Barlove: Café Central Vienna

Last time I visited Vienna it was on an absolutely ridiculously glorious spring day- incidentally, my birthday, so I could hereby venture into claims of controlling the weather, only then it would be somewhat hard to explain the infernally cold drizzle which greeted it on other occasions. And speaking of infernally cold drizzle, that’s what we got the moment we descended in Wien Hauptbahnhof. (Which is shiny and all, but I miss arriving in Westbahnhof, just for the record.) It turned out the drizzle was the good bit, because by the time we made it to the proximity of Stephansdom, it had turned into a horizontal monsoon.

The only thing keeping me alive in the monsoon was the promise of a café. And not just a café, but a Viennese one. And not just any Viennese café, but the Central, with its ornate marble arches and glittering shelves of sumptuous pastry, once the haunt of glorious minds such as Sigmund Freund or Adolf Loos. (Don’t know if the same can be claimed of Trotsky, but he was often to be spotted in the Central as well.) It might have then come as a bit of a letdown that once we entered the gates of paradise, we were faced with a longish queue. But this was an extremely polite queue, pleasantly waltzing from side to side to let people by, and allowing smaller groups ahead without any friction- a happy ‘I’ll soon get Apfelstrudel anyway’ queue which then promptly released us to be seated comfortably across the entrance.

This strategic position allowed me to observe the patrons entering the establishment and to play one of my favourite games when abroad: trying to define what makes the people of a city particular to their place and here is a new conclusion. You are Viennese when you enter a coffee house from a winter storm and look perfectly turned out and having no cares in this world whatsoever.

I did however have one care and it was terrifyingly pressing. Namely, which cake to get. They did not have the Eszterházy, thus undermining my vast project of assessing all the Eszterházy cakes in the universe and deciding which one is best, so I went for something totally unexpected and off the beaten track. I got the Strudel. Which was splendid, and the industrious co-photographer of the blog sacrificed himself on the altar of science and tested the complex mille feuille-type endeavour known as Winterkuss and the Danish pastry, and they were splendid as well. Fun fact here: if you type Danish pastry into Google and ask it to translate into Danish, the result will be wienerbrød, so Danish pastry is basically Austrian pastry which the Austrians themselves call Danish too.

Mind you, these sorts of convoluted trains of thought are very typical for coffee houses, where you can pretty much replicate one day’s worth of surfing the internet, only fueled by your own resources, some caffeine and sugar, and the occasional magazine article. I usually like to browse some local stuff if there’s no significant language barrier, and get acquainted with scores of often pretty irrelevant bits of information (though you never really know when the most obscure of those will come handy), but this time Austria was facing presidential elections under the scrutiny of about half the world- and I’d say they passed the exam with flying colours.

Switching to subjects just as burning (and convoluted) as politics: what about the coffee in Central? Well, it’s excellent too, provided you manage to navigate the menu. To be fair, the menu itself is clear enough, the only problem is that if you dowse yourself too deeply in coffee cultures (and as you might know we’ve recently been to Italy too) you will come to realize that while many denominations are very similar they might mean something different- perhaps just a bit different, though frequently radically so. Another perfect subject for coffee house musings then, and they would last just long enough for the Kleiner Brauner and the melange to finish and the rain to stop so we could head out into the winter sunshine.

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