Forces
James Leavey's Corner
Will The Real Vienna Please Stand Up

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by James Leavey, editor, The FOREST Guide to Smoking in London
and The FOREST Guide to Smoking in Scotland

Reproduced with permission.


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James Leavey
Sometimes life is just like a movie...

"This trip looks a bit too regimented for me," complained Frank Dickens, the cartoonist and creator of Bristow,while we waited at Heathrow's duty free area contemplating the itinerary for our first visit to Austria. "I prefer an Awfully Big Adventure."Five minutes later, he disappeared.

He eventually turned up on the plane having left his return ticket on the check-in counter, and we winged our way across Europe in search of the smoker-friendly Vienna immortalised in Carol Reed's The Third Man.

Somehow over the long weekend we spent there, Frank and I managed to miss most of the splendours for which Vienna is world famous.The Spanish Riding School was closed and it was too early for theNew Year's Day Concert.Yes, we heard the Vienna Boys' Choir singing the Sunday mass from aloft in the Hoftburgkapelle but it would have been easier to see them by downloading the Internet's paedophile sites.

And we never did find Mozart's grave or get to explore the Vienna Woods.

Looking over the city for the first time from the 14th floor of the Vienna Hilton in midwinter, it was difficult to see what had attracted Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Schubert, or current residents, Placido Domingo and Nicky Lauda.The grey sky and light snow didn't help.

The charm of the place hit us when we admired the impressive architecture while enjoying a tasty bratwurst at a street stand. For some reason I found myself constantly humming Anton Karas' Harry Lime theme. I put it down to a touch of the Habsburgs.

Later, we sipped potent expressos at the crowded Cafe Central at 1 Herrengasse where a small ensemble plays Strauss among the pillars between 4pm and 6pm.The dinner-jacketed waiter assured us that Austrian coffee was the real thing."It's not like American coffee,"he said, "where you see the sugar fall all the way to the bottom of the cup."

There are about 1500 coffee houses in Vienna.They're great places to relax, smoke, observe the locals, write, or as Trotsky did, play chess.The Hotel Sacher behind the State Opera is a picture of opulence and is famous for its Original Sachertorte, created and served there for the first time in 1832.

The Third Man's author, Graham Greene, stayed here for two weeks, in February 1948, his room booked by Alexander Korda, who thought a story set in the bombed-out ruin of what was once the capital of central Europe would make a great film.

After ten days, Greene was in despair.The snowbound city had provided the background, but he still had no story.A break came when he invited himself to lunch with an old contact, a young British intelligence officer, Charles Beauclerk, and heard about the 'underground police' who patrolled Vienna's massive network of sewers, and of a sordid racket in diluted penicillin.

Greene's painstaking research and long evenings of solitary drinking in the Oriental weren't wasted.He had his film.

He would have felt at home in the Cafe Hawelka. Just across the road from Kafka's hotel, it opened in 1939 and is another classic Viennese cafe, where the same chocolate brown walls, worn red damask curtains, wobbly marble-topped tables and young clientele (which has included Andy Warhol) are still presided over by the 84-year-old owner and his wife.Ashtrays abound.

Wherever you look, the Austrian capital is a feast for the eyes of screenwriters, film location scouts and other lesser mortals.Its baroque palaces are adorned with sculptures, coordinated colours brighten the facades of the townhouses, and the diverse styles of its churches and belltowers add a note of fantasy.We spent a lot of time walking around and gawking upwards, hypnotised by the visual splendour.

Vienna is also one of Europe's most romantic cities.It's the perfect setting for a chance encounter, whether it's between Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli, Harry Limes's former girlfriend in The Third Man, or more recently the two young American students who enjoy a 14 hour relationshipin Richard Linklater's film, Before Sunrise. Maybe next time I'll bring my wife.

When Carol Reed andGraham Greene travelled to Vienna in July 1948 to look for locations, Greene was appalled to find that the post-war world he had so vividly described had almost melted away, and kept saying to Reed: "But I assure you Vienna was really like that - three months ago."

47 years later, Frank and I celebrated our arrival in the city with the largest and best Schnitzel we had ever tasted, accompanied by a perfect salad and dressing at Figlmuller's Restauration Stadtzentrum.Afterwards in the Hilton's stylish Klimt bar, our digestions were soothed by a live combo playing the best of Gershwin, Cole Porter and Ole Blue Eyes greatest hits.

The next morning, our guide, Heidi, arrived with some umbrellas against the drizzle and we discovered that you can circle the city centre in a tram in 15 minutes, courtesy of a one day travel pass (40 schillings, valid up to 8pm).

Our first stop was the home of Austria's popular living artist, architect, ecologist and philosopher, Friedensreich Hundertwasser.He was out but his work is on permanent display at the nearby KunstHaus Wien museum, which stands like a bird of paradise among the grey buildings with its colourful facades, towers and grassed-over roof.It's a good place to graze a cow and has been described as a half-melted slab of licorice allsorts.

Zipping along the majestic Ringstrasse, our next stop was at the Austrian Gallery in the Belvedere Palace, to feast our eyes on the newly opened permanent collection of the work of Gustav Klimt, which includes 33 paintings and the Beethoven frieze.

Later that day, we got lost and arrived 15 minutes late for Dr Brigitte Timmermann's Third Man tour.The next few hours saw us crisscrossing the city on underground and tram, in search of twenty film buffs all looking for Harry Lime.When we were in the Prater fun fair admiring the 212 feet high Ferris wheel, they were somewhere underneath us, reliving Orson Welles' last moments in the sewers.

For about ten years after World War II, Vienna was divided into four zones: British, American, Russian and French.This year (1996), the city will celebrate its millenium.Boasting some of the classiest window-dressed shops in the world, this halfway house between Western and Eastern Europe is now occupied by the world's most famous traders.There's everything from Yves St Laurent to Marks and Spencer (even Richard Branson's there).

There are no shortages of places for a good night out, whether it's at the opera or disappearing into the bars and clubs around Ruprechtplatz, Seitenstettengasse and Rabensteig.Not for nothing has this area been dubbed the 'Bermuda Triangle'.We shoehorned our way into the Zu-Ga-Be in Schwarzenbergplatz at 1 am, where the jive band were standing on the bar, playing 'Sweet Home Chicago' to a politely raucous crowd of students, many of them enjoying a smoke.

On Saturday morning, we mooched round the flea market along Wienzeile, where we found some handmade Charlie Chaplin puppets, and Hungarians delving into mountains of clothing for denim jeans to resell.Suddenly, a gust of icy wind lifted Frank's hat and deposited it on one of the mouldering piles.Jacques Tati would have loved the way the woman tried to sell it back to him.

We gave up trying to choose between Vienna's umpteen museums, including some dedicated to Freud, clocks, cigars and clowns, and collapsed into a cinema specialising in English-language films.It was still showing Carol Reed's classic thriller."I think we've just passed the house where Lime hid in the doorway," exclaimed Frank, heading for the exit.I stumbled out after him.Well, he was looking for an Awfully Big Adventure.


Copyright James Leavey, 1997.All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the Author.

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