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About Stephansdom

If you ever find yourself in Vienna, there’s one landmark you simply must see: Stephansdom, or St. Stephan’s Church for the non-Deutsch-speaking. I don’t mean that it’s a great place to visit, although it is – I mean there’s simply no way to walk around the city and not see its spires. You can’t avoid it. Since time out of mind the city has maintained an ordinance which prohibits buildings taller than the Church, so this fact isn’t likely to change.

For this reason, Stephansdom has been our default meeting place since arriving in the city. It’s the one place everyone knows immediately how to locate, and new people – like John Paul, who arrived two days ago – are directed to join us there to avoid confusion. It’s also in the very center of the city, perfectly bisecting the über-commercial Kartnerstraße, which runs north-south through the First District. It’s somewhat strange to look one direction and cower in the shadow of a huge Gothic cathedral, then turn 180 degrees and bask in the neon lights of a line of upscale boutiques, cafés, and electronics stores – and if that’s not an odd enough juxtaposition for your tastes, the highest steeple of the Church is festooned with enormous full-color advertisements, presumably for the companies sponsoring its restoration.

I won’t waste words describing its appearance, partly because if you’ve seen one Gothic cathedral you’ve seen them all (or so I’m told, only having seen this one personally), but mostly because you can just ask Google about it or just click here if you’re lazy. So there you have it, laid out for your perusal like a delicious buffet.

Besides walking past it on the way to class every morning and using it to navigate, I’ve only had one personal experience with the Church thus far. One night last week I accompannied a couple of the Spring in Vienna kids, Jennifer and Michelle, on an assignment to look at the Church and write about it in their journals – I guess I’m fulfilling it myself now, in a sense – and we got lured into attending a concert within, a reenactment of a Baroque period Easter ceremony, I think. It’s hard to say for certain, because everything was in Latin and German, and the programs cost €2 a pop. The price was right, €13,50 with our student discount, but they gave us the worst seats in the house, immediately behind a ginormous stone column. After the orchestra started warming up and it became clear that no one would sit in the obviously much better seats a few yards down from us on the pew, we moved there and had a good view of the proceedings.

The music was beautiful, if you like that sort of thing. I wasn’t sure if I was going to, as classical music, Baroque or otherwise, isn’t really my gig, but I actually enjoyed it thoroughly. The immense stone chamber of the Church makes for some awesome acoustic effects, and the talented singers made the place shake with their voices. Although there were very few young people in attendance, and very few young Americans, I only felt out of place once during the concert, but I think its intensity makes up for hours of milder discomfort.

The baritone, a tall, swaggering man with flowing locks he periodically tossed dramatically backwards out of his face, was in the middle of his solo when he suddenly started crooning “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” and so on in his tremendous, booming voice. Obviously this has another meaning in German (or Latin, maybe), but to the three American kids it was cause for amusement, given its context in a religious song in the middle of a Church. I cast a smiling sidelong glance at Michelle and Jenn, seated down the pew from me, and figured that was that. But then, when I happened to look back a minute or so later, it was obvious they were both struggling to contain laughter, their hands pressed over their mouths and noses. I kept looking over, wondering when they would finish their mirth, but it seemed to have no end. At one point, a loud snort escaped Jenn’s restraining fingers, but I don’t think any of the maturer concert-goers recognized the sound for what it was. I was embarrassed, but chastising either of them would have been an exercise in futility, and might have even prolonged their laughing fit, which all told lasted almost five minutes.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen two adults ever lose control of themselves so completely over a little swearing, not counting the time I was eight and told my older sister to go to Hell.

Look for Stephansdom to figure prominently in future stories, including the pursuit of what I’m sure will become a favorite activity among the kids: mime-taunting

Posted in Musings.

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