This is from a letter written in 1997. Suzi and I were living in Bratislava, Slovakia. And while it was only 65 KM (40 miles) from Bratislava to Vienna there was a real difference between former communist Slovakia and EU member Austria. Now Slovakia is in the Union, but this is my reaction to the Vienna Christkindl market in 1997. The pictures are from later.
Vienna is Christmas magic, both on a macro and micro level,from massively lit civic buildings to the detail on Christmas figurines. I described the displays at the Christ Child Market at the Rathaus as pretty, Suzi said “decorative.” The mood in Vienna may be more festive than in Bratislava. Some of this is due to affluence. Slovaks my age remember, with a mixture of pride, resentment and irony, taking up collections during Christmases in the early fifties to aid people in Vienna, still devastated by the war. Now Vienna is more prosperous and expensive. The same Christmas ornament is 34 Crowns in Bratislava and 34 Schillings in Vienna, but one Schilling is worth about two and a half crowns.
Some of the Austrian festiveness is because every third person carries a mug of warm rum punch from booth to booth. The music in Vienna adds to its festiveness. There are string quartets performing in the streets, along with roving choirs whose voices reverberate off the stone walls of the old town and beautiful solo voices belonging to blind singers standing in front of small red plastic buckets into which Austrian put bills, not coins. It has always seemed to me that German is the language of Christmas music. Silent Night, O Tanenbaum, The hymns of Martin Luther, Bach cantatas. It’s odd to hear these German songs performed in English on the streets of Vienna.