Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vienna's café culture

Join the scores of artists, novelists, world leaders captivated by coffee

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It is a defensible proposition that no institution is as essential to the city of waltzes as the café. Creatures of habit, the Viennese go to their cafés every day, usually to the same café, to the same table, to be served by the same waiter and usually to drink the same style of coffee and perhaps to eat the same torte.

It's open to dispute whether the Viennese go to their cafés to drink coffee or drink coffee because they go to their cafés. But it's certain that Vienna would not what it is without its scores of cafés, many famous for the great artists and novelists, architects and statesmen who noshed there.

The sense of a Viennese café comes when you enter. There's a smell in the air -- rich and creamy aromas unlike the stale harshness of espresso bars or the acrid fumes of the burnt coffee common in North American fast food joints.

In the evening, some cafés have pianists plunking out jazz, others performing works by great Austrian composers -- Mozart of course, Strauss naturally, and Beethoven whose sonatas are intimate enough for elegant rooms and crystal glasses, silver trays and waiters in tails.

That's all standard gear for Viennese cafés where, to be a waiter, candidates for the job -- esteemed in Vienna -- go to school for three years.

Viennese cafés proliferated in the three centuries after Turkish armies, being driven out of the city after a siege in 1683, reputedly left some sacks of coffee beans behind.

Legend has it a Polish court messenger and occasional spy, Franz Georg Kolschnitzky, having spent two years as an Ottoman prisoner, smelled beans burning in a fire set by the departing Turkish troops. He rushed to the conflagration, saved the beans, and pleaded with Austrian Emperor Leopold I for permission to keep the beans. Permission duly granted, he opened the first coffee house in the city.

Café culture has evolved to create coffee in many forms, from the mokka (espresso), the kapuziner (the Viennese equivalent of the cappuccino, a name that comes from the white hoods of the Capucin monks worn over their beige robes), the brauner (espresso with a little cream) and the einspanner (coffee with whipped cream).

Coffee set the theme of the café -- stimulation courtesy of caffeine. In the next few centuries, the greats of Vienna became regulars at the cafés. Some cafés catered to novelists, some to composers, some to painters and some to the rogues of history.

Café Central

This café is close to the city's core of imposing buildings that once housed the bureaucracy of the Habsburg empire, opened in 1876. Part of the stately Palais Ferstel, its colonnaded main room resembles a church more than a restaurant.

The Café Central became the drawing room for an odd collection of people who built much of the 20th century including minimalist/modernist architect Adolf Loos, Zionist Theodor Herzl, psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, Yugoslav nationalist Josip Broz Tito when in town and Leon Trotsky who entertained Vladimir Lenin at the Central. Trotsky is known by the world for his part in the Soviet Revolution of 1918. In Vienna, he is remembered for failing to pay for his last four mokkas at the Central.

Café Schwartzenberg

Across the street from the Vienna Philharmonic and the exquisite Hotel Imperial and a favourite of visiting heads of state and movie stars, this café was opened in 1861. The coffees are fine, the service always perfect, but it's the history and the sense of being where the action is that draws many customers.

Schwarzenberg was the café of Josef Hoffman, famous 19th- and early 20th-century architect and designer. Leaders of the quiet revolution that helped bring down the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia took their coffee at the café, which is just down the street from the palace of the Prince of Schwarzenberg -- an Austrian aristocrat with deep Czech roots who led and financed the liberation of his homeland and who is now foreign minister of the Czech Republic.

Café Landtmann

On the broad boulevard the Ringstrasse that encircles the old city, Café Landtmann opened for business in the fall of 1873. Located across the street from the Austrian Parliament and Vienna's city hall, it draws a crowd of well-heeled and often well-known guests who, in the past, included the composer Gustav Mahler and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who lived nearby.

Café Hawelka

A few steps from Am Graben, the most expensive and elegant shopping street in Central Europe, Café Hawelka is famous for its clients including actor Oskar Werner, German writer Gunter Grass, when in Vienna, and American writer Henry Miller. Hawelka, with wallpaper in some places as old as 1918, is dark and dumpy but remains the rec room of Viennese intellectuals.

Café Museum

Close to the famous art museum, the Sezession (Secession), Café Museum was built in 1899 in an anti-decoration, anti-flamboyant style with the result that the place seems to have no discernible style at all. It was at various times the hangout for painters Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Gustav Klimt and the poet Franz Werfel, author of The Song of Bernadette.

Café Sacher

Across the street from the Vienna State Opera, this is perhaps the most famous coffee house in Vienna. It's known for the torte that bears its name -- a couple of layers of dark chocolate cake separated by apricot jam, the whole affair covered in bittersweet chocolate and then topped with enough whipped cream to make you a candidate for a triple bypass. The very act of eating it gets you into the inner sanctum of Viennese culture.

Sacher's list of diners and snackers includes Prince Metternich, diplomat and architect of 19th century Europe, the emperor Franz Josef, and his son, Crown Prince Rudolph, who had a final Sachertorte delivered to his hunting lodge at Mayerling in the Vienna Woods before blowing out the brains of his teenage date and himself in 1889.

Der Demel

This is a Konditorei, a sweet shop and bakery rather than a café, but there is no need to split hairs. Established in 1786, three years before the Austrian-born Marie Antoinette supposedly made her suggestion that rebellious French peasants eat cake, Demel was appointed as official court baker for the Hofburg palace just across the street.

Demel offers an ocean of pastries and sideboards of millefeuilles and truffles, dozens of tortes, candies, terrines of goose liver and meats baked in pastry. In the back, a huge window allows guests to watch chefs working their magic. Demel was kept in the founder's family until 1972 when it was bought by an Austrian gangster. He died in jail.

Demel, liberated from his control, remains a venerated palace of tortes. Staff continue to address customers in the third person, an Austrian custom that elsewhere is as dead as heel clicking.

There are risks in a pastry-based diet, but for the Viennese, coffee and cakes, are the foundation of life.

"It is not the pastries that make you fat," says Gaby Lansky, an influential lawyer and famous Austrian gourmet. "It is only the whipped cream that can present this problem. This is well-known in Vienna."

-- Postmedia News

IF YOU GO

CAFÉ CENTRAL:

Herrengasse 14

01. Call 01 533 376

6424.

CAFÉ LANDTMANN:

Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring

4. Call 01 24 100 100.

CAFÉ HAWELKA:

Dorotheergasse 6.

Call 01 512 8230.

CAFÉ SCHWARZENBERG:

Kartner Ring

17. Call 01 512 8998.

CAFÉ MUSEUM:

Friedrichstr. 6. Call

01 24 100 620.

CAFÉ SACHER:

Philharmonikerstr. 4.

Call 01 51 4560.

CAFÉ DEMEL: Kohlmarkt

14. Call 01 535

1717.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2012 D2

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