Immediately after their exams, seven members of the University of Northampton History Society travelled to Vienna. A self-organised culmination to their studies, the visit focused upon the history and culture of what is now Austria from the Renaissance through to the end of the Second World War. They were accompanied by Jim Beach, one of their lecturers, acting as tour guide.
The group immediately demonstrated stoicism in the face of an outrageously early start in order to fly from Luton. They then experienced a culture shock upon reaching a country where the public transport system was spacious, easy to understand, and cheap!
Monday afternoon and evening was spent on an orientation of the oldest parts of the city, taking in the well-known sites of Stephansdom Platz, the Hofburg Palace complex, Plague monument, and Holocaust Memorial. In between those landmarks, lesser-known places and architectural oddities were slipped in relentlessly by their guide. And so began a five-day game of spot-the-Baroque-building.
The group also took the plunge into Vienna’s culinary delights. Eventually, by the Thursday, some were forcing themselves to have at least one Schnitzel-free meal per day. The famous bakeries were also besieged, with the widely proliferated ANKER chain becoming known affectionately as “Vienna’s (better) version of Greggs”.
Tuesday was dominated by the culture of the Early Modern period through a visit to the magnificent Art History Museum. Gathered by the Hapsburg monarchs over several centuries, the breadth and depth of collection provided unique and beautiful windows into Europe’s past.
Having a military historian as their tour guide meant that Wednesday began with the almost-unpronounceable Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, aka the war museum. All having previously studied the Origins of the First World War, the students now found themselves inspecting the bullet holes in Franz Ferdinand’s car and the pistol used to make them.
‘Peak Baroque’ was achieved that afternoon with a stroll through the gardens of the Belvedere Palace. But an architectural antidote was swiftly administered with a subsequent look at the rather brutal Soviet war memorial at the bottom of the hill.
Thursday was unguided and the students spread out across the city to take in, amongst other things, the Schönbrunn Palace (plus its zoo!) and the Jewish Museum. Obligatory Austrian chocolates were, of course, purchased in bulk for loved ones back home.
The students now look forward to their Graduation. They will also hand the Vienna baton to the new leadership of the History Society who, it is hoped, will press the ‘repeat’ button for next year.