Monday, 6 July 2015

Travel: Hundertwasser buildings in Austria

Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist whose work I first discovered while living in Paris; many of the postcard shops sold reproductions of his paintings. His time as a young jewish boy, hiding his religion during the time of the Nazis, influenced his philophy and artistic thinking. From the 1950s onwards, Hundertwasser turned his hand to architecture. Nazi architecture was outsize, severe, plain, neo-classical, so Hundertwasser preferred organic forms, spirals and loathed the tyranny of the straight line. These ideas informed his 1980s building in Vienna, Hundertwasserhaus, which contained social housing (council flats/projects/HLM).Hundertwasser wanted his buildings to change architecture's approach to where people live, for buildings to accommodate nature and humans rather than dominate them. You can see the influence of Gaudi, as well the 1980s nostalgic admiration for the art of Mondrian.
Hundertwasser believed in:
  • The right of each person to a window: "The occupant of an apartment must have the right to lean out of his window and to decorate the outer walls as it suits him as far as his arm can reach so that one can see at a distance that a person as an individual being is living there."
  • That roofs should be grass covered or have trees. He wanted a collaboration of humans and nature.
  • That corridors should not be flat, even and uniform, that they should imitate the contours of a forest pathway. (You can see examples of this in the pictures below)
  • He liked to put golden onions on the top of roofs to make the residents feel like kings, to raise them above the grey masses.
  • Children should be allowed to scribble on walls
  • The horizontal belongs to nature, the vertical to man.
  • Lower storeys should have higher ceilings and vice versa to ensure a democratic distribution of light and air between flats in buildings.
The photos below show the hotel that I stayed in when I visited the region of Styria in Austria, which was also designed by Hundertwasser. The swimming pool filled with volcanic highly mineralised water was a particular joy, with an intertwining weaving swimming pool going indoors and out. Many Viennese visit in winter for the wellness spa facilities, the organic natural food, the countryside. For more details go to the Hotel Rogner Bad Blumau site. 

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Friday, 3 July 2015

Top ten Viennese coffee houses plus a grandmas cafe

Vienna became obsessed with coffee as a result of the Ottoman siege in 1683. When they finally expelled the Turks, they left behind bags of green unroasted beans which at first the Austrians took for camel food. But eventually they developed the knowledge and a taste for coffee. If ever I get a commission for a novel, I will rent a place in Vienna for a few months and settle down in a coffee house to write. Most of the list below are 19th century in style with elegant banquettes, reading material such as all the newspapers on sticks, marble tables and damn good coffee. There are 1100 coffee houses in Vienna and most Viennese visit in the morning.
cafe sperl, vienna
Carlsbad coffee, cafe sperl, vienna
cafe sperl, vienna
cafe sperl, vienna

1. Cafe Sperl Gumpendorferstrasse 11, A-1060 Vienna

This kaffeehaus, built 1884, is an elbow-shaped cafe with billiard tables on one side and around the corner, booths tucked next to arched windows and comfortable velvet-covered benches on the other. It's probably my favourite coffee house. I recommend the Karlsbader brewing pot, a complicated porcelain coffee pot that delivers fantastic smooth tasting coffee. This cafe has international newspapers.
cafe demel, Vienna
Millefeuille cake, cafe demel, Vienna
Custard slice, cafe demel, Vienna
Passionfruit cake, cafe demel, Vienna
Patissier, cafe demel, Vienna
sugar craft, cafe demel, Vienna
Sugar craft, cafe demel, Vienna
sweets and bonbons, cafe demel, Vienna
chocolate bars, cafe demel, Vienna
The shop, cafe demel, Vienna
cake counter, cafe demel, Vienna
making sachertorte, cafe demel, Vienna

2. Cafe Demel Kohlmarkt 14 A-1010 Wien

This neo-baroque cafe, built in 1786, is extraordinary: you can take tea while watching the patisserie chefs at work, heads bent, in a room rather like a glass display box, creating incredible concoctions out of chocolate and sugar paste. They all wear immaculate whites and tall chef hats. All the Demel confectioners must pass through 12 'posts' to become qualified, training in: icecream, cake, sacher, yeast dough, cheese, pastry, meringue, tea biscuits, desserts, bonbons, decorating and chocolaterie. Everything is hand-made. I was lucky enough to see a 'strudel show' while we were drinking coffee and eating cakes. They stretch out the thin pastry, hooking it over the corners of the work surface, dropping sultanas and pile of cooked sliced apples into the middle, rolling it out like pastry Christmas crackers. Below there is a coffee house and confectionary museum. The waitresses, wearing black and white, are famous for addressing people in the formal way, in the honorific 3rd person, an indirect form: "has the gentleman been served?" or "would the Herr Baron like more coffee?". 
cafe central, vienna
cafe central, vienna
cafe central, vienna
cafe central, vienna
cafe central, vienna

3. Cafe Centrale corner Strauchgasse / Herrengasse, 1010 Vienna

Opened in 1876 this cafe was where Hitler, Freud, Lenin, Tito, Trotsky hung out. A beautiful room and excellent pastries. They have 220 newspapers and periodicals in 22 languages!
Cafe Hawelka, Vienna
Cafe Hawelka, Vienna

4. Cafe Hawelka Dorotheergasse 6, A-1010 Vienna

Opened in 1939, this cafe is another favourite of mine. It has a vaguely shabby lived-in air about it that is very cosy; the staff are incredibly friendly. When I asked for the menu, the waiter pointed at himself and said "The menu is me!" meaning that he had it memorised. Great cheesecake.
cafe mozart, Vienna
cafe mozart, Vienna
cafe mozart, Vienna

5. Cafe Mozart Albertinaplatz 2 A-1010 Wien

This 1929 cafe, named after one of Vienna's most famous residents, is also a location in Graham Greene's screenplay and film The Third Man.
 Cafe Grienstadel, Vienna
 Cafe Grienstadel, Vienna
 Cafe Grienstadel, Vienna
Wienerschnitzel,  Cafe Grienstadel, Vienna,
Austrian salad dressing, Cafe Grienstadel, Vienna

6. Cafe Grienstadel Michaelerplatz 2, A-1010 Vienna

This celebrated kaffeehaus is near the Spanish Riding School. It does light meals such as the classic Viennese dish 'Wienerschnitzel' as well as cakes and coffees. Why am I showing a picture of the half eaten salad I ordered? Because I discovered that Austrians like a very odd salad dressing...a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, vinegar and oil. This is very light and to my mind quite sweet and watery, but they prefer it to say a French vinaigrette. 

7. Cafe Drechsler Linke Wienzeile 22, A-1060 Vienna

This modernised coffee house, designed by Terence Conran, is right next to the Naschmarkt, the central food market in Vienna and also the location of a fantastic flea market on Saturday. It was so hot the day I went I had an iced coffee with cream. Very nice.
sachertorte cake with whipped cream, cafe sacher, vienna
hotel and Cafe Sacher, Vienna

9. Cafe Sacher Kohlmarkt 14, A-1010 Wien

This is the hotel and café where the sachertorte, a chocolate glazed cake was born, a secret recipe created by a 16 year old patisserie chef, Franz Sacher. There was a legal battle with cafe Demel as to who sold the 'original' Sachertorte... torte wars! Cafe Sacher sell the cakes packaged to take home, they aren't cheap, between 33 and 50 euros each, you can also buy them at Vienna airport. 
Cafe Aida, Vienna

10. Cafe Aida

This coffeehouse is part of a chain. The waitresses wear cute pink uniforms and the decor is 1950s to 1970s. This coffee shop is more a 'konditorei' which serves drinks and cakes rather than a 'Kaffeehaus' which also serves light meals.
coffee at Kleines Cafe, Vienna,

11. Kleines Cafe Franziskanerplatz 3, A-1010 Vienna

A small, centrally located cafe which has the atmosphere of old style Vienna cafés. Service was a bit irritable and slow but perhaps I was there on a bad day. If the weather is good, there is plenty of outdoor seating.

11. Cafe Vollpension/ facebook page

I include one recently opened cafe which has an interesting set up: it was developed as a social project to encourage inter-generational mixing. Grandmothers with cookery and baking skills work a couple of days a week in the cafe, passing on their knowledge and making delicious cakes. The decoration and style of the cafe was like a grandparents living room with old fashioned makeup and scent in the toilets and doilies, armchairs, knickknacks, old radios. But of course it is modern too, with wifi and trendy hipsters hanging out.