The Faces in the Walls

For the past week I’ve been an international dog-sitter to a cute little guy named Ferdinand. On our daily walks through Vienna, I started to notice all the faces in the walls.

Ferdinand, the opposite of my dog. He likes to sleep in, bark loudly at other dogs and stop frequently on walks, but cuddles lovingly.

Ferdinand, the opposite of my dog. He likes to sleep in, bark loudly at other dogs and stop frequently on walks, but cuddles lovingly.

It might sound crazy, but do you ever have that feeling that you are being watched? In Vienna, you always are.

Dramatic faces built into the walls above entryways, windows and adorned to arches or rooftops are known as mascarons. Initially, they were designed to prevent evil spirits from entering the premises, hence some of the frightening expressions.

At times I felt like I was walking amidst a collection of life sized dollhouses. You don’t have to walk far to notice that Vienna’s architecture is a rich range of new and old dichotomies; from Baroque-era designed architecture to minimalist 20th century designs.

Architect, Adolf Loos’s smooth and clear surfaced building designs are a stark contrast to the elaborately ornamented and “well dressed” buildings surrounding them; earning the nickname “houses without eyebrows.”

A collection of dramatic faces

According to Jackie Craven’s guide to architecture in Vienna, “wealthy aristocratic families like the Liechtensteins may have first brought the ornate Baroque style of architecture (1600-1830) to Vienna.”

Of course there is a wide variety of architectural influences that creates the aesthetic of walking amongst “pastel painted dollhouses.” There are the Neoclassical, Jugendstil (Art Nouveau), Romanesque and Gothic architectural influences; as well as the notable works by Austrian architect, Otto Wagner.

A collection on entryways

The presence of mascarons exist throughout many of these architectural styles with depictions of beautiful women, gods and goddesses to grotesque demons and animals, usually lions. From symbolism to pure decoration, these dramatic expressions to emotionless, mask like faces are around every corner.

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When visiting the Belvedere Palace, examples of Baroque architecture can be found inside and out. The faces in the walls are seen in grandiose theatrics of tricky mirror walls, altered perspectives and illuminated surfaces with dramatic sense of light or chiaroscuro techniques.

Then of course there are the faces on the wall, added by graffiti artists. Before visiting the city, I knew of the famous artistic geniuses linked to the iconic Vienna Secession, like painters, Gustav Klimt and his protégé, Egon Schiele. And of course the musical classics like Beethoven and Mozart. What I didn’t expect to find was the street art.

Even the exhibition, “Vienna 1900, The Birth of Modernism,” at the Leopold Museum alludes to the history of Vienna’s street art or the “art gallery for the poor man.” I was surprised to find that Vienna’s street art dates back to the Vienna Secession posters. In fact art critic, Ludwig Hevesi coined the slogan, “Kunst auf der Straße” (Art in the Streets) with his article about walking through the streets of Vienna published in 1899. This saying can also be found transcribed on the facade of the Secession building.

“Posters had been established as an advertising tool since the 1880s, but they became an interesting form of an artistic point of view with Henri de Toulouse Lautrec’s color lithograph. Access to art was no longer reserved to an elite interested in culture, which made posters a potential means of an aesthetic education.”

- excerpt from Vienna 1900 Birth of Modernism exhibition

History lessons provided by adventures with Ferdinand in the city. Turns out dog walking can be quite educational if you want it to be.

Neighborhood Finds

On November 6th, 2018, I moved from Seattle, Washington to Gonderange, Luxembourg. Even after six months that statement still feels strange to me. Maybe it’s the differences in living in a village in a country with a population less than the city of Seattle or maybe it just the fact that it takes time to feel like you live somewhere.

The life I had in Seattle feels like it was years ago.

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It all happened quickly. We sold our house on a Saturday, packed everything else we didn’t sell on a Monday and left the country the very next day. I never thought I would live in either Seattle or Gonderange. I certainly never imagined myself in a village in Central Europe with a barn behind my house. Life is funny that way.

I’ve found that most of the villages here in Luxembourg are all centered around a church. Mine is orange.

I’ve found that most of the villages here in Luxembourg are all centered around a church. Mine is orange.

Gonderange (Gonnereng in Luxembourgish) is a small village in the commune of Junglinster. When I tell people, where I live (this also includes some locals), I usually have to say Junglinster in order for people to recognize the area. Which makes sense, because the population of my village is less than 2k.

Ok so I made this house super yellow even though in reality it is not. I promise there are houses that are this yellow, I just liked this building more.

Ok so I made this house super yellow even though in reality it is not. I promise there are houses that are this yellow, I just liked this building more.

Strangely enough, living in the countryside of Luxembourg makes me think of my hometown in certain ways. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in the south of Charlotte, North Carolina. Similarly, everything is clean, too clean, suspiciously clean.

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Like other suburbs I have encountered, there are your standard big houses, fancy cars, and well tended bike paths. I have found all of those things here; the details are just different - the shape of the windows, the patterns of the rooftops, the sculptures in the yard. Similar, yet different.

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What I love most about walking through my neighborhood, are the bold colors of people’s houses. Blinding reds to juicy oranges (especially midday, shining in the sun). Then there are the plethora of the pale faded pinks - the whole spectrum is there. All the colors I always thought you weren’t supposed to paint a house are there and I’m glad that they are.

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There is so much history here. In the old buildings, the renovated barns with tracings of past lives. To give you some context, the commune of Junglinster was first recorded in 867, during the construction of Bourglinster Castle.

More creative license with color…

More creative license with color…

I’m fascinated by all those things that aren’t quite right or slightly askew, just as much as I am fascinated with circular cobblestone patterns that form a seamless design.

Truthfully, I like having access to the quiet beauty of the countryside and it’s endless rolling green fields. The city is a short distance away by bus or car. Not to mention Germany, Belgium and France are close by when Luxembourg begins to feel too small.

For now i’m pretty content taking in my new surroundings in places like the balcony overlooking the Alzette river at Liquid Café in the Grund neighborhood of Luxembourg City. A cold beverage and new friends like designer, Irina Moons (check out her work) are also a plus!

A neighborhood is a collection of dwellings

A neighborhood is a collection of dwellings

Since I have lived here, I have also become aware that even if the beach isn’t nearby, Junglinster has surfing and salt cave options for you. If you want to workout by practicing surfing skills in someone’s garage, Challenge Your Balance is an option. Or if you want to sit in a man-made salt cave for self care, curiosity or other healing processes, Salzgrotte promotes itself as a treatment center that “feels like a day at the ocean.” So who wants to go with me?

What kinds of things have you found in your neighborhood?