Despite the fact that my blog has focused largely on Christmas markets and the Schloss, there is actually more to see and do in Vienna than just that! On my last day in the city, I went to Stephansplatz, which is the center of the historic part of Vienna. As opposed to "Rathaus," which is like the Austrian version of "Hötel de Ville" or the town hall. Yes, it sounds like "rat house." It definitely is an adjustment and I snickered a little the first time, "wait, I don't want to go to the main Christmas market at the RAT HOUSE! Who has a market at a RAT HOUSE?" I didn't know at the time that there would be a rathaus in every town.
You can't miss St. Stephan's Cathedral in the area. Since the square is named after it, I thought I'd take a look. The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming smell of horse dung due to the large number of carriages by the church with all of the horses outfitted with little holders for their poo. In fact, most of the central old town smells vaguely of horse poo.
When you've been in Europe awhile and you've seen a large number of churches and cathedrals, you really start to notice the ones that offer something unique or less common, so the intricate tile work on the roof caught my eye here. As I walked around, I noticed a rather shocking bit of tiling because the black bird below is a Nazi symbol to me. Of course, this raised the question for me of whether Austria had sided with Germany in World War II. This bird is apparently part of the national symbol of Austria, which predates WWII.
The history on this is interesting and it answers a question that I had early on during my visit of why Austria is a separate country at all. Starting in 1273, the Austrians were ruled by Germanic people and the Habsburgs appear to have been Germanic; however, it was a separate empire. When Germany was unified, there were those who wanted "Greater Germany," which would have included the Austrian empire (which also ruled Czech and Hungary then) and the Austrian emperor would have been the king of Germany. Others wanted "Lesser Germany," which excluded Austrian territory. In part this was due to Austria being more Catholic and Northern Germany being more Protestant. It was also a bid to unify people of Germanic background and language, so they wanted Austria's non-German lands excluded. The lands being considered were largely part of the former "Holy Roman Empire," which fell apart during the Napoleonic Wars.
Wait, why are tourists allowed to enter here during St. Stephen's Day mass? I exited promptly when I realized mass was taking place!
To make a long story short, Prussia beat Austria in a war and ousted them from a unified Germany. The Prussian king became the king of Germany and we basically have the country of Germany as we know it today. Austria was essentially annexed into Germany by the Nazis before World War II had really started, something that many Austrians approved of because they felt it unified "Greater Germany." Austria is a separate country today because the Allies decided to view Austria as a victim of Nazi aggression and to restore independence at the end of WWII.
Another church that really stood out as unique, especially in this area, with the red brick and gold! I had no idea what it was, but it's the Grieichische Kirche (Greek Church).
I was curious about the Austrian royalty now, so I hunted down a few more of their buildings. The Hofburg Palace houses the Austrian National Library, which is pretty cool for a book nerd like me! Plus, the building is just stunning! I also found it remarkable that the library actively seeks out the rightful owners of books that were taken by the Nazis during WWII and tries to return them (over 30,000 have been returned).
Another part of the Hofburg Palace (the total palace is huge and quite spread out) houses the Sisi Museum. I debated whether to go here or not, but ultimately skipped it. While she was a popular princess, I'd read online about her already after the Schloss. Seeing a bunch of her personal items and learning more didn't appeal to me personally, but it looks like an interesting museum for those who want to go more in-depth on Austria's last Princess. The weather had also improved and it was actually warm, so I think I was reluctant to go inside and preferred just walking around and seeing more of Vienna!
For those who don't know, I will be back in Vienna for New Year's Eve, so I was super excited to see the preparations starting already! I'm not sure if I'll attend the official concert or just head to the main square to see what's going on, but it looks like it will be lovely no matter what!