A Cultural Journal

    Vienna: The Kaffeehaus Culture

    Written by: Dr Dushka H Saiyid - Posted on: July 06, 2015 | Post your comment here Comments | 中文 (Chinese)

    Google Translation: اُردو | 中文

    Vienna Kaffeehaus Culture

    Cafe Central

    Story has it that when the Turks retreated from the gates of Vienna in 1683, they left behind sacks of coffee beans. A military officer by the name of Kulczycki, who had spent time in captivity of the Turks, informed the Austrians how to use the beans, and opened one of the first coffee houses in Vienna. By the late 18th century, the Kaffeehaus had become an integral part of the Viennese society, often described as “the city’s public living rooms”. Not surprisingly, UNESCO recently listed “the Viennese Coffee House Culture” as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage”.

    Vienna Kaffeehaus Culture

    Dessert at Cafe Central

    Cafes dot the city. Each one has a different character, and attracts its own loyal clientele. In the heyday of the empire, they were the nerve center of social, intellectual and political activity. They ooze nineteenth century charm, where time stands still, as the clients linger over their coffee, cake, or a light lunch. Whether it’s the newspapers racks, or the fact that the waiter will not bring the check till you ask for it, they are the embodiment of an unhurried genteel culture when conversation was considered an important social skill. Let's put it this way, it’s a far cry from the jukebox and fast food that have become the norm.

    Vienna Kaffeehaus Culture

    Mannequin of poet Peter Altenberg at Café Central

    Revolutionaries, intellectuals and musicians, had their favourite cafes. Café Central’s location in the heart of the city, next to the Hofburg, and its grand architecture of vaulted ceiling and marble pillars, has made it popular with  tourists, and there are always lines of people waiting to be seated. A life-sized mannequin of Peter Altenberg, the Austrian poet, greets the visitor at the entrance, for he spent all his time at the Café writing poetry, while Trotsky, the brilliant Russian revolutionary whom Stalin eliminated, came here regularly to play chess. Café Sperl in the vorstadte, or the inner suburbs, served up the best meal I had in Vienna, and is a little off the tourist trail. It has a timeless feel about its faded red velvet banquettes, huge mirrors and billiard tables. Gustav Mahler, Marlene Dietrich and Freud were regulars at Café Landtmann, popular with politicians and theatregoers because of its proximity to the Parliament and the Burgtheater. A long line of Porches and BMWs were parked outside its doors, reflecting the kind of clientele it draws.

    Vienna Kaffeehaus Culture

    The old world charm of Cafe Sperl

    As you wander the streets of this historically rich city, take a break at one of those atmospheric cafes, and recharge your batteries with any one of the many different types of coffee on offer: Mocca is black coffee; Melange is a Vienna specialty somewhat similar to a cappuccino, Maria Theresa comes with whipped cream and orange liqueur, and the list is pretty long. Order one of the wonderful cakes on display to accompany the coffee, the famed sacher torte (chocolate cake with cream at its side) or apfelstrudel (a Viennese version of the apple pie), and don’t worry about the calories, as you’ll walk them off in this pedestrian friendly city. If your timing is right, you might even be greeted by live piano music in one of the classic cafes.

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