I have travelled to Vienna with my family recently and was amazed again about the importance of Jewish Heritage Vienna is offering to the visitor who is interested in the truly „Jewish feeling“ one can experience in this European capital. Very differently from other Central European cities one find a deep involvement of the main Jewish community of Vienna (“Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien”) in the social and political life of the city – and at the same time I was amazed by the charming coincidental meetings you might have with Orthodox Jewish life in the second district, “Leopoldstadt”, the so called Mazze Island. Traditionally a Jewish neighborhood this district was home to Sigmund Freud, Theodor Herzl, Arthur Schnitzler, Billy Wilder, Lise Meitner and many others.
We rented a spacious apartment not far from Praterstern, one of the central stations of Vienna. As early as we entered the building we were happy to find the two neighboring flats marked with mezuzot and it took not long to meet the first children in the staircase, obviously looking forward to the seder with this intensive festive feeling all of us have before the afikoman is found …
Smaller and larger kosher suppliers could be found around the corner and were very helpful for us – and probably the biggest kosher supermarket in Vienna was located next door – and offered a variety of matzot, we haven´t seen in a long time. We attended the very nice and friendly seder of the liberal community, which is also located in the 2nd district and spent another couple of days to explore Vienna in depth!
Jewish life was originally located in the heart of the city. Within a short walk from the grand St. Stephen’s Cathedral you can find signs of all the main phases of Jewish history. The remnants of the 13th century synagogue are presented in a branch of the Jewish museum, “Museum Judenplatz”.
On the baroque square itself the city of Vienna pays tribute to its more than 60.000 Jewish citizens, who have been murdered in the Shoah. Rachel Whiteread’s unique ‘Nameless library’ as a Holocaust memorial invites the visitor to slow down and spend some thoughts about the life and death of the victims.
A short walk away, we will see the neo-Classical Seitenstettengasse Temple, which houses the Jewish Community offices of Vienna and a brand-new kosher café in Singers bookshop – a nice and cozy place to feel some heymishkeit in the busy First District.
Glamour and glory are not far away though – Vienna Ring Road contains a collection of imposingly grand buildings in historicist style, including the Vienna opera house. Luxurious former residences of the Jewish bourgeoisie of the last turn of the century indicate the importance of Jewish families in Viennese history and it is highly recommended to explore these with a Milk&Honey Tour on the “Ringbahn Tram”.
We were listening to some hidden Jewish Vienna stories and even discovered that “the” attraction, not for Jewish tourists in Vienna but for everybody visiting, the “Ferris Wheel” has some Jewish element to discover.