Yet Another ‘Long Night’

When all the city’s museums open their doors to the world

On The Town | Peter Diller, Marlies Dachler | November 2008

Majestic and Memorable

As an American from the mid-west, the thought of a museum staying open late seemed stray to me. But the idea that it was the Event Not to be Missed was downright foreign. I was in Vienna at the annual Long Night of Museums and the MuseumsQuartier was the place to be.

My friends and I bought our discount ticket with the full intention of abusing the access it gave us by going to as many museums as we could in one night.  No one could blame us; we were students with shallow pockets.

Our first stop was the Leopold Museum to see the Christian Schad Retrospective.  Paintings depicting portraits of men, women, and children from various walks of life filled the gallery. The large child like eyes starring from every portrait gave one a pervading sense of vulnerability. Quickly glancing at the works of Klimt we made our way out.

The Natural History museum was next. We headed there with one mission, to see the Venus of Willendorf.  We entered the massive entrance hall that was packed to the brim with every penny pinching parent and their gaggle of children out to get their money’s worth.  We quickly made our way up the stairs and into the room where the Venus was held. Pushing our way through the crowd we entered a dark room with black walls. The only light was a small spotlight that illuminated the miniature idol. Voices were hushed as if paying respect to this goddess of a by-gone era… I saw it, let’s go. We quickly browsed the dinosaur room then moved on to the taxidermy rooms while the conversation slipped away from us and we began to talk about the personification of the animal characters in childhood films.

Next on the agenda we headed towards the MAK (Museum for Applied Art). This particular prospect excited my friends, all graphic design majors. The idea of going to this museum with three art majors offset me, due to the fact that I was cluesless as to what the hell I would be looking at. The MAK surprised me though, with its galleries full of unique furniture, intricate tapestries, and detailed sketches. Struggling to move, let alone think as the clock struck midnight, we all rifled through bowls filled with random jewelry. The idea was to exchange a piece of jewelry you were wearing with a piece that you felt a connection with. Needless to say, the act of "exchanging" was not always exercised.

Finally we headed to the Schatzkammer, better known to English speakers as the Imperial Treasury. We arrived still eating our hot dogs encased in baguettes, so we stood in the doorway and hastily ate our street food as the security guards eyed us from behind the Plexiglas doors. Once we wiped our faces of any lingering condiments and entered the Treasury, we saw on display many garments worn by the Hapsburgs themselves. In all their glory and regalia, you still have to marvel at the almost childlike sizes of many of the garments. Alongside the costumes were the Austrian Crown Jewels. These spectacular specimens fell on seemingly blind eyes as a full stomach joined forces with my fatigue to destroy my already shot concentration span.

We went to several other exhibits that night and found ourselves in a state of museum intoxication, when a person’s mind cannot possibly process anymore culture. Thoroughly exhausted, we started our trek home more than pleased with our decision to have explored this seemingly foreign concept of spending the night in museums.

Boutique Museums

One Saturday a year, bars, cinemas and fancy restaurants are not the focal point of Vienna’s nightlife. Instead, its Vienna’s 90 museums that remain open from 6pm until 1am during the Lange Nacht der Museen (long night of the museums).

As a Lange Nacht der Museen virgin, I decided to go on an alternative tour this October 4, paying visits to museums that, during the year, get little publicity. According to the ORF, which initiates this spectacle for cultural enthusiasts, the Viennese Natural Historic Museum, the most visited museum that night, welcomed 12,373, a number of which, the locations I went to, the Snow Globe Museum, the Heindl Chocholate Museum, the Old-Viennese Schnaps Museum, and the K&K Emperor Franz Joseph Hat Museum could only dream of.

My journey started out at the Heldenplatz, where tickets were sold and busses to all museums left. In a very romantic setting between the Hofburg and the National Library, illuminated brightly in the early evening, hundreds of people queued to get the highly desired ticket that would grant them access to all museums nationwide (€13 for adults, €11 for students, pensioners, and members of club Ö1, and free for children under 12).

After successfully acquiring the tickets, my two friends and I left, by car, in the direction of the 17th district, the location of the Snow Globe Museum. The inconspicuous house in Schumanngasse 87 without a company nameplate was easily recognizable by a long queue, contrary to our expectations. Standing in line, I started talking to a middle-aged woman, who enthusiastically recounted how she’s been going to the Lange Nacht der Museen since the beginning in 2000. "It’s much more than going to museums, it’s like participating in a huge festival," she gushed. "It seems like everyone is up and about that night, a fantastic atmosphere," her husband admitted, who came with his wife the first time after days of persuasion.

Finally, it was time to go in. Behind the small store, which sold snow globes made by three generations of the Perzy family, the workshop tried to make a good impression on the visitors. On the right side of the entrance, a picture of still- chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer smiled down at people gazing at a special edition snow globe of Pallas Athena, the statue in front of the Parliament. Wiener Zucker, Absulute Wodka, Vienna Airport, Diddl, and other snow globes kept the Greek goddess company.

Staff explained to the swarms of people how the machines, some as big as compact cars, functioned, and old tools let the visitors imagine how Erwin Perzy I., a surgery tools mechanic by training, first started producing snow globes in the late 19th century, and soon registered a patent on "glass globes with snow effects."

Still under the spell of all the fascinating snow globes, we agreed it was time to sample Heindl’s chocolate assortment. In the 23rd district’s Willendorfergasse, chocolate lovers gathered at Vienna’s first chocolate museum. While children produced pralines with chocolatiers upstairs, their parents tampered with Austria’s biggest chocolate fountain in the exhibition. Pictures on the wall showed the history of chocolate-making, and chocolate sculptures, one even made for the occasion of the Euro2008, showed that chocolate is so much more than a treat.

After taking a picture of a cardboard cutout of Mozart – one of those with a hole for your head – I discovered that the only kind of Rausch-Plantagenchocholate they didn’t have was my favorite, Puerto Cabello with 43% cocoa – you see, I’m an expert – and put up with the 39 percent cocoa Madagascar. Devouring some chestnut chocolate hearts, I read that confectioner Walter Heindl founded the company in 1953, and that mainly liquor pralines were made in the early days. In comparison, today about 70 million pralines are produced per year.

As soon as I realized I was close to puking from all the chocolate I had eaten, I suggested going to the Schnaps Museum in Wilhelmstraße 19-21 in the 12th district in hope of, perhaps, getting a grappa to aid my digestion. But, unfortunately, I was not the only one with that glorious idea. The whole street was basically a queue and after we were told that people had been standing there for hours already, we decided to visit the Hat Museum instead. After all, we only had a little more than two hours left.

Entering the K&K Piristenkeller, a restaurant in the 8th District, we felt transported back into the times of Emperor Franz Joseph, after whom the hat museum is named. After we were given hats from monarchical times, we walked through a long vine vault, romantically lit by some candle-like lights. Entering a dark-wooden room, we were welcomed by a waiter handing out sparkling wine with gold leafs in it. Inside this room, a "hat clubbing" as it was called took place. While some other people participated in a kiss on the hand training, we sat down on an antique table to suck in the atmosphere.

After getting pictures taken by a photographer, we left. It was almost midnight, and we felt we had fulfilled our duty as urbane Viennese. But after all, I had discovered, the Lange Nacht der Museen was so much more than going to several museums at a later hour, it was a festival celebrating art in a city that, for centuries, has been known for exactly that.

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