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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Waltzing through the Grand Cafés of Vienna

Written by John M. Edwards
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John M. Edwards sings the praises of Vienna’s unique “Grand Café”  Kaffeeklatches, perfect for any time of year

 

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“The [Café] Central is a place for people who have to kill time, so as  

not to be killed by it. . . .”

--Alfred Polgar

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“I AM SIGMUND SPIELBERG!!!”

 

    The obviously unemployable flaneur with umlaut eyes landed at my 

marble-topped table without a proper invite, brusquely pushing aside a  

Thonet wooden chair.

 

    Brandishing a copy of Der Spiegel on a wooden rolling pin in his left  

hand, and reeking from an unfortunate cologne resembling turning fruit  

or female arousal or even Cutter ™, Sigmund sighed, coughing up and  

swallowing a leech-like phlegm ball.

 

    “Wow!” I breathed in snarky disbelief. “Any relation to the American  

filmmaker Steven Spielberg?!”

 

    “Why yes!” “Siggy” fogged up his Rayban aviator sunglasses and  

polished the lenses on a starched white napkin (mine), smiling like a  

demon out of Hieronymous Bosch. “Steven Spielberg is a distant cousin  

of me. . . .”

 

    We were at the legendary Grand Café (a classic Fin de Siecle  “grand  

café”), where reservations are suggested: (00 43 1-580 9120), and which  

is perhaps Vienna’s most storied meeting place.  Easily located right  

on the first floor of the Grand Hotel Wien  (9 Kaertnerstrasse) on  

Vienna’s romantic Ringstrasse, this atmospheric kaffehaus (coffeehouse)  

resembled any Danté-like circle of hell, with dark exhaust-spewing  

Mercedes-Benzes prowling around outside on the famous circular road  

like canny reef sharks, just waiting to take you on a “luxus” ride into  

the other side of night.

 

    However, inside, with its vaulted ceilings, marble pillars, wooden  

hatracks, bentwood chairs, and foreign periodicals on roller sticks,  

the Café Grand (or Grand Café) was once the haunt of such dastardly  

villains as Lenin, Trotsky, and Freud.

 

    It almost seemed like at any minute an anarchist, perhaps a Serbian  

terrorist from “The Black Hand,” who assassinated The Archduke  

Ferdinand in Sarajevo, thus sparking World War I, would come in and  

roll a bowling-ball shaped bomb down the elaborately laid parquet  

flooring.

 

    In point of fact, though, I couldn’t tell offhand if “Siggy” was just  

an apparent poseur dressed in a 19th-century-style frockcoat, more  

Fraud than Freud. I instead took him at his word, mostly wretched  

Englische.

 

    “Wellkommen, Bienvenu, Welcome!” Siggy sang like Joel Gray in  

“Cabaret.”

 

    Everything was oh-so perfect, an epiphany: even if this spectacle was  

one of the only non-smoking demesnes in all of Vienna. Why? Nothing  

goes better with a cigar or a cigarette than a “machiatto”!

(Page 1 of 6)
Last modified on Friday, 02 May 2014

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