developed as a form of music to accompany church Masses. From around 1300 a tradition of choirs with multiple voice parts established itself in Austria. The Habsburgs adopted this tradition and, with the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, the Austrian state took over the Hofkapelle (imperial chapel), which today includes members of Vienna's Philharmonic Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera and, above all, the young boys who traditionally provided the 'female' voice parts, the Wiener Sängerknaben – aka the Vienna Boys' Choir. This tradition lives on with Sunday performances of the Vienna Boys' Choir in the Burgkapelle inside the Hofburg, and other venues.

Baroque Music

The first dedicated theatre for opera north of the Alps was built in Innsbruck in 1650, but opera was also playing a role in Vienna's cultural scene as early as the 1620s, capturing the hearts of the Habsburg rulers through its paraphernalia of excess – elaborate costumes and stage props, and performers who sang, danced and acted great dramas on stage.

Today the baroque era of music is most audible in performances of the works of two German masters of baroque church music, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) and Georg Friedrich Händel (1695–1759), performed in many of the churches around town.

Vienna's Philharmonic

An unmissable Viennese musical experience is a visit to the Vienna Philharmonic (, which performs mainly in the Grosser Saal of the Musikverein. The Philharmonic has the privilege of choosing its conductors, whose ranks have included the likes of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss and Felix Weingartner. The instruments used by the Philharmonic generally follow pre-19th-century design and more accurately reflect the music that Mozart and Beethoven wrote.

Vienna Classic

Wiener Klassik (Vienna Classic) dates back to the mid- and late-18th century and saw Vienna at the centre of a revolution that today defines the way we perceive classical music. Music moved away from the churches and royal courts into the salons and theatres of upper-middle-class society. The period is associated with great composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91), Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) and Franz Schubert (1797–1828) – which later gave way to a new wave of classical composers in the 19th century, such as Franz Liszt (1811–86), Johannes Brahms (1833–97) and Anton Bruckner (1824–96).

Contemporary Sounds

Vienna's impact on international jazz, rock or pop music is minimal, but it does have an interesting scene. Falco (1957–98), a household name for 1980s teenagers, reached the world stage with his hit 'Rock Me Amadeus', inspired by the 1984 film Amadeus.

Artists such as Kruder & Dorfmeister, Patrick Pulsinger and Erdem Tunakan have proved a powerful source for new electronic music. The city's scene has experienced a revival, with old and new artists once again creating waves in the electronic genre. Tosca, a side project of Richard Dorfmeister, is well regarded; DJ Glow is known for his electro beats; the Vienna Scientists produce tidy house compilations; the Sofa Surfers' dub-hop tracks are often dark but well received; and the likes of Makossa & Megablast, Ill.Skillz, Camo & Krooked and are going from strength to strength.

Feature: Composers at a Glance

Vienna and music go hand in hand. The following is a selection of composers who either came from Vienna or lived and worked in the capital.

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–87) Major works include Orfeo (1762) and Alceste (1767).

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91) Wrote some 626 pieces; among the greatest are The Marriage of Figaro (1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Cosí fan Tutte (1790) and The Magic Flute (1791). The Requiem Mass, apocryphally written for his own death, remains one of the most powerful works in the classical canon. Listen to Piano Concerto Nos 20 and 21, which comprise some of the best elements of Mozart: drama, comedy, intimacy and a whole heap of ingenuity in one easy-to-appreciate package.

Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) Wrote 108 symphonies, 68 string quartets, 47 piano sonatas and about 20 operas. His greatest works include Symphony No 102 in B-flat Major, the oratorios The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801), and six Masses written for Miklós II.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) Studied briefly with Mozart in Vienna in 1787; he returned in late 1792. Beethoven produced a lot of chamber music up to the age of 32, when he became almost totally deaf and, ironically, began writing some of his best works, including the Symphony No 9 in D Minor, Symphony No 5 and his late string quartets.

Franz Schubert (1797–1828) Born and bred in Vienna, Schubert was a prolific composer whose best-known works are his last symphony (the Great C Major Symphony), his Mass in E-flat and the Unfinished Symphony.

The Strausses & the Waltz The early masters of the genre were Johann Strauss the Elder (1804–49) and Josef Lanner (1801–43). Johann Strauss the Younger (1825–99) composed over 400 waltzes, including Vienna's unofficial anthem, 'The Blue Danube' (1867) and 'Tales from the Vienna Woods' (1868).

Anton Bruckner (1824–96) Works include Symphony No 9, Symphony No 8 in C Minor and Mass in D Minor.

Johannes Brahms (1833–97) At the age of 29, Brahms moved to Vienna, where many of his works were performed by the Vienna Philharmonic. Best works include Ein Deutsches Requiem, his Violin Concerto and Symphony Nos 1 to 4.

Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) Known mainly for his nine symphonies; best works include Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) and Symphony Nos 1, 5 and 9.

Second Vienna School Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951) founded the Second Vienna School of Music and developed theories on the 12-tone technique. His Pieces for the Piano Op 11 (1909) goes completely beyond the bounds of tonality. Viennese-born Alban Berg (1885–1935) and Anton Webern (1883–1945) also explored the 12-tone technique. At the first public performance of Berg's composition Altenberg-Lieder, the concert had to be cut short due to the audience's outraged reaction.

Visual Arts & Architecture

Vienna is one of the world's most fascinating capitals when it comes to the visual arts and architecture. The Habsburg monarchs fostered and patronised the arts in grand style, leaving a rich legacy of fine historic paintings, sculptures and buildings. Complemented today by modern and contemporary works, they're visible at every turn when you walk through the city's streets.

Baroque & Rococo

Unwittingly, the Ottomans helped form much of Vienna's architectural make-up as seen today. The second Turkish siege was the major catalyst for architectural change; with the defeat of the old enemy (achieved with extensive help from German and Polish armies), the Habsburgs were freed from the threat of war from the east. Money and energy previously spent on defence was poured into urban redevelopment, resulting in a frenzy of building in the baroque period in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

Learning from the Italian model, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656–1723) developed a national style called Austrian baroque. This mirrored the exuberant ornamentation of Italian baroque with a few local quirks, such as coupling dynamic combinations of colour with undulating silhouettes. Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt (1668–1745), the other famous architect of the baroque era, was responsible for a number of buildings in the city centre.

Rococo, an elegant style incorporating pale colours and an exuberance of gold and silver, was all the rage in the 18th century. It was a great favourite with Maria Theresia, and Austrian rococo is sometimes referred to as late-baroque Theresien style.

Fresco painting in Austria dates back to the 11th century; the oldest secular murals in the capital, from 1398, are the Neidhart-Fresken. The dizzying heights of fresco painting, however, were reached during the baroque period, when Johann Michael Rottmayr (1654–1730), Daniel Gran (1694–1757) and Paul Troger (1698–1762) were active in Vienna and across the country.

Rottmayr was Austria's foremost baroque painter. He spent his early years as a court painter to the Habsburgs in Salzburg before moving to Vienna in 1696, where he became the favoured painter of the architect Fischer von Erlach. He worked on many of Fischer von Erlach's projects and is often compared to the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, bringing together Italian and Flemish influences.

Like Rottmayr, the fresco painter Gran studied in Italy, but his style reined in most of the extravagant elements found in Rottmayr's work and offered a foretaste of neoclassicism – best illustrated in a magnificent ceiling fresco in the Nationalbibliothek.

What to See

It's hard to turn a corner in the Innere Stadt without running into a baroque wall. Much of the Hofburg is a baroque showpiece; In der Burg square is surrounded on all sides by baroque wings, but its triumph is the Nationalbibliothek by Fischer von Erlach, whose Prunksaal (grand hall) was painted by Gran and is arguably one of the finest baroque interiors in Austria.

Herrengasse, running north from the Hofburg's Michaelertor, is lined with baroque splendour, including Palais Kinsky at No 4. The Peterskirche is the handiwork of Hildebrandt, with frescoes by Rottmayr, but its dark interior and oval nave is topped by Karlskirche, another of Erlach's designs with Rottmayr frescoes – this time with Byzantine touches. The highly esteemed Schloss Belvedere is also a Hildebrandt creation, which includes a large collection of masters from the baroque period, featuring works by Rottmayr, Troger, Franz Anton Maulbertsch (1724–96) and others.

Nicolas Pacassi is responsible for the masterful rococo styling at Schloss Schönbrunn, but the former royal residence is upstaged by its graceful baroque gardens.

The Habsburgs were generous patrons of the arts, and their unrivalled collection of baroque paintings from across Europe is displayed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.

Sculpture's greatest period in Vienna was during the baroque years – the Providentia Fountain by George Raphael Donner, and Balthasar Permoser's statue Apotheosis of Prince Eugene in the Unteres Belvedere are striking examples. The magnificent Pestsäule (1692) was designed by Erlach.

Neoclassical, Biedermeier & the Ringstrasse

From the 18th century (but culminating in the 19th), Viennese architects – like those all over Europe – turned to a host of neoclassical architectural styles.

The end of the Napoleonic wars and the ensuing celebration at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 ushered in the Biedermeier period (named after a satirical middle-class figure in a Munich paper). Viennese artists produced some extraordinary furniture during this period, often with clean lines and minimal fuss. Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793–1865), whose evocative, idealised peasant scenes are captivating, is the period's best-known artist.

In the mid-19th century, Franz Josef I called for the fortifications to be demolished and replaced with a ring road lined with magnificent imperial buildings. Demolition of the old city walls began in 1857, and glorious buildings were created by architects such as Heinrich von Ferstel, Theophil von Hansen, Gottfried Semper, Karl von Hasenauer, Friedrich von Schmidt and Eduard van der Nüll. Some of the earlier buildings are Rundbogenstil (round-arched style, similar to neo-Roman) in style, but the typical design for the Ringstrasse is High Renaissance. This features rusticated lower storeys and columns and pilasters on the upper floors. Some of the more interesting ones stray from this standard, however; Greek Revival, neo-Gothic, neo-baroque and neo-rococo all play a part in the boulevard's architectural make-up.

What to See

The Hofmobiliendepot has an extensive collection of Biedermeier furniture, and more can be seen in the Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK). Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller's Biedermeier paintings hang in the Oberes Belvedere and one of the few uniformly Biedermeier houses is the Geymüllerschlössel.

Taking a tram ride around the Ringstrasse provides a quick lesson in neoclassicism. High Renaissance can be seen in von Hansen's Palais Epstein, Gottfried Semper's Naturhistorisches Museum and von Hasenauer's Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.

Von Hansen also designed the Ring's Parlament, one of the last major Greek Revival works built in Europe. Von Ferstel's Votivkirche is a classic example of neo-Gothic, but the showiest building on the Ring, with its dripping spires and spun-sugar facades, is von Schmidt's unmissable Rathaus in Flemish-Gothic. The most notable neo-baroque example is van der Nüll's Staatsoper, though it's also worth having a look at Semper's Burgtheater.

While Franz Josef was emperor he had a new wing, the Neue Burg, added to the Hofburg. Gottfried Semper (1803–79) was instrumental in the planning of the Neue Burg and its museums, and the architect, von Hasenauer, stuck very closely to a traditional baroque look, though there are some 19th-century touches – a certain heavy bulkiness to the wing – that reveal it is actually neo-baroque.

Jugendstil & the Secession

Vienna's branch of the Europe-wide art nouveau movement, known as Jugendstil ('Youthful Style'), had its genesis from within the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts). The academy was a strong supporter of neoclassicism and wasn't interested in supporting any artists who wanted to branch out, so in 1897 a group of rebels, including Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), seceded. Architects such as Otto Wagner (1841–1918), Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867–1908) and Josef Hoffman (1870–1956) followed.

By the second decade of the 20th century, Wagner and others were moving towards a uniquely Viennese style, called Secession, which stripped away some of the more decorative aspects of Jugendstil. Olbrich designed the Secession Hall, the showpiece of the Secession, which was used to display other graphic and design works produced by the movement. The building is a physical representation of the movement's ideals, functionality and modernism, though it retains some striking decorative touches, such as the giant 'golden cabbage' on the roof.

Hoffman, who was inspired by the British Arts and Crafts movement led by William Morris, and also by the stunning art nouveau work of Glaswegian designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, ultimately abandoned the flowing forms and bright colours of Jugendstil in 1901, becoming one of the earliest exponents of the Secession style. His greatest artistic influence in Vienna was in setting up the Wiener Werkstätte design studio in 1903, which included Klimt and Koloman Moser (1868–1918); they set out to break down the high-art/low-art distinction and bring Jugendstil into middle-class homes. In 1932 the Wiener Werkstätte closed, unable to compete with the cheap, mass-produced items being churned out by other companies.

No one embraced the sensualism of Jugendstil and Secessionism more than Klimt. Perhaps Vienna's most famous artist, Klimt was traditionally trained at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste but soon left to pursue his own colourful and distinctive, non-naturalistic style.

A contemporary of Klimt's, Egon Schiele (1890–1918) is considered to be one of the most notable early existentialists and expressionists. His gritty, confrontational paintings and works on paper created a huge stir in the early 20th century. Alongside his sketches, he also produced many self-portraits and a few large, breathtaking painted canvases. The other major exponent of Viennese expressionism was playwright, poet and painter Oskar Kokoschka (1886–1980), whose sometimes turbulent works show his interest in psychoanalytic imagery and baroque-era religious symbolism.

The last notable Secessionist – and the one most violently opposed to ornamentation – was Czech-born, Vienna-based designer Adolf Loos (1870–1933). Up until 1909, Loos mainly designed interiors, but in the ensuing years he developed a passion for reinforced concrete and began designing houses with no external ornamentation. The result was a collection of incredibly flat, planar buildings with square windows that offended the royal elite no end. They are, however, key works in the history of modern architecture.

What to See

As well as 35 of Vienna's metro stations, Otto Wagner's works include the Stadtbahn Pavillons at Karlsplatz, and the Kirche am Steinhof, in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital.

A prolific painter, Klimt's works hang in many galleries around Vienna. His earlier, classical mural work can be viewed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, while his later murals, in his own distinctive style, grace the walls of Secession, where you will find his famous Beethoven Frieze, and MAK. An impressive number of his earlier sketches are housed in the Leopold Museum, while his fully fledged paintings can also be seen in the Leopold and Oberes Belvedere.

The largest collection of Schiele works in the world belongs to the Leopold Museum. More of his exceptional talent is on display at the Albertina and Oberes Belvedere; Kokoschka can also be seen at the Oberes Belvedere and Leopold.

One of the most accessible designs of Loos' is the dim but glowing Loos American Bar, a place of heavy ceilings and boxy booths. Also worth a look are his public toilets on Graben. The Loos Haus is his most celebrated work. Pieces by the Wiener Werkstätte are on display at the MAK and can be bought from Woka and Altmann & Kühne.

Modern Architecture

WWI not only brought an end to the Habsburg Empire, but also the heady fin de siècle years. Vienna's Social Democrat leaders set about a program of radical social reforms, earning the city the moniker 'Red Vienna'; one of their central themes was housing for the working class, best illustrated by Karl-Marx-Hof. Not everyone was pleased with the results – some of Vienna's leading architects, Adolf Loos included, criticised the government for failing to produce a unified aesthetic vision.

Since the late 1980s a handful of multicoloured, haphazard-looking structures have appeared in Vienna; these buildings were given a unique design treatment by maverick artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928–2000). Hundertwasser felt that 'the straight line is Godless' and faithfully adhered to this principle in all his building projects, proclaiming that his uneven floors 'become a symphony, a melody for the feet, and bring back natural vibrations to man'. Although he complained that his more radical building projects were quashed by the authorities, he still transformed a number of council buildings with his unique style.

What to See

The municipality buildings of Red Vienna are scattered throughout the city. The most famous is Karl-Marx-Hof. Hundertwasserhaus attracts tourists by the busload, as does the nearby KunstHausWien, but Hundertwasser's coup d'état is the Fernwärme incinerator; opened in 1992, it's the most nonindustrial-looking heating plant you'll ever see.

Of the 21st-century architectural pieces, the MuseumsQuartier impresses the most, with its integration of the historic and the postmodern into the city's most popular space. On a 109-hectare site near Südtyroler Platz, Vienna's 2015-opened Hauptbahnhof is as large as the Josefstadt district and goes beyond its functional role as a station to form a city district in itself for 30,000 people, with some 5000 apartments, a large park, offices, schools and a kindergarten.

Contemporary Arts

Vienna has a thriving contemporary arts scene with a strong emphasis on confrontation, pushing boundaries and exploring new media – incorporating the artist into the art has a rich history in this city. Standing in stark contrast to the more self-consciously daring movements such as Actionism, Vienna's extensive Neue Wilde group emphasises traditional techniques and media.

One of Vienna's best-known contemporary artists, Arnulf Rainer (b 1929) worked during the 1950s with automatic painting (letting his hand draw without trying to control it). He later delved into Actionism, foot-painting, painting with chimpanzees and the creation of death masks.

Sculptor and photographer Erwin Wurm (b 1954) creates humorous large-scale works subverting everyday objects, such as bent yachts, flat cars and inverted houses.

Eva Schlegel (b 1960) works in a number of media, exploring how associations are triggered by images. Some of her most powerful work has been photos of natural phenomena or candid street shots printed onto a chalky canvas then overlaid with layers of oil paint and lacquer.

Martina Steckholzer (b 1974) utilises video footage to produce paintings with distorted illusions of shape and tone.

Feature: Otto Wagner

Otto Wagner (1841–1918) was one of the most influential Viennese architects at the end of the 19th century (also known as the fin de siècle). He was trained in the classical tradition, and became a professor at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste. His early work was in keeping with his education, and he was responsible for some neo-Renaissance buildings along the Ringstrasse. But as the 20th century dawned he developed an art nouveau style, with flowing lines and decorative motifs. Wagner left the Academy to join the looser, more creative Secession movement in 1899 and attracted public criticism in the process – one of the reasons his creative designs for Vienna's Historical Museum were never adopted. In the 20th century, Wagner began to strip away the more decorative aspects of his designs, concentrating instead on presenting the functional features of buildings in a creative way.

The most accessible of Wagner's works are his metro stations, scattered along the network. The metro project, which lasted from 1894 to 1901, included 35 stations as well as bridges and viaducts. All of them feature green-painted iron, some neoclassical touches (such as columns) and curvy, all-capitals fin de siècle typefaces. The earlier stations, such as Hüttledorf-Hacking, show the cleaner lines of neoclassicism, while Karlsplatz, built in 1898, is a curvy, exuberant work of Secessionist gilding and luminous glass.

Vienna in Print & Film

Despite Vienna's renowned quality of life, Viennese writing and cinema is often bowed down by the weight of personal and national histories. Living under an autocratic empire, dealing with the end of the empire, the guilt of Anschluss, the horror of Nazism, the emotional legacy of WWII, neo-Nazism, misanthropy, religious upbringing, and a real or imagined bleakness of life are all enduringly popular themes.


The best place to get an overview of Vienna's – and Austria's – literary past and present is at the 2015-opened Literaturmuseum.

19th to mid-20th Century

Austria's literary tradition really took off around the end of the 19th century. Karl Kraus (1874–1936) was one of the period's major figures; his apocalyptic drama Die Letzten Tage der Menschheit (The Last Days of Mankind) employed a combination of reports, interviews and press extracts to tell its tale.

Peter Altenberg (1859–1919) was a drug addict, an alcoholic, a fan of young girls and a poet who depicted the bohemian lifestyle of Vienna. Whenever asked where he lived, he reputedly always gave the address of Café Central, where his papier-mâché figure still adorns the room today. Two of his collected works are Evocations of Love (1960) and Telegrams of the Soul: Selected Prose of Peter Altenberg (2005).

Robert Musil (1880–1942) was one of the most important 20th-century writers, but he achieved international recognition only after his death, when his major literary achievement about belle epoque Vienna, Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften (The Man Without Qualities), was – at seven volumes – still unfinished.

Stefan Zweig (1881–1942), another of the greatest writers in German, was born in Vienna. In his autobiography, The World of Yesterday (Die Welt von Gestern; 1942–3), he vividly describes the Vienna of the early 20th century. A poet, playwright, translator, paranoiac and pacifist, Zweig believed Nazism had been conceived specifically with him in mind; when he became convinced in 1942 that Hitler would take over the world, he killed himself in exile in Brazil.

Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931), a friend of Sigmund Freud, was a prominent Jewish writer in Vienna's fin de siècle years. His play Reigen (Hands Around), set in 1900 against a Viennese backdrop, was described by Hitler as 'Jewish filth'; it gained considerable fame in the English-speaking world as Max Ophul's film La Ronde.

Joseph Roth (1894–1939), who was primarily a journalist, wrote about the concerns of Jews in exile and of Austrians uncertain of their identity at the end of the empire. His book What I Saw: Reports from Berlin is part of an upsurge of interest in this fascinating writer; his most famous works, Radetzky March and The Emperor's Tomb, are both gripping tales set in the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Modern & Contemporary

Dutch-born Thomas Bernhard (1931–89) grew up and lived in Austria. He was obsessed with disintegration and death, and in later works like Holzfällen: Eine Erregung (Cutting Timber: An Irritation) turned to controversial attacks against social conventions and institutions. His novels are seamless (no chapters or paragraphs, few full stops) but surprisingly readable.

Peter Handke's (b 1942) postmodern, abstract output encompasses innovative and introspective prose works and stylistic plays. His book The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1970) brought him acclaim; a film based on the book was directed by Wim Wenders. Handke's essay on the Balkan wars of the 1990s, A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia (1997), took an unpopular stance on Serbia and further cemented his reputation for controversy.

The provocative novelist Elfriede Jelinek (b 1946), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2004, dispenses with direct speech, indulges in strange flights of fancy and takes a very dim view of humanity. Her works are highly controversial, often disturbingly pornographic, and either loved or hated by critics. Jelinek's Women as Lovers (1994) and The Piano Teacher (1983) are two of her most acclaimed works. Her controversial Greed (2000) focuses on gender and the relationships between men and women.

Wolf Haas (b 1960) is well known for his dark-humoured crime novels featuring Detective Simon Brenner. Three have been made into films, including the Vienna-set Komm, süsser Tod (Come, Sweet Death; 1998); the film was released in 2000.

The most successful of Vienna's contemporary writers is arguably Daniel Kehlmann (b 1975), who achieved widespread acclaim with his Measuring the World (2005), based on the lives of Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss. A 2012 film based on the book was directed by the idiosyncratic German director and actor Detlev Buck. Kehlmann's follow-ups have included You Should Have Left (2018), about a screenwriter and his family's ill-fated trip to the Alps; it was turned into a 2019 film starring Kevin Bacon.


The Austrian film industry is lively and productive, turning out Cannes Film Festival–sweepers like Michael Haneke, whose The Piano Teacher (2001, based on the novel by Jelinek), Funny Games (2008), The White Ribbon (2009) and Amour (2012) have all picked up prizes at Cannes. Amour also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Government arts funding keeps the film industry thriving, as does the Viennese passion for a trip to the Kino (cinema). Home-grown films are showcased at the Metro Kinokulturhaus, opened in 2015 and part of the national film archive. Local, independent films are as well attended as blockbusters by Graz native, Arnie Schwarzenegger. The annual Viennale Film Festival draws experimental and fringe films from all over Europe, while art-house cinemas such as the gorgeous Jugendstil Breitenseer Lichtspiele keep the Viennese proud of their rich cinematic history.

That history has turned out several big Hollywood names. Director Fritz Lang made the legendary Metropolis (1926), the story of a society enslaved by technology, and The Last Will of Dr Mabuse (1932), during which an incarcerated madman spouts Nazi doctrine. Billy Wilder, writer and director of massive hits like Some Like it Hot, The Apartment and Sunset Boulevard, was Viennese, though he moved to the US early in his career. Hedy Lamarr – Hollywood glamour girl and inventor of submarine guidance systems (and technology still used in wi-fi and GPS) – was also born in Vienna. Klaus Maria Brandauer, star of Out of Africa and Mephisto, is another native. Vienna itself has been the star of movies such as The Third Man (1949), The Night Porter (1974), Amadeus (1984) and Before Sunrise (1995).

Documentary-maker Ulrich Seidl has made Jesus, You Know (2003), following six Viennese Catholics as they visit their church for prayer, and Animal Love (1995), an investigation of Viennese suburbanites who have abandoned human company for that of pets. Lately he has branched into features with Dog Days (2001). Director Jessica Hausner's films include Lovely Rita (2001), about a suburban girl who kills her parents in cold blood, and Lourdes (2009), centring on an atheistic woman with multiple sclerosis who makes a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Hausner's Little Joe (2019), about genetic modification, was an award winner at Cannes.

Feature: The Third Man

Sir Alexander Korda asked English author Graham Greene to write a film about the four-power occupation of postwar Vienna. Greene flew to Vienna in 1948 and searched with increasing desperation for inspiration. Nothing came to mind until, with his departure imminent, Greene had lunch with a British intelligence officer who told him about the underground police who patrolled the huge network of sewers beneath the city, and the black-market trade in penicillin. Greene put the two ideas together and created his story.

Shot in Vienna in the same year, the film perfectly captures the atmosphere of postwar Vienna using an excellent play of shadow and light. The plot is simple but gripping: Holly Martins, an out-of-work writer played by Joseph Cotton, travels to Vienna at the request of his old schoolmate Harry Lime (played superbly by Orson Welles), only to find him dead under mysterious circumstances. Doubts over the death drag Martins into the black-market penicillin racket and the path of the multinational forces controlling Vienna. Accompanying the first-rate script, camera work and acting is a mesmerising soundtrack. After filming one night, director Carol Reed was dining at a Heuriger (wine tavern) and fell under the spell of Anton Karas’ zither playing. Although Karas could neither read nor write music, Reed flew him to London to record the soundtrack. His bouncing, staggering ‘Harry Lime Theme’ dominated the film, became a chart hit and earned Karas a fortune.

The Third Man was an instant success, and has aged with grace and style. It won first prize at Cannes in 1949 and the Academy Award for Best Cinematography (Black-and-White) in 1951, and was selected by the British Film Institute as ‘favourite British film of the 20th century’ in 1999. For years, the Burg Kino has screened the film on a weekly basis.

The film’s popularity has spawned the Third Man Museum. True aficionados may want to take the English-language Third Man Tour, covering the main locations used in the film, or 3.MannTour of Vienna's 19th-century former sewers as clips from the black-and-white film are projected on the walls.


The roots of theatre in Vienna date back to religious liturgies and passion plays of the mid- and late Middle Ages. Baroque operas staged from the late 16th century were very much influenced by Italian styles, and under Habsburg monarchs such as Ferdinand III and Karl VI, baroque theatre of the royal court rose to its zenith. In 1741 Maria Theresia paved the way for a broad theatre audience when she had a hall used for playing the tennis-like game jeu de paume converted into the original Burgtheater on Michaelerplatz. This later moved to the Ringstrasse into the premises of today's Burgtheater.