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Posts from the ‘Legends’ Category

Got Glück? Good Luck Charms /Glücksbringer (Good luck bringers)

Good Luck Charm Kiosk in Vienna

Good Luck Charm Kiosk in Vienna

“You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocketship underpants don’t help.”– Bill Watterson, Calvin & Hobbes

Lucky Pigs

Lucky Pigs

A long standing tradition in Austria is for people to give each other good luck charms on New Year’s Eve. So in Vienna as Christmas market kiosk owners seal shut boxes of unsold ornaments and nativity scenes, New Year’s market kiosk owners unpack boxes of plush pigs, chocolate chimney sweeps and plastic horseshoes. Good luck charm enthusiasts will exchange over ten million trinkets on New Year’s Eve and will individually dish out anywhere between 5 to 20 Euros for their charms. In fact 6 out of 10 Austrians can’t resist stopping when a New Year’s kiosk is near though I would wager that the number of Austrians who can’t resist stopping when a Glühwein stand is near is higher.


Chimney Sweep / Rauchfangkehrer (smoke catch sweeper, pronounced: Rawch fong carer): By freeing the chimneys of soot and grime, chimney sweeps reduced the risk of fires in the households and whose going to argue that not having a fire destroy all that you own is very good luck. Besides, those chimney sweeps do look snazzy in their uniforms. And this all reminds me of the song, Chim Chim Cheree, from Mary Poppins which I think it is high time to introduce to the Austrians (yes, English nannies fly around London singing with their umbrellas).

Chimney Sweeps

Chimney Sweeps

So watch the video AND the bouncing ball and engage in pure unadulterated fun for a whole two minutes and 41 seconds by closing your door, turning up the volume and stripping away all your inhibitions to sing along – who can be a sour puss after singing that? Check out just the lyrics if you want to practice some before hitting the karaoke bar with your Mary Poppins gig.

Four Leaf Clovers / Glücksklee (lucky clover, pronounced: Glue kss clay): Because they appear so seldom in nature, they bring good luck. And according to legend, Eve carried a four leaf clover with her when leaving the Garden of Eden.  Also, the clover is a symbol for the cross and should make secret wishes come true.  Remember the song: “I’m looking over a four-leaf clover That I overlooked before. One leaf is sunshine, the second is rain, Third is the roses that grow in the lane. No need explaining the one remaining Is somebody I adore.

Four Leaf Clover

Four Leaf Clover

I’m looking over a four-leaf clover That I overlooked before. ” (check out the Four Leaf Clover video in case you think KC’s finally fallen off her rocker) Imagine! You could do a Mary Poppins-Emmy Rossum medley. If you’re checkin out Emmy Rossum anyway, listen to Sentimental Journey – smooth and sultry to put you in the right mood for your New Year’s Eve celebrations – great stuff. And also, I recommend the Chevy Chase version of Four Leaf Clover that gets good by the second refrain.

Horseshoe / Hufeisen (hoof iron, pronounced: whoof ay sin):

Lucky Four Leaf Clover and Horseshoe

Lucky Four Leaf Clover and Horseshoe

In earlier times, horses were valuable working animals and the horse shoes protected them. If you hang a horseshoe above the door, definitely make sure you have nailed it in good and the open end is pointing towards the sky so the good luck doesn’t run out (don’t you hate when that happens?).

Lady Bug / Marienkäfer / Glückskäfer (Marian beetle / Good luck beetle, pronounced: Ma ree an Kay fer): The lady bug is called “Marian Beetle” in German and symbolizes a gift from the Holy Mother Mary to earth.  The lady bug protects the young and old, and heals the sick and weak. And, of course, killing or injuring a lady bug will bring bad luck, and not just for the lady bug. Perhaps lady bugs bring good luck because they have up to seven black spots on their backs and in German-speaking countries the number seven is considered lucky. So in Austria a cat has seven, not nine lives here (so go Anglo Garfield). If you are in love in German-speaking countries, you are hanging out on cloud seven, not cloud nine so check your country before picking your cloud.

Lady Bug with seven dots and Lucky Cent

Lady Bug with seven dots and Lucky Cent

Lucky Cent / Glückscent (pronounced: Glue kss cent): an old lucky cent was made of copper which was said to chase away black magic and strengthen the power of love. As protection from witches, people nailed a votive cent to the doors or their stalls. And if you carried a lucky cent in your pocket, it protected you from lies and trickery at the pub and cattle market. Something to consider next time you find yourself wrangling for some bulls at the old cattle market. And the reason why finding a cent is lucky (particularly if you manage to pick it up without herniating a disk, getting pancaked by a City Bike or tipping some shopping trolley wielding Oma with your derrière) is because all great things start small. “Wer das Kleine nicht ehrt, ist das Große nicht wehrt” He who does not appreciate the small is not worth the great.

Pig /Glücksschwein (good luck pig, pronounced Glue kss sh vine): See my entire blog entry about why the pigs bring good luck in Austria:  Got Pig?

Lucky Toadstools

Lucky Toadstools

Toadstool /Fliegenpilz (fly mushroom, pronounced: Flee gen pil ts):  In many ancient cultures (and in some not-so-ancient ones, ahem) poisonous mushrooms were used as hallucinogenic drugs and and were therefore considered a good luck charm (good luck if the toad stool didn’t kill you or cause you severe stomach cramping in the process, I suppose). And apparently, they are called “fly mushroom” in German because flies seek them out to get high. “Hey! Check out that shroom! I’m going in.” Who knew flies have drug problems.  And depending if they are used for good or evil, they can also be considered tools of the devil (“Now where did I put that toadstool?”).  In case you are dying to know this and more useless facts about toadstools, check out Amanita muscaria on Wikipedia

Kaerntnerstrasse Kiosk of Good Luck Snowballs in Vienna

Kaerntnerstrasse Kiosk of Good Luck Snowballs in Vienna

TIP: Buy your loved ones a good luck charm at a kiosk now until New Year’s at stalls popping up everywhere throughout the city or pick up a charm for yourself in Vienna on Tuesday, December 31 between 2 and 5 pm in the Chimney Sweep Museum / Rauchfangkehrer Museum in the Klagbaumgasse 4, 1040 Vienna. A glass of champagne awaits the adults and a chocolate chimney sweep the kids but maybe you can sweet talk your way to a chocolate or rescue a poor child from the risks of tooth decay by taking his or hers. To get there: take Tram 1 to Johann Strauß Gasse and walk 3 minutes (100 meters) or take U1 to Taubstummengasse and walk 11 minutes (600 meters)


Good Luck Charms Kiosk am Graben in Vienna's First District

Good Luck Charms Kiosk am Graben in Vienna’s First District

Read more here:

(in German) Article from the Austrian Krone Newspaper, December 26, 2012 entitled “Zehn Millionen Glücksbringer jedes Jahr verschenkt” (“Ten Million Good Luck Charms Given Away Every Year”)

A Johann Wolfgang von Goethe poem for New Year’s entitled “Zum neuen Jahr” – Goethe is simply great, isn’t he? Print This Post


“Glück ist meistens wie die Brille, nach der man vergebens sucht. Man findet sie nicht, weil man sie schon auf der Nase hat.“ (Luck is like eyeglasses that you look for but never find because they are already sitting on your nose). – Paul Hörbiger, Austrian actor who died in 1981.

“Nicht das, was wir sind und haben, bestimmt unser Glück, sondern das, was wir glauben zu sein und zu haben.” (Not that which we are and have determine our luck, but rather, that which we believe to be and to have). – Peter Rosegger, Austrian writer and poet (1843 – 1918)

“Dort, wo du nicht bist, da ist das Glück.” (There, where you are not, there is where luck is). – Franz Schubert, Austrian composer


Krampus is Coming to Get You!

Krampus misunderstanding - he thinks KC's been naughty

Krampus misunderstanding – he thinks KC’s been naughty

Making a list. Checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.

And you? Worried. Just a little. Maybe more than a little? Cause you haven’t behaved. Right? Come on, now. Admit it.

I see that smile. Oh yeah. You’ve been naughty, haven’t you?

The workout regime that always starts tomorrow. The paper you promised weeks ago (you know the one I mean). The call from Auntie Em you didn’t manage to pick up in time. The text message you never got. The last piece of double chocolate extra rich cake you didn’t eat.

Krampus takes the bad and leaves the good

Krampus takes the bad and leaves the good

Ahh, yes. You’ve been naughty, alright. And this year it won’t be a lump of coal in your stocking. Nope. This is the year you’ll be making a close encounter of a goat something or another kind. They’re coming from the mountains. Coming from their caves. Wielding their sticks. Clanging their bells. And they just LOVE naughtiness.

And you know who you are. You know exactly who you are.

Yep. While all the good kiddies did their homework, and ate their sauerkraut, you were in your man cave watching Breaking Bad, and pretending to fix the vacuum cleaner. You can fool Auntie Em but you can’t fool Nikolas. He’ll be stuffing bags filled with mandarins, nuts, chocolate and cookies in the shoes of all the shiny happy good people of the world. Nauseatingly well-behaved. You know the ones. And your shoes? They’ll remain an empty stinking reminder of missed opportunity. The opportunity to have been good and do what you were told. But you didn’t. And rarely do.

These Aussies must not have been too naughty

These Aussies must not have been too naughty

And this year, my naughty little friend, you’re gonna pay. You can try to find a place to cower and hide but that man cave of yours won’t do you any good. Not this year. Because this year…

Krampus is coming.

It starts harmless enough. An innocent suggestion to visit the advent market at the old castle. Ahh, how nice. Austria. Traditional. The Old Country. Land of Silent Nights and children who dress in sailor suits and sing Christmas carols with their angelic little voices. Where Christmas is still about the Holiday spirit. A Christmas market. A real live Christmas market. Like under the train set. Only better. With live ABBA music, hand-carved manager scenes, gingerbread hearts, and hot roasted chestnuts sold in paper cones. Quaint. Genuine.

Krampus and KC

Krampus and KC plotting to get those who are naughty

Until darkness settles in the shadows beyond the decorated trees and the cold starts nipping at our noses, and we elbow our way to the Punsch stand Austrian style. You mistake the glint in my eyes for the after-glow of Waterloo or the before glow of Glühwein, but in fact it is something far more sinister, my friend.


Krampus Gathering

The Krampus Huddle

Because that rattle of the chain beyond the stands and through the gate beckoning throngs of parents to drag their terrified children into the courtyard, is also a summoning you, my imp, naughty old you.

Innocently, so unassumingly, I suggest, “Let’s go and see what’s up.”

And you? Tingly with Glühwein, you smile and follow.

Poor bright-eyed bushy-tailed ignorant you.

Lump of coal in your stocking. You wish.

No, you’re in Krampusland now and the furry monsters have awakened from the depths of their dungeon-like dens to come and fetch you.

The bonfire rages, and the grunts intensify as the doors to the castle shake. A poem. Someone recites a poem and I translate. At first you are tickled pink. How sweet. A poem about Nikolas rewarding the well-behaved children.

Krampus with Babies

Krampus with Babies

But wait! There’s more!

Rhymes of beatings and punishment for those –like you—who misbehave.

Yep. You can run but you can’t hide.


Music bellows through the night – a terrifying heed to the creatures from beyond.

“Come get them! They’re here! The naughty ones are gathered and ready!” The unspoken words thunder in time to the music.

Krampus' Basket

Krampus fetches the Naughty Ones and puts them in his basket and whisks them to his cave

They are coming to snatch you up, toss you in their baskets and haul you down into their wicked caves.

The doors smash open. It’s time.

Nikolas  vanishes.

Not one, not two, a whole herd of otherworldly creatures burst into the screaming masses. Smoke and fire follow in their wake. Cow bells clang the dreadful chimes of doom. An angry sea of black, brown, grey and white goat hides. Ungodly horns sharpened to pierce the darkest souls slice the icy air. Blood-shot eyes ravenous for victims scan the trembling prey. Jagged teeth and snake-like tongues hang in anticipation.

Armed with chains, cauldrons and Ruten the demons sway and dance, and push through the screeching throngs looking for you. An hour, how long an hour can seem — like an eternity — maybe longer, they search, they target, they wave their Rute and grunt and chase.

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Krampus Clang with Cow Bells

Krampuses Clang with Cow Bells

Yes, the Krampuses have come.

Have you been good?


Rute: branches tied together — the Krampus tool of choice for corporal punishment
Perchta/Perchten: another word used for Krampus
Perchtenlauf/Krampuslauf: “Krampus run” — describes the event of the Krampuses coming
Katscher Krampus: the Krampuses featured here (from the Schloss Neugebäude Krampuslauf in Vienna on Dec 7, 2013)
December 5 & 6: Krampus comes on the 5th and Nicolas on the 6th but they often come together as a team — whoever said Krampuses can’t work efficiently — but they can show up anytime from about Dec 1 – Dec 9, so be vigilant.
cow bells: Krampus must-have accessory to notify parents to “Bring out you kids”

Krampus uses a "Rute" made of jagged branches to beat naughty ones (no one dares to tell him it's forbidden)

Krampus uses a “Rute” to beat out the naughtiness (no one dares to tell him corporal punishment is now a no-no)

basket: the Krampus backpack complete with naughty-kid compartment
chains: another Krampus must-have accessory
Schadenfreude: joy at another’s (deserved) misfortune –and don’t act like you have never experienced it or the Krampus will get you for lying.
Inquisition: hard times for Krampus because he was forbidden (no one was allowed to imitate the devil but
Krampus perservered in remote villages – he’s no whimp)
Don’t tell anyone I told you- some people suspect there might be young gentlemen who dress up like Krampuses which would explain why many young ladies have often been the targets of  many a swinging Rute throughout the decades
Horns: often from chamois
Fur: from goats
Masks: usually hand-carved from wood
ABBA: indication in Austria that the party is bound to be good and worth attending– Austrians almost love ABBA more than they love the Hapsburgs and if you want to make friends and influence people in this country — know your ABBA trivia and song lyrics

Krampus with boy and girl

Krampus with boy and girl

Paper promised weeks ago — you know which one and Krampus will find you cause I gave him your name and address.
Auntie Em: a sweet lady whose phone calls you should NEVER ignore because the guilt you will suffer is far more dire than the Krampus’ wrath (right, Auntie Em?)

Krampus and a very "brav" KC

Krampus and a very “brav” KC

Krampus and Aussies

Krampus and Aussies


Saints, Souls, Death and the Viennese – 1 Nov Allerheiligen

Angel Statue in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

Angel Statue in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

Der Tod muss ein Wiener sein…” (Death must be Viennese)
(Der Tod: Das muss ein Wiener sein , song title of 1969 song by Georg Kreisler)

On All Saints’ Day (November 1)  and All Souls’ Day (November 2) the Viennese pilgrim to the cemeteries to light candles and pray for those who have passed (sometimes hoping to help them out of purgatory (or in German Fegefeuer sweeping fire)).

You don’t have to be here long to recognize that the Viennese have a special relationship with death. “Ein schönen Leich” (a beautiful corpse/ funeral) is as Viennese as the folk songs that cheerfully, acceptingly, ironically lament the inevitable fate of every human. And no blog about Vienna would be truly complete without mentioning death.



For years this museum was listed as one of Vienna’s fun sites to see as in, “Hey, after we visit the Fool’s Tower (Narrenturm), let’s hit the Funeral Museum! Won’t that be fun!” Well, it was indeed interesting but unfortunately, the museum is closed until its reopening in September 2014 at Vienna’s Central Cemetery – a very fitting new home.

Church of Saint Charles Borromew in VIenna's Central Cemetery

Church of Saint Charles Borromew in Vienna’s Central Cemetery

An interactive site at the museum was a bell with a long string attached to corpses in coffins. If someone was buried alive, he or she could theoretically ring the bell signaling the heroic funeral workers to spring to the rescue. The reality was, however, that due to postmortem spasms and unfortunate corpse positions, the bells rang non-stop and the heroic funeral workers not-so-heroically ignored them.

Which is probably why an Austrian playwright who was sometimes dubbed the “Austrian Shakespeare”, Johann Nestroy, feared being buried alive so much that he spent much of his last will and testament giving very specific instructions about measures he wanted taken to prevent this possibility. “The only thing I fear about death, is the idea that I could possibly be buried alive.” (January 31, 1861) Nestroy was generally a pretty funny guy but it seems he took being buried alive very seriously.

CEMETERY OF THE NAMELESS (Friedhof der Namenlosen)

“The goal of all life is death.”  – Sigmund Freud

Tombstone "Wiedersehen" in St. Maarx Cemetery Vienna

Tombstone “Wiedersehen” in St. Marx Cemetery Vienna

Vienna boasts over 40 Roman-Catholic cemeteries but those don’t do much good for the “weary of lifers” (Lebensmüde) who have plunged to their untimely deaths into the murky waters of the Danube.  For many of those and others who have died namelessly and whose bodies have washed ashore, there’s the Cemetery of the Nameless. Most of the graves state simply “Unknown” or “Nameless.” Every year in November, the cemetery honors those who have never been recovered and whose remains still grace the Danube floor by launching a wreath down the the Danube towards the Black Sea. This year the ceremony will take place on Sunday, November 10, at 2 pm – gathering at the restaurant by the cemetery


Helmut Qualtinger Grave in Central Cemetery in Vienna

The honor grave of Austrian musical, theater and comedic legend, Helmut Qualtinger, at Central Cemetery in Vienna

Honorary graves were created in the Central Cemetery to up the prestige of the cemetery in the late 1800s a few years after the cemetery’s creation. Viennese are notorious for their initial skepticism to all that is new and in a brilliant 19th century PR move to increase the new cemetery’s popularity, the city of Vienna moved  most of its prominent dead to “Honor Graves.” These include Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert – graves still popular today. Vienna grants the selected few Honor Graves for the life of the cemetery and assumes the costs for caring for the graves. In an interview in Austrian National Television, (ORF – link below) a reporter asks the man in charge of the grave honor what one has to do get an Honor Grave. His response? “Well, it’s not a very desirable achievement since the first thing you have to do is die.”

BUT DEATH MAKES NO DISTINCTIONS AND THREE TIMES A CHARM – EVEN WHEN YOU’RE DEAD (July 2011, Habsburg and the last Austrian royal funeral)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Grave at St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

Mozart’s Grave in St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna

“Death as the true best friend of man.” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Since 1633, Austrian royalty has been buried in the Imperial Crypt under the Capuchin Church in Vienna. Some body parts, however, such as the hearts and intestines are buried elsewhere. Currently over 145 members of the House of Habsburg have their last resting place in the Imperial Crypt. When Otto von Habsburg passed in July 2011, a traditional royal funeral was held with all the pomp and circumstance and is said to be the last time an Austrian royal will ever be buried in the Imperial Crypt.

Open Sesame – watch the link above (July 2011) and here’s what you’re witnessing:

Schubert's Tombstone at the Central Cemetery in Vienna

Schubert’s Tombstone at the Central Cemetery in Vienna

A Herald in a black suit leads the casket procession through the heart of old Vienna up to the Capuchin Church. The Herald knocks upon the iron gates with his long black cane. A Capuchin monk, whose brethren have held watch over the crypt since the 1600s, asks: “Who demands entry?”

After hundreds of years, you would think someone would have written down the right answer but nein. In attempts one and two, the Herald iterates an exhausting list of the the dead royal’s titles and accomplishments. Nearly three whole minutes. But the monks, being monks, are stoic and patient and simply respond, “Don’t know ’em.” (In all fairness to the monks, this seems a very benevolent response. After almost 4 centuries of conducting this ritual, I’d be a bit more testy with such slow students. Or maybe I’d paint a cheat sheet on the iron gate.)

Finally, upon the third attempt, eureka. The Herald responds, “Otto, a sinful mortal.”

Bingo! The gates open and the monks respond: “So then come inside.” (Monkese for, “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”)


“The biggest effort in life is not getting accustomed to death.” – Elias Canetti

Angel on Tombstone at St. Marx's Cemetery

Angel on Tombstone at St. Marx’s Cemetery

I had never been to St. Marx and always wanted to go so this past weekend I went. Finally I managed to visit the place where Mozart’s bones are said to be buried somewhere in a mass grave. And I was not disappointed. Again, just when I thought I knew every single one of her little secrets, Vienna sprung a beauty on me. A wonderful surprise and a trip I highly recommend. I love this place. (Take bus 74A from the road that passes in front of Wien Mitte/ Landstrasse (on the U4 and U3 lines) to the station Hofmannsthalgasse – just a short hop and skip from there.)

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Central Cemetery, Vienna, one of the biggest cemetery's in all of Europe

Central Cemetery, Vienna, one of the biggest cemetery’s in all of Europe

Cross marking Austrian Artist, Max Weiler's burial place, Central Cemetery

Cross marking Austrian Artist, Max Weiler’s burial place, Central Cemetery

Tombstone of Johannes Brahms in Vienna's Central Cemetery

Tombstone of Johannes Brahms in Vienna’s Central Cemetery


Friday the 13th, Blood Lane and the Assassination of the Knights of Templar

This world nis but a thurghfare ful of wo,
And we ben pilgrimes, passinge to and fro;
Deeth is an ende of every worldly sore.
– Geoffry Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales, “The Knight’s Tale”

Behind St. Stephan’s Cathedral, in one of the oldest quarters of Vienna, is a cobblestone, car-free lane called Blutgasse. “Blut” means “blood” and “Gasse” means “lane” or “alley.”

At Blutgasse 9, a passageway leads into a charming courtyard dominated by an ancient tree ascending into the heavens and harboring an equally old cellar stair descending into the bowels of the earth.

Blutgasse Templar Cross

Cobblestones in Blutgasse with View of Cellar Covering with Templar Cross

The perfect place to encounter legends and myths.

And, of course, Vienna doesn’t disappoint.

The courtyard is Fähnrichshof — fabled as the former headquarters of the Knights of Templar in Vienna and a place where the knights may have hidden their treasures.

Street sign for Blutgasse 7 in Vienna's first district

Street sign for Blutgasse 7 in Vienna’s first district

But who were the Templar Knights?

Well, the story goes that the Templar Knights were a secret society and eventually an elite military force started by nine French noblemen in 1118 who claimed they would protect pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem. The King of Jerusalem, Baldwin I, allowed the knights to take up residence in the Tempelberg in Jerusalem, today the Al-Aqsa-Temple, and thus they got the name, the Knights of Templar. But during their stay in Jerusalem, the Templar Knights were doing more than protecting some pilgrims; they were digging beneath the temple for sacred artifacts that had been buried. Eventually they were successful in this endeavor and transported their treasures back to Europe.


Courtyard Blutgasse 9, Fähnrichshof, Headquarters of Knights of Templar in Vienna in 1300s

Things seemed to be going well for the knights who built cathedrals throughout Europe, grew in number and directly answered to the pope. But then came 1307.

Apparently in 1307 King Philip owed the knights quite a sum of money and decided one way to deal with his dilemma would be to accuse the knights of heresy. So, according to the legend, on Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip had the knights in France arrested, tortured and killed and ended their time in France. Thus, Friday the 13th became marked as an unlucky day.

The knights were able to transfer their treasures abroad, and some believe these landed with the German Order of Teutonic Knights and the St. John’s Order – both of which had groups in Vienna.

And what were these treasures? The holy grail, the ark of covenant, the head of Baphomet, and more –  ended up somewhere but no one knows for sure where.

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Cellar Stairs leading from Fähnrichshof fabled to have been the Knights of Templar Headquarters

Cellar Stairs leading from Fähnrichshof fabled to have been the Knights of Templar Headquarters

The Vienna Review had an interesting article on the legends surrounding the Blutgasse. Read “The Knights of Blood Alley” here:

Knights of Templar Cross Covering Cellar Window in Blutgasse

Knights of Templar Cross Covering Cellar Window in Blutgasse

Another good resource about the legends of the knights and free masons is the German language book:

Bouchal, Robert, and Gabriele Lukacs. Geheimnisvoller Da-Vinci-Code in Wien Verborgene Zeichen & Versteckte Botschaften. Wien: Pichler, 2009. Print.

Interested in Vienna and legends? Read about the Stock-im-Eisen tree stump, the Holy Lance (Spear of Destiny) and the Last Supper mosaic.

The legendary Blutgasse in the old town of Vienna

The legendary Blutgasse in the old town of Vienna