VIENNA, AUSTRIA May 31, 2014 – Starbucks had a clever idea back in 1971 when they popularized the American coffeehouse on a national scale. But did you know that the Viennese perfected the concept nearly 300 years earlier?
Like English pubs and sidewalk cafes in Paris, Vienna coffeehouses are as integral to the social and cultural fabric of the city as Habsburg palaces, a Strauss waltz and the Lipizzan stallions.
The roots of the Kaffeehaus can be traced to the 17th century when Vienna was liberated in a siege from the Ottoman Turks by a Polish-Habsburg army. (An interesting side story is the battle took place on September 11, 1683. It was the date of that defeat that became the impetus for Osama bin Laden’s terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.)
In the aftermath of the battle, the victorious army captured a considerable supply of coffee beans that had been abandoned outside the city gates. Initially believed to be food for the Muslim camels, one of the Polish officers recognized the true value of the beans and asked King Jan Sobieski for ownership. The request was granted and, before long, the tradition of the Viennese coffeehouse was established.
The German word for relaxation in an unhurried manner with pleasantness and peace of mind is gemütlichkeit. The Viennese like to think of their coffeehouses as “having a soul.” It is an accurate and appropriate description for each of Vienna’s coffee establishments is unique with their personal share of gemütlichkeit. So rich is the heritage of Vienna’s coffeehouses that they became a part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage sites in 2011.
Three traditions are an integral aspect of a typical Viennese coffeehouse: There is always a huge selection of newspapers. Water is served with the coffee. Stay as long as you like.
It is also important to understand the intangible aspects that give the individual coffee cafes a life of their own, however. Some are better suited for morning discussions of global or national events, while others are equipped for pre or post-theater socializing. It is helpful to know the differences in order to have a total coffeehouse experience.
With those thoughts in mind, here is a traveler’s sampler to provide a basic introduction into the world of Viennese coffee. It is not meant to be definitive in any way, but purely to offer a bit of insight into a truly unique travel experience.
We begin with Café Central because it is one of the best known, and said to be the grandest, of all coffeehouses in Vienna. Because of that it has become a popular attraction for tourists and less so for local fashionistas. It was often frequented by the likes of Freud, Trosky and other notable writers and philosophers since opening in 1876 in the (palaisevents.at/en/cafecentral former Vienna Stock Exchange. To savor the echoes of the past and enjoy the spirit of a different world the best time to visit is midday..
Café Demel is another favorite. Designed in Baroque style and situated near the Hofburg Palace, Demel is part of Vienna’s famous chocolatier, K&K Hofzuckerbäcker. The café dates to 1786, and features some of the best confections in town in a city famous for its pastries. A great place to go for a mid-afternoon break.
Karl Kraus, the famous essayist once wrote, “Old Vienna was once new.” Not true if you visit Café Hawelka. Hawelka is traditional as it can get in Vienna, attracting curiosity seekers from all over the world. It has long been another popular gathering spot for artists and writers. So much so that it is said that entire books have been written in the café. Visit in the morning as soon as it opens or at ten at night when the famous Austrian sweet buns, called Buchteln, are served hot from the oven.
Café Sacher gets a nod because it is part of the world famous Hotel Sacher which created the even more famous chocolate dessert known as Sacher Torte. The open terrace setting facing the Vienna Opera House creates a delightful ambience during the summer. Open from 8 am to midnight, and any time of day or night is a good time to visit.
No trip to Vienna would be complete with a mention of Mozart. Café Mozart opened shortly after the death of the great composer in 1794. Located in Albertina Square behind the opera house, this smoke-free setting also features an open air section. While the café is open from 8 am until midnight, the signature “Third Man Breakfast” is only served until three in the afternoon.
By the way, if you shy away from tradition, there’s always Starbucks. There are nine of them in Vienna.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com).
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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