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The opening of an ambitious complex of museums, restaurants and cafés highlights the first year of the new millennium in Vienna, a city already rich in culture.

Vienna's Schloss Schönbrunn
Vienna's Schloss Schönbrunn

Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, features two prominent musical selections, Richard Strauss's Thus Spoke Zarathustra and the famed Blue Danube by Johann Strauss (no relation). It is with this tenuous, yet chronologically relevant connection that we begin our Vienna report, a summation of what the city has to offer this year, plus hotel and restaurant reviews, including updates of some old favorites. So, as we proceed, imagine Zarathustra's trumpet fanfare and swirling violins rising up to introduce one of the most exciting cultural events to take place in Vienna in the last decade: the opening of the Museumsquartier.

The MQ, as it is being called, is an enormous cultural complex located in the former Imperial Stables just behind Vienna's Fine Arts and Natural History museums. The city is spending about $130 million to convert these noble equestrian buildings designed by the imperial architect Fischer von Erlach into a living and breathing modern art district, open round-the-clock (with just a short break when the coffeehouse/dance club closes at 4am and the Children's Museum opens again at 8:30am).

On an ordinary day, the MQ will offer a flock of exhibits, as well as dance, music and art performances. There will also be a host of cafés, bars, and garden restaurants the best of which should be the beloved Gleisebeisl, which for years has occupied a part of the former city wall at the back of the complex. The project's architects have planned multiple entranceways to the quarter to encourage people to wander through in hopes of turning it into a popular pedestrian walkway.

MQ's anchor tenant is the Leopold Museum (www.leopolmuseum.org), which is impressive enough to take a place among the city's most important fine art venues. It boasts the world's largest collection of works by the great Austrian artist Egon Schiele, including paintings and superb hand-colored drawings. The collection received outstanding reviews a few years ago when it opened at New York's Museum of Modern Art. There are also major works by Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as important arts and crafts objects by Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann and Kolo Moser. The Leopold is not to be missed.

The Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna (www.mmkslw.or.at/MMKSLW) contains works by Picasso, Kandinsky and Magritte, as well as modern Austrian artists such as Arnulf Rainer and Hermann Nitsch. The impressive building is reminiscent of a big black basalt obelisk. (Notice the connection again to Kubricks 2001!).

Additional modern and performance art can be found at the Kunsthalle, which will feature living artists as well as theme and multimedia exhibitions. The quarter will also house the city's Architecture Center, a refurbished Tobacco Museum, and a children's museum.

The MQ will host a number of performances and festivals, including the Vienna Festival in May (see box at right); Viennale, the city's film festival; and Im Puls Tanz 01, Europe's largest festival of contemporary dance (www.tanzwochen.at). At other times the hall will be known as Tanzquartier Vienna, the city's first permanent dance space.

MQ will launch in two stages, the first in June with the opening of the Kunsthalle, the main entrance and courtyards. The first summer event, entitled "A Baroque Party," will link Vienna's baroque heritage with its present-day artists. It all promises to be a mix of the interesting and the strange with attractions such as spoken commentaries in baroque choral style and sound recordings of the last European castrati.

More activities are scheduled for late September-early October with the opening of the aforementioned and soon-to-be-world-renowned Leopold Museum, the Architecture Center, and the children's museum.

For other important events in Vienna this year, see the sidebar story on page 3.

If, as directed, you've been imagining the 2001 Zarathustra theme—perhaps even humming it—you are no doubt finished by now. It's time to switch to the Blue Danube to accompany the hotel and restaurant reviews. (Editor's Note: This is the first time we've had a musical score behind a Gemütlichkeit story. Perhaps again in 3001...)