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The International Writers Magazine: Austria

Sissi lives on in Vienna’s Heart
Melissa Bird-Collado
Austria must be one of the smaller XXI century European countries. But Vienna, its capital, is covered by a royal hallo that will always remind visitors that less than 200 years ago it was an Empire of nine kingdoms.


Love, intrigues and tragedy covers the walls of the Schönbrunn and Hofburg palace. The love known as Sissy, has inspired many hands to write versions of the romance between a handsome young emperor and his love, the beautiful Sissi. The success of the Sissy trilogy in 1950 made the couple famous worldwide.

The movies has made us believe the story of a 16 year old 'Sissi', that follows her mother and sister Helene to the Austrian court in Ischl where young Franz Josef and Helene “Nene” where supposed to announce their engagement. Franz Josef meets the beautiful Sissi and falls in love immediately, getting happily married, without expecting that his arrogant mother, unhappy with the marriage, will do anything to provoke intrigues that the couple must endure in order to stay together. The journey thought the life and myth of this Imperial story is a “must see” in a Vienna visit, and the best way to start is visiting the Schönbrunn palace in Schlossstrasse 47, in the thirteen district.

The Schönbrunn palace was placed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List in 1996, due to its historic importance, its unique grounds and splendid furnishings. It’s in the possession of the Habsburg dynasty since Maximilian II, now property of the Republic of Austria since the end of the monarchy in 1918. Destroyed in some occasion, the palace has endured difficult times and wars becoming one of few the standing examples of the Austrian Rococo architecture. Its walls are painted on a bright yellow color, seal of every façade made for the Habsburg.

The guided tours take you around the official offices, and guess-salons and some of the private imperial rooms. The taste of the Rococo decorative style are found mostly on the walls and ceiling, covered with white-lacquered surfaces with gold leaf ornaments in a harmoniously game with white porcelain tile stoves and it magnificent bohemian crystal chandeliers. 

One of the most magnificent rooms, and at the same time one of the most important rococo rooms in all Europe is the Grand Gallery. It was used for the most important  court events, balls and receptions. This Grand Hall is 40 meters long and about 10m wide. It has high arched windows, rich stucco decorations  and huge ceiling frescoes, that can be gazed upon for hours, painted by Gregorio Guglielmi to provoke a desire of being invited  by Franz Joseph himself to one of his imperial balls.

The visit also takes you to the Imperial family summer private rooms. Franz Josef and Sissi’s quarters have two curiosities: First, its decoration was done on a simple and unpretentious Biedermeier style, contrasting the luxuriousness of the rest of the building. Second, for a XIX century royal family,  Franz Josef and Sissi where revolutionaries. They broke with the protocol of separate quarterage, instead the monarchs had a common sleeping room, only used during the first years of their marriage, which you can visit in the journey.
Franz Joseph

At the end of the journey of the complex light and luxury of the Habsburg dynasty rooms, open the doors to the back of the palace where you can access a whole paradise of barroque gardens and designs.   Take a walk  though The Great Parterre passageways between the clipped hedges, enjoy the sculptures and the fountain of Neptune on the foot on the hill, get “lost and found” on the garden maze, visit the Japanese Garden, and get romantic by the Roman Ruins.  Walk up to the hill to the Gloriette, it’s glazed inner hall became a favorite dinning room in the 19th century, a perfect place feel part the imperial life, as you delight yourself with the view of the garden  on a typical Wiener Café.  Don’t be surprised to hear animal noises; if you do follow the path to the heart of the Schönbrunn territory, there you can through the world’s oldest zoo. This mid-city wildlife habitat was founded 1752 and survived the two World Wars to give visitors the opportunity to representing fauna of all different biomes. Finally, you can be part of costume classical music concert inspired on Mozart and Strauss on a beautify salon. Schönbrunn palace invites you to enjoy the many amenities spread thought 160 hectares.

Hofburg The other place you most not miss on your quest on Sissi’s life is the Hofburg Palace located on the Vienna City heart. It was the former official residence of Sissi and Franz Josef. Originally, Hofburg was a medieval castle, but it became a magnificent residence for the Imperial family when the Habsburg's power increased.

Nowadays, Hofburg is not a structured palace, but a tiny city in the middle of a metropolis.  The monumental complex of Hofburg include an old chapel in which the Vienna Boys Choir sings the mass on every Sunday, museums, a beautiful library, a theatre, the last Spanish Lipizzaner horses riding school, a butterflies and palm house, a Congress Center, and the house of the Hofburg orquestra.  In your obligatory walk thought the historic area of Michaeler- and Stephanplatz , you will find curious salesmen dressed up as Mozart selling concert tickets. In the Hofburg area near the Michaelerplatz you will find the Sissi and Imperial Apartments Museums.

The Sissi Museum and Imperial Apartments is a place that offers a panoramic view of the daily life of the empire. Normally the ticket covers all three expositions: the Silver Collection, the Sissi Museum and the visit to the Imperial Apartments. The museum route opens its doors with Silver Collection, a very sumptuous worth seeing collection acquired and conserved by the Habsburg for generations. The visit continues with the Sissi Museum where more than 300 items are on display. Finally, the journey takes you to the Imperial Apartments located at the Imperial Chancellery Wing and the Amalia Residence, which contains the apartments of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth, showing fittings and furniture mostly date from the second half of the 19th century.

Sissy Elisabeth’s private life it’s discussed intensively at the second floor exhibition. You will find personal objects and several dresses, including a dress from her childhood, one on the few remaining summer dresses, reconstructions of her wedding-eve dress and the Hungarian coronation dress. Portraits, paintings of prominent artists of that time, and Sissi's watercolor painting box and drawings are some of the beautiful antiques of this fairytale Empress, making the path thought the museum full of surprises. The exposition is organized in a contraposition between the myth “Sissi” and the real Empress Elizabeth. Obsession, rebellions, myth, beauty cult, anorexic symptoms, sport, arts, and effusive poetry, are some elements used to undress the life and feeling of this carefree girl that grew in Bavaria, had unexpected marriage with the Austrian emperor, and died tragically in Geneva on 1898.

After the long journey, you can sit and relax at the Hofburg café just right down to the exit of the Sissi Museum or in one of the many centenary cafés specialized in cakes and chocolates near Michaelerplatz.

A classic favorite of Vienna cafes it’s Demel. Demel it’s a three storey Café and homemade candy store which can be seen from the entrance door of the Sissi Museum to the side of Michaelerplatz. From the moment you get into the store, the waitresses dresses, the paintings, and golden and mahogany wood decor makes you feel that you have entered a café of the late nineteenth century. Demel

At the back of the first floor you can enjoy watching the pastry chefs making the pastries from a crystal wall. I personally, love to see them decorating pastries with the bright frosty colors that make any candy appetizing and makes me want to try one candy each style.  The place’s name comes from its founder, Mr. Demel.

Mr. Demel was in charge of the imperial family pastries. Such important task and its fame for tasty bakes made him welcome to the personal space of the royal family. Sissi couldn’t avoid his tempting candies, and usually requested Mr. Demel his sugar drenched violet petal candies, which he broght to her in regular personal deliveries. If you would like to taste Sissi indulgence favorite candy you can visit Demel candy store. The violets bonbons and many other chocolates and cakes, as the Sacher Torte (one of the traditional Viennese chocolate pastries), are still available at the Demel café.

Going thought the mythical and real life of Sissi is not a one day visit to Vienna, and is just a minimal part of the many things to enjoy about this classical imperial city full of history and music. The difference between the myth and the reality are not for us to tell, but for you to find in a magical trip to Vienna.

© Melissa Bird-Collado Jan 2011

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