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.
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“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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