Vienna Stereotypes: How To Create Your Own Picture Of The City

If you visit Vienna for the first time and are keen to get under its skin you face a challenge: a mountain of 'must-sees' that over the centuries have cemented the rock solid stereotype of the enchanting city of music, cakes and emperors. Should you indulge in it? Or should you smash it by replacing cliched sights with trendy places?

As a native Viennese and frequent traveller back to my hometown, I have had fun doing both: indulging in and smashing Vienna stereotypes. Here is how you can create your own unique picture of Vienna in three easy steps:

1. Be Open Towards Stereotypes

There is nothing wrong with world-class heritage sites such as Schonbrunn Palace and the Imperial Palace Vienna, with treasured institutions such as the Spanish Riding School, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Boys Choir, and with signature food such as Sacher Torte and Wiener Schnitzel. They have become victims of their own success. It is not their fault that they are used to stereotype Vienna. Enjoy them as they play their role, but be aware they represent the outer wrap of Vienna.

2. Search For the Flip Side

If palaces are on your sightseeing agenda, complement them with neighbourhood walks. If you visit the Museum of Fine Arts, watch out for contemporary art centres and for street art. If you have Sacher Torte at Cafe Central, go for Topfenkolatsche to a coffeehouse to trendy Leopoldstadt (2nd district) or for baklava to multicultural Ottakring (16th district). Mozart concert ticked off? How about Viennese jazz or electronic music? Once you have discovered the other end of the spectrum, you are better able to fill in the cultural gaps in between. Be aware that overly trendy places could just incubate the next modern stereotype of Vienna...

3. Talk to Locals

Residents make the soul of a city. Whatever your image about Vienna, it will be incomplete without at least one decent conversation with a local resident. Talk to the owner of your bed and breakfast, to the hotel concierge, the coffeehouse waiter (if he has a quiet moment), the taxi driver, the market stall owner. There is no need to interview them about Vienna stereotypes. Share your thoughts about the little things in life and in exchange learn about their thoughts. You will be surprised how much local culture there is to learn from a simple chat. (picture: Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations)

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