Guest Post: What… no Brahms?!

Written by Konstantine-George Athanasios Karras:

I’ve just spent three days in Vienna, Austria and must confess I am severely disappointed in the Viennese people. It’s certainly not because of their lively and clean city filled with beautiful public buildings and pleasant squares, palaces and coffee shops and musical venues. No. It’s certainly not due to the denizens themselves who are polite and cultured to an extraordinary degree. The reason for my well-placed ire is the Austrian capital’s almost complete lack of honoring one of their most famous and beloved (admittedly adopted) sons: Johannes Brahms.
This is the City of Mozart. Now I’m the first to admit that Wolfgang is no musical slouch and only a mad, uncultured lout would think his music anything but a noise close to musical perfection, but jeeze!—after walking around the city a couple of days you’d think there was only one classical composer in all the world. Wolfie is everywhere… and I mean everywhere. His likeness graces candy boxes, liqueurs, (he’s got his own brands), refrigerator door magnets, posters, store-fronts… he’s got his own venue across the straße from the city’s grandiose opera house where his minions are dressed in the lacy, periwig-donned, white-hosed attire of 18th C. court musicians who stand on the street corners and squares throughout the city peddling programs for his nightly concerts. I’m frankly surprised that his mug was not displayed on a package of “Die Zauberflöte”-brand prophylactics in the local pharmacy! C’mon, Viennese… where’s your sense of fair play?
Only by the most assiduous planning and painstaking preparations was I able to uncover two meager traces of my beloved Johannes in this, the City of Music. The evidence of him can be seen a little ways east of the city center in the humungous Zentralfriedhof, Wien’s main cemetery. It was to that sprawling boneyard that I had to travel to see evidence of his earthly remains. They are buried under a simple yet graceful monument in section 32A (plot #26) of the cemetery in an admittedly honored spot. He shares the distinction with fellow dead musical alums Beethoven, Strauss, and Schubert, although I’m forced to admit Wolfie, who heavens-to-betsy, cannot be forgotten, has insinuated himself in the area with a monument placed in the center of it all, even though the marker has no body laying beneath—it’s interred elsewhere.

I'm very excited to be within 6 feet of his moldering body!

I’m very excited to be within 6 feet of his moldering body!

The only other place Brahms is to be publicly seen (if one is to discount the little corner given him in a room of the Haydn Museum on the Haydngasse, is his statue located within the leafy environs of the Resselpark, one of the main parks of the city. It sits beneath a pleasant canopy of trees and the stone effigy of Hans looks out solemnly onto the roaring traffic of the Karlsplatz. After gazing at it adoringly for several moments I thought the sculptor captured the rather gruff and earthy composer quite perfectly, although the overall attitude of his stocky body seems as if he is about to rise from his seat and change the channel on his TV set because his remote is broken.

"Scheisse! Another Mozart program. Now I haf to get up and change der channel."

“Scheisse! Another Mozart program. Now I haf to get up and change der channel.”

So, my simple message to the Viennese is: more Brahms!

Vienna

So. The one thing Austrians don’t believe in is air conditioning.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world but living in Florida has left me living at a specific standard of comfort. It wasn’t terrible. It was warm today, and we do have a fan in our hotel room so sleeping was comfortable. But Lord, the Hofburg Palace was hot today. I nearly perished from the lack of water.

Our day started this morning with breakfast of coffee and apfel strudel on the Stephensplatz. From there the first major site we hit was the cemetery. Might be strange for some of you, but my husband had a very big X to cross off on his “Burial Bucket List”: Johannes Brahms.

Johannes Brahms and KAK.

Johannes Brahms and KAK.

The cemetery was full of decomposing composers: Ludwig von Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Franz Schubert, just to name a few. But my husband’s favorite has always been Brahms. We bought flowers to leave at his grave and it was lovely.

Afterwards we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral and walked around the city center. The sun was starting to heat up and as we passed a store selling Omega watches we saw this sign:

Omega Museum

Omega Museum. Excuse the drunk expression. He wasn’t. Really.

It wasn’t a big museum, but it did have displays of Omega watches from the past, including the ones that went to the moon with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Well, and they had air conditioning. It was a neat little place. But since we didn’t have between €3000-25,000 to drop on a watch, we left empty-handed.

In the afternoon we went to the Hofburg Palace and saw the Royal Apartments and the Sissi Museum. Sissi, in case you didn’t know, was the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 1800s. She was reportedly beautiful, sweet, and adored by her people. This was where I nearly passed out from the heat in those close rooms. Had I been wearing a corset necessary to fit into her ball gowns, I most definitely would have done so.

Afterwards we wandered. And as we were wandering by the Michaelskirchke we heard organ music coming from within. So we popped inside the blessedly cool interior and had a free music concert as the organist practiced. It was lovely.

This was my view. I know, hideous, right?

This was my view. I know, hideous, right?

Beyond that we just wandered. We wandered into a small shop that sold prints of watercolors of Vienna and bought two. The shop owner and her husband painted them themselves. Even though it was early, we found dinner:

Smoked salmons and scalloped potatoes for me.

Smoked salmon and scalloped potatoes for me.

 

Wiener Schnitzel for Kosta.

Wiener Schnitzel for Kosta.

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And beer for us both.

Walking back to the hotel, we saw this guy playing a fucking broom:

I don't know how he managed it, but he was good.

I don’t know how he managed it, but he was good.

Tonight: Mozart’s Requiem at the Karlskirche. Tomorrow? Who can say…

 

 

Burial Bucket List

I love cemeteries. There is something so peaceful and lovely about them. And then there is the reading of headstones. As a writer, I wonder about the stories of the individuals that lie below the earth. Each human has a different story to tell, some were extraordinary, others quiet and mundane. But each one is a story and the possibilities send me into storyland.

My husband has a bucket list of graves he would like to visit. Some of them have already been achieved. For instance, when we were in England in 2012 we sought out the birthplace and final resting place of Edward Elgar, the famous English composer.

Famous composer Edward Elgar.

Famous composer Edward Elgar.

Last summer on our way to Franklin, NC, we made a side trip to Gotha, Florida where another hero of my husband’s was laid to rest: Bob Ross.

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Bob Ross is buried under a happy little tree.

We’ve seen other graves too: there was a man named John Pendelbury who was instrumental in organizing the Greek resistance during WWII. He had a glass eye and used to leave it on his work table as a clue he was going to talk to the rebels in the hills. He was in a lovely military cemetery on Crete that we visited in 2014. Poor man was captured and shot by the Germans when he was just in his 30’s.

Then of course, we have new graves to look at this summer. Vienna will be chock-a-block with famous composers: Beethoven, Haydn, and my husband’s all-time favorite Brahms.

The funny thing is, I can’t think of a burial bucket list myself. It makes me wonder why I don’t have heroes to whom I would pay homage. I guess I’d like to see Audrey Hepburn’s grave in Switzerland, and perhaps Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. My husband’s passion for music is so huge that seeing these graves is a big thing.

I’ve seen the graves of Michelangelo, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. That was really neat. But to me, there is something much more fascinating in the unknown rabble of people buried beneath the stones of church floors and in crypts.  Their stories, while not known to me, have endless possibilities of stories.

Perhaps the grave I would like to visit most would be that of my grandmother, buried on a hill overlooking the town of Carver, Minnesota. I haven’t been back since she passed in 2010. She’s the hero of my life, and I can’t think of any other famous person who measures up to her.