Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

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Saturday, January 28, 2017

An American Back in Bavaria / Part # 9 / Vienna / Saint Stephens

GAPP Exchange Journal 2014
Part # 9 / Vienna - Saint Stephens

The Streets are Alive with Music
After a brief rest, we left the lobby of our hotel and were on the move once again, going out to explore more of the city.  We broke into smaller groups as a matter of interest and I led my collection of young ambassadors toward the cathedral of Saint Stephens in the heart of the city.  I was leader in age but the kids had mastered the "U" subway like a full-time resident and knew exactly where to jump on and off with ease.  I thought it much easier to follow the kids than try to digest the complex underground map of colored rail lines in conjunction with street stations.  The sun was out and illuminated the western sides of buildings, while leaving the eastern half in shadow.  It made it a little tricky to get the best shots with my camera but I took every opportunity to capture every photograph possible where the light cooperated.  The streets were still crowded with pedestrians, who appeared to be making their way toward no place in particular.  Perhaps they were on their way to the theater or State Opera House to hear the creations of Mozart or Beethoven.  As the evening arrived, street performers began to appear in small groups or solo to share their gifts of sound with anyone who would pause to listen. 

Prayer Candles of Saint Stephens
As we approached the impressive sight of Saint Stephens, I couldn't help but notice the poor souls begging outside on the steps.  Old women and men who looked truly Biblical in appearance, which protruded a profound feeling of weakness in the presence of the tremendous walls of strength of the cathedral that soared upward to the heavens above.  I deposited several coins in the hands of an old woman who may have been blind as her distant gaze was unfocused but nodded her head in appreciation when she felt the coins hit her open hands.  Later I was told that some beggars are actually employees of a corrupt underground organization that preys on the sympathy of tourists for financial gain.  Regardless, I did not regret my actions as she looked like she could benefit from any and all available help.  As we entered into the dimness of the outer sanctuary, we came upon multiple large tiered racks of prayer candles, which created a beautiful display.  It was a reminder that the most important element of the magnificent church was the individual people from far and wide in need of spiritual guidance.  

Interior Sanctuary of Saint Stephens
Saint Stephens is considered to be the most important religious site in Vienna and holds the high status as the Mother Church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna.   It resides on top of the ruins of two church structures that previously occupied the space.  The church was first officially dedicated to Saint Stephen in 1147 as German nobles prepared to embark south on the Second Crusade.  As with most famous churches, the original structure was changed and expanded over the centuries to eventually grow into cathedral status. The original church started out in the Romanesque architectural style but later evolved to add Gothic elements as it expanded outward and upward.  The tallest tower of Saint Stephens is 446 feet tall, making it the tallest building in Vienna.  The construction of the impressive limestone tower began in 1368 and took 65 years to complete.  As the highest point in the city, the tower was often used as an observation point during times of war, when Vienna was threatened by foreign invaders at various times over the last 500 years.  

 Saint Stephens by Joseph Alt 1847
Near the end of World War II, the German Army began to withdraw from the city as allied troops approached.  An order was given by top command to fire 100 shells at the cathedral to destroy the iconic structure in an intentional act of defiance.  However, the officer who received the order chose instead to ignore it, and his own personal act of defiance saved Saint Stephens from destruction.  However, as the Soviet Army came into view, a group of civilians intentionally set fire to several shops nearby in an effort to deny the invaders of supplies.  Unfortunately, the fire was driven by wind and spread through the streets towards Saint Stephens.  The cathedral caught fire and badly damaged the roof, causing the roof to collapse.  Thankfully, priceless works of art and artifacts inside were mostly spared from damage due to preventative care to protect them from the potential destruction of war.  The roof was replaced and covered with 230,000 colored tiles in a mosaic pattern that included the images of the Hapsburg Dynasty's coat of arms on one side and the City of Vienna's coat of arms on the opposite side of the roof.  The colorful pattern of tiles has helped make Saint Stephen's Cathedral become the most recognized structure in the city. 

 Mosaic Tiled Roof of Saint Stephens
After a quick tour through the beautiful open-air sanctuary, we made our way to the star attraction of the cathedral.  For a small fee, you could take a small express elevator up 224 feet to the top of the North Tower, where a small observation deck provides an amazing view of the city in all directions.  The sun was about to set and time was of the essence, so we quickly got in line and waited our turn.  It was breathtaking to see the view, as we first stepped out into the fading sunlight of the observation platform.  However, one of the first things I took notice of was one of the cathedrals massive bells, which was perched right before us within the tower.  Of the 23 bells contained within the church, we were looking at the largest of them all, known as Saint Mary.  At 44,380 pounds, it is the largest bell in Austria and the second largest swinging bell on the entire continent of Europe.  As a result, it is affectionately referred to locally as the Boomer and I was glad we didn't get an opportunity to find out why during our visit on the platform!  The famous bell actually only rings about a dozen times a year on special designated times, including "ringing" in the New Year.

 View of Vienna from the North Tower
The iconic South Tower of Saint Stephens is twice as tall as the North Tower and also has an observation platform.  However, there is a catch as it can only be reached by climbing the 343 steps within a tight circular internal staircase.  They say the view is amazing but I'll just have to take their word for it as the express elevator sounds a lot more user friendly!  The view from the platform was nothing less than spectacular and we arrived in time with enough light to see to the far reaches of the northern horizon.  The red terracotta rooftops spread out in all directions within view and their color was enriched by the orange glow of the setting sun.  The view was periodically broken up with the steeples of additional churches within the city jutting upright above the jumbled ceiling of Vienna.  One nearby rooftop contained an inviting open-air restaurant accented with vine covered trellises that was full of diners enjoying the cuisine and accompanying view.  We stood on the platform and continuously re-positioned ourselves to take in every view possible.  The sun began to sink deeper to the west and soon caused a bright glare, which reflected off the rooftops to obscure our view in that direction.  I would have loved to stay up there to see the city lights of the night but we had a schedule to keep so it was time to descend back down to street level and reconnect with the others of our larger group at the designated meeting place.  We had a reservation at Hotel Sacher to enjoy a piece of their signature chocolate cake dessert.

The Sun Sets / View to the West

Site Facts, Figures, and History
Source / Vienna by Lina Schnorr
Published by Harald Bohm - 2014

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