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.



Ilse Heigerth

Having obtained a Masters degree in Romance languages, and studied ethnology and journalism in the 1990s in Vienna as well, Ilse has served as the editor for numerous well-known Vienna-based writers.  Her interests have always been attracted to history, the arts and literature.  Born and raised in Salzburg, it is not a surprise that she also developed an early affinity for classical music, studying piano at an advanced level in Graz for 2 years.  She worked with the Sigmund Freud Museum for 3 years; and in 2013, after two and a half years of required training and study she became a licensed Austrian tour guide.  Ilse delights in sharing the fascinating history and culture of Vienna and Salzburg on a personal level, while enjoying cultural exchanges with visitors from all over the world.


FelicitasKonecnyFelicitas Konecny

Felicitas Konecny studied architecture in Graz, Naples and Vienna. As a student she organized conferences, co-founded a research group, wrote articles, held seminars and worked freelance at architectural firms. This wide-ranging experience led her to a position as the secretary of the Austrian Society for Architecture (1997-2003). Five times she was a co-curator of the biennial Architecture Days in Vienna, from 2005–2010 she edited a program on architecture for Vienna‘s Community-TV-Channel „Okto“. In 2012, she became a licensed Austrian tour guide. Her tours are mainly focused on the urban development of Vienna from the origins to the present day and architecture in its respective socioeconomic, political, cultural, and aesthetic context. What makes Viennese architecture special to her: the multifaceted interplay of buildings from all ages in this historic city and the prominent role of social/affordable housing as a motor for innovation and a challenge for the best architects. Although an enthusiastic native Viennese, she despises cliches and is happy about visitors with a critical eye.

Gilles Gubelmann

Art brought Gilles to Vienna for the first time, twenty years ago, where he works as a painter and a set designer for opera and theater productions. It was the perfect way, in Gilles’ words, to discover not only Vienna's rich cultural and artistic past as well as the splendors of baroque architecture, but also its soul, its fantastic classical, romantic or contemporary music production. Gilles specializes in guiding travelers through Vienna's history of music, visiting places where famous composers lived and worked or which they frequented. He also helps you discover the great Baroque palaces that crown the city or the hidden beauties of Vienna’s historical center, with its 2000 years of history, including the Viennese Secession, with its pivotal role in the development of modernism in art and culture globally.  

Reinhard Travnicek

Reinhard Travnicek studied literature, cultural science and pedagogy at the Universities of Salzburg, Graz and Vienna. He earned his PhD with a thesis about Henri Michaux and French post-surrealistic literature and art.  His published articles focus on literary criticism and cultural history. Since 1986, Reinhard began to work cultural tourism and cultural pedagogy. As a lecturer at the University of Graz, his main research topics are Italian and European Renaissance, Baroque and the Fin-de-siècle. At present, Reinhard is working on a study about late Italian Renaissance and the Counter Reformation. His research activities have always been very stimulating for his professional work as a cultural guide opening up the great city of Vienna and its history to travelers.

Katharina Ebner

Katharina Ebner was born in Vienna in a family of three generation Viennese. She holds a Master Degree in Art History and Cultural Studies, having studied at the University of Vienna and Rome. During her studies she has was involved in a research project focusing on the photographic representation of post-war Austrians. Since graduating with a thesis on the relationship between sounds and images in film (summa cum laude), she has been working in several fields of art and cultural production in Vienna, Rome and Amsterdam. She worked as program curator for a renowned Vienna Discussion Forum, gave tours through the collections of the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. As an independent art professional she has been involved in several international University projects, as well as writing texts for catalogues and works as an editor. She is closely associated with the Institute of Composition and Experimental Music at the University in Vienna, currently working on a research project on the history of the Institute. She has been giving talks and lectures internationally on the contemporary Viennese Art Scene as well as Film, Sound and Image relationships. Because Katharina shares a strong interest in the historical and contemporary cultural urban space, she also became a licensed tour guide, providing insightful tours through Vienna.  

Katharina Trost

Katharina Trost was born and raised in Vienna and earned an MA in History at the University of Vienna.  She gives a wealth of themed tours of her city, from the classic city tour to imperial history, music history, architecture and art nouveau, palaces, churches and cemeteries. She is well-known for her lively and specialized tours for children, which are interactive and allow kids to solve historical secrets while discovering Austria's capital.  

Gerti Schmidt

Gertraud Schmidt has a linguistics background. She decided to leave a successful career in translation to indulge her passion for history, architecture, art and culture.  After graduating summa cum laude from the two years of study to become a licenced Austria guide, she has become a involved member of the Vienna travel world, representing the Vienna Tourist Guides in the Chamber of Commerce/Association of Businesses in the Leisure Field in Vienna, as a member the Tourist Guide Training Department and as Vice Chair of the Board in the Chamber of Commerce/ Association of Businesses in the  Leisure Field in Vienna. She loves introducing travelers to Vienna’s rich history, its architecture and astonishing art collections. In her free time, she also serves as an expert lay judge at the provincial high court.  


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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