Particularly during the holidays, it’s impossible to avoid the hustle and bustle of the 1st district – from Schottentor to Stubentor, you’re bombarded by sights, sounds and noises. Yet, nestled between the busy Graben and the majestic Hofburg the quiet streets of the Dorotheerviertel beckon, their subtle charm offering nearly as much as flashier areas. Despite the posh environs, people from all walks of life come together here: quiet artists reading the newspaper among noisy tourists taking their first steps into Viennese Kaffeehauskultur, starving students and wealthy spinsters, all seek respite from the hustle and bustle surrounding them.
These old, mostly residential streets survived quietly through wars and famine largely unchanged since the 19th century, townhouses rubbing shoulders with stately Palais, the odd plaque paying tribute to famous residents. Family businesses that have remained open for generations (and sometimes centuries) continue to do business here, while a new crop of artists and politicians mingle with onlookers where emperors and the literati once strolled.
COFFEE AND HISTORY
We’ll begin at the Theatermuseum, opened in 1922 within the late 17th century Palais Lobkowitz: chronicling Vienna’s long history of the dramatic arts, the works of well-known playwrights like Ödon von Horvath and Stefan Zweig can be found here, alongside over a million other manuscripts, costumes, sets and other curios. Just around the corner, you’ll find a smaller but similarly intriguing museum: within the Palais Palffy is a small but impressive collection of fantastical art, featuring international masters like Salvador Dalí and Ernst Fuchs. While not a museum, the Dorotheum, the area’s namesake and the world’s oldest auction house, also has numerous rarities on display. Opened in 1707, it continues to put items as diverse as Old Masters and rare cars under the hammer, with most objects viewable to the public prior to auction; it also serves first-rate coffee at its café.
Just a few doors down, the neoclassical façade of the Lutheran City Church stands tall, one of the first openly Protestant congregations after Emperor Joseph II’s Patent of Tolera on legalized worship for non-Catholic Christians. Originally built during the Renaissance, it celebrated its first reformed Mass in 1783 and has been a quiet place of worship offering spiritual respite ever since.
Another essential stop is the Jewish Museum, situated in the majestic Palais Eskeles since 1993, which documents the rich history of the Austrian Jewish community, their everyday life and culture with numerous special and permanent exhibits as well as frequent cultural events. Read an interview with the museum’s director Danielle Spera here.
Yet grand museums and auction houses aren’t the only draw of the area; Central yet quiet, its proximity to many of Vienna’s cultural institutions has made Dorotheerviertel a hangout for Vienna’s intelligentsia over the years. For the celebrated-yet-controversial Austrian author Thomas Bernhard, the traditionalist Café Bräunerhof was essential to his everyday life: the epitome of Austrian café culture, its interior is nostalgic and comforting, steeped in the atmosphere of countless debates. Distinguished artists of all sorts still meet here to discuss current issues or read the newspaper, including Nobel Prize laureate Elfriede Jelinek; every Saturday, live waltzes are played to liven up the weekend crowd.
But while many notable personalities drank coffee here, the Grätzl’s most celebrated residents aren’t actually human: the Lipizzaners of Spanish Riding School fame are kept in between performances at the nearby Stallburg. Even their stables are regal – they used to be the Renaissance home of Archduke Maximillian, who was later emperor from 1564-1576. You can sneak a peek at those majestic white horses from Reitschulgasse.
A few blocks away on Dorotheergasse is another legendary Viennese coffeehouse: the Café Hawelka, opened in 1939 and currently run by the third generation. Famed for its traditional treats like fresh Buchteln, many prominent musicians and artists like Udo Jürgens and Andy Warhol have graced its comfy sofas; while its reputation as a Bohemian dive has waned as its fame increased, the odd celebrity still shows up, so keep an eye out! A few doors further up is the Musikhaus Döblinger, one of the finest publishers of sheet music worldwide. In business since 1817, it has amassed quite a catalogue, earning it an illustrious clientele – even Beethoven was one of its patrons.
Last, but not least, back toward the Graben one final local institution awaits: Trzesniewski. Practically unchanged since the early 20th century, its hors d’oeuvre size open-faced sandwiches with various paté- style toppings (try the bacon and egg!) and small, freshly tapped beers are deceptively simple and the perfect quick snack. The same can be said for the entire area: Surrounded by splendor, it’s a quiet refuge that won’t be outshone.