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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Waltzing through the Grand Cafés of Vienna - Page 2

Written by John M. Edwards
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    Ah, at last the al fresco!

 

    Siggy and I left the Café Grand, much like a quick gay pickup (even  

though I am straight), in order to direct me on a walking tour of  

Vienna’s favorite sites, taking in as many Kaffeeklatches as we could  

muster. In retrospect, I never drank more cups of coffee in my life.

 

    Arriving at the Café Central (14 Herrengasse), frogmarched there by my  

newfound friend, as confident a tour guide as Rick Steves, if not  

Anthony Bourdain, I decided that this was one of the  best cafés in Die  

Welt.

 

    Get this? Vienna was the site of Europe’s very first Kaffeehaus,  

opened in 1685 (name unknown) with a busybee umph and a royal assist.  

According to legend, when the Ottoman Turks retreated from their deadly  

siege of the Austro-Hungarian city in 1683, they left behind bags of  

coffee beans, which were promptly “brewed” by the Habsburgian army,  

then led by “Prussian” Polish general Jan Sobieski. Austrians poured  

hot water on the crushed-up beans, and presto!

 

    Thus, both kaffee (based upon Islamic loot originally derived from  

Ethiopia) and the croissant (based upon the sickle in Turkish flags)  

overtook the city, and later the entire Eurasian continent. Today,  

Austria has the second-highest coffee consumption per capita in the  

world, topped only by (curiously) Norway.

 

    With coffee being a 300-year-old tradition, a favorite of visiting  

vampires Moliere and Voltaire (as well as many other philosophers),  

Vienna proves that coffee isn’t just a right, but also a privilege. It  

just happens. One Holy Roman Emporer, a Habsburg, once suggested  

banning coffee as the “devil’s drink,” but nobody in the Holy Roman  

Empire (800-1806) or subsequent Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918)  

cooperated with the decree, nor paid any attention to it.

 

    By 1900, there were over 600 kaffeehaus in the city, while now there  

are only a couple of hundred left. The then-closed-down Café Ritter  

(1867) almost declared bankruptcy recently, even though it once upon a  

time ruled with its “Wienerschnitzel” and “Tafelspitz” and “Guglhupf.”

 

    At the corner of Tuchlabenstrasse and Brandståtte, Siggy and I entered  

the little-known Café Korb (1904), intentionally not included in my  

Best Of List, and then quickly exited without ordering. “Too crowded!”  

Siggy fumed with force majeur. “We will go for real ‘Eiskaffee’!”

 

    Not long after, assisted to our chairs in a fairly nondescript but  

opulent café, whose name I spaced, Siggy removed his feet from the  

floor and placed them on a neighboring seat. His pointy leather shoes  

were ugly, scuffed. While my Rockport walking shoes were the envy of  

every foot fetishist on the continent, which I secretly suspected was  

what Siggy was: a feet man.

 

    A waiter resembling a young Gustav Klimt, in a starched white apron,  

took our orders on a notepad, as I asked, “What’s the name of this  

café?”

 

    “Wass?”

 

    “Der nomen, dis Kaffe?”

 

    “Ah-so, Kaffe Sperl!”

(Page 2 of 6)
Last modified on Friday, 02 May 2014

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