Soggy Days in Vienna

When it rains, the city’s best offers easily lose their charisma and the true experience seems to be washed away.

The heavens opened in June; a drenched Strassenbahn station near Volkstheater | Photo: Flicker

Another drop on my window and I will freak out. In Vienna, it has been raining for almost a month without a break. Okay, we did have some sunny days, sparks of hope that the summer has truly come. Nevertheless, the very next day the sky would open its wide mouth again and spill oceans of water onto our weary world. No bicycles, no runners, no couples on benches or poets wandering the town in search of inspiration. The walks along the canals, the high Danube embankments remained empty for days on end in June… And I felt sad for them, and for myself as well.

Rain does have its virtues – there’s nothing better than a rainy afternoon in bed with a good book and a cup of tea. For those who do not normally spend much time at home, rainy days can give time to investigate the forgotten corners of the house, sort out the closet, dig into the movie collection, or rearrange the furniture – a fresh start.

But once reading becomes tiresome, and movies no longer hold one’s attention, the phone starts ringing, and every one seems to be making final efforts to pull on their boots and meet for the who-knows-what-number coffee that day.

Rain in Vienna, in fact, means almost no chance of enjoying cityscape or countryside at all. And the virtues turn to nightmares for people like me, whose zeal gets lost as depression comes knocking at the doors.

At that point, I have to get out of the house; I have to try to listen to the sound of relentless downpour, and find some life, some beauty somewhere.

Outside, the rain was falling in sheets, splashing into a thousand puckers on the sidewalk, sending rushes of water into the gutters. I listen: a tiny is a melody of pounding drops that not even an opera orchestra could reproduce. Umbrella clutched tight in my hand, I head for a nearby café, where I can sit out under an awning, protected but still outside. Many are effusively taken by this harmony of the rain… that is when they find an unparalleled inspiration. And Vienna is famous for that, I remember, for the aspiring artists who yield to the rain as a purifying tool…the sins of the town washed away along the streets of the city to the deep waters of the Danube, blending with the current until lost in the dilution somewhere downstream.

But rain is not only the province of the artists in Vienna who can be seen on the Viennese streets during rainy days – many, late for their jobs, have no choice but to embark on the daily trips. Students, too, discouraged and often annoyed, trudge from one corner of Vienna to another, searching for shelter to exchange their notes and gossip some more before heading home for a hot lunch. On the faces at the bus shelters, expressions range from discouragement to something near aggression, from acceptance to bitterness.

Tourists I feel the saddest for. Because of the rain, they barely get a chance to enjoy the Viennese sights. Much of their holiday, all too short as it is, will get washed away in the downpour – called on account of rain. Desperate, they run from store to store asking for a Raeganschrrrim – and the salesmen usually cannot even understand their garbled pronunciation. The completely clueless simply rely on hand gestures and body language.

Still, a handful of intrepid tourists do venture forth into the storm armed with raincoats, umbrellas and their little tour guides. The monuments though do not look the same when it rains: Athena does still stand their in front of the Parliament, as an example of ancient Greek revival, but her wisdom and strength seem smeared by this rain and mixed with the brownish water of the fountain above which the ancient goddess of justice and war proudly stands. The four lying figures at her foot are allegorical representations of the four most important rivers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – the raindrops dripping off the edges, and the water running all the way down to the pool easily transform their symbolism into a real state. Athene’s right hand carries Nike, a goddess of victory, whose magnitude disappears into the drain.

Rain melts down the historical veil of Viennese traditions and culture – and that is why it is the city that seems to be the saddest at the moment. Vienna’s best offers easily lose their charisma – architectural marvels are less appealing without the sun glowing on their marbled walls; history narrated on hidden corners is drowned out by the ringing sounds of pounding raindrops hitting the sharp, metallic edges of pessimistic speculation; and the city’s cosmopolitan spirit is diminished, along with the spirits of one and all who have abandoned themselves to a gray summer.

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