Thursday, April 20, 2017

Visiting A Weiner Kaffeehaus

...or Vienna coffeehouse, if you're English-speaking.

Here's a guide to get you through it. 

Back in college days, I spent a summer in Austria (Osterreich) and Germany, and a big chunk of that time was in Vienna. Cousins Tim and Joan Cumings were missionaries there, and  had an apartment not far from Schonbrun, the emperor's summer palace.

A few peaceful afternoons were spent there, wandering through the palace flower gardens and marveling at the rooms' elegant walls, painted ceilings and huge ceramic stoves. For an awkward farmer's daughter, this was unexpected territory.

Here it is, in all its glory  (courtesy Wikipedia)

My stay in Wien (pronounced "Veen") didn't provide for a lot of free time. For one thing, I was there to help out with Tim and Joanie's girls, and help pack for their move further south to Villach, ("Fee-lach") I didn't have a lot of extra money.

A few times, though, I visited a coffeehouse, both in Wein and in Heidelberg, Germany. (Deutschland, for you German-speakers out there.) My impressions:

*Elegance.  Why did I wear jeans and a sweater, when even the waiters were dressed better? Everything was presented with a flourish -- even the cloth napkins and china cups.  (Get that, quilting students??)  I had to repress an urge to double-check my wallet, for fear I'd end up washing dishes to pay.  (Yes, I was that poor.)

*Glass. Everywhere glass...and mirrors. You weren't supposed to stare directly at people, but that wasn't a problem. You just peeked into one of the mirrors, and gawked to your heart's content.

*The best, thickest coffee in the world.  Not only was it dark and practically leaped out of the cup -- if you didn't finish with a good solid batch of grounds in the bottom, it wasn't good kaffee. 

*Plan on sitting down? Then you'll pay extra.  Many people drank their coffee standing up, reading newspapers arranged on POLES. (Bear in mind that this little farm girl had not been to many big cities, at this point. Although somewhat familiar with Chicago, I'd never gone in a coffee place, been in a taxi, spent very few nights in a hotel, or eaten in a really upscale restaurant. I was pretty green.)

*Don't skip dessert -- no matter what.  If you love sugar, especially frosting, Austrian and German pastries are the best in the world. I'm not a big frosting girl -- to my mind, wedding cakes should be served au naturel. But the delicate, flaky pastry, lightly glazed and often decorated with fruit, did me in. So did the huge sort-of gingerbread cookies, Lebkuchen ("leb-koo-khen") that the Brick and I love to this day.

Oh my.

*TAKE YOUR TIME.  Rest. Look around, while you sip and crunch. (If you're a hickster from Michigan, try desperately to look sophisticated while you're doing it.) Don't rush; this is An Experience. Enjoy it.

Fortunately, there are some spots in America that still foster this grand tradition. My favorite, so far, is the Neue Galerie in New York City. They have a great collection of German/Austrian art, including some iconic Klimt pieces. Stop at their restaurant afterwards for kaffee mit schlag (coffee with whipped cream). For a moment, I almost felt back in college days, counting Austrian schillings with leather backpack at hand and a Solzhenitsyn novel nearby.

Even if you can't head to Europe right now, take time to bake some's been the signature dessert of the Hotel Sacher -- and Vienna -- for centuries. (Almost pronounced "soccer") Sachertorte remains the Brick go-to for birthdays, as well as Christmastime.

Sachertorte, in all IT'S glory (courtesy Wikipedia)

In spite of his years overseas, traveling for the Navy, the Brick never got to Austria -- or Germany, for that matter. I never made it to Paris, London...or Venice, even though Villach was within spitting distance. (An omission I forever regret -- but I was young and stupid. And overwhelmed.)

     We hope to see these again.  Sometime. Soon.

St. Stephen's Cathedral -- another amazing place in Vienna

Its tile roof, closeup   (courtesy Wikipedia for both photos)

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