A Violin-Maker’s Guide to Vienna With Bärbel Bellinghausen

Bellinghausen is one of just 45 instrument makers in Vienna
Bellinghausen is one of just 45 instrument makers in Vienna | © Stefan Olah Kopie
Alicia Miller

From classical concerts in churches to cosy bars for pre-opera libations, our local insider knows the score on winter in the Austrian capital.

Unsurprisingly, the city whose most famous inhabitants include Beethoven and Mozart is alive with classical music, especially around Christmas time. Who do we have to thank for the festive hum in the air? German-born Bärbel Bellinghausen is one of 45 instrument makers in Vienna, handcrafting coveted violins from scratch in a former dairy turned city workshop. She also sews beautiful, sustainable covers for the fragile instruments, using heritage or precious fabrics via her Violin Cocoon brand. We sat down with the maestro to get her note-perfect tips for Vienna.

1. Bärbel Bellinghausen Geigenbaumeister Violin


Close up of violin, luthier workshop in background
© Nioloxs / Depositphotos.com

“My workshop is in the 4th district, near the Belvedere Museum and the central train station. I normally sell by appointment, but anyone can drop in and see what I do. Most of my customers are professional musicians in search of a new instrument – making violins from scratch is my speciality. It’s very time-consuming work and I only make about five each year. But I also do violin sound adjustments, bow rehairing and make covers for instruments from precious fabrics such as old kimonos.”

2. Hotel Sacher


Dark-wood panelling lines the walls of the deep red lounge at Hotel Sacher
Courtesy of Hotel Sacher / Expedia.com
“This is one of Vienna’s most luxurious hotels, but the best part about it is the Blue Bar. It really is all in blue, I love it. It’s my favourite place to visit before I go to the Vienna State Opera, right next door. I love to drink pisco sours but if I have one before the opera I’ll sleep, so I’ll start with just one Grüner Veltliner, a typical Austrian white wine. It’s very Viennese to order a small ein acht – one eighth of a litre – of wine before a show.”

3. Theater an der Wien

Concert Hall

The gold-lined ceiling and red-walled boxes of the Theater an der Wien
© Chaoss / Depositphotos.com

“This beautiful old theatre right off the Naschmarkt has rich red seats, plenty of gold and lots of history – many of Beethoven’s compositions premiered here. Even though it has a classic atmosphere, they now show a lot of contemporary opera. The programme changes constantly, but I saw Percival by Klangforum Wien here. I’m very into contemporary music and if you are, too, I highly recommend seeking this ensemble out wherever they are performing.”

4. Hotel Imperial


The grand Hotel Imperial bar with huge chandelier and marble decor
Courtesy of Hotel Imperial / Expedia.com
“My husband is a musician and between us we know a lot of conductors and composers. Most of the famous people who perform at the big operas always stay at the Imperial. It has a wonderful café, with perfect cakes – including one named after the hotel, made with chocolate, almonds and marzipan. Or, like me, you can go for a little Wiener schnitzel. You see a lot of people having their first glass of wine of the day around noon here – it’s nice and light, so it’s a good place for lunch.”

5. Karlskirche


Karlskirche church on Karlsplatz in Vienna at sunset
© Mistervlad / Depositphotos.com

“This church is really popular with tourists who want to hear famous pieces of classical music, also close to Naschmarkt. And you know what? It is very high quality, with fantastic musicians. They maybe only play the same five concerts, perhaps Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but if you want to sit in a beautiful church atmosphere around six in the evening and not get as dressed up as you would at the opera house, it’s great. The Karlsplatz nearby has a very nice Christmas market in winter, too.”

6. Hengl-Haselbrunner


“Vienna has vineyards right inside the city limits, and local people love to visit the heurigen (wine taverns) to drink and eat simple dishes like sausage and kraut. There are some that are more for tourists and some more for locals. The owner of this one is very into typical Viennese folk music, schrammelmusik. Once or twice a week, you can hear a live band with violins, accordion and bass sing old songs there while you sip wine.”

7. Zum Schwarzen Kameel

Restaurant, Austrian

Street view of diners at the upmarket Zum Schwarzen Kameel
© 4kclips / Depositphotos.com

“This restaurant is an institution. It still has the original design, decades old, and everyone comes here: musicians, actors, the mayor, everyone. It’s very fancy and quite expensive, so I like to go for just a few canapes, before or after a visit to the nearby Burgtheater. Maybe a little piece of bread with toppings on it and a good glass of wine. The location is great in winter, too, because you are just around the corner from a few Christmas markets, including one outside the Rauthaus (City Hall) and another in the former general hospital.”

8. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Library, Museum

Beautiful view of the Kunsthistorisches Fine Arts Museum with park Maria-Theresien-Platz and sculpture in Vienna
© Emicristea / Depositphotos.com
“This museum, just off Heldenplatz in the city centre, is most famous for its art exhibits, but also has a collection of old musical instruments – everything from flutes to special guitars used in schrammelmusik folk music. There are instruments from faraway places such as Indonesia and antique ones from Austria that no longer exist, because our music didn’t evolve to suit them. It’s really fascinating.”

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