Vienna Modernism: Cosmopolitanism and the Age of Nervousness

Vienna Modernism: Cosmopolitanism and the Age of Nervousness

Vienna-Modernism-2The period of Vienna Modernism was dominated by deep antagonism between traditionalism and the avant-garde; conservatism and anti-Semitism emerged as reactionary expressions of rejection towards the fast alterations of modernization.  Cultural pessimism surged in a paradoxical mix with a dynamic spirit of innovation and cosmopolitan progress.  Throughout this 3 hour walk, we pause to listen to selections of Vienna’s modernist musical masterpieces on headphones while also exploring the major modernist sites of Vienna’s urban topography.  Music pieces include those from composers Gustav Mahler, the spearhead of musical avant-garde, Johann Strauß, famous for his waltz-sentimentality and operettas, Arnold Schönberg and the Vienna School (Berg, Webern) who ushered in dissonance and atonality in music and Richard Strauss/Hugo von Hofmannsthal (opera)  whose musical modernizations of biblical and classical myths (Salome, Elektra) possess interesting links with the contemporary concepts of Oedipus Complex and Elektra Complex which Sigmund Freud was outlining in the emerging field of psychoanalysis at the turn of the century.

As a backdrop for understanding this vital period of experimentation and angst, we consider the rise of nationalism during the closing decades of the 19th century and the pioneering concepts of the unconscious and human sexuality promoted by Freud and his disciples.  While many Viennese were fascinated with the avant-garde in the arts and human sciences, for others tradition was resolutely preserved in the distinguished personality of the old Emperor Franz Joseph.  For still others, the period of modernization ushered in strong reactionary politics, epitomized in the figure Karl Lueger, Vienna’s nationalistic Mayor, whose anti-Semitic agenda made him an anticipation of Hitler’s rise to power.

Vienna-Modernism-3The starting point of the tour will be the Michaeler Platz, where we ponder the architectural scandal created by the Adolf-Loos-House when it was constructed directly across from the Imperial Hofburg. The next stop will be the Heldenplatz, the largest assembly field in the Inner City. After the “Anschluss” of Austria to the Third Reich in 1938, Viennese residents hailed to Adolf Hitler at this famous square, which is now harbouring the National Library and many important museums such as the Neue Burg or the Weltmuseum. A short stroll over the “Ringstrasse” will follow. The route takes in the twin museums (Museum of National History and Museum of Art History) and the Vienna State Opera, important examples of the great Ringstrasse-project of the second half of the 19th century.

Moving through the Naschmarkt (“Nibble-market”), we come to the House of Secession built by Joseph Maria Olbrich in 1897/98 and intended to be an exhibition hall for the famous Vienna Secessionist painters grouped around Gustav Klimt.  Next, aspects of traditionalism and modernism come together at the Karlsplatz; the Karlskirche (founded in 1713) is located here in a clashing juxtaposition with the Technical University and the Otto Wagner Pavillon of the city railway.

Vienna-Modernism-4The last part of the walk takes us to the Stadtpark, a lovely pleasure ground which houses many memorials to Vienna’s modernist artists and composers such as Johann Strauß son, Franz Schubert, Anton Bruckner and Hans Makart.   We conclude the walk at the cure house Hübner, where Johann Strauß used to play his beloved waltz music during the ball seasons, which is located at the entrance of the park.  Vienna Modernism is one of the key aspects of Austria’s history, abounding in technical and artistic progress on the one hand, while nevertheless stirring intense reactionary ideologies which contributed to the catastrophic political and military conflicts of the 20th century.

ProkschChristine Proksch holds a BA in Cultural Journalism and a MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Copenhagen. She finished with a Master about the Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler. In order to dig deeper into her favourite topic, Austrian Literature around 1900, she studied German and Comparative Literature at the University of Vienna and fell deeply in love with the city and the vast cultural landscape. Since 1998 she has lived permanently in the city.. Today she mainly works as a cultural journalist reporting to Danish Medias about the cultural life in Central Europe. She has also written the most sold Vienna guide and guide to Austria in Denmark.
SmithNicholas Smith is an American who moved his life to Vienna after marrying an Austrian. He is in the last year of completing his MA in Journalism from Columbia University in New York City while also freelancing writing articles on Vienna history, arts and culture for The Vienna Review (the largest and most distinguished English language newspaper in Austria).
OconnorStephen O’Connor earned his PhD in Military History at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. He is passionate about recounting the many ferocious battles waged over Vienna from Roman times through the Ottomon Threat, Napoleon, the Hapsburgs, and of course, the global wars of the 20th century. In fact, he is as passionate as most Irishmen are deemed to be at recounting a good tale of any kind, but particularly those that have to do with the fascinating history, arts and culture of the Vienna he moved to and fell in love with along with the Austrian who he married there. He presently works as a teacher of English for Viennese professionals.


Insight Cities arranges this tour only for private groups with advance notice, at present. Thanks for emailing us at [email protected].

Private Walk (1-6 People) $390
Private Walk (7-10 People) $500


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

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