In the early 1980s, Vienna’s airport was one small terminal, like a village train station, something for the few people who bothered to venture in or out. You could check in, get a coffee, and go through passport control in a matter of minutes, and you got to your gate while the coffee was still hot because your gate was just the other side of the room. Planes took off and landed on one runway. The entire happenings at the airport, inside and out, could be monitored from the one lobby-sized space. Because, aside from music prodigies and spies, no one went to Vienna.
This is, of course, before the Asian economic boom that sent the Japanese and their Nikons into the non-Nippon world with a touristic gusto that is still hard to beat. And Americans, if they were going to journey all the way to Europe, they were heading for the big cities, cities with international oomph, or, at the very least, cities that offered a kick of cannabis with coffee. Very few headed to Vienna, which stood like a remote, lonely outpost teetering on the edge of East and West, where no one except university students spoke English and people walked around like they were still a bit stunned at having lost the monarchy, even though that had happened all the way back in the nightmare days of a closing WWI, 62 years before. The Vienna airport reflected what Austria, in the 20th century, had become: a quaint little place with great coffee, but, on the whole, internationally overlooked.
Not anymore. Land in Vienna today, and it’s clear it’s a destination city, with a terminal that looks like an 80s vision of tomorrowland: glossy blacks, creamy whites, and lots of neon lighting. I was so impressed with the bathrooms alone, I started taking pictures of the line of stalls until I realized I looked like Crazy Lady with my suitcases and airplane hair, trying to get shots of the ladies’ loo.
The Vienna airport, with its aesthetic cool and international hum, is impressive. But, like anything that grows up and you don’t recognize at first, you’re dazzled by the gloss and polish of the metamorphosis, but you also can’t help that twinge of nostalgia for a simpler, less consciously hip time.