My bunk mates and I woke up bright and early to catch breakfast and a walking tour of Vienna. Our tour guide was at least 70 and showed up twenty minutes late, panting from hurrying on her self-kicked scooter. She wore funky printed pants, a ripped-jean mineral-washed jacket and a colorful braided straw hat. Her big blue eyes, wide face and tiny teeth reminded us of the human-form Tweedy bird as she hiccuped and apologized for her tardiness. She kept chugging her bottled sweet tea as she mentioned she was late because she was getting an “infusion.” We were all hoping she meant an infusion tea, but she definitely just came from getting a blood transfusion! We were surprised she came for the tour being that a blood transfusion takes it out of anyone, let alone a little old lady! She was surprisingly on point as she waged quickly forward; cutting cars off as we were walking, talking too quickly and asking members of our group to, “Please hurry up, or we’ll leave you behind!” She pointed out Secession Style buildings, famous to Vienna, and mentioned that Hitler was turned away from art school in here twice. With a saddened look on her face, her eyes tilted down she broke the silence, “Maybe if we would have let him in, history would be very different.”
We stopped at a famous fountain as her tour group huddled in a circle around her. A seated man that we didn’t notice upon arrival started yelling into his phone on the steps below us. He quickly stood up and scolded the tour guide, “I’m not part of your tour and you interrupt my lunch here?!” Our guide stood tiny and trembled at his feet, searching for words to spit back at him. He then looked down on her and pushed her with both hands saying, “RESPECT!” At this point the little lady swatted him with her umbrella which she had been using as a pointing-baton throughout the tour, yelped “don’t touch me!,” and ran to the other side of the fountain. Two Australian tourists stood up for her and ripped into the guy about how HE was actually the one that needed to learn respect. A little shook-up, she continued with the tour of the classical palaces, museums, libraries and churches downtown.
A Frenchman in my room showed me a postcard he purchased at an unconventional neighborhood outside the city center the day before. The photo enticed me and after offering €0.50 for use of the McDonalds loo (In Europe they have free healthcare, but have to pay extra for ketchup packets and toilet use… so it’s really a toss-up), I set out for the Hundertwasser Haus. Upon arrival, I was in absolute awe over the buildings which boasted not a single straight line. Broken chips of brightly colored tiles were aimlessly inset into the walls and trees rose from cobbled mounds that broke through the ground of ramdomly-laid brick patterns. There were columns of colorful lopsided ceramic orbs, crooked fountains, twizzling pillars and full-sized foliage growing out from balconies and roofs. In the community, Hundertwasser even nodded to the death/end of the current unclever style by replicating the straight partitions of the buildings beside it, and peeling away the sides to show a psychedelic substructure.
I sat in a nearby art store drinking hot wine, and eating fresh apfelstrudel with vanilla-bean ice cream as the rain poured down. I listened to the crooning voice of Hundertwasser over the radio as he talked about his philosophies within art and architecture. His thoughts really resonated with my views on architecture, design and life in general as I enjoyed my delicious pastry. As I internalized his words and colorful works over the walls of the room, I realized I found my new favorite artist and discovered that as a designer myself, I have always adhered to (but had never been formally taught about) the rules (or lack thereof) that governed Hundterwasser’s style. You don’t find straight lines in nature, so why do we design with straight lines? When we design with straight lines, we lose contact with nature and set ourselves apart from nature. Hundterwasser noted that, “A straight line is the only uncreative line that exists,” and that “so called civilized man” has been “estranged from nature” and should take steps to creating a “peace treaty” with the earth. “We must restore back to nature, territories which man has illegally occupied.”–LOVE it.
After basically being dragged out of the museum at closing time (I was there for 2 hours and could have easily been there for a third), I was left on the street in the rain without an umbrella. I passed by a hop-on-hop-off bus (usually about €25 for 24-hour bus tour), but then thought, “Why not just ask the guy for a quick ride to his next stop in exchange for a couple euros?” He motioned apologetically over a map that his route went the opposite way and would never circle back to my hostel in Nachtmarkt, but then was struck by a brilliant idea waiting in his bus’ closet. He pulled out a plastic poncho and grinned ear to ear as he saw me light up with appreciation. I wanted to give him a hug, but I didn’t know the culture of Austria and what’s appropriate, so I went for a warm handshake. However, he went for a hug, so we did an embarrassing dance/hug/handshake move that we both felt awkward about after. I thanked him again, hopped off the bus, and gave him a big smile and a thumbs-up while standing (dry) under the pouring rain.
I slowly wound my way along the curved streets of Vienna in the direction of my hostel, passing by parks and incredible architecture along the way. Wonderstruck, I took a seat next to Karlskirche (St. Charles) with the engraved graphic columns spiraling up toward the tacked copper dome. The rain sent streams down the dome, creating darkened stripes of green copper in its path. You could see the entire reflection of the church in the oval pond below, but the wind would sometimes pick up and disrupt the calm pictured reflection, creating an abstract watery reality with raindrops rippling, changing the imagery even more. Billy Joel has been stuck in my head the entire time I’ve been in Vienna, and I sat by myself in the storm, at the center-back of the pool, singing, “Slow down, you’re doing fine, you can’t be everything you wanna be before your time.” An older Chinese man with a big yellow umbrella sat next to me and though we couldn’t converse with each other, he sat singing his own song out over the water; him with his yellow umbrella and me with my yellow rain poncho–the perfect stormy duet.
Alena Horowitz | Miss Potato