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25 Things You Should Know About Vienna

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Strolling around Austria’s biggest city, dubbed the City of Music, is like simultaneously stepping back in time and stepping up in class. You can trace the footsteps of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, or Schubert—or waltz along to their compositions at one of the town's many balls. (When you're done, don't forget to refuel with some Viennese coffee and a hot dog.) Read on for more facts to file away about Vienna.

1. A military camp called Vindobona was set up where Vienna is now around 50 CE, but the first documents bearing the name Wenia surfaced in 881 [PDF]. It was mentioned as a town in 1137 and the town charter was granted in 1221.

2. Napoleon occupied Vienna in 1805 and again in 1809, and both events affected Ludwig von Beethoven. The first interrupted the premiere of what ended up being his only opera, Fidelio. And during Napoleon's May 10, 1809 siege, the prodigy, who was beginning to lose his hearing, hid in his brother Carl's basement with pillows over his ears lest the sound of the shells falling outside cause even more damage.

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3.
Vienna technically sits in two different climate zones. It's located right at the border of the moderate middle European transitional climate and the drier Pannonian zone.

4. The German name for Vienna is Wien. So yes, that means Austria’s most famous dish, the wiener schnitzel, translates to Viennese schnitzel. The proper serving of the dish is breaded veal with a side of parsley potatoes or a potato cucumber salad.

5. Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, or Spanische Hofreitschule, has kept the renaissance tradition of Haute École equestrian alive for more than 450 years. The name of the institution refers to the horses introduced in the 16th century from Spain’s Iberian Peninsula—today's Lipizzaner stallions are descendants of these.

6. The famed Vienna Boys Choir’s roots date as far back as 1498 [PDF]. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart worked with the choir and Franz Schubert was once a member. In 1918, the group became a private institution, and their imperial uniforms switched to sailor suits. Now, there are more than 100 boys between the ages of 10 and 14 from 30 countries split into four choirs, giving more than 300 performances a year.

7. Over the course of a century, Vienna's population has hovered between 2 million (its peak, in 1910) and 1.48 million (in 1987). As of October 2014, there were approximately 1.8 million inhabitants.

8. The Vienna Giant Wheel, or Wiener Riesenrad, was built in 1897 to honor the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. A year later, in a protest intended to draw attention to the city's poor, a woman named Marie Kindl hung herself outside one of the cabins. By 1916, a demolition permit was issued, but there wasn’t enough money to actually destroy it. In 1944, it was burned down, rebuilt the next year, and put back in rotation in 1947.

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9.
The snow globe was invented in Austria in 1900 when Erwin Perzy was trying to improve on the light bulb—he added water and semolina flakes, in the hopes that the light would bounce off them and cast a brighter glow. That didn't happen, but the effect was striking. Mass production began in Vienna in 1905 by his company, Original Vienna Snow Globes, and the flakes are still falling today. Now run by his grandson, Erwin Perzy III, the family business has made customized globes for Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and First Daughters Sasha and Malia Obama.

10. The 521 square miles of the Vienna Woods, or Wienerwald, are home to 2,000 plant species and 150 bird species. At least two endangered species—Ural owls and green lizards—have made the forest home.

11. The Austrian city has been home to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) since 1965. And although the United Nations is headquartered in New York City, one of its primary offices is in Vienna as well. The building serves as home base for the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency and Office on Drug and Crime.

12. Vienna is the second most livable city on the planet after Melbourne, Australia, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s study ranking 30 factors, ranging from safety and education to infrastructure and healthcare.

13. Almost 3 million people a year visit the city’s most famous church, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, or Stephansdom, built in the 12th century. Thirteen bells hang from the tallest tower, which stands 448 feet high and is accessible by climbing 343 steps. But it’s the Pummerin bell, in the 224-foot-tall tower, that happens to be the second largest free-swinging European chimed church bell. Composers Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have both worked in the church.

14. Be the belle of the ball: Every year, more than 450 balls take place in the Austrian capital. Viennese Ball Season runs from New Year’s Eve to Shrove Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). That means there's about 2000 hours of ball dancing annually.


15.
The Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Concert is one of the hottest tickets in town, with prime seats costing as much as $1200. This year's show was seen on TV by 50 million viewers in 90 countries. And you have an absolute zero chance of scoring a ticket to ring in 2017. Names must be selected by a random drawing to have the opportunity to purchase tickets—and the entry period closed on February 29.

16. Coffee is about more than just caffeination for Austrians—it’s part of their heritage. In fact, in 2011, Viennese coffee houses, which originated in the 17th century, were put on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, as they are a place “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”

17. The hills may have been alive in Salzburg, but the real-life Maria von Trapp, made famous by The Sound of Music, was actually born in Vienna on January 26, 1905.

18. Also born in Vienna? Actor Christoph Waltz, who spent most of his career working in Europe until he landed a starring role in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds in 2009. The Austrian-German actor has since appeared in 2011’s The Green Hornet, 2012’s Django Unchained, 2014’s Big Eyes, 2015’s Spectre, and is signed on for two more Bond films.

19. Vienna has bragging rights as the only world capital that produces “significant quantities” of wine within its city limits. With 1730 acres of “wine-growing surface,” there are more than 320 vintners. Eighty-five percent of the wine produced is white wine grape varietals.

20. By 2050, life expectancy in the city will be 89 years old for women and 85 for men. Comparatively, life expectancy in 2013 was 81 in the country and 71 years globally.

21. The 13-mile Danube Island was open in 1981 to reinforce Vienna’s flood protection system and has become a prime recreation center, with a 820-foot family beach, a (free!) 53,820-square-foot waterpark, and a climbing park where guests can ascend 33 feet into the air.

22. Austria’s largest palace, Schonbrunn, has been one of Vienna’s most visited sites since 2003. But you can still make the experience personal. The 1798-square-foot, two-bedroom Grand Suite is available for rent—with rates around $1500 a night. But really, how do you put a price on the ability to say you’ve stayed overnight in the former imperial home of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress “Sisi” Elisabeth?

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23.
If splurging on a palatial stay isn’t up your alley, the gardens around Schonbrunn Palace are equally majestic—and free. Open to the public since 1779, the Baroque-style gardens include a labyrinth, a zoo, Roman ruins, Neptune’s Fountain, and a Gloriette atop a hill with a sprawling view of the entire grounds.

24. The 1949 film The Third Man has been called the “most important” film about Vienna. More recently, Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise was also shot in the capital. And even though the 1984 Oscar-winning Amadeus took place in Vienna, it was shot in the Czech Republic because, according to director Milos Forman, Vienna’s “streets are full of boutiques, asphalt, steel, glass and plastic ... besides, Vienna is insanely expensive.''

25. When ordering a hot dog from one of Vienna’s trademark hot dog stands, get ready to answer whether you prefer the sweet kremser mustard or spicy estragon. Vendors may shorten it to süss (sweet) or scharf (spicy). One of the most popular kiosks is the old city’s Würstelstand am Hohen Markt.

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Berlin Is Now Home to the World's Largest Street Art Museum
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With vibrant murals and colorfully tagged buildings and alleyways, Berlin is internationally famous for its street art scene. Now, the German city is home to a new museum that celebrates urban visual works from around the world, according to Deutsche Welle.

Billed as the largest of its kind, the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art made its grand public debut in mid-September, complete with a street festival that allowed visitors to tag a community wall. The five-story museum is housed in a converted late 19th-century house in Berlin's Schöneberg district, with a façade that's covered in a rotating assortment of murals. Its collections include between 100 and 150 international and local artists, including big names like Shepard Fairey and Banksy.

"Except for two or three historical pieces from the collection that must be shown simply because they are important for the development of the scene, all exhibits were specially created for the museum—all by artists who started on the street and continue to work there," Yasha Young, the museum's artistic director, told Deutsche Welle.

The Museum for Urban Contemporary Art's opening exhibition includes portraits, pop art, and socially conscious works, and serves as an introduction to urban art. Other attractions include a library stocked with street art photographer Martha Cooper's collection of books and magazines, and a central staircase adorned with British street artist Ben Eine's signature colored letters, according to the AP.

Some purists might argue that street art belongs on, well, the streets, instead of inside a museum. That said, the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art appears to be committed to keeping the art form's democratic spirit alive. Artists will be routinely invited to create art on the museum's exterior, special grant programs will provide practicing artists and curators funded opportunities to hone their vision, and the central exhibition space changes every year to highlight different movements and talents. The museum also plans to host workshops, live performances, and art shows.

Plus, some might say that a museum dedicated to graffiti and street art—an overlooked niche that galvanized greats like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring—is long overdue.

According to BBC News, British street artist Louis Masai shared this at the Museum for Urban Contemporary Art's opening: "It means that the artists who have been a part of this scene and movement for a long time are now getting the respect that they deserve."

[h/t Deutsche Welle]

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25 Things You Should Know About Barcelona
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With its Catalonian roots and modernist architecture (much of it by the legendary Antoni Gaudí), Barcelona's charm feels timeless. Read on for more about this coastal metropolis, the former home of Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

1. Nobody knows exactly how the city got its name, but two legendary figures are frequently cited. According to one account, Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, named the settlement "Barcino" in the 3rd century BCE after his family's surname. A different tale credits Hercules, whose ninth ship (barca nona) was said to have washed ashore in the area.

2. The Eixample section of the city is a nearly perfect grid, although the corners of each square are cut off, effectively making every block an octagon. In the 19th century, geometry-obsessed architect Ildefons Cerda designed the areas to ease traffic patterns and navigation, but also to build a community within each block, which featured a communal garden in the middle. As a bonus, the setup also maximized sunlight and the ventilation of the surrounding homes.

3. One of Barcelona's most popular arteries is the three-quarter-mile road called La Rambla. During the Middle Ages, it was the site of a polluted stream outside the city walls affectionately known as Cagalell, or "stream of shit." Today, the road is divided into five sections—Canaletes, Estudis, Sant Josep, Caputxins, and Santa Mònica—which is why it's often referred to in the plural as Las Ramblas.

4. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), more than 1000 underground bomb shelters were built to offer Barcelonians refuge from enemy attack. You can experience the claustrophobic atmosphere of one of the subterranean structures, Shelter 307, a massive bunker with specialized rooms (toilets, a children's room, an infirmary, and more) linked by 400 meters of tunnels. The Museu d'Historia de Barcelona manages the site and offers public tours.

5. The annual Sant Jordi festival (which took place this year on April 23) toasts Catalonia's patron saint, Saint George. As part of the celebration, men traditionally give their loved ones a rose. But it's also the anniversary of both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes's deaths, so women give a book in return.

6. A 200-foot-tall monument of Christopher Columbus is located at the end of La Rambla, near the harbor. Completed in 1888 by sculptor Rafael Atche, the towering column honors the explorer who returned to Barcelona from the Americas and reported his findings to his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. In his left hand, he holds a scroll, and with his right, he supposedly points toward the New World.

7. Construction on Antoni Gaudí's masterpiece cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, began in 1882 … and is still going. The Gothic- and Byzantine-influenced design reached its final stage in November 2015, but projections still target 2026 as the completion date. By then, it will have 18 towers and reach a height of 564 feet, making it the tallest religious building in Europe. Despite not being finished, it's still Spain's most-visited monument.

8. A modernist masterpiece, Park Güell is a complex of public parks designed by Gaudí and a local industrialist, Count Eusebi Güell. Originally, in 1900, Güell had envisioned the complex as a housing development interspersed with green spaces, but only two homes were ever built and few buyers showed interest. The residential project was abandoned in 1914 and the city later converted the rest of the area into municipal parks with roads, walkways, a plaza, and gatehouses designed by Gaudí. Today it's one of seven properties in UNESCO's Works of Antoni Gaudí world heritage site.

9. Another site in the UNESCO group is Casa Milà, an apartment building designed by Gaudí and nicknamed La Pedrera, or stone quarry. It took six years to build and was completed in 1912 in the Catalan Art Nouveau style. With 48,438 square feet of space for visitors to explore, its most recognizable feature is the roof terrace with its winding paths of ventilation towers, chimneys, and stairs.

10. Spain's most powerful supercomputer, MareNostrum, is housed in the 19th-century Chapel Torre Girona on the campus of Barcelona's Polytechnic University of Catalonia. A team of researchers uses the MareNostrum for mapping the human genome, detecting complex weather patterns, and other massive projects using huge amounts of data.

11. The first boycott-free Olympics since 1972 was held in Barcelona in 1992. The summer games took place amid global political shifts—South Africa had outlawed Apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall had reunited East and West Germany, and 15 former Soviet countries competed as a "unified" team. More than 9000 athletes (6652 men and 2704 women) competed in 257 events—including baseball, badminton, and women's judo, which all made their official Olympic debuts that year.

12. The coastal city's beloved beaches are actually man-made. To prepare for the 1992 Olympics, industrial waterfront buildings were torn down and palm trees were imported from Malaga, resulting in two miles of idyllic waterfront space. Today, there are more than four miles of beach.

13. Singer José Carreras, who was born in Barcelona on December 5, 1946, sang the part of Tony on 1984's West Side Story recording with Leonard Bernstein. He later joined forces with Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo in 1990 to form the powerhouse combo The Three Tenors. Their first live album (recorded at their debut concert in Rome) went multiplatinum that year—and won a Grammy for best classical vocal performance.

14. In 2004, Barcelona-based candy shop Papabubble started making hard candies completely by hand. Today there are more than 40 locations around the globe, in cities including Beirut, Dubai, Lima, New York, Paris, Sao Paolo, Taipei, Toronto, and Zhengzhou.

15. Built for the 1929 International Exhibition by Carles Buigas, the Montjuïc Magic Fountain features a dancing water show with more than 50 shades of colors coordinated to music. Located at the end of Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina, it was restored for the 1992 Olympics and also hosts an annual Piromusical show, synchronized with fireworks, for the city's La Mercè festival.

16. For a panoramic view of Barcelona, hop on the scenic Montjuïc cable car, which travels up a hillside for 277 feet, with stops at Parc Montjuïc, Montjuïc castle (built in 1640), and the Mirador de l'Alcalde. From the upper terminal, board the Montjuïc funicular to ascend to more cultural attractions, including the Fundacio Joan Miro and Barcelona’s ethnological museum.

17. Barcelona's local cuisine combines the hallmarks of the coastal Mediterranean palate—fish and shellfish, legumes, tomatoes, peppers, other fresh vegetables, fruits, and wheat—with the rustic fare of the mountainous interior. Pork (especially Serrano ham) and wild boar, sausages called botifarras, wild mushrooms, cheeses, and wines add heartiness to the Catalan table.

18. Pablo Picasso's family moved to Barcelona in 1895, and he lived there on and off through 1904. "There is where it all began … there is where I understood how far I could go," he said of the city. Barcelona’s Museu Picasso, founded in 1963, houses 4251 of his works in its permanent collection, including early self-portraits in the figurative style, Cubist works, studies of harlequins and horses, and later sculptures.

19. Catalonia’s artistic legacy wouldn’t be complete without Surrealist master Salvador Dalí, who was born in Figueres, a small town about an hour northeast of Barcelona. He spent the last decades of his life creating a museum in his hometown to preserve his work. "I want my museum to be like a single block, a maze, a great surrealist object. It will be an absolutely theatrical museum. People who come to see it will leave with the feeling of having had a theatrical dream,” Dalí once said. The Dalí Theatre-Museum’s collection includes more than 4000 Dalí works, 11,300 photographs, and 537 manuscripts.

20. Barcelona’s most visited museum is dedicated to the city’s beloved football (that is, soccer) team, FC Barcelona. Within the team’s stadium, dubbed Camp Nou, is a collection of multimedia exhibits, memorabilia, and trophies from the team’s 22 league titles, four Champions League victories, and many more. Visitors can also take a tour of the locker rooms, the players’ tunnel leading to the field, and other hallowed spaces. In 2013, more than 1,530,400 fans passed through the doors, more than the Dalí Theatre Museum in nearby Figueres and the Museu Picasso.

21. The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is the city’s main market for food and drink. The current market was established in 1840, but the site has been a well-trodden spot for farmers to trade their produce and city dwellers to buy fresh food since the 13th century. Today third- and fourth-generation sellers offer fresh and salted fish, poultry and eggs, meats of every description, breads, pasta, wine, fruits and vegetables, and even frozen foods.

22. The old Sant Agustí monastery now houses the Museu de la Xocolata ("Museum of Chocolate” in the Catalan language), showcasing a sweet part of Barcelona's history. In the 15th century, shipments of chocolate from far-flung regions arrived in Barcelona and were distributed throughout Europe. Exhibits focus on the chocolate-making process, historical roots of the product, and even chocolate-themed works of art.

23. Barcelona’s Avinguda del Portal de L'Angel is Spain’s most expensive retail street. As of 2015, commercial real estate on the street sold for $335 per square foot.

24. The au courant clothing chain Mango was founded in Barcelona in 1984. Now, the brand has 2415 stores in 107 countries and operates Europe’s largest fashion design hub, the Hangar Design Centre.

25. The Royal Institute of British Architecture's highest honor, the Royal Gold Medal, has always be awarded to a person—except in 1999, when it was given to the city of Barcelona. Citing the city’s widespread revitalization after the 1992 Olympics, the organization announced, "Barcelona is now more whole in every way, its fabric healed yet threaded through with new open spaces, its historic buildings refurbished, yet its facilities expanded and brought up-to-the-minute.”

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