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Study Abroad

Vienna's Hofburg: The Partying Ground of Kings and Kaisers

Many people ask me why I love Vienna so much. Well, that is not a hard question to answer at all. Where else but in Vienna could you hop in the shower, throw on a kilt (or any other appropriate attire...as long as it is a ball gown, tails, tux, or uniform) and pop over to the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace of the Holy Roman, Austrian, and Austria-Hungarian Empires, for a magical evening of dancing and romance in the magestic glory and style of days long gone by?

It is tradition during Viennese balls to have the first dance danced by men in tux's with white gloves and women in white ball gowns. In reality, the first hour of the ball was danced only by them. The rest of us just had to stand back and watch. Still, it was rather interesting. But those of you who like to dance shouldn't be worried. In Vienna, they celebrate to Viennese proportions...which means the ball begins at 9 PM, and lasts until 5 AM, after which everyone goes out for breakfast at one of the coffehouses that surround the Hofburg.

When I came to Vienna, I knew about the Hofburg...the mystery and magic that surrounds this mystical monument to past glory. But I never thought I would ever actually be inside of it, much less dancing at a formal ball in the Grand Ball Room of the Hofburg! And yes! You can do this too! But there are a few things that you should know first...

Eat and drink before you come. Things tend to get a bit pricey inside the Imperial Palace. Wear comfortable shoes. Hours and hours of Viennese waltzing tends to produce an abundance of sore feet. If you are a male be sure to wear a tie...preferably a bow tie. The fashion police are standing at the entrance, and if you don't have a tie, they make you buy one for the price of a small Mercedes. Feel free to go ethnic. I wore my kilt. There was another Austrian there who was wearing a kilt, along with women wearing Saris and Dirndls.

If you don't know how to dance, that is no reason not to go. But I would be careful stepping out onto the dance floor unless you are experienced. Viennese waltzes tend to be fast. I think a normal Viennese waltz would twirl someone around an entire football field in less than a minute. But if you are not that experienced, there are five different ballrooms, with a variety of music and tempos...to help you out until you find your dancing feet.

If ballroom dancing is not your thing, that is fine too! They have a casino playing for Mozartkugeln (chocolate covered marzipan balls), and they even have a disco on the ground floor. It's like prom, but in the Imperial Palace of Vienna. Or, if you are like me, you dance for a while and then sit back and watch the people.

And don't think that just because this is Vienna, and just because this is a black tie ball at the Hofburg, that everyone there will be a snob. On the contrary, all are wonderful people who are just there to have a great time. And don't be afraid not knowing what you are doing. I had several different people come up to me just for a friendly chat, and by the end of the night, I had met a lot of wonderful Austrians and learned many traditional Austrian dances.

People come from all over the world to attend these balls, and with just cause. My roommates, who are both Austrian, were very impressed: "Wow! You are going to a ball at the HOFBURG?!?" The entire experience is both extremely exciting and physically draining. I'm not really sure how many people can last the entire ball. I was exhausted after a few hours, and ended up leaving at about 3.45 AM.

All in all, it was an experience that I will never forget.

Adi King
February 1997