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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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Neighborhoods
How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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Big Questions
Why is New York City Called The Big Apple?
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New York City has been called many things—“The Great American Melting Pot,” “Gotham,” “The City that Never Sleeps”—but its most famous nickname is “The Big Apple.” So just where did this now-ubiquitous moniker originate?

MAKING A BIG APPLE

Over the years, there have been many theories about how New York City came to be called “The Big Apple.” Some say it comes from the former well-to-do families who sold apples on the city's streets to make ends meet during the Great Depression. Another account posits that the term comes from a famous 19th-century brothel madam named Eve, whose girls were cheekily referred to as her “Big Apples.” But the nickname actually springs from a catchphrase used in the 1920s by The Morning Telegraph sports writer John J. Fitz Gerald in his horse racing column, “Around the Big Apple.” Beginning on February 18, 1924, he began every column with the header, “The Big Apple. The dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred and the goal of all horsemen. There's only one Big Apple. That's New York.”

At the time, the jockeys and trainers of smaller horses were said to want to make a “Big Apple," which was their term for the big money prizes at larger races in and around New York City.

Fitz Gerald reportedly first heard "The Big Apple" used to describe New York's racetracks by two African American stable hands at the famed New Orleans Fair Grounds, as he explained in his inaugural "Around the Big Apple" column: “Two dusky stable hands were leading a pair of thoroughbreds around the ‘cooling rings’ of adjoining stables at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans and engaging in desultory conversation. ‘Where y'all goin' from here?’ queried one. ‘From here we're headin' for The Big Apple,’ proudly replied the other. ‘Well, you'd better fatten up them skinners or all you'll get from the apple will be the core,’ was the quick rejoinder.” Fitz Gerald nabbed the colloquialism for his column, where it quickly took off.

CATCHING ON

Once the term entered the vocabularies of society up north, its popularity slowly spread outside of the horseracing context, and everything from nightclubs in Harlem to hit songs and dances about the city were named after “The Big Apple.” Most notably, New York jazz musicians in the 1930s—who had a habit of using the nickname to reference their hometown in their songs—helped the nickname spread beyond the northeast.

Throughout the mid-20th century, it remained New York City's nickname until it was officially adopted by the city in the 1970s. The New York Convention & Visitors Bureau hoped that using the moniker would brighten the image of an economically downtrodden and crime-ridden city in decline and revive the tourist economy. In 1997, to give Fitz Gerald his (somewhat unjust) due, then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed legislation naming the corner where Fitz Gerald and his family lived at West 54th Street and Broadway between 1934 and 1963 “Big Apple Corner.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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