The Viennese have many fine qualities, not the least of which being, that when they get into something, they really get into something. No half-hearted efforts to be found here! That, I believe, is the key to understanding the incredible amount of festivals that Vienna hosts.
In Vienna, it would seem that any excuse to gather with friends, eat food, or drink wine is a good one. Add in costumes, activities, and prizes? Your festival is unstoppable.
Jacob and I spent a day exploring the city center this past weekend, and found (yet again), that there is always something new to see or do in Vienna. As we walked by Karlsplatz to the subway, we both noticed that more people than usual were carrying cameras. Not only that, but a handful of people seemed to be engaged in photo shoots - people lying on their stomachs in the middle of the square, trying to get the perfect angle for their shot.
Being close to the university, we figured that there must be a photo assignment due Monday for an art class. After some exploring we stopped by a Wurstel (sausage) stand for a Kasekrainer for lunch. For the uninitiated, a Kasekrainer is a ridiculously tasty heart attack in a bun. Bits of cheese are stuffed inside the sausage, which then turns to molten, oozing goodness as the sausage is cooked. Served "Riesen Hot Dog" style (aka: sausage-to-go), the sausage is stuffed into a massive bun with ketchup and sweet mustard.
Kasekrainer in hand, we walked over to one of our favorite gardens to sit in the sun and eat lunch. Minutes after sitting down we began to notice that we were surrounded by people acting strangely.
The first people we noticed were the couple on the left below.
See that blue lump in the grass to the couple's right? That is their baby.
We watched the couple roll up in their stroller, take the sleeping baby out, plop him in the grass like a rag doll, then proceed to take pictures of him for the next 20 minutes. But not just any pictures - pictures that required squatting, jumping, lying spread eagle in the grass, then a photo break to review the masterpieces being created. All while the baby lay there, unmoving.
Thoroughly entertained, Jacob and I finished our lunch and found this going on behind us:
Then we saw a man taping himself into a tree and Bruce Lee posing on a wall:
Midway through this bizarre experience we realized what was going on - the Vienna Photo Walk, a 24 hour amateur photo competition that issued a series of photo challenges with grand prizes for the winner of each category. Though the behavior now had an explanation, the oddity of the situation was palpable. Everywhere we looked another person was doing something eccentric - we however, may have been the only ones who batted an eyelash. The world had gone mad, and we were the only ones who hadn't joined in!
A couple of weeks ago Vienna hosted another event that had been in the works for several years: March for Jesus. The event was organized by a group of local churches, who had the vision of churches from across Vienna gathering for a celebratory parade around the city and a festival outside of St. Stephan's Cathedral in the city center.
We only found out about the march a couple of days prior, and were able to make it to the last half of the event.
It was electrifying. What had begun as a vision to gather churches in the city had exploded into a multi-church event that spanned internationally. Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and every variation of Christian denomination represented not just Vienna, but greater Austria, Germany, Romania, South Korea, Africa, Brazil, and across the world. Whereas the planners had expected 3000 participants and prayed for a "miracle" of 5000, a whopping 12,000 people showed up. The police had supposedly expected such a small turn out that they had provided only 3 escorts for the parade.
After the march, the 12,000 people packed into St. Stephan's square for a time of worship.