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Saturday, September 13, 2014

9/8 Vienna: Augarten Park & Porzellan Factory, Church of the Redemptorist, Judenplatz

I had really wanted to tour one of Europe’s oldest porcelain manufacturers, Augarten Porzellan, north of the city center and we finally made it there on the 8th, our last day in Vienna. Steven was very content (relieved, I should say!) that it was located in a beautiful park of the same name, so he could sit and read his Kindle on a bench while I enjoyed the 1 hour tour. Vienna porcelain is famous for its delicate and graceful shape and the purity of its lines. Every step of its production – from mixing the paste to the finishing touches – is carried out by hand at Augarten Porzellan.

Augarten Park photos below:

I guess each of the above musicians must have played in a series of concerts at Augarten Park since all the dates listed were pretty close to together.

C'mon, I'm sure you thought I was exaggerating when I talked about the weeds, right, but here's the proof!

Augarten Porzellan Manufactory: Joshua, the young and very knowledgeable tour guide, spoke mostly in German while the non German speakers had English audio guides to follow along. He kindly and very patiently answered, in pretty fluent English, all questions asked of him. He mentioned that his native Lichenstein only has a population of 36,000 and that he knew of 15-20 fellow countrymen in Vienna.

 Vienna’s 1st porcelain manufacturer, the 2nd in all Europe, was founded in 1718 but it closed down in 1864. The manufactory (the term they used throughout their literature) is still located in the park of the same name and was founded in 1923. It was intended to make its own special contribution to contemporary art; 250 different figurines are made today, many of them not surprisingly, inspired by the Spanish Riding School, Christine.

 The factory uses feldspar or china stone, quartz, 29 tons of Hungarian china clay a year but of course only Austrian water in the process. Vienna porcelain is famous for its delicate and graceful shape and the purity of its lines. The factory is the biggest china manufacturer in Austria and its exquisite but hideously expensive china is sold primarily in Dubai, Japan, Belgium and the US. When our group of just 9 toured, lovely snowflake ornaments were being made which would later sell for 40 euros each (about $55); sorry Nina, Natalie, Alexander and Zachary, I didn’t buy any to add to your Christmas ornament collections I started years ago for you.

Augarten china is so pricey because each step of the process is done exclusively by hand by one of only 34 employees in the production process, including 16 painters. Production staff goes through a rigorous 3 year paid apprentice program and the painters train for 3-4 months on a single design before any of their work can be sold. The painters paint the same design for months at a time before changing to another of the 10,000 different styles available. Joshua and I agreed that having to work on just one design for so long would be mind numbing. It was thrilling to watch the painters exercise their talents as we toured their workroom. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed of the manufacturing process. Each painted piece (some designs are plain white only) is marked with 3 sets of numbers on the back or underside: the 1st is the shape of the piece, the 2nd is the specific pattern, and the 3rd is the individual painter, i.e basically the signature. That way, if a customer wants a replacement or additional piece, it’s only necessary to provide those numbers to obtain an identical piece even done by the same painter if he or she is till working at Augarten Porzellan.

The Augarten Porzellan's most famous design, the Viennese Rose. How positively equisite.

Each piece is inspected by normally just one quality control staff member (the 2nd one is only used if there’s a backlog); wish I had asked how many pieces are made every year at Augarten. Oh well, I did have all my other questions patiently answered by Joshua! There was a small seconds room that was available only for those on the tour; I saw a gorgeous, gorgeous small plate perfect to display sweets on but I simply couldn’t justify the $160 or so price tag. I had never heard of Augarten Porzellan until planning this trip but I am curious to see if I see any of their china back in the States. Any of you heard of it or seen it before?

Of course, I had to walk through the gift shop! If you're curious about the prices of any of the items below, just know that 1 euro equals $1.30.

Imagine spending about $450 for Fido's food bowl! My mother would have said spending that much money would mean you have more money than cents, oops, I mean sense.
I next walked quickly through the  museum as I didn't want to keep Steven waiting too long outside since the tour had gone over the 1 hour timeframe. The museum's exhibition rooms featured an imposing original 2 story kiln and illustrated the history of Vienna porcelain with a representative selection of pieces from all its artistic phases.

A previous day I had stopped in at Albert Denk, the oldest continuously operating porcelain store in Vienna (since 1702). The three low-ceilinged rooms are beautifully decorated with thousands of objects from MeissenDresden and other regions and looks almost the same as when Denk’s client, Empress Elizabeth, visited so long ago. Steven, aka The Sherpa, waited outside with my small daypack as I didn’t want to be the proverbial bull in the china shop banging into priceless china. Even so, one of the clerks followed me from room to room; I think I would have been likely left alone if I had an ounce of your sense of style and glamour, Lina!

Thought of your nephew Zacharie here, Lina.

We had hoped to visit the nearby Lichenstein Museum for its rare collection of 1700 art treasures including works by Rapahel, Rubens and Rembrandt that had been one of the world’s greatest private art collections. After searching for about an hour because there were no signs indicating its location, we finally found the right place only to find out that it can only be viewed as part of a tour. What a shame for us.

Trying to find the Lichenstein, we happened to come across the beautiful Church of the Redemptorist.

Church donors; note the black one on the lower right above. Below is a close up of it.

Struck by the lovely doorway we passed.
Since we had extra time, we took the tram to Vienna’s Judenplatz, the heart of the Jewish ghetto from the 13th to the 15th centuries. Archeologists excavating the square in 1995 found, as in other parts of the city, the remains of an earlier community and a synagogue that contemporary records revealed to be one of the largest of its time, attracting renowned religious scholars to Vienna as a thriving Jewish community grew.

The opening of a Holocaust memorial on this square honors the tradition of books and learning as well as the closed doors on a lost culture. Around the base of the monument are engraved the names of the places in which 65,000 Austrian Jews were put to place during the Nazi era. Both of us found the monument to be profoundly touching.

The 1 Stadt means the 1st District, i.e. the center of Vienna, and platz means square.
We were struck by how very tall the buildings were or seemed. Perhaps it was the fact we were in a relativley small square hemmed in almost the whole way by the tall buildings so people looked minute in comparison. I've never gotten that same sense before.
Another view of the square.

The incredibly moving and powerful synagogue designed by a British female architect.

Not sure if you could tell from the previous photos that the memorial is comprised of books all facing inward.
This was inscribed on the base of the memorial; as you walked around it, were listed the names of the concentration camps Austrian Jews were sent.