Viennese Whirl

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What do you think of when somebody mentions UNESCO?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation is usually associated with the world´s greatest monuments such as the Alhambra Palace in Spain, the Acropolis in Greece, or the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. But the organization also works to preserve traditions – and that includes the promotion and preservation of the centuries-old coffee shop culture in Vienna, capital of Austria.

cafecentralvienna-smallPic by Jason Kearney
And what´s so special about the coffee scene in Vienna? According to UNESCO the old cafes are places “where time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”
These places are the antithesis of modern hipster cafes. Typical décor includes marble tabletops and wooden chairs and customers are offered a long list of coffee drinks, an even longer list of pastries and a seemingly endless supply of newspapers from across the world. Customers are encouraged to read and digest the news at a slow pace, with waiters topping up their free supply of tap water whenever needed.


Pic by Gudmund Lindbaek
So where and when did it all start? Legend says it´s all down to an army officer called Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki. He helped liberate Vienna from a siege by Turkey in 1683 – and then rescued two sacks of exotic beans found by a group of soldiers in the aftermath of the battle. They believed the sacks contained camel feed  – but Kulczycki took the beans for himself and later used them to open the country´s first coffee shop.
Some modern coffee houses honour this tale by hanging a picture of Kulczycki in the window.
But while the history and culture is interesting, is the coffee any good? There´s only one way to find out. Try Cafe Central, open since 1860, or  Cafe Landtmann, serving coffee since 1873.