Vienna is one of just a few world cities that, by some measures, could be called a global capital. While it lacks the size of Tokyo or Shanghai, the economic prominence of New York and London, and the political power of Washington D.C. or Beijing, Vienna brings the enormous weight of Western cultural history to the table, serves as a central hub of international diplomacy, and has been repeatedly rated the most livable city in the world.
Situated in Central Europe, culturally Germanic but with Eastern European influences and contacts, Vienna has long served as a hub of some of the most influential European political, philosophical, and musical innovations in history. As the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and home to the Habsburg dynasty–one of Europe’s longest-running and most significant royal families–Vienna is bursting with luxury and splendor. This combination of high culture, intellectual urbanity, and royal magnificence make Vienna a poster child for the world’s idealized image of Europe as a whole.
Vienna’s best-known legacy is probably its music: Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, the Strauss family, Haydn, and infinitely more legends resided in Vienna and burnished their careers with pages upon pages of classical masterpieces. Vienna is still home to a range of opera houses, classical concert halls, and museums showcasing the city’s unmatched musical history. Among them is the Haus der Musik, a highly interactive exploration of the history of music in Vienna and elsewhere. The city hosts incomparable events like the Summer Night Concert held outdoors at Schönbrunn Palace and the Vienna New Year’s Concert, which is broadcast around the world every New Year’s morning.
Vienna has also been home to some of the world’s most renowned, most controversial, and most notorious thinkers. Sigmund Freud established his legacy in Vienna, changing Western philosophy and psychology forever. Due to his analysis of patients’ dreams, Vienna has earned the nickname “City of Dreams.” But the city was also home to Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, and Joseph Stalin. What’s truly remarkable, and indicative of Vienna’s centrality in European history and politics, is that all of these men occupied Vienna during the same period. One can imagine how differently each of them must have seen it.
If these historical facts prove not enough for the traveler’s imagination, they should consider that after the Nazi defeat in World War II, Vienna was divided, like Berlin, into occupation zones held by the British, American, French, and Soviet forces. This situation persisted until the mid-1950s. Due to this shared occupation and the enforced neutrality of Austria agreed upon afterwards, Vienna was the site of innumerable, shadowy episodes of Cold War espionage, and the city rightfully plays a role in many Cold War films and novels.
This curious, monumentally significant history, a cultural life unlikely to be contested by any city the world over, top-ranking livability, and a dizzying concentration of diplomatic affairs make Vienna a contender for the capital of, if not the world, then at least of Western civilization.