Schanigarten Pleasures

At the first sign of Spring, Vienniese restaurants move outside

In a Schanigarten | Photo: Mariam Shalikashvili

Vienna comes into its own on the day in spring when the Schanigarten open along the streets, bringing back vivid recollections of many other such days in years gone by. It’s a sweet, yet awkward feeling of past and present interwoven in imagination.

The morning dawns in a room filled with sunlight. Through the open window, instead of a rush of air, a warm breeze gently makes its way inside. Hmmm – the laptop boots up to the weather report: 18 degrees Celsius – Yes!  A rush in and out of the shower and a race to the street, hoping against hope that the sidewalk gardens will have been unwrapped.

The Schanigarten took their name from the call of the old inn keeper: “Johnny, bring the garden out.” Johnny later blurring to Schani, which became the name of these country gardens in the city, outdoor cafés decorated with flowers, bushes or trees.

Emerging from the U4 subway line at Schottenring, it’s a short walk to the narrow streets leading into the 1st District. At 11:00, the narrow lanes are already busy with pedestrians – a good sign. Across a street, a left turn leads into Gonzagagasse, a wider and even busier street and then turns onto Rudolfsplatz.

A few steps beyond, a young man is just visible over a hedge of flowering shrubs, balancing his way through the crowd, a white apron wrapped around his trousers and a black bow tie set off against his white shirt, a tray full of glasses held high above his head with one hand.

Following his movements, the way leads to the charming Schanigarten of a café on the Rudolfspark. I had noticed it last year –it was one of a row of outdoor cafes bordering the square – and stood on the sidewalk paralyzed with indecision. Which one to pick? It was so hard to choose. As I walked, more and more outdoor cafés opened to my sight.

The choice depends on the strength of the illusion: Did it feel like a real garden. I chose to sit at the very corner of the Gastwirtschaft Stopfer, nestled in between the trellises with a carpet of artificial turf covering the sidewalk under my feet, somehow cozy, and the pine-trees surrounding the whole – made me dizzy.

Across the aisle two children appeared from the park, the little one proudly holding out a fist full of Forget Me Nots to her mother. Suddenly the bigger one snatched them out of her hand, and they ran off with shrieks of laughter, bumping the table and nearly toppling the drinks. The sun was shining over the city, in a brilliant arc of blue sky. The shrieks sounded like music right now, an I let my mind drift, carrying me far away.

Boink! The girls came careening back, nicking my table as they went. I grabbed for my wine glass and the table corner for a passing small head. In confusion, she stopped and gave me her flower. I thanked the ‘young lady,’ and tucked the flower in my buttonhole, where I carried it with me all day, before finally placing it in a tiny vase in my bedroom – a treasure from the first real spring day of 2008.

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