A Student in Vienna by David Maraist

A Student in Vienna by David Maraist

David Maraist was an IES Wien Spring 1961 participant from the University of Notre Dame. He kept a detailed contemporaneous diary of his Vienna experiences, portions of which we are publishing in segments at this website. A native of Louisiana, David now lives in Lafayette, Louisiana. This is his current recollection of his months in Vienna in 1961, a look backwards at the memories in his diary.


GENERAL: I will attempt to describe what it was like living as a student in Vienna half a century ago. The student experience in such an historic and large city is really a very personal thing and one that has to be recalled based on individual experiences and emotions. Nevertheless, I will try to outline the places, faces and events that I have noted in my travel log and hopefully will stir up old memories and feelings. The city of Vienna is most revered for its musical history but also played a role in art, architecture and a living preservation of the Imperial Hapsburg reign. Its central location in Europe on the only major river flowing west to east from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, the Danube, assured its importance in commerce, communication and military events. I was very fortunate to be assigned a dormitory room in the studentenheim in the center of the city. As I recall, I was the only American to be assigned there. It was located in the center of the city on Annagasse right next door to the Speisesaal where we had evening meals for all the IES students in Wien. It was also only a few blocks from Lueger Platz where most of our classes were taught. I couldn’t have asked for a better location. The large and circular Ringstrasse encircles the ancient center of town where one finds all of the important landmarks such as the Staatsoper, Stefansdom, the Hofburg palace, Stadtpark, city hall, etc. Strassenbahns continually circled the Ringstrasse and bus lines serviced the different neighborhoods and suburbs where many of the students were housed with individual families. The office of IES was at Neuer Markt, also, just a few blocks away. We received our mail there and all of the administrative activities were centered there.

CLASSES: As I recall, almost all of the classes were taught by University of Vienna faculty at an old building on Karl Lueger Platz. This was only a few blocks from the Studentenheim where I lived. Classes were taught in English except for the German classes. They were generally quite interesting, especially Dr. Fellner’s 20th century European History course. One of the literature classes required a lot of reading which I managed to skirt using Cliff Notes and class notes. The grading system was very lax, thank goodness.

MUSIC: Although I didn’t arrive in Vienna as a classical music fan, I certainly learned to become one. My mother had provided a great background as she always had her stereo playing opera, Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninov. My Austrian roommate Fritz Rudolph also liked the classics and he convinced me to spend my first Saturday evening in Wien at the Staatsoper. Herbert van Karajan was conducting Die Fledermaus and Fritz woke us up early to stand in line at the opera to buy stehplatz (standing room) where they allowed a certain number of students to attend for about a quarter US money. From the opening notes, I knew that I had heard it many times before. All of the background music from home had evidently soaked into my subconscious. We were able to see the best in opera from La Boheme to Aida performed by the best known singers at the time, including Leontyne Price. We also went to operettas and light opera at the Volksoper several times. Concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic featured the best artists in the world like David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, Leopold Stokowski and many others. Theater was great also and I remember a performance of Glass Menagerie.

SOCIAL LIFE: Vienna has always been known for its coffee houses and we spent a lot of time there. You could buy one cup of coffee, tea or chocolate and spend as long as you wanted there talking with friends, studying or reading the newspapers they had. The pastries and cakes were very good and I ate a ton of them . A friend treated me to a Malakoftorte at the Café Carlton, one of the most expensive. We also had Sachertorte at the Sacher Hotel. The night life in Wien was great and we went to many different clubs. The Liesinger Keller was a favorite place for IES kids to congregate, along with Bambi’s, Playboy’s, Scotch’s and Picadilly Bar. Beer was the usual order, but we had gin fizzes or wine once in a while. On weekends there were dance bands and otherwise juke boxes. We also frequented several kinos (movie houses) and laughed at the American stars speaking ( dubbed in) German. A favorite family style restaurant was Deutsch am Graben and we must have eaten there almost once a week. They seemed to put a fried egg on top of whatever you ordered. Their food was good and cheap. Kartnerstrasse was a great shopping street where the girls liked to window shop, and occasionally buy something. There were beautiful parks for strolling or discussing many things sitting on the benches watching the world go by. One wonders when we found time to study!

ATTRACTIONS: Going to the Spanish Riding school to see the Lippizaner horses perform was something everyone enjoyed. Hearing the Vienna Choir Boys sing at Stefansdom was also special. The Schloss Schonbrunn was a spectacular place to visit as it was the summer home of the Hapsburg royalty in the country near the city. The palace rivaled Versailles in size and splendor. The Hofburg on the Ringstrasse was their winter palace. Prater was an amusement park and featured a giant Ferris wheel called the Riesenrad . We had a great view over Wien from there. There were compartments to stand in as opposed to the ususal swing like seats one sees on American Ferris wheels. This was made famous by Orson Welles’ movie “ The Third Man” filmed in Vienna immediately after the war. The movie also had a great theme song which was a hit in the late 40’s. The Vienna Woods a few miles out featured the Heuriger which is an outdoor restaurant serving early or “green” wine from the many vineyards that covered the hillsides. The old Benedicitine abbey at Melk was a short boat ride on the Danube from Wien and a fabulous example of Baroque architecture . Of course, there were several great art museums and more churches than one could visit scattered around town.

AUF WIEDERSEHEN: On Wednesday, June 14, IES held an honors banquet at the Grunes Tor Restaurant and I commented: “Very good food and quite enjoyable. Tony Broglio and Marie Cunningham won the full time scholarships here next year and Bob Moore, the part time. Lana Goodman won a 1 semester scholarship to Freiburg Univ. Afterwards, we walked to the Liesinger Keller and stayed till almost midnite.” On Saturday, June 17, IES had farewell dance at the Auersperg Palace. “it was a beautiful palace, nice garden, oval shaped ballroom with pink walls and gray pilasters and crystal chandeliers. It is a Baroque building built in 1726 by Fischer von Erlach. The band was good and we danced a lot. Many of the students got high and Stan Shaw broke some glasses. They made him pay for the damages.”
POSTSCRIPT: After closing books and long last looks, most of the IES kids went on a group tour to Spain before returning to the US. Some of the students had their own plans. Since I had a lot of interest in communism and the cold war, I found a way to go to Russia and this wasn’t easy in those days and times. Dan Hess traveled with me most of the way, but we kept splitting up and reconnecting along the way. The summer was action packed and included Heidelberg, Bonn, Amsterdam, Brussels, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki where we joined the small group going into the USSR visiting Leningrad and Moscow. From first hand observation, I could tell that everything we’d been told about the oppression and paranoia in Soviet Russia was completely true. Back through Oslo, Bergen, ferry to Newcastle, Stratford on Avon and London sailing from Southampton on Thursday, August 3. We sailed back on the Queen Elizabeth and that was an adventure in itself. Many of the IES students were reunited for the trip home and we made the most of it as usual. Many sad goodbyes were spoken upon disembarking in New York on Tuesday, August 8. Now came the challenge of readjusting to “real life” at home in the states. After this great experience, we found that we were never going to be quite the same for many reasons.


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