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A Sort of Democratic Club - Coffee House ...

A Sort of Democratic Club - Coffee Houses in Vienna

May 16, 2021

Over time, a special coffee house culture developed in Habsburg Vienna. On the one hand, writers, artists, musicians, intellectuals, bon vivants and their financiers met in the coffee house, and on the other hand, new coffee varieties were always served. In the coffee house, people played cards or chess, worked, read, thought, composed, discussed, argued, observed and just chatted. A lot of information was also obtained in the coffee house because local and foreign newspapers were freely available to all guests. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig described the Viennese coffee house as, "actually a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours with this little offering, to talk, write, play cards, receive post, and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals." And Zweig attributed a good measure of Vienna's cosmopolitan air to the rich daily diet of current and international information offered in the coffee houses.

Many Viennese cafes frequented by famous composers are still standing: Café Landtmann, for example was established in 1873 and was a hangout for Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner frequented Hotel Imperial, Mozart reportedly liked Cafe Frauenhuber and Cafe Dommayer was the site of Johann Strauss Jr's first performance where he and his orchestra were an instant hit.

This form of coffee house culture spread throughout the Habsburg Empire in the 19th century, so scientific theories, political plans and artistic projects would be worked out and discussed in Viennese-style coffee houses all over Central Europe. James Joyce even enjoyed his coffee in a Viennese coffee house on the Adriatic in Trieste, then and now the main port for coffee and coffee processing in Italy and Central Europe. From there, the Viennese Kapuziner coffee developed into today's world-famous cappuccino. This special multicultural atmosphere of the Habsburg coffee houses was largely destroyed during the 20th century by the Nazis and by Communism and can only be found today in a few places such as Vienna or Trieste.

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