To many, Austria is simply one of those European countries clustered on the map with little relevance.
At least, that is what I thought of Austria before choosing its capital, Vienna, as my location for study abroad. Contrary to what little I knew of Viennese culture, it happens that Vienna is deeply rich with history, art, music, and, most importantly, Viennese coffee houses. Over time, the phenomenon of Viennese coffeehouses has played an integral part in shaping the culture of Vienna.
Unlike any restaurant or coffeehouse in the U.S., Viennese coffeehouses practice a special type of philosophy that boasts a sense of leisure and relaxation for all guests. Rather than rapidly serving a customer and placing the check on the table within moments of the customer’s last bite, it can be often difficult to wave down the waiter for the check in Viennese coffeehouses.
Let us not forget about the main reason why Viennese coffeehouses are life-changing for any tourist who happens to stumble inside: the pastries and coffee. Prior to my escape to Vienna last fall, I was not a coffee addict, a seemingly impossible thing to ignore on the Wake Forest campus filled with college students buzzing from a caffeine high. However, when I found my way inside a Viennese coffeehouse, I was instantly hit with the familiar smell of freshly brewed coffee.
As I was whisked off to my table, I passed by a large, refrigerated case in the middle of the restaurant. Upon peering inside, my eyes identified rows of decadent pastries, cakes and desserts. From the dense, chocolate-y goodness of a slice of ‘Sacher Torte’ to the light hazelnut flavor in an ‘Esterhazytorte,’ there are many flavors that Vienna offers. Coming from an American culture where dessert and sweet treats are often seen as a delicacy after the main course, I was taken aback when I realized that nearly every person in the coffeehouse had some type of pastry on their table. A piece of ‘Apfelstrudel,’ the infamous Viennese version of an apple turnover, is a perfectly acceptable alternative to a sandwich for lunch.
After ordering a plate of ‘kaiserschmarrn,’ the classic miniature and decadent Viennese pancakes, I took in my surroundings. To my left, a woman was reading “Die Presse,” a traditionally right-leaning Austrian newspaper. To my right, a Viennese couple was rapidly speaking in German. Although I am certainly not well-versed in the German language, I was able to understand that they were discussing the relentlessly chilly weather that had enveloped the city. Both tables had clearly been in the coffeehouse for several hours, as their plates are entirely empty, minus a few stranded crumbs.
This is the Viennese coffeehouse philosophy. You sit, you eat, you read or you talk. Whether you discuss everything under the sun for 30 minutes with a friend or order five different pastries over the span of three hours, you will never be bothered. As the coffee beans are abundant and the pastries are scrumptious, there will always be a time and space for lengthy and intellectual table-talk in a Viennese coffeehouse.