Saturday 14 May 2016

The Viennese coffee houses (and two restaurants)

The Viennese coffee houses are a national institution. Coffeehouses first appeared in Vienna in the late 17th century and quickly became an established part of the culture. Their heyday was probably around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, when they were at the heart of Viennese intellectual life.

Vienna was a cultural melting pot at the time, attracting intellectuals from all over Europe and because the city is quite small they all knew each other: this favoured political dissidents and those on the run. If you wanted to find a place to hide out in Europe where you could meet lots of other interesting people then Vienna was a good place to do it. The city played host to Leon Trotsky, Joseph Tito, Sigmund Freud, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler, amongst others.

The Viennese coffee house became a central part of life where debate and discussion thrived and where boundaries that later became so rigid in western thought, were fluid. The Viennese poet Peter Altenberg famously gave 'Café Central, Wien', as his home address.

We tried to sample as many as we could.

Demel's is in the pedestrianised part of the Innere Stadt

The two front rooms serve as a patisserie where various pastries and chocolates are for sale

it all looked delicious.

The kitchen has a glass front so that you can see the chefs as they prepare the cakes and chocolates - we could see all this going on from our table.

The interior is decorated in Neo-Baroque style

we only had tea and coffee, but the cakes looked delicious.

Café Sperl is in the Mariahilfe district

Grand dimensions, gorgeous Jugenstil fittings and cosy booths

this was one of the nicest coffee houses we visited.

It was very busy but there was an unhurried air about the whole place.

There are three billiard tables but one is used for the day's newspapers.

Café Museum is near the Secession building and the Opera house

The interior was designed by architect Josef Loos in 1899.

Designed in the peak of the Art Nouveau period, this coffee house is very simple and unadorned. It was nicknamed 'Café Nihilism'. Heinrich Kulka, Loos' pupil, described it as 'the starting point for all modern interior design'.

Light green walls contrasting with red bentwood chairs which Loos designed, dark red upholstery.

Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokochka and Otto Wagner were regulars here.

Café Guttenberg is behind St Stephen's Cathedral, very near our hotel

we were exhausted after walking all day, and came here for a very late lunch before going back to the hotel.

Café Ritter is just off Mariahilferstrasse

we didn't like this one as it stank of cigarette smoke. There was a smoking room with an automatic door and all the smoke from the numerous smokers drifted into the rest of the coffee house.

Café Central, the grandest of all coffee houses, on Herrengasse

It was opened in 1876 and became a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual scene. Key regulars in the 20th century included: Leon Trotsky, Sigmund Freud, Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Josip Tito.

Its impressive interior of marble pillars, arched ceilings and glittering chandeliers now plays host mostly to tourists

There was a queue of tourists waiting to get in when we tried to visit, and we really did not feel like joining the queue

so, I just walked in, had a look, took some photographs

of the impressive interior

and then we walked down the road to:

Café Gridnsteidl, which is opposite St Michael's church, next to the Hofburg, and just over the road from the Loos House.

It's a typical Viennese coffee house, comfortable and handsome.

It was packed when we arrived, and our waitress looked very harassed, but a lot of people left while we were there

and we were able to have a nice, quiet time and an apple strudel that was delicious.

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We ate locally in the evenings as we were too tired after all the wandering about to venture too far. Our hotel was near St Stephen's Cathedral just off Fleischmarkt Street where during the 17th century Greek traders came to Vienna and settled on the Fleischmarkt (the meat market).

On our first day as we were passing this building I noticed the plaque and recognised the face on the plaque - any Greek person would. It's Rigas Feraios (or Velestinlis), Greek writer, political thinker and revolutionary, active in the Modern Greek Enlightenment, Greek national hero, and pioneer of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.

Around 1793 he went to Vienna which was home to a large Greek community, as part of an effort to ask Napoleon for assistance and support. While in the city, he edited a Greek language newspaper and published a proposed political map of Great Greece. He printed pamphlets based on the principles of the French Revolution which he intended to distribute in an effort to stimulate a Pan-Balkan uprising against the Ottomans.

When he entered into communication Napoleon, he set out to meet him, was arrested at Trieste by the Austrian authorities (an ally of the Ottoman Empire) who were concerned the French Revolution might provoke similar upheavals in Austria. He was imprisoned and tortured. The Austrian authorities decided to send him to Constantinople to be sentenced. While in transit in 1798, he and his five comrades were strangled and their bodies were thrown into the Danube. His last words are reported as being: 'I have sown a rich seed; the hour is coming when my country will reap its glorious fruits'.

The Greek Orthodox church is on the Fleischmarket

as are shops that bear the Greek names of their owners.

Next to the Greek church is

the shambling, ivy covered Griechenbeisl, Vienna's oldest traditional inn, established in 1447, named after the Greeks who lived in the area and who made it their local.

The inn is well-known for its carved sign that depicts Liebe Augustin (dear Augustus), a character from local folklore, author of the ballad 'Oh du lieber Augustin, alles is hin', which he composed and sang here in the Griechenbeisl at the end of the 17th century.

A replica of Augustin is to be found here, and people throw in coins for good luck

We ate here twice.

The inn is a large place full of rooms, nooks and crannies.

Augustin again

All the downstairs rooms were full the first night we ate here, but there was plenty of space upstairs, so up this spiral staircase we went.

We had a nice meal

the upstairs rooms emptied quite early

but downstairs the place was still buzzing with life.

Our second visit to the inn was truly memorable: we were shown in this room which has been classified as a historical monument 

it's called the Mark Twain room. The author stayed in one of the upstairs rooms while he lived in Vienna

the first thing I noticed when we entered was a portrait of Rigas Ferraios.

What makes this room special and a historical monument is that so many politicians and artists have signed their names on the vaulted ceiling and the walls.

The first one to sign was Mozart, but the list is endless: Beethoven, Pavarotti, Schubert, Brahms,

Otto von Bismarck

Richard Wagner

Johnny Cash

Egon Schiele

Rainer Maria Rilke,

and many many more

This is the score for the 'Oh due lieber Augustin' ballad.

There was only one other customer in the room, but lots of people kept coming in to be given the guided tour of the autographs by our extremely friendly waiter who in some sense, 'made' the evening for us. He was funny, entertaining, and loved showing people around.

Opposite the Greek church, in this alleyway we found another gem

Ef16. We ate here three times

not just because of the lovely atmosphere, and the excellent service

 but mainly because the food was outstanding - absolutely delicious.

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