The Vienna Woods
from Klosterneuburg to Heiligenkreuz

By Peter Pabisch

The Vienna Woods form an area from the eastern end of the Alps which start around Genoa and encompass the high peaks of the French and Swiss Alps to the lovely scenery near the Danube River. Compared to high summits such as Mont Blanc (France), Matterhorn (Switzerland), or even Grossglockner (Western Austria), the highest peak near Vienna would be considered among the foothills even against the medium sized Appalachian Mountains of the U.S. The lovely and mild climate of the Vienna Woods inspired composers—such as Johann Strauss Jr. with his “Tales of the Vienna Woods” or Ludwig van Beethoven with certain passages of his sixth symphony the “Pastorale” sharing a thunderstorm scene in one part to lovely bird voices in another—to create such memorable music about this area. The Vienna Woods are rooted in a history that offers a humane and welcoming atmosphere excluding thereby war eras, such as the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) when many historical sites in other parts of the German world were destroyed. Klosterneuburg and Heiligenkreuz Abbeys made it thus through the ages and feature scarcely damaged old architecture. Obviously, the abbeys’ history does not date back to the very beginnings of Charlemagne in the 8th and 9th century, as they were founded by the family preceding the Habsburgs; the Babenbergs. Originally from the Bamberg area in Bavaria, they ruled from 976 to 1246 as margraves and later as dukes of Austria. Their main task consisted in defending the German empire against all tribes from the East: the Hungarians, the Czechs, the Slovakians, and other Slavic tribes. To do this successfully they added to their military defense system (which is still recognizable in many fortresses or ruins) a plethora of abbeys and monasteries. These abbeys cultivated economic and agricultural matters as well as religious and educational reforms of various regions and maintained peaceful ties with their foreign neighbors. Both monasteries featured here exemplify a desire to maintain peace in unique and striking ways and have become prime destinations of tourism, especially after World War II.

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