Silvester in Vien: The Biggest City-Party of the Year

Fire in the sky at Prater

New Year’s Eve 2012
Vienna, Austria

Fire in the sky at Prater
Fire in the sky at Prater

Regarding Vienna’s spectacular New Year’s fête, I can’t say exactly how many times I’ve answered inquiring folk that they simply “had to see it to believe it”, so here’s me finally putting my money where my mouth is. The City of Music’s Silvesterpfad (New Year’s Trail) is the star of our first-ever foray into world of iMovie film-making (if you will so generously call it that).  And if you don’t find yourself stomping along to Strauss’ Radetzky March, well… a Frohes Fest and Prosit Neujahr to you and yours anyway!

[tubepress video=”Bhmb3ZyhMNg”]

We set the day into motion at the Haus der Musik near Karlsplatz, where entry to the museum was waived in honor of the occasion. A series of interactive exhibits illuminated the lives and achievements of Strauss (father and son), Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler and Mozart, and culminated in a room where Oliver took a shot at conducting his own virtual philharmonic. After several minutes of frantic baton waiving, one of the violinists finally stood up, cleared his throat and berated Oliver for trying to kill off the string section.

The Silvesterpfad led us on around the Ringstraße towards the State Opera where large screens had been set out for a live broadcast of the Vienna Philharmonic performing Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. Continuing on, we discovered that every 500 yards a stage had been erected and was showcasing various deejays and local artists.  At Löwelstraße, spangly disco balls threw flecks of multi-colored light deep into the surrounding darkness of the Volksgarten. At Freyung, the snappy rhythms of a Spanish guitar from a Gypsy Kings cover band bled into the techno beats of the Viennese underground that was staged nearby at Am Hof.

We followed the horse-drawn carriages as they bore their tourist fares towards the Rathaus, where the Christkindlmarkt had received a minor facelift prior to the evening’s festivities.  The philharmonic was in full swing now with their production, and another live broadcast filled the Rathausplatz with Strauss. A young woman from Sarajevo waltzed off with Kendley and later found herself with more than she bargained for when Oliver competed for her attention.  In the surrounding park, celebrating parties staved off the cold with champagne taken straight from the bottle and year’s last mugs of glühwein.

Europe’s largest New Year’s party swung back past the Baroque façade of the University and the jewel-box spires of the Votivkirche, into the center of the city.  We picked up the trail again at Graben, where the long curve of Vienna’s commercial heart had been transformed into an enormous ballroom; it glittered under chandeliers that had been crafted of intricately strung, tiny white lights.  Throngs of revelers made their way to the foot of Stephansdom, Vienna’s mother church, and it was here that the city simply exploded with light.  Waltzing couples slipped delicately in and out of the crowd, spinning and sidestepping over sidewalk curbs and around corners. Brass and strings turned over as a troop in lederhosen took the stage.  As we dropped into the metro below to make our way towards Prater, we started to hear the rockets…

It was a little over an hour to midnight when we found ourselves navigating the misty edges of Vienna’s largest public park.  Occupying the meadows surrounding the Danube, a large tract of public land harbored our children’s’ favorite attraction, the Prater, the oldest amusement park in the world. The day’s sunshine and unseasonable warmth lifted off the lawns in plumes of mist as we hurried along, and shadowy groups of drunken teens were lighting off bottle rockets by the fistful all around us.

“We could be in Beirut!” Ryan said, urging us along.  The only other time I had seen such liberties taken with fireworks was during a Fourth of July I had celebrated many years ago with a close friend from college at her apartment in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood.  Hundreds of Latino families assembled on their rooftops were in a stiff competition to outdo each other’s pyrotechnics, and I remember being afraid to venture outside to pull our dinner off the grill, lest I have my face taken off by a stray Roman Candle.

As we threaded our way dawn the darkened rows of funhouses and beer gardens that were shuttered for the winter, something with similar ballistic capacity of an M-80 exploded near us and sent our ears ringing.  It was nearly time.

Ryan managed to whirl the kids off onto the bumper cars, and I took a spin on the Praterturm, a 117 meter-high flying swing that affords its riders a true bird’s-eye-view of the entire city.  From up high, I saw the glowing steeples of the city’s Gothic churches and city hall, the Hofburg and Heldensplatz swept up in columns of lights, and the Danube’s dark bend just behind us.  The Riesenrad, Vienna’s version of the London Eye, was red in anticipation.

And then they began, the fireworks. And what fireworks they were! For more than thirty minutes, they swallowed the Prater whole, bombs and rockets overhead and fire dust so low we felt it hot on our foreheads. There was nothing we could do but stop in mid-stride, in the center of the street and gawp. Kendley was wide-eyed, frayed and fearful at being startled so far past her bedtime.  Ollie’s feelings were harder to discern; an enormous, dark-red ushanka hat that we’d picked up at the New Year’s market, all earflaps and fuzz, had engulfed his entire head.

2013, I thought to myself, amid the buzz and glare.  Six months of travel and four countries under our belts (although I could hardly say we did justice to little Slovenia on our drive-by).  Oliver nearly reached up to my shoulder-height and Kendley had grown out her baby-down into a halfway-respectable head of hair. The baby was already repeating every word we said, be it in English, Italian or our horrible German, and Oliver was well on his way in learning to read.  And as for Ryan and I?  Well, we were just another year older, I suppose…but such was the case wherever we went.  I looked at him then; he was clutching Kendley and covering her ears from the noise, his other hand holding Oliver’s.  Right at that moment, I was absolutely crazy about these three people, and a life without them seemed as dark and inconceivable as the black and far-away tree line at the very edge of the Prater.  I wonder where we would all go next?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.