Friday, January 23, 2009

The Spell of the Vienna Woods

This book is my favorite of Paul Hofmann's, but it wasn't mentioned in his Times obituary on New Year's Day (link above). What was mentioned, that I didn't know, was that he was an informer for the Italian underground during World War II, and that he was a lawyer who became a spokesman for the Catholic Popular Federation in the 1930s. Hofmann fled to Rome after the Anschluss where he was eventually the translator for two German commandants. It was in this position he passed along information to the underground. After the war, Hofmann went to work for the New York Times in Rome.
The Spell of of Vienna Woods isn't a typical travel book. Rather, it looks at the Woods' influence on a variety of famous people (Beethoven, Schubert, Freud, Kafka) and events that happened there, like Crown Prince Rudolph's murder/suicide at Mayerling. The Woods cast their spell on Hofmann himself, which is obvious from the writing. Unlike other cities, the Viennese transit system makes it easy to get to the Woods; there is a streetcar that goes all the way to Baden, where Beethoven liked to escape in the summer.

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