AUSTRIA

Vienna

Coffee and Cake in Café Where Trotsky and Freud Once Supped

Café Central in Vienna

Under the elaborate vaulted ceiling and amid the marble columns, patrons at Vienna’s Café Central sip coffee and eat pastries. Former café regulars include Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky.
PETER NEVILLE-HADLEY/Meridian Writers’ Group

TRADITION has it that the Viennese first gained a taste for coffee in 1683 after Turkish forces retreating from a failed siege of the city left behind a sack of coffee beans, which one well-travelled Austrian aristocrat knew how to prepare.

Across Europe coffee houses eventually became meeting places for intellectual debate, and none more so than Vienna’s Café Central, which celebrated its 140th birthday in 2016.

The café, two blocks north of the former Imperial Palace, the Hofburg, occupies a sharply acute-angled corner of a magnificent limestone-clad palais in Florentine-Venetian style built in 1860 as Vienna’s stock exchange. The dealers have long ago moved on but even in their heyday the café’s clientele was not top-hatted capitalists, but rather intellectuals such Trotsky and Lenin, their political nemeses.

Sigmund Freud and pioneers of psychoanalysis, playwrights such as Arthur Schnitzler, author of the then outrageously risqué La Ronde, and anti-ornament architect Adolf Loos, were all Centralists as the regulars came to be known. If they were not at the café, then they were on their way there.

Stefan Zweig, the most translated author of the inter-war years, whose writings were the inspiration for Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, wrote that for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, “every patron can sit for hours, talk, write, play cards, collect their post, and above all, read an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines.”

There’s considerable elegance, too. Marble columns support an elaborate vaulted ceiling, its ribs painted like those of many a Baroque cloister, although the rations here are the opposite of monastic. Visitors whose coffee vocabulary is limited to latte and cappuccino will need the menu to cope with the café’s over 40 offerings, before perhaps ordering an einspänner—a double espresso with a towering topping of whipped cream.

Fifteen pastry chefs produce delicacies that include the popular glazed chocolate Sachertorte with its thin layer of apricot jam, and a substantial apple strudel, as well many more elaborate items, such as Sisi-punschkrapfen, a rum pastry with candied violets.

Not that it’s all about pastries. Substantial breakfasts for modest prices attract local office workers from 7 a.m. Diplomats from local embassies hold meetings through the morning, and in the afternoon the quiet hum of chat and tinkle of spoon on coffee cup gives way to noisier evenings with hearty Austrian traditional dinners. Here the Wiener schnitzel is served in an authentically unhealthy form, fried in butter rather than oil.

So there’s no particular reason to leave any more than there was for many famous Centralists in the early 20th century.

Poet Peter Altenberg had not only his mail but his laundry sent here, and no one was allowed to sit at his table unless he specifically invited them to do so. Famous but penniless in his lifetime, he’s credited with the invention of cashless payments. He frequently paid his bill in literary bons mots, hastily scribbled on the backs of napkins.

He’s now permanently resident, immortalized as a statue seated at one table.

 

ACCESS

For more information on the Café Central visit its website at www.cafecentral.wien/en.

 

For information on Vienna go to the Vienna Tourism website at www.wien.info/en.