Thomas Bernhard and the City of Dreams

by Leanne Ogasawara

Arriving in Vienna, we immediately set out for District 14, in the western suburbs of the city. Exhausted after the long journey from Los Angeles, all we wanted to do was get something to eat and crash out in our room. Unfortunately, Viennese architect Otto Wagner’s legendary church was only opened to the public for four hours a week –on Sundays from noon to 4pm. And today was Sunday, so it was now or never!

Completed in 1907, the Kirche am Steinhof is considered to be one of the the most beautiful Art Nouveau churches in the world. Located on top of a wooded hill (Ah, the Vienna Woods!), the church is part of a sprawling psychiatric hospital—once one of the largest in Europe. It is also the place where a dear friend of mine had gone on her first date with the man she fell madly in love with decades ago.

It was an odd spot for a first date. But my friend assured me: It had been perfect–and they were still going strong!

Still, I had never been on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital before. The guard stationed at the front gate inquired if we wanted to see the church: Kirche? We nodded, and he pointed up the hill. There were maybe a dozen old buildings, each set within its own grove of trees, dotting the extensive grounds. The church loomed large above the wooded landscape. Its golden dome–recently renovated– was gleaming in the brilliant sunlight. I could easily understand why the locals called it: limoniberg (the lemon hill).

The hospital grounds were a cheerful place. It was only later that I learned its terrible history. Read more »