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Maymester 2014 in Vienna

Unhurried Time Travellers

Maymester students explore the origins of Modernism in Vienna


Time matters in Viennese coffee houses, however, in an unexpected way. By slowing its pace down, time turns into a matrix for ideas and encounters with likeminded spirits. An abundance of time was maybe the most distinctive feature of Viennese coffee houses around the turn of the century, when intellectuals, writers, and artists met to exchange their ideas and visions.

Participants of this year's Maymester course in Vienna (EUS 260) experienced this culturally saturated, intellectually stimulating approach to time almost immediately after they arrived. "I expected to be rushed out of the already crowded dining area," says one of them, "to make room for more customers. But instead, a beautiful thing happened. Our waiter left us alone. He didn't ask us to pay, and he didn't push us to buy more food. He simply let us be. I could see many Americans perceiving this as a display of his indifference toward us as customers, but painting it as such would be entirely inaccurate. This is the cultural norm. This is how the Viennese experience their meals. And I quickly fell in love with it."

Vienna's architecture preserves time. Excavations of Roman buildings remind one of former glory as much as the adjacent Hofburg, the center of the Hapsburg Empire that once spanned the entire globe. The rise of Modernism was in many respects a rebellion against an imperial ideology and its need to display their power with help of monumental buildings and magnified symbols of superiority. Architecture, Adolf Loos, claimed, had to eliminate historical allusion, strip ornamentation, and connect form with function.

Students saw buildings, for example, by Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, and Ludwig Wittgenstein in order to identify a distinctive, middle class mindset that was free of historical ballast. All of these buildings sought to overcome time through a timeless architectural language.

Traditionally, art plays a major role in Vienna's self-perception as a cultural melting pot with its long imperial history. Students learned about the shift from representative art to a more avant-garde, self-reflective, and experimental aesthetic in the city's many outstanding museums. Guided tours, for example on Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, brought back an era that began to favor everything new over things past.

Today, Vienna maintains its position as a geographic intersection between East and West, North and South. Among the many institutions and organizations that impact world politics, the many United Nations offices stand out. A visit to the UN gave students an idea about the role of the United Nations and their focus, for example, on solving current issues on nuclear development, border-crossing epidemics, and international crime.

Highlights of this year's Maymester in Vienna were, of course, the musical events at the Musikverein, the most traditional venue that the city can offer. After a concert performed by the formidable Fauré Quartett (Mahler, Fauré, Brahms) on May 8, we enjoyed a symphony concert by the Wiener Symphoniker, featuring Alain Altinoglu (conductor) on May 14. Ludwig van Beethoven's piano concerto no. 3 was masterfully performed by Vladimir Jurowski, undoubtedly a rising star among pianists worldwide, followed by an excellent performance of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with its numerous changes in tempo and rhythm during the second part of the concert.

All in all, this year's Maymester Program in Vienna was considered a tremendous cultural experience and a lot of fun for all.


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