Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Kaffee im Café

Day Two in Vienna at the famous Café Sperl, 2013
It is very intriguing to me how memories are so deeply embedded in our senses.
The crispy, crunchy delicate layers of strudel pastry echoed by layers upon layers of apple slices.
The dark smell of roasted espresso with wisps of sweetness hovering above from heavy whipped cream foam.
I will contain myself from describing the perfection of flavors as they waltzed across my palate.

I returned to this café several times during my stay in Vienna. It started to become MY café. It was near my seminar house. It had free Wi-Fi. The sun seemed to always be shining when I was there, which made for perfect sitting in the dappled shade of the nearby trees. Have I mentioned the strudel?

The entire cultural tradition of visiting your local Kaffeehaus is one that I can definitely get my head around. I love that you can sit as long as you want and only have to order one lone cup of joe. Apparently, this tradition stems from the Industrial Age, when living space was such a precious commodity that the only way urbanites could have space to themselves was to sit in a café.

I learned several things about Viennese café culture while in Austria this summer. First off, I had to completely relearn how to say the word for coffee. Now as a language teacher, this was very frustrating for me. Here's a short history of how I learned languages. In high school, I started with Latin (no speaking required!). Senior year, I started French, where I learned to say "Un ca FE, s'il vous plait." Then, when I started learning German in college, I had to learn to say "Ein KAF fee, bitte." Which in the long run means that when in Germany you drink "KAF fee" at a "ca FE". However, when you're in Austria, you say, "kaf FEEEEEEE"! Just when I thought I had my brain rewired to say "coffee" correctly, Austria has to go and change things. (At duden.de, you can click to hear the different pronunciations for Kaffee).

Second, I learned that I am unable to read German. I thought that I had read Faust in graduate school, but apparently that is like a Dr. Seuss book in comparison to deciphering an Austrian coffee menu.
menu from the Café Sperl, 2013
Mocca? (Like hot chocolate?) Franziskaner? (I thought that was a beer.) "A small brown one? A large brown one?" (I thought all coffee was brown!) These drinks are named for people and places and vehicles (Fiaker)! It's like some kind of secret code. Can I please just have a cappuccino? Does anyone here speak Italian, maybe? In case you're curious, in the photo at the top, I ordered an Einspänner after some careful Internet research.

Austrian coffeehouse culture is so world-famous that it has been named a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage along with 48 coffeehouses in Vienna. It's right up there with the tango from Argentina and Chinese calligraphy. Austria is very proud of its cultural identity. Some people are so protective of it, they even use it as a reason to discriminate against other groups. Turkey has been trying since 1987 to become a member of the EU with no success. One politically-minded group in Austria called SOS Mitmensch created this advertisement that touches on this point of contention.
shared by Hannes Schweiger in his presentation on diversity
For my readers who don't read German, it says, "Entrance into the EU by Turkey threatens our cultural identity." The irony here is that coffee came from Turkish culture to Vienna in the 17th century. So, exactly how "Austrian" is the whole coffee thing anyway? Regardless, they have developed it and nurtured it into a unique experience not to be missed.

I'd like to leave you with a poem that I hope to someday use with my German students, because I think that it conveys well the Austrian attitude towards their beloved coffee institution. One of our seminar leaders performed it for us one late hazy afternoon as we made our way to the royal rose gardens.
Kaffeehaus by Peter Altenberg (1910)
Du hast Sorgen, sei es diese, sei es jene - ins Kaffeehaus!
Sie kann, aus irgendeinem, wenn auch noch so plausiblen Grunde, nicht zu dir kommen - ins Kaffeehaus!
Du hast zerrissene Stiefel - Kaffeehaus!
Du hast 400 Kronen Gehalt und gibst 500 aus - Kaffeehaus!
Du bist korrekt sparsam und gönnst dir nichts - Kaffeehaus!
Du stehst innerlich vor dem Selbstmord - Kaffeehaus!
Du hasst und verachtest die Menschen und kannst sie dennoch nicht missen - Kaffeehaus!
Man kredidiert dir nichts mehr - Kaffeehaus!

1 comment:

  1. Is there any hope of chai tea or tea in general at these Austrian cafes? Inquiring non-coffee drinkers want to know!