Thomas Bernhard, Karl Kraus, and Other Vienna-Hating Viennese


Best of 2018

We’re away until January 2, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2018. Enjoy your holiday!

Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902.

Alone in Vienna, January sky smoothed and silvery over a thin lip of sunlight, streets windless, I sat in the Café Museum before a strudel and a cup of milky coffee, reading an Austrian novel propped open and freshly coffee stained. I was perfectly, touristically happy, a state in which even the most prosaic things partake in the novel glory of a place. I had just dispatched a schnitzel the size and shape of a small umbrella, beaded with oil, as well as a pilsner whose gold-brown glow rhymed with the schnitzel, the coffee, and the dusk lights—everything, in fact, seemed fringed with burnt gold. The booth was crushed crimson velvet, soft but thinly packed and straight-backed, a blithe discomfort surviving charmingly out of the past. Similarly, the waiter—bow-tied, bald head monumentally mounded and catching the light like marble—was unaccommodating and gruff in a manner that seemed, at the time, a piece of old-world charm. Across the street, washed hospital white, the Secession Building, house of Gustav Klimt’s luminous Beethoven Frieze, was wrapped in a mesh tarp and looked like the depression of a pulled tooth covered in gauze.