By Paul Hofmann.
260 pages with useful index
New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1994.
ISBN # 0-8050-3850-7

Comments of Bob Corbett
Feb. 2001

Paul Hofmann's chatty semi-travel guide of the Vienna Woods is clearly a work of love. Hofmann grew up in Vienna before WWII and spent a great deal of time in the woods. In later life he returned often to Vienna, living there for significant periods, and continued his love affair with the woods. They have a dear and gentle friend in Paul Hofmann.

I call it a semi-travel guide since Hofmann is careful to give such marvelous details as to exactly how one gets to any given spot in the woods via Vienna's public transportation system, and he details many of the best sites in the woods themselves. He lures us with talk of the better wines and some of the great vistas. However, the most rewarding parts of his account for me were the tales of the famous figures who used the woods as both inspiration and escapes from the more hectic life in Vienna. Hofmann celebrates Schubert's music as that which most readily captures the spirit of the woods, along with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, while criticizing the waltzes of the Strausses and others as more contrived city music. He spents perhaps too much time over the Mayerling suicides (?) of Crown Prince Rudolph and Baroness Vetsera. Perhaps one of my favorite episodes was the story Franz Kafka's happy days in the woods, perhaps one of the few stories I've ever read of any happiness in Kafka's life.

For me it was especially delightful to read his section on the 900 year old monastery of Heilengenkreutz while I was staying in the Emperor's room at the monastery, and to read the long last chapter on Baden, jewel of the woods, just as I was preparing for my own first visit to Baden.

However, the book is much deeper and richer than the typical travel guide. Hofmann knows the history of the Vienna Woods in detail and recounts many stories of that history which enrich our understanding of the woods and lure us to want to satisfy some of our own wanderlust by taking off, on foot or via public transport to relive the moments of his visits which Hofmann shares and through which he instructs.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett