Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vienna Days Waltz Into Moscow

In showing off Vienna, the Viennese are in fact showing their loyalty to Russia.

"Good friends don't leave a sinking ship," said Commercial Counselor Gunter Richter of the Austrian Trade Delegation in a telephone interview Friday. Austria, he said, intends to stand by Russia during the current economic and political turmoil: "We don't have this hit-and-run attitude."

Richter's strong words reflect the Austrians' decision to push ahead with the Vienna Days in Moscow, scheduled to open officially today, and which have been a year in the planning.

Sparked by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's invitation to his Viennese counterpart, Michael H?upl, the Austrian mission decided to mix business with pleasure. The Vienna Days will combine political talks and a trade fair with cultural events, featuring a tribute to Austrian composer Johann Strauss in the runup to the 100th anniversary of his death in 1899.

Richter pointed to Austria's historically close relationship to Russia, even during the Soviet era.

"We are traditional partners to Russia. During the Cold War, Austria was the only country through which many goods were traded. We're not newcomers here and have already gone through many crises with the Russians," he said. "When we talk about the current situation, we say, 'Oh, it's just another crisis.' We're not optimists, but realists."

Richter said that of the 500 Austrian firms operating in Russia, 30 will play an active role in Vienna Days, including Ilbau, a construction company; V?st, an engineering firm; and OMV, an oil concern. The commercial agenda includes workshops on architectural trends, transport technologies and waste management.

"We're aiming to cooperate in areas like waste management and water cleaning because we have special experience in this field," Richter said. "Austria is a tourist country, and we've had success in cleaning our lakes. "While the commercial lectures are reserved for invited guests, much of the Vienna Days cultural program is open to the public.

Michael Strasser, Moscow-based director of the Austrian National Tourist Board, said he hoped the fair would manage to successfully capture the spirit of Viennese gem?tlichkeit, or comfort and well-being.

"Gem?tlichkeit involves a very slow pace of living, of sitting in a cafe where if you don't order anything, no one bothers you," he said.

Strasser said the Havelka Cafe was particularly popular when he was a student at Vienna's University of Economics, and its laid-back atmosphere was pretty much the opposite of that found in today's hectic Moscow.

A five-day outdoor film festival on Manezh Square that highlights the best of the Viennese musical stage will provide soothing pictures and sounds to haggard locals. Starting at 8 p.m. each day, the free films show concerts from the Austrian world of opera and classical music. Richter said this tradition stems from performances shown outside the Vienna Rathaus, or city hall, where people sit and sip hot, soothing gl?wein, or mulled wine.

Richter said five critically acclaimed concerts were chosen for the festival. The first film shows the Viennese New Year Concert from 1987. Other films will show operas, such as Mozart's opera "Marriage of Figaro," with renowned conductors like Claudio Abbado and tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

The Austrian Embassy's cultural counselor, Veronika Seyr, said she made a special point of bringing Viennese director, actress and impresario Topsy K?ppers to Moscow. At age 67, K?ppers has presided over the Wieden Free Stage theater in Vienna for 25 years. During Vienna Days, she brings her talents to the Moscow Jewish Theater; on Saturday, she will stage her play "A Galician Woman."

Based on the life of Eva Deutsche, a Jewish girl who escaped the Soviet occupation of Poland during World War II and settled in postwar Vienna, where she died in 1990, "A Galician Woman" is a moving play, Seyr said, and one she's so far only heard on the radio and seen on video.

Austrian Ambassador Walter Siegl said he expected the cultural highlight to be an exhibition at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts showing a collection from the Historical Museum of the City of Vienna, with works of artists from the 17th to 20th centuries, including Gustav Klimt and Ferdinando George Valdm?ller.

Siegl described Vienna as a metropolis that combines the benefits of big-city living with small-town charm. And while one city can't really teach another how to live, Vienna could serve as an example for Moscow.

"Vienna has grown out of a very difficult period," he said. "After World War I, Vienna was a very reduced capital; after World War II, it was a destroyed capital. But through the energy of its people and happy circumstance, it is now flourishing. I think a capital like Moscow, which has already shown signs of invigorating growth, will also rise up one day."

Richter said organizers did make one alteration in light of the crisis: They chose to forgo a previously scheduled traditional Viennese Ball, with couples waltzing to the strains of Johann Strauss. Organizers opted instead for a less spectacular Viennese reception, featuring Strauss's music but no dancing.

"Taking into consideration the present condition, we didn't want to have a jolly party while others are suffering," Richter said.