A ‘Before Sunrise’ tour of Vienna

Paul John Caña

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A fan traces the route Jesse and Celine took in Vienna in the 1994 film 'Before Sunrise'

ACCIDENTAL MEETING, ACCIDENTAL LOVE. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke play Celine and Jesse in 'Before Sunrise.' Image from the 'Before Sunrise' Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – “Before Sunrise” is one of my favorite films of all time. I was a scrawny teenager when I first saw it in the 1990s. I still have my VHS copy and bought the DVD as soon as it came out. I’ve seen it dozens of times since then and still regularly watch it two to 3 times a year. 

If you haven’t seen it yet, the movie is essentially about two people who meet on a train and develop an incredible connection as they walk the streets of Vienna, Austria. American 20-something Jesse Wallace (played by Ethan Hawke) is nursing a broken heart when he strikes up a conversation with French college student Celine (Julie Delpy), who is traveling home to Paris after visiting her grandmother in Budapest.

Jesse convinces Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna, and the two spend the entire afternoon and evening together before he has to catch a flight back to the US very early the next morning. 

Watch the trailer here:

I was so enamored with the film that I went on my own train adventure as soon as I was financially able (only from Singapore to Bangkok, which took two days, but that’s another story). When I got the chance to travel to Vienna recently, I knew I wanted to retrace Jesse and Celine’s steps and see the city the way they did.

Some people might think that’s crazy, but anyone who loves a movie or TV show the way I do this one would understand the obsession and would probably not hesitate to do exactly what I did. People go on a “Harry Potter” tour when they go to London, or a “Sex and The City” tour in New York City, and even a “Lord of The Rings” tour in New Zealand.

This is my “Before Sunrise” tour of Vienna. 

The first thing I realized when I started researching on doing this tour was that the locations described in the movie don’t necessarily make sense from a practical and logistical perspective. Jesse and Celine may seem like they’re only walking from one part of the city to the next, but in reality, those two locations may be a taxi or a train ride away from each other.

I knew I had to plan carefully especially since I only had one full day to cover as much of the city as I could. I was also thankful to Charmaine, a friend I stayed with in Vienna, who coached me on the best route to take as I made my way around town. 

First stop: Westbahnhof station in Europaplatz

Westbahnhof Station in Europaplatz. All photos by Paul John Caña

The first location is Vienna’s Westbahnhof station in Europaplatz. It was here that Celine made that fateful decision to alight from the train and join Jesse. 

It was easy to find it as it is the city’s main train station. (It was also where I had to go at the end of my trip as I needed to get on a train here to Zurich to catch my flight back to Manila). 

Second stop: Zollamtssteg Bridge

Zollamtssteg Bridge

The Zollamtssteg Bridge is where Jesse and Celine meet the two guys who invite them to come watch them in a play about a cow.

The pair is starting their walk around the city and the initial awkwardness is evident in this scene. This is the only chance I get to have a photo of myself taken during the tour. One other person on the bridge was there and he was kind enough to indulge me in a little photo op. 

3rd stop: Maria Theresien Platz

Maria Theresien Platz, with the Museum of Natural History in the background

Jesse and Celine take a stroll here in Maria Theresien Platz.

Maria Theresien Platz is a pretty park located between the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum. It is also located across the Museumsquartier, a complex that houses modern artworks and is a popular venue for arts events. 

4th stop: The Riesenrad

The Riesenrad or 'Viennese giant wheel'

The Riesenrad, or Viennese giant wheel, is where Jesse and Celine share their first kiss.

The Ferris wheel, one of the oldest in the world, is located at the Prater amusement park in Leopoldstadt. Jesse and Celine also spend some time checking out the attractions in the park. It costs 9 euros (just a little under P500) for a ride, but I decided not to buy a ticket as I didn’t have much time.

5th stop: The Donaukanal

Steps leading down to the Donaukanal, a tributary of the Danube River

Jesse and Celine encounter a poet who asks them for a word from which he would write a poem. They choose the word “milkshake.”

This isn’t the exact place where the poet sat scribbling his notes as the scene was too dark to make out any other details. But this is located along the Donaukanal, which flows into the river Danube. 

6th stop: Kleines (Little) Café

Kleines Café at Franziskanerplatz

The pair gets their first coffee of the evening at Kleines (Little) Café. It is here where they encounter the palm reader who tells them that they are both “stars.” 

Kleines Café is located at Franziskanerplatz, which is very near St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the most important church in Vienna. I went inside to escape the cold for a while and have a beer in honor of Jesse and Celine.

7th stop: Maria am Gestade church

Maria am Gestade church

The interior of Maria am Gestade church

Jesse and Celine next visit Maria am Gestade church, where they have the conversation about “a very old woman, kissing a very young boy.”

Translating to Mary of the Riverbanks, the church is one of the oldest and one of the few examples of Gothic architecture in Vienna. There was only one other person, an old man, praying when I went inside. 

8th stop: Café Sperl

The elegant interior of Cafe Sperl

This booth inside Cafe Sperl is where Jesse and Celine sat

A view of Cafe Sperl from outside

Jesse and Celine go to a few other places before they get their second coffee of the evening at Café Sperl. It is here where they do their telephone chat, one of the most memorable scenes in the film. 

Café Sperl, located at Gumpendorferstrasse 11, is a coffee shop that was founded in the 1880s. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler is said to have favored this place. There weren’t too many people when I went in and ordered a hot chocolate. I also managed to take a snapshot of one of the booths where Jesse and Celine could have had their charming telephone conversations

9th stop: Albertina Museum

The balcony of the Albertina Museum

A nighttime view of the Albertina Museum

The couple next find themselves at the balcony of the Albertina Museum, looking over a slowly darkening city. 

The view from the balcony is nice in the daytime, but transforms into an even prettier sight with the buildings all lit up at night. 

10th stop: Johann Strauss ship at the Donaukanal

The MS Johann Strauss

Our heroes meander through other places in the film before having coffee break number 3 at the Johann Strauss ship docked at the Donaukanal. This is where Jesse and Celine say their “goodbyes” so they won’t have to worry about it when the time for real goodbyes comes.

In the daytime, the ship is not much to look at and even looks abandoned. I’m not sure if it even functions as a restaurant these days. 

11th stop: The Albertina

A statue of Archduke Albrecht at the Albertina Museum

After scoring a bottle of wine from a bar and spending some time in a park, the pair heads back to the balcony of the Albertina, where Jesse recites those lines from the poem by W.H. Auden. 

Under the imposing monument to Archduke Albrecht at the Albertina, Jesse channels Dylan Thomas as he reads the following passages from Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening” to Celine: 

But all the clocks in the city

Began to whirr and chime:

O let not Time deceive you,

You cannot conquer Time.

In headaches and in worry

Vaguely life leaks away,

And Time will have his fancy

To-morrow or to-day.

In a way, Jesse couldn’t have chosen a more fitting poem to read to Celine as it speaks of the inevitability of their parting. Moments later, they make their way back to the Westbahnhof train station, where the movie ends with the two making a promise to meet at the same spot 6 months later. 

Fans know what happened next of course, as the film’s director, Richard Linklater, and both Hawke and Delpy return for the film’s sequel, “Before Sunset,” set 9 years later.

As for me, I boarded that train to Zurich later that day, happy at the thought that I saw and experienced, even partially, a side of Vienna that was so instrumental in the fictional lives of these accidental lovers. It was such a gratifying feeling that I felt it was too much to hope that I meet someone I could share an amazing evening with on the train, too. – Rappler.com

Paul John Caña is the managing editor of Lifestyle Asia magazine. Watch out for Part 2 of this story, when he follows the route Jesse and Celine took in Paris 9 years later in the sequel, ‘Before Sunset.’

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