What’s Doing in Eisenstadt, Austria
Eisenstadt, the capital of Austria’s newest province, the Burgenland, lies at the country’s southeastern tip. It was created in 1921 from the German-speaking part of what had the Hungarian half of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy. This means the visitor will encounter a mix of Hungarians, Croats, and German-speaking Austrians.
The region itself looks more like Hungary, with its plains and lakes, compared to the rest of Austria, which is more Alpine like. It has two main attractions: the aforementioned lakes and the late composer Josef Haydn in addition to numerous vineyards and Schloß Esterházy, the palace of the great Hungarian noble family. Agriculture is an important industry here. Indeed, one-third of Austria’s wine is produced in the Burgenland.
The city has a lot to offer visitors and one can start in the city center. There is a tourist office in the rebuilt old town hall on Hauptstraße, the main and pedestrian-only street. (The building itself is architecturally and historically interesting.) The top restaurant, also named Esterházy, is in the old stables building opposite the Schloß (basically at the top of Hauptstraße), and there are several simpler places to stop for a light lunch.
WHAT TO SEE
The Schloß Esterházy, in particular the Haydnsaal (Haydn Hall), is worth spending time in as is the Schloßpark. The former Jewish district of Eisenstadt is also noteworthy and near the Schloß.
The Österreichisches Jüdisches Museum (Austrian Jewish Museum) in Eisenstadt-Unterberg, the former Jewish ghetto, has over 1,000 square meters of exhibit space. On the first floor is the Privatsynagoge (private synagogue or prayer room) of Samson Wertheimer as well as a library and other exhibits.
Also known as the Wertheimer’sche Schul, Wertheimer’s private chapel from the 18th century was somehow spared destruction during the Second World War. Samson Wertheimer was a key financier for the Esterházy family and the Holy Roman Emperors in the late 17th and early 18th century. Not only is this museum the first Jewish museum to open in Austria after the Second World War but officials found hidden Torah scrolls and other sacred objects hidden in the walls. The Schul is still used for occasional services.
Visit the historic Jewish Cemetery in this district. (Remember to bring a hat or head covering if you visit either the Schul or the cemetery.)
Lake Neusiedl (Neusiedler See), a favorite destination for the Viennese who escape the city on weekends for sailing and other outdoor activities, is worth exploring by boat..
HAYDN AND HAYDN FESTIVAL
Haydnhaus, where the composer lived, is close to the center of the city and very much worth a visit. His mausoleum (the composer was reunited with his head in 1954; it was stolen shortly after his burial in 1809 in an attempt to reconcile his genius with his cranial anatomy in the now-discredited science of phrenology) in the Bergkirche is also worth a stop.
If you are lucky, you may find a concert being played on the church’s organ, the same one that Hadyn himself (and Beethoven at one time) played.
Haydn himself received a portion of his salary in wine, a fact that was documented in a 1789 wage receipt and that also highlights the importance of the wine industry in the region.
The city is host to the Haydnfestspiele (Haydn Festival) concerts every summer and thousands of classical music fans flock to the city.
If you want something sweet to eat during a concert, several bakeries and confectioners including Altdorfer’s make Haydn-Rolle, a chocolate that competes with the world-famous Mozartkugel chocolates.
IF YOU GO
Eisenstadt can be reached from Vienna by car. The 50-kilometer (31-mile) drive should take 35 minutes. There are relatively few hotels but most people who visit come just for the day. Austrian Airlines has daily non-stop flights to Vienna from New York City, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, Canada.
(Photos: Jonathan Spira)