Part 4 – Ahhh, Vienna
Meeting a smart and beautiful woman on the inbound train, convincing her to alight the train with me and see Vienna together until sunrise. Visiting a small cemetery, a bar to play pinball, a cafe to phone home, a record shop… Fall deeper and deeper in love as the evening unfolds. Appreciate the transience of the moment. Wishing it could go on forever, but knowing only with the imminent ending does each fleeting moment become more precious than the last.
The first part didn’t happen, but I did visit some of those places that appear in Before Sunrise – The Cemetery of the Nameless, Arena, Schallplattenhandlung, Cafe Sperl, Westbahnhoff, etc. One of the main reasons that I wanted to go to Vienna in the first place was because I do so love this film that is set there. Even though it seems quite odd that my experience of a city should be so influenced by a film, it doesn’t prevent that from being true. These locations may mean many different things to many different people, but these locations resonate with me through this film. The feeling of the relationship, for me, oozes from these locations, and as I visited each one it gently seeped into me and I fell in love. I fell for the city, I fell for the idea of love, the idea of romance, the idea of a connection between people so great that they begin to create a world of their own.
I marked out each location on the map and visited the furthest one first. Most of them were in the Old Town. There were a couple that were further out and two by the canal.
Note: There are spoilers to Before Sunrise from here. If you haven’t seen it I recommend that you do because it is fucking brilliant.
Friedhof der Namenlosen (The Cemetery of the Nameless)
Buried in the cemetery are people who were washed up by the River Danube between 1900 and 1935. No one knows who these people are, hence the name. The cemetery is located down river from Vienna near to the bank.
The film takes artistic license and has Jesse and Celine effortlessly visit the cemetery between visiting other locations. Geographically it’s on the city limits buried (pun!) amongst industrial estates and warehouses. To reach it was a U-Bahn (subterranean railway system) ride to the penultimate stop of the U3 line and then a bus that didn’t run all day and did loops of places. My map didn’t actually reach the cemetery but thankfully there was a local map at the bus stop, so I took a picture of that with my camera and used that instead. It wasn’t ideal.
I set off around Midday and I got on the bus rather quickly, thanks to the very handy U-Bahn. The bus took me through a lot of industry and factories with huge chimneys. Then it turned right and across a railway track where I got off the bus. I thought this was my stop for two reasons. One, some of the services on that route didn’t take me to the cemetery and just did a loop around the industrial estate, and two, I thought this was one of those services. So I got off at the stop marked Alberner Hafenzufahrsstraβe. on the map and I started to walk. Using my small camera screen as a map I walked what I hoped was towards Alberner Hafen. For a time I thought I’d never make it and that I was in the wrong place. I saw this sign along the way, the red strike through the word ‘Wien’ meant I was leaving Wien (Vienna)! It just seemed like I was walking to nowhere, but I wasn’t going to turn back.
Eventually, eventually, I reached the final bus stop – Alberner Hafen. From there, there was a sign that pointed the way, the only sign that seemed to exist. The cemetery was still a bit further down at the dead end of the road. The road was lined with warehouses and storehouses. I looked completely out of place amongst the workers and truck drivers. I walked down the dusty road and then, at long last, after feeling lost and alone for a time, I had arrived.
Elation, joy, achievement, all of these were felt and more. There were some steps up and then round past a round building and from here it looks exactly like it does in the film – because that’s where it was filmed. Being there was an interesting feeling – a sombre atmosphere. I was the only one in the cemetery but there was a bit of litter around, not much, but some. The place looked well kept. To the left there was a shed where, I’m guessing, the groundskeeper kept the tools. In the near corner there was a patch of grass one tatty wooden bench.
With a solemn disposition I walked around and looked at all the plots, the way you do in a cemetery. There were black metal crosses with Jesus nailed on it. Each one was numbered and had a plaque that said ‘Namelos’. A few of them had a name. Not sure how or why, but most of them didn’t. Some of them had a little candle box on them. Number 7 had the candle lit. Someone had been here recently. Was it the groundskeeper? I decided to light a candle too, as a kind of a mark of my visit. I took my time looking around and then went and sat on the bench. As I sat there I reflected on the journey I had just made and the place I was presently – in a city I’ve never been to before where I don’t speak the language and no one (really) knew where I was, and pondering the existence of the cemetery itself. The cemetery was in an odd location, out of place but also unaffected by it all, sitting there with its own bit of peace.
When the time felt right I stood up and took one last look and took my leave. As I walked away, and there was a long way to walk, I got the feeling that this little pilgrimage would punctuate the rest of my stay in Vienna.
Arena and Roxy
Back on the bus (after a long walk back to the bus stop near Fabianigasse, because the timetable said there wasn’t another bus at Alberner Hafen for 2 hours) back to the U-Bahn and a few stops back towards Central Vienna was Arena, where Jesse and Celine play pinball whilst discussing their their current and previous paramours. It was just after 3pm so there weren’t any customers there, only a few people who worked there setting things up for the night. Not sure how to describe the place. It was a venue for music and theatre and there were a few indoor bars to get drinks. The pinball machine was not there.
The whole place is filled with graffiti. It was a really cool place. I’d like to come back for a drink or even to a gig if I had someone to come with next time. I don’t think I’d have a very good night at a pub/bar/gig by myself unless I was somewhere more familiar.
Back on the road and back into the Old Town. The Roxy bar is where they ask for a bottle of wine with a promise of payment later. It was still daytime and it was closed so I couldn’t go inside.
But it’s there.
The record store where Jesse and Celine browse vinyl records and listen to ‘Come Here’ by Kath Bloom in a little booth. The place is pretty small but there is an impressive number of records in there. I am not a music person and have never bought a vinyl record and never had a turntable, so perhaps I’m impressed by something that select others may not. But I could see the scene. It’s surprising when you find out films where the interior is not the same place suggested by the exterior, so it’s a neat surprise that this was the same place. I looked for the booth but it wasn’t there! Did I not look hard enough?
Wiener Riesenrad (Viennese Giant Wheel)
This is the ferris wheel (one of the earliest) that features in The Third Manand is where Jesse and Celine first kiss with the sunset and everything.
It was a little less romantic when I was on it. In the ‘gondola’ with me were two 50ish year old friends and a family made up of two parents and their two kids, a daughter and a son both under 10 years old. But it was quite pleasant. One of the 50ish year olds offered to take a picture for me with me in it, taking pity on my as I was all on my lonesome.
It was a pretty good view and sunset is probably the best time to ride it. On some of the other gondolas were tables set up for dinner. Apparently you can rent a gondola for a time and have a romantic meal for two on it, complete with waiters and everything.
The Ferris wheel is just one ride among many in Wurstelprater amusement park, which is huge. A casual walk round I found 3 separate sets dodgems/bumper cars, 4 mini go-kart tracks of varying difficulties and many other rides besides. I walked around and considered going on a few rides but ended up deciding not to. I guess I didn’t feel much like it at the time. What was brilliant, though, was being able to just walk home because I was staying a 5 minute walk away from the park.
Jesse and Celine sit at a booth in this lovely decadent-looking café and make pretend telephone calls to a friend. It’s a clever scene where they tell each other what they think of each other but in a way in which they might describe them to their friends.
The café itself is quite nice but I think has aged a bit. Smoking is still allowed indoors so there is a smoky atmosphere, but it hasn’t done the furniture any good. Still, I sat and had a coffee and a few cigarettes and jotted things in my notebook.
The area that Café Sperl is in interested me quite a lot. There were some nice restaurants and bars around, but my favourite place was directly across the road where there was a book/coffee shop hybrid. I started to wonder if there was anything like that in London, and I couldn’t think of anywhere. There are a few bookshops with a separate coffee shop within them, but it’s not a hybrid like this one was. Sofas and tables for coffee and light bites set amongst bookshelves with books that you can buy. At the time there was a scaffolding up outside the building and the store front. What they did was take unwanted books and threaded a string through them so that they could hang them off the scaffolding.
It makes all the difference. A lovely store, owned and run by lovely people.
Franziskanerplatz and Albertinaplatz
In the Old Town there is a quiet plaza to grab a late night snack or drink, and there’s a statue to sit under whilst you squint to try and look at the stars. I guess this describes a quite a few places in the Old Town, but I’m specifically talking about Franziskanerplatz and Albertinaplatz, because they feature in the film. I didn’t visit any museums or do very much sightseeing. I find sightseeing slightly dull. My reasoning is that when I’m in London I don’t go sightseeing. I do all the things that I feel like I might enjoy doing. So when I’m away I try to do things that I think I may enjoy. I don’t enjoy sightseeing, at least without context. In Berlin, for example, knowing the history and significance to what I was seeing really helped, but more on that when I get to Berlin. What I enjoyed doing in Vienna was exploring Prater, riding the tram and U-Bhan, walking down the canal, and seeing places from Before Sunrise. So I did that.
Donaukanal (Danube Canal)
Old Vienna was built a little bit away from the River Danube. So I guess they built a canal to channel fresh water closer to the city so they didn’t have to go so far to get it. And why build the city so far away in the first place? Probably because of the flood plain and/or it was marshy if they built any closer. I haven’t done any research on this, but from what I understand about building cities and local geography this would be my guess. I could be wrong. I’ll research into it after I’ve posted this. Probably the wrong way to do it but when I do finally find out I can make another post out of it.
The canal path is was so pleasant to walk down and sit by. Imagine a nice canal path and that’s what it’s like. Just really nice. And here’s sculpture of a turtle that you may come across when walking down the path. It’s so freaking cute!
Bridge Over a Bridge
I think I got a bit obsessed with this bit, taking, as I did, about a dozen pictures of just this. When I looked back at them they seem pretty dull. But I like that the U-Bahn was built diagonally on the canal and then the footbridge was built over that. No idea if this was planned or if they were built separately. Again, I’ll write about it again when I do some research on it.
This is the bridge where Celine and Jesse, having just got off the train (although this is quite far away from the railway station) start to find something to do and they meet two actors who are in a play called ‘Bring Me The Horns of Wilmington’s Cow’.
And this is the station where they arrive in Vienna and Celine leaves. So that was about it. There were at least two places that I didn’t visit – the church they go into, and the restaurant on a boat on the canal. Also, I arrived at Westbahnhof on Platform 6. I left Vienna from Mielding whereas Celine leaves on a train from Platform 9 at Westbahnhof. I left without visiting Platform 9 because I knew that I would be coming back. (Massive spoiler alert!) In the film Jesse and Celine quickly arrange to meet up in 6 months time. Without exchanging phone numbers or addresses they arrange to meet at their currently location as well – Platform/Track 9. I knew that I would be return to Vienna – and I will – so I decided not to go back to Westbahnhof until I next returned, sort of like a promise to myself that I would be back here again. The film takes place on June 16 so the date they’re back would be December 16. When I return I’d like it to be in Winter. It’ll be freezing cold and the place would be different to how I saw it the first time. Alas I don’t think I’ll be going back this Winter, I don’t think I have the time, but I do want to go back soon, so perhaps Easter or next Summer.
There were other things that I did and experienced in Vienna (like cycle out to UNO City and get uber close to a wind turbine. Take a look at the other pictures on my flickr if you feel like it), but this was what really made it for me. It feels odd that a film has such a big influence on how a person (most likely just me) would experience and entire city. But it isn’t odd, is it? A good film should be able to do that; to be able to change the way you experience something, not just a city, but anything, like other films, or experiencing a particular piece of music, or see/appreciate a vehicle.
I’d kind of like to thank the filmmakers for making my visit to Vienna a pleasant and wonderful one, and for introducing the city to me before my visit, even though that probably wasn’t their initial intention.
After the surprise day I had in Zurich I really hoped that Vienna wouldn’t be a let down. I had high hopes for it so I was worried at first. But it certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautiful city and, like I’ve mentioned already, I’ll be going back at some point. Not ‘I want to go back’, but ‘I am going back’. I feel this way about cities I love, like New York and Hong Kong. Vienna is now on that list.
I arrive at Mielding railway station at Noon for my train to Prague. I realize at this point that I don’t even know what currency they use in the Czech Republic and that I didn’t know a word of Czech. Here was a journey into something unknown.