The Kaffeehaus: Vienna’s Coffee House Culture

The interior of Café Prückel

By Jonathan Spira on 19 September 2019
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If you thought the Italians were serious about their coffee, you’ve never been to a Viennese coffee house, or Wiener Kaffeehaus – spoken in proper Austrian as Weana Kafeehaus – known the world over as an institution

The Kaffeehaus is one of the most democratic public places ever invented.  Similar to the Melange, the most popular kind of coffee in Vienna, the Kaffeehaus offers a mélange of people of all social classes who come together in what some have referred to as the city’s living rooms.   Indeed, a guest who orders one coffee can sit for hours at a time reading the newspapers, typically plentiful in a Kaffeehaus and found in special wooden holders that allow the patron to keep a full-size newspaper open with one hand whilst drinking a coffee with the other.

Stefan Zweig, in his memoir The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European, in the original Die Welt von Gestern: Erinnerungen eines Europäers, wrote that the Wiener Kaffeehaus “is actually a type of democratic club, open to anyone for the price of an inexpensive cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours for a small Obolus to talk, write, play cards, receive post, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines.”

A Wiener Melange, served at Café Prückel

A Wiener Melange, served at Café Prückel

Indeed, the waiter, addressed here as Herr Ober and likely to be wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie, will continue to bring additional glasses of water – Viennese water, fresh from the Rax – without being asked as it is a custom in the Kaffeehaus to ply each guest with an exemplary amount of attention.

It’s noteworthy that, in 2011, “Viennese Coffee House Culture” was listed as an intangible cultural heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, as something to be safeguarded. The Kaffeehaus culture is described as a place “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”

One can feel entirely at home amongst the artists, scientists, businessmen, students, and politicians as well as a few tourists thrown in the mix; Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Arthur Schnitzler, Lenin and Trotzky, were all Kaffeehaus regulars.  Well-known writers wrote entire plays and novels in their café of choice, and Johann Strauß and Mozart were known to have performed in them.

Click here to continue to Page 2How Coffee is Served in Vienna

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