Have the Viennese always been dog people? That, I do not know, but I suspect so. Mozart had at least one dog during his lifetime, although he is more famous for owning a sparrow. It is said he gave the dog, Bimpes, the nickname “Bimperl.” I have no idea what “Bimperl” means, if anything, but I heard that a chocolate company immortalized the dog with a statue somewhere in Vienna. I asked around, but no one seemed to know anything about it.
Vienna itself is very clean, even with all the dogs. Of course, the tidy Viennese have lessened the chances of stepping in dog droppings by sprinkling little parks around the city. The parks are equipped with “waste disposal” stations.
During our last afternoon in Vienna, we passed a little dog park near the Neue Burg, a cluster of small specialty museums. Inside the mini-park, a dog the approximate size of a European car frolicked among the clipped bushes, trying to make friends with another dog with the dimensions of a bread box. In front of the museum, city residents with the day off took advantage of the mild weather and allowed their animals to slip their leashes. The dogs engaged in polite play on the manicured green lawn.
Inside the Neue Burg, marble stairways arched to the floor above. In a series of rooms filled with large glass cases sat classic violins and violas, along with ancient drums, early flutes and other mysterious musical oddities. Called the Sammlung Alter Musikinstrumente, it also houses pianos once owned by Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven. In one corner stood a small keyboard for public use. Visitors, forbidden to touch other exhibits, were invited to bang out a tune here. A young boy of perhaps nine or so, his hands flying over the keyboard in—what else—a Mozart composition, concentrated on impressing Elizabeth, who giggled, and, against the rules, took his picture.
Vienna’s skies had turned gray while we strolled among the drums and stringed instruments. The first drops of rain fell as we left the museum, and umbrellas popped open like mushrooms as people scurried to shelter. The wet weather reminded me of something I’d heard—that it had rained when Mozart was buried in a communal grave following his death on December 5, 1791. According to legend, the deluge kept the composer’s friends and family away from the burial. But, the story says, his faithful dog stayed beside him until the last shovel-full of earth fell on his grave.
The keepers of Mozart’s Viennese connection don’t encourage speculation about his mysterious death. They counter romantic rumors that he was murdered with logical explanations of 18th-century mortality. They say although a spendthrift and a gambler, he died in debt, but not as a pauper, and shared graves were traditional at the time. They also claim that, if indeed it did rain the day he was buried, even a heavy downpour would not have kept away his wife and close friends, of which he had many. The part about Mozart’s dog staying to the very end, though, I am sure is true.
That’s just the way dogs are.
The rain tapered off as we returned to our hotel. We passed through the glistening streets around the gaunt old cathedral in Stephansdom, and looked for a jewelry store to complete our shopping before the next day’s departure. A woman inside one of the shops caught my eye. We stepped inside.
She tapped the top of the display case with one rose-enameled fingernail. The clerk behind the counter nodded, unlocked the case and pulled a sparkling watch from the velvet interior. She placed it on a swath of soft, rich fabric draped on the countertop and said something in rapid German.
The customer studied the watch while balancing a wiggling bundle of fur in her arms. Sighing, she kissed the top of the dog’s fluffy head and placed him on the floor. He strained on his leash, tail beating like the heart of a small bird.
“May I?” I asked in English, as I bent to pat the little dog.
The watch forgotten, she smiled, scooped the animal up and held him for us to appreciate. “Schatzie’s such a good dog,” she said, in excellent English. “He loves to give kisses, my little Schatzie.”