A mixed work day/vacation day for me in Vienna today... conference calls back with the US from 4 PM local time to about 10 PM local time cut into the holiday a bit.  No calls on Friday though :)  Some of the calls were quite good, including three press interviews about the upcoming release of Lotus Workplace Team Collaboration, which is being formally announced next week at the Workplace 1.1 launch on November 5.  More blogging on that next week.  As for the vacation day, I crammed a fair bit of Vienna into a seven hour block.  
First, I headed out to Schonbrunn, the Habsburg's summer palace.  A few things really jump out at your during the tour -- 1) the Emperor was obsessed with time.  I've never seen a palace with more clocks, including one on each face of the exterior!  2) His wife was anorexic.  They don't quite say it, but the behavior is quite clear in description.  3) They had nice taste in Chinoiserie, as the small rooms containing Chinese vases, etc. were really the highlight of the tour for me.
From there, I walked through the old town center, and visited the Stephensdom (main church).  I also sought out the City Synagogue, but almost missed it.  Apparently, at the time it was built, Vienna had a law that only Catholic churches could be built as free-standing houses of worship; all others had to be blended into the cityscape.  Thus, the City Synagogue looks just like any other building block in town (well, except for the armed police hanging out down the street).  I knew there was a tour, and when I passed an open door, I saw a sign inside that indicated the tour is conducted at 3 PM.  Having 45 minutes to kill, I had my requisite cappuccino and apfelstrudel at one of Vienna's coffeehauses.  Nice, but tomorrow I go for the Sacher Torte or some other much more decadent dessert.  Then I headed back for the tour.
Well, I had to do everything short of showing the security man my circumcision to gain admission.  I can understand that these are difficult times, but this was more over the top than any other security interview I've ever been subjected to.  He tested my knowledge of Judaism and Hebrew, asked me about my trip to Vienna, did anyone know I was planning to visit the temple, and and and.  I thought about it a bit later, and I suppose a single male traveller wandering in just on time would be a bit suspicious, as opposed to the dozen people who apparently arrived together as part of their tour group.
The ordeal was actually well worth it.  I've never seen another temple quite like this one.  It was designed by a non-Jew in an oval, theatrical style: the ceiling has a skylight and is full of raised stars; twelve columns are supporting three tiers of balconies (seating for the women in an Orthodox temple), and the "bima" (where the officiants stand) had quite a few focal points, including a gilded metal section at the top. Offhand, I can't find any photos of the interior on the web (can anyone else?), maybe because they don't allow photography on the tour...but somewhere, I would expect to find an official photo or something.
I was by far the youngest on this particular tour.  At the conclusion, some of the other Americans asked me where I was from.  It turned out that the group travelling together was all from the Chicago area, including a couple from Highland Park.  How freaky is that?  We talked briefly, trying to figure out if we knew anyone in common ("Jewish geography"), but it didn't seem like it.  Still, it was quite funny to meet a couple from home, totally at random, 4500 miles away.
Trivia question -- when the Schonbrunn palace was electrified in 1905, how exactly were they able to take the existing chandeliers and convert them to light bulbs and wiring?  I am sure they were not designed with electrification in mind, rather candles.  Yet the tour indicated that most were original and had been converted.  How is that done?

Post a Comment