Two weekends ago, I went to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. I had a great time, and the city was amazing. But, it was just a regular trip–I went out, I got Hungarian food, the usual stuff that I’ve been partaking in on weekend trips.
Last weekend, I went to Vienna with a mission and a purpose. I suppose I’ll need to give you some background first.
One of my favorite films of all time is “Before Sunrise.” It’s a romance film from the mid-90s directed by Richard Linklater, who you might know as the director of “Boyhood.” This was his first major film, and it holds a dear place in my heart. In short, without spoiling anything, the film takes place in a 24-hour stretch in Vienna, telling the story of a budding yet fleeting romance between an American traveler, played by a dashing young Ethan Hawke, and a French student, played by a beautiful Julie Delpy. I can’t get into much further detail, but the entire movie is basically those two characters walking around Vienna and talking. That’s it. That’s the movie. It’s hard to explain why it means so much to me, but it just does.
I first watched that movie when I was 15, and six years later I was able to finally make it to Vienna. As I said earlier, I came with a purpose. I could have easily gone to the middle of the city, taken a picture and said, “Hey, I’m here.” But I wanted something more than that.
I spent an entire day traversing the city visiting every location shown in the film (if still able to be visited). Most importantly, I planned to do it in chronological order. Although some of the locations were close together, I plotted it out the way it was shown in the movie. That meant I had to hop on the metro and go from one end of the city and back again, just because Ethan and Julie decided to make things difficult for me over two decades later.
I started this adventure around 10 a.m., at the Westbahnhof train station, where the two main characters depart on the Eurorail for their day in the city. I’ll spare you the details of all 15 spots I ventured to, but I’ll give you the highlights and why they meant something to me–again, trying not to spoil anything. You really should see this film. One of the most memorable scenes from the movie takes place in Alt & Neu Record Shop, located in Vienna’s hipstery Mariahilf district (I mean, what other type of neighborhood would still have a record shop open in 2019).
Back in 1995, this record shop played host to one of the most famous scenes in the entire film, where Jesse (Hawke) and Celine (Delpy) realize their feelings for one another in the listening booth in the back of the store. Twenty-four years later, the listening booth door (which never really existed and was built for the benefit of the film) has a poster of the film on it, showing off its place in cinematic history. Like a true film tourist, I took a few pictures in front of it.
Most of the locations from the film were located in the middle of Vienna, but I had to travel far for one. The “Cemetery of the Nameless,” a grave created primarily for the bodies washed up unidentified on the banks of the Danube, was visited by Jesse and Celine early in the film. For most “Before Sunrise” tourists, this site is usually skipped, considering it’s about 45 minutes each way from the center of the city, but I was determined. I hopped on a metro, then a bus and finally found myself at the footstep of the graves shown in the movie more than two decades beforehand. I was exhausted by the time I got there, but that’s what matters–I got there.
By the end of the trip, 15 hours later, I was back at Westbahnhof after walking 19 miles through the winding streets of Vienna. I snapped a victorious selfie in front of the final train stop, then tiredly slunk back to the hostel and slept for nine hours.
It’s hard to describe why Vienna means so much to me. To a lot of my friends in the program who visited, it’s just another “good” central European city, and I understand that.
A simple movie between two people can transform your perception of a place you’ve never visited from a random central European city to somewhere you need to experience with your own eyes. I guess that’s what I love about film.
Daniel Cohn is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.