English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Coffee Houses”

Cats and Dogs

I have blogged before about the special treatment that dogs receive in Vienna. I am still no more used to seeing dogs in clothes shops and restaurants and I am very happy to say that my prediction that one day I would see a dog on a bike came true. Well, the dog wasn’t actually riding the bike, that would be weird, but the dog was sitting in the front basket and, I assume, barking directions to its owner who was cycling. Unfortunately, I did not have time to get a picture of it, but I did, I am happy to say, get a picture of two pooches in a push-chair. Look at these pampered little doggies in a pram.


Dogs enjoying a festival from the comfort of their stroller

Dogs enjoying a festival from the comfort of their stroller

Recently, I have noticed that the Viennese are starting to love cats a little bit more. I came across a peculiar product in a famous chocolate shop where you can buy chocolate cats’ tongues. They are not actual tongues dipped in chocolate, which would be gross and I’m sure illegal, but are very thin pieces of chocolate shaped like what you would assume to resemble a cat’s tongue. Why you would want to eat something shaped like that, I am not entirely sure, especially when the pictures on the front are never really of a cute cat but of a fierce looking, hissing one, but that is the weirdness of Vienna for you.


chocolate tongue anyone? meow

Chocolate tongue anyone? meow

Since dogs can be admitted into any venue in Vienna, it automatically renders them cat-unfriendly, so the local cat population can be very happy to know that there is a special place for them in town. There is café Neko, a cat café, where you can take your cats or where you can go and simply enjoy being around the cats that belong to the café. Yes, I know, it’s weird. I went to see what it was like and yes, the things that bother me about dogs being everywhere i.e. worrying that dog hair is everywhere, wondering how hygienic it is, apply exactly to the cat café situation. The cats have cushions scattered all over the venue and have specially assembled shelves for them to climb, and if you take photos, it should be without the flash, so as not to offend the moggies. For me though, I soon had the feeling that I was breathing in cat hair and seeing as all windows are kept closed to prevent feline escape attempts, I felt somewhat claustrophobic. I didn’t stay long, but seeing as cats are pretty boring to watch, I don’t think I missed much. I am, however, pleased that the Viennese cat population has somewhere to go and drink coffee in peace without the threat of a dog turning up.

Read all about the cats whilst you choose your drink

Read all about the cats whilst you choose your drink

Hunde strictly verboten

Hunde strictly verboten

Dog in a clothes shop. You never see a cat in a shop do you?

Dog in a clothes shop. You never see a cat in a shop do you?













Exceedingly Good Cakes

Daily treats in Cafe Central

Mr Kipling would have serious competition if he were to come to Vienna. Cake making is an art form and some of the cakes appear as masterpieces, almost too pretty to eat; almost.

The first cake to talk about has to be the Sacher torte, so named after the Sacher Hotel where it was invented. The hotel, still open today, does a roaring trade to tourists stopping off for a coffee and a slice of the famous cake. It’s ok. It grows on you. It’s not an ordinary chocolate cake. It has a layer of jam running through it and at first, I found it weird that anyone would want to taint chocolate cake with any kind of jam, let alone apricot. Apricot and chocolate do not go together, but the Austrians just love their apricot jam. The thick, rich chocolate icing layer was, however, just to my taste, so after having had it a number of times, I can truly say I love a bit of Sacher Torte every now and again.

Hotel Sacher, home of the famous Sacher Torte


I think the winner, hands down, for making cakes has to be Café Central. There are queues outside most days and rightly so and not just because it is famous for having had the likes of Freud regularly enjoy a cup of coffee there in its past; it also does brilliant cakes. The cakes are themed according to the season and according to local famous artists. There are some cakes dedicated to Gustav Klimt, the Viennese artist, famous for works like The Kiss, or Der Kuss. In fact, outside another well-known cake shop the other night, I found a huge, of what I assume to be gingerbread, sweet recreation of Klimt’s most famous work. Showing that art is well and truly alive in Vienna, and edible art at that.

A sweeter version of The Kiss


Sometimes, I really think that the Viennese need lessons in customer service. They appear mostly uninterested in the experiences of their guests and even less interested in making money. In Vienna the staff rule. I have managed to make lots of serving staff very unhappy by my expectations as a customer and so I would like to share my knowledge of what irks them most.

They don’t like making eye contact. They are expert in snaking round tables ignoring everyone in their path who may be waving at them.

They don’t like being asked more than once for something. Even if a period of twenty minutes has elapsed and you understandingly think that perhaps they have forgotten, it makes them irritable, so much so that they are likely to complain at how much work they have. They will gesture around the room demonstrating how rude of me it is and other customers to say that very offensive word ‘bitte’ (please) to try and get their attention.

They don’t like to let you pay. You can wait for an eternity, all empty cups and plates having already been cleared, for someone to see if you would like something else or perhaps pay. You would think they’d like to get the bill settled and get more paying customers seated; you’d think they’d like you to pay before you started seriously considering doing a runner, but no, you can wait an age to pay your bill and all attempts at waving your wallet at them will not make them want to take your cash. I was once in a coffee shop where a customer tried to pre-empt this problem and tried to pay when her coffee arrived; she was unceremoniously instructed to put her money away and pay at the end because, in the waiter’s actual words, it was “not Starbucks”. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the waiting game, so surely it would be better to let someone pay when they like so they can make a hasty exit rather than them not come in at all. Shouldn’t the customer who chooses to spend their money in their establishment be treated a little better? But I am forgetting the waiter; he was probably very put out on that occasion, distasteful as it was for someone to want to have a ‘quick coffee’, something totally contrary to coffee shop culture where you are supposed to linger for hours.

Staff don’t like to be flexible. Last week for example, I fancied an early evening drink in a place with a nice view of St Stephen’s Cathedral. There was the bar, which was unfortunately a smoking venue and really really smoky and so we tried to have a drink in the restaurant. To be allowed only to drink we had to sit near the door, in a windowless section, which defeated the object and so we politely asked if we could sit near a window. No. It wasn’t allowed. To drink, you had to sit in the most un-atmospheric part of the practically empty restaurant and stare at rust coloured walls. When we politely asked if we could sit just for half an hour in the practically empty restaurant near the window we were told to go in the bar. The fact we wanted a non smoking seat fell on unsympathetic ears. They were happier to see us leave than to bend ever so slightly and make a bit more money that day. Madness.

They like you to be ready to order when they are, even if you have literally only just sat down. If you try to choose quickly because you fear they may never come back if you don’t, they will sigh in exasperation as you make sense of the menu and decide between wine or beer.

I could go on, but I won’t. All I can say is that you cannot please them no matter how hard you try and you can’t get them to change. All you can do is be yourself and grow a thicker skin.

To follow are some pictures of a very nice café, where we experienced very good service last weekend. But then again, perhaps we got good service because we were good guests; we were ready to order exactly when he wanted us to and we didn’t wave him over, rather, we let him attend to us when he was ready because for once we weren’t concerned with time. I also think he was very flattered that I wanted to take a picture of his tie.

Waiter with a cool Gustav Klimt tie in Belvedere cafe

Lovely little cafe in Belvedere Palace and art gallery

More Thoughts on Integration

View of the Opera from Starbucks

When I speak German in shops the staff hear my accent and talk back to me in English because they like to be helpful and they like to speak English; true, it’s also part of their job to use English in a city where there are lots of tourists. But it got me thinking about integration and how people integrate with me. It’s not a one-sided thing. I am not expected to do it all alone.

The other day I found the Vienna Expat Center, its goal is to assist expats settling into life here, providing any information and assistance they can. But aside from people whose job it is to be nice to foreigners, there are many people who embrace outsiders and simply enjoy being international. Such examples include the group of Austrians sitting next to us in the Artis cinema, watching the Muppets in its original English version. In the Irish pub the other week there were a few locals in there enjoying the English footie and the Guiness.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop overlooking the Opera. After vowing to learn to like coffee, I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that I’m in the Starbucks rather than in a traditional Viennese coffee house, and I’m drinking tea. However, I’m not the only one. There are locals in here speaking German so I fast that I can’t really catch anything. There are also lots of other nationalities. Some are tourists escaping the cold and some are foreigners that live here. There is a group of women to my right, all Indian. I think they are speaking Hindi, but I can’t be sure. They seem to be discussing ‘things’ rather than chatting like a group of friends and their ages are mixed, so I assume they are some kind of organised group, perhaps an expat group. Lots exist. There is a group in front of me of totally mixed nationalities. I know because they are speaking English slowly and each one leans towards the speaker, watching the mouth, trying hard to understand. I think one guy is Turkish. There is a blonde American girl. She speaks the loudest. They are talking about their experiences with the German language and what they are studying or doing for work. They are definitely a new group; they are so polite with each other. I immediately warm to them and wonder how they have come together. Just before they leave the American girl says,

“Thank you for the coffee.”

“Thank you for your friendship,” says the Turkish man with the white hair. It’s desperately sweet.

My point you ask? Integration; it’s not about dissolving your own culture in order to make it secondary to the culture of the new place in which you find yourself living. It’s the process of actually integrating a range of cultures and mixing it up, finding time to be a bit English and finding time to be a bit Austrian or any other nationality you come across. It’s not about degrading one culture at the expense of another and it’s not about self-denial. It’s about acceptance and it’s about accommodating all the facets of you in ways that coexist. I mix with the locals and, crucially, they make the effort to mix with me.

I Try to Like Coffee

The title is an exaggeration. I was aiming only to be able to tolerate it on this particular Saturday, to be able to drink just half a cup.

To truly fit in, I must like coffee. That’s what I believe. Vienna has the coffee houses and a list of famous intellectuals from history who wiled away the hours in these revered shrines to coffee. Whenever I’ve been to café Hawelka and café Central I’ve only ordered water, wine or coke and have felt ashamed to do so, so ashamed that I refused, each time, to order tea, something I thought would be too British a thing to do in such a Viennese institution. And so I started work on my goal, to gradually grow to like coffee.

I was in café Hawelka, awaiting my order of a Melange, a frothy coffee not too dissimilar to a cappuccino. I also ordered cake, some Sacher Torte, and I knew it came with water, both of which were to aid in the consumption and be my reward. It looked nice when it came, perfect almost. It was topped with a comforting layer of foam, perfectly creamy against the mellow brown coffee. My disappointment was as intense and dank as the taste. The sensation was not mellow, but an attack on my mouth. The taste of dirt sank instantly into the middle of my tongue and remained for the longest time. I felt it as something solid in my mouth. I looked into the cup and saw evil in the murky puddle, like it had been decanted from a cauldron. I asked my husband if he really did like it and when he said he loved it, I wondered why anyone would.

I began to feel quite unwell, like a teenager does after the first illegal drag on a dirty little cigarette. And like nicotine stains the fingers, I thought the coffee would stain my tongue and turn my insides mucky. I added a sugar cube and stirred it till it drowned. It fooled my lips for only a second until the nausea started again. I added another sugar and stirred the mud. I took a sip of water, but just as drinking water as an antidote to spice only intensifies the burn; it only deepened the pollution. Then everything started to bother me. The tables looked like they’d been brushed with wire and had coffee worked into the marble. The ceilings looked like they’d been smeared with coffee paste. I felt coffee steam on my face, the reek of it in my hair and on my clothes. I felt everything and everyone was stained with coffee. I stopped drinking and ate the chocolate cake, hoping it would restore me.

It was a disaster. But I will not rest. I still believe I must learn to like coffee.

As we took our leave, the waiter wished us a pleasant holiday in Vienna and he was quite right to do so: when it comes to coffee, I am a total tourist.

Not even half way through my Melange



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