Why Vienna has always been cool
ienna has never stopped being Bohemian. Not even when Mozart put music to the Hall of Mirrors in the Schönbrunn Palace, or when Freud triggered catharsis in rigid puritans with his theories on the human mind. Alternative trends have always found a niche in this city of elegance and impeccable forms. Proof of this is the Hundertwasserhaus, which, despite throwing down the gauntlet to political correctness from any of its (crooked) angles, is already part of the Austrian capital’s artistic heritage. The 3rd District sends out the clear message that there’s another Vienna beyond the boundaries of the Ringstrasse.
Precisely on this street, camouflaged between a series of monumental historic buildings, is the Secession Building, symbol of the the Modernist movement led by Gustav Klimt. Constructed between 1897 and 1898, it was promoted by the artists themselves, who abandoned the conservative Künstlerhaus to form a new artists’ union. Today it’s still an independent gallery run by artists, the only one of its kind in Austria. It’s a launch pad for young experimental artists, one of the essential places in Vienna according to Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt, artistic director of the viennacontemporary international art festival, now gearing up for this year’s event in the autumn. For the third year running, the festival is to be held in Marx Halle, an old industrial style market now converted into an event venue.
Leopoldstadt: under construction
Cutting-edge Viennese urban development is embodied by a tower that was designed by Dominique Perrault. The first skyscraper in Donau City is also its highest. Jean Nouvel also left his mark on this area, with the ultramodern Sofitel Stephansdom. Zaha Hadid, Hitoshi Abe and Peter Cook have also contributed to turning Leopoldstadt into the fashionable district you see today.
Christina Steinbrecher-Pfandt also recommends visiting the Museumsquartier, one of the biggest culture complexes in the world, with 60,000 square metres of museums, restaurants, cafés and shops. It’s famous for its lively atmosphere, especially from May to September, when both the events programme and the open-air bars are always packed. The Wamp Design Market is also due to take place there, with 150 Austrian designers displaying their handmade products, including bags, jewellery, accessories and even designer toys.
If you miss the date (it’s only on for three days: 24 June, 2 September and 7 October), don’t worry, you’ll be in the right district. Neubau, known as the 7th District, is one of the most fashionable neighbourhoods in town, where creative artists get together for brunch and with recommended Airbnb accommodation. Die Liebe restaurant, tucked away in the heart of a market (selling organic produce, of course) is one of the new businesses that has rejuvenated the district. You can eat the latest trends here.
And drink them too. In a city that has turned coffeehouse culture into an institution (UNESCO added it to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2011) there simply had to be a trendy reinterpretation of this custom. ‘Secessionists’ of traditional local coffeehouse culture in Vienna have nothing to say against it. In fact, they love it so much that they look after it, down to the last detail. At Wiener Rösthaus they toast the beans to suit customers’ preferences, while at CaffèCouture they trust the capable hands of Georg Branny, a renowned barista famous for his coffee cocktails. Wolfgang Café, based inside designer-handbag store Qwstion, regularly changes its selection to surprise customers, and in Vollpension, ‘hipsters’ have joined forces with local grannies to sell their home-made cakes and pastries. They’re spearheading a revolution that makes you forget you’re in the former capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the Secession slogan says: “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.” But the cakes… just leave those to the grannies.