Classic Mornings

Would You Like Fries With That Waltz?


You may have discovered this on your own and found it amusing. If not, you’ve missed out on a little fun that’s sort of a fringe benefit of classical music.

Do you ever look closely at recordings from companies in Germany that use both English and German words on the cover? It may be clear that it’s a Beethoven symphony or a Mozart concerto. But when you look at the name of the orchestra, sometimes you’ll see Wiener Philharmonic or Hamburger Camerata.

Can you imagine an orchestra of wieners or hamburgers? We owe just the thought of it to the wonderful mix of composers and musicians from around the world that are a part of the legacy of classical music, not to mention the borrowing of words and the blending of languages that sometimes results in some unintended, but nevertheless entertaining situations.

Wien is the Austrian word for Vienna. It’s pronounced “veen”, rhyming with keen. Wiener is an adjective form of the word meaning Viennese and pronounced “VEE ner”. It would be used to precede a word like Philharmonic. Actually, it’s Wiener Philharmoniker. I knew that, but I wanted to have as much fun as I could with the pairing of the words.

Hamburger is a German adjective for something from Hamburg, Germany – or a person from Hamburg. Over there it’s pronounced “HAHM boorg.” And indeed, there is an ensemble whose performances I play on Classic Mornings that’s called the Hamburger Camerata.

There still are lots of questions about how hamburgers got their name. There is no native German food known as hamburgers. For well over a half century there have been all sorts of hamburgers served at American restaurants transplanted there and around the world. And even in German-speaking countries, they’re pronounced and enjoyed just as they are here.

Sausages are an age-old specialty of Germany and Austria. And immigrants to this country continued the tradition. Somehow both Vienna and Frankfurt became associated with a particular type of sausage, which we know as a Wiener or Frankfurter. Without a doubt there have been some amusing situations involving those words and their double meanings.

There has even been discussion over the years about the famous quote by an American president who called himself a Berliner. It stems from one meaning of that word in Germany – it’s short for Berliner Pfannkuchen - a pastry similar to a jelly donut. But that’s another story.

This all comes to mind with the 150th anniversary of the first performance of the waltz by Johann Strauss, Jr. known as Tales From the Vienna Woods. Every time I play the waltz for listeners a particular thought comes to mind. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one who’s had that thought. Given the anniversary, I decided to let listeners in on the joke of sorts.

Now in the words of the official Viennese travel website:, Vienna is situated on the western edge of the Vienna Basin, on the gentle slopes of the Vienna Woods, a branch of the foothills of the Alps. This “Green Lung” as they call it, is part of a legally protected green belt.

In 2005, the Vienna Woods were designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO – a designation for areas with a special cultural and natural landscape. They go on to say that a world city like Vienna, partially situated in a Biosphere Reserve, is not only something special but also unique. It almost sounds like an indirect way of saying: Please don’t step (or dance) on the forest grounds.

It was long before that designation that Johann Strauss Jr. just called the Vienna Woods home and put it on the map with his waltz. The title in German is Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald. Now here’s the fun part. Back in the 1950’s a restaurant chain began which was named after that Biosphere Reserve – 50 years before it became a Biosphere Reserve. It specialized in chicken. And suddenly, “Wienerwalds” spread around the world – some 1,600 of them at one time, with more than ½ in the United States. Everybody has restaurant stories, right? So at that point, there probably were more tales told about all of those franchise locations than performances of the famous waltz.

One of the stories is that following the restaurant’s peak in popularity in the late 1970s, it began to face the competition of fast food establishments. And many potential patrons in this country just assumed that with a name like “Wienerwald,” it was a hot dog restaurant. The chain was somewhat foiled by that age old association of Wiener and “sausage”. 

Today there are only about 20 or so, mostly in Germany. The Biosphere Reserve and the waltz live on. The waltz is one of the grandest and most memorable of all waltzes, even with the distractions that might be suggested by its title. But those are harmless. And some might even consider them to be a side dish of sorts and something to be relished.