Vienna's central neighborhoods are so spiffed up one could almost make the case that the town has lost some of its "old world" character. Seemingly everywhere are chic new Italian restaurants, all with precious, graphically-correct menus listing various Primi and Secondi Piatti. They could be in San Francisco or London. There seem to be fewer cozy, well-worn, old Vienna Beisl'n serving time-honored dishes such as Tafelspitz, Schnitzel and Kalbsleber. And the eastern influence in restaurants and taverns offering Gypsy music is simply nowhere to be found, at least in the center. An amazing number of shop windows display mannequins clad in women's lingerie; skimpy thongs and bras, mostly in red and black.
On the other hand, the cafés are unchanged, with Habsburg-style light fixtures and dark wood paneling, lofty ceilings, big windows, and men waiters in black tie. We renounced the Hotel Sofitel's over-heated, over-crowded, over-priced (€17) breakfast room and ate each morning at Café Schwarzenberg, Kärntnerring 17. The Frühstück klein (coffee, rolls, butter, jam) was €4.20.
One much-anticipated new attraction fell short of expectations. The stylish Haus der Musik (Öffnungzeiten 10, hausdermusik.com/en, admission: €10) was long on interactive displays but too technical for my taste. The flashy composer displays seemed somewhat superficial with few authentic artifacts, and the free English-language audio-tape distracted from, rather than enhanced, the static exhibits. One clever interactive exhibit, easily the museum's most popular, allows visitors to conduct the Vienna Philharmonic. As the baton slows down or speeds up, so does the on-screen orchestra. But there's only room for one "maestro" at a time and there was a lengthy queue, even in the dead of winter with only a handful of visitors in the museum. But our negative report is in the minority; Haus der Musik has received much praise and the Austrian Museum Prize.
A better experience was a Vienna institution we had ignored on many previous visits. The several floors and endless galleries of the Dorotheum, (Dorotheergasse 17, dorotheum.com/en/gallery.html), a high-class secondhand store and auction house, are a fascinating reflection of Austrian life, filled with objects from farmhouses to Vienna mansions. Oil paintings that seem to the unpracticed eye worthy of the Kunst Historiches Museum, are tagged with estimated values of from $2,000 to $15,000. One floor displays dozens of plain and painted country-style wooden armoires at about $1,500 to $3,000. Rustic farm tables start around $1,000. Perhaps as many as 500 full-length fur coats, ready for auction that day, carried price tags starting around $700. Only a few blocks away, on Stephansplatz, animal rights protesters appealed to fur-wearing shoppers.