It was not the crowded, centuries-old coffee shops serving delicately foamed cups of Melange paired with beautifully flaky pastries that caused me to fall in love with Vienna. Nor was it the tiny streets winding their way along squares and cathedrals, palaces and theaters, or even the way the winter sunlight illuminated the ornate crevices that decorated the buildings. And despite the magnificence of the opera house and the phenomenal performances of the world’s best opera, it wasn’t that either.
But, in a way, it was each of those things that made my heart soar with love in Vienna, combined with the bierhauses full of eager friends sipping on beers brewed from recipes hundreds of years old; the culture of music and arts that was so prominently a part of the city’s essence; and the way the aura of history hung in the air, a feeling that only a city wise with the experience of world wars and powerful empires could possibly possess.
Celebrating the New Year in Vienna
The culture of the Austrian capital is simultaneously inspired by its neighbors — especially the Germans, whom their language and cuisine are based — but also the country’s political and musical past. Vienna was home to one of the most powerful royal families in the history of Europe, the Habsburgs, who ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire until they became extinct from inbreeding.
“The City of Music” is also the historical home to some of classical music’s greatest composers: Schubert, Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Liszt, Brahms and Mahler all called Vienna home at one point. Their influence, too, is obvious around the city, with numerous theaters and concert halls, plus an opera company with more productions than any other in the world.
I arrived in Vienna in time to celebrate the New Year, or Silvester as it’s known in Austria, after celebrating Christmas in Prague. My time in Vienna was anchored by three main events: the Silvester Ball at the Hofburg Palace, then the famous New Year’s opera Die Fledermaus followed by Rigoletto at the Vienna Opera.
In between dressing up in ball gowns and opera gloves, I wandered the captivating streets of Vienna that felt simultaneously old and new, a byproduct of an ancient city completely rebuilt after the bombings of World War II. I spent hours in coffee shops opened since the 1880s once frequented by Freud and even Hitler; saw the Habsburg family crypt and the catacombs beneath St. Stephen’s Cathedral; I ate strudel and wiener schnitzl while drinking Austrian Grüner Vetliner.
And somewhere in between pinching myself that I was at an actual ball at an actual palace watching men in tuxes and women in gowns dance the Viennese waltz and getting chills while my eyes filled with tears of joy as I sat on the sixth row of the Vienna Opera during the best opera I’ve ever seen, I fell in love with Vienna. The city became a magical realm I never wanted to leave; a dream I dreaded waking up from.
I fantasized about moving 5,000 miles away from home and wondered how quickly I could learn German because leaving Vienna broke my heart. Instead, I savored every second, determined to hold onto the way Vienna feels (and in turn, makes me feel) and promised myself I’d return some day. After all, eventually you have to wake up from even the best of dreams.