Café Museum

At last! Gemütlichkeit is back!

I had lost faith in the Café Museum. Sometime in the last decade, I remember walking in and finding the place I had loved gone. Vanished. No more thread-bare red plush benches. No more down-at-the-heel cozy warmth. Where was the place where I had met friends in my early years in Vienna? Where was the place where, as I was trying to learn German, I had settled in for endless hours of congenial chat, listening and struggling to keep up, yet in the warmth and welcome of the place, felt braver? This was where I had understood a certain part of the soul of of this wonderful city, had understood the essence of the Viennese café.

And then, suddenly, it was gone.

Someone had taken it into his (no woman would have done this – of this I was certain) head to strip the décor of this wonderful café and turn it into the chilliest version of Jugends til that Vienna had ever seen – bent wood chairs and marble top tables, slick tops, hard surfaces, elegant and spare.

In short, no fun at all. I wanted to like it; after all it was an ‘authentic’ design of Alfred Loos, once a regular guest there ‘with his friend Otto Wagner.

But I couldn’t.

Still, the place had karma. At the turn of the 20th century, you might have found the artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele or Oskar Kokoschka sitting around discussing their latest rebellion – after all it was only two blocks from the Academy of Fine Arts.  And writers Joseph Roth and Karl Kraus too might have been there or  Georg Trakl, Elias Canetti, and Robert Musil; and composers Alban Berg and Franz Lehar – all met there.

It was years later – just a month ago, actually – that I walked in and found that the Café Museum was back! A café full of plush red benches and separés, a place of comfort and Gemütlichkeit. I was in heaven. All was forgiven.  I strode in, head held high, and asked for a table. A black vested waiter showed me to a booth, and handed me a menu.

Just a glass of  wine – ein achtl Rot, bitte. “Schön Sie wieder zu sehen!” He smiled. I smiled. Did he remember me? It didn’t really matter. It was either that or burst into tears.

As I sat in my booth, sipping my wine, I looked around. A man across from me was about my age – gray hair, glasses, intelligent face… surely the old guard?  But no, he tells me. He’s a newcomer. No matter. Like me he has found a home here.

The return of the Café Museum is a gift, a part of each of us who knew it given back, a way of spending time alone or with friends, of living a Vienna life, of knowing ourselves.

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