April is the cruelest month according to T.S.Eliot, but he’d obviously never been to Vienna, at least not in the spring.

Although March 1 is the earliest official date to roll out the sidewalk cafe seating, the Schanigärten, it’s in April that they really start to unfurl onto the city streets, like the carpets of Maiglöckchen on the forest floor.

But why is the Schani – often little more than a humble collection of tables and chairs – so important to this city?

It isn’t just a sign that the long-awaited sun has melted the snow. It’s symbolic of a thaw in a deeper sense. It’s the point at which legions of grumpy Viennese stumble out of hibernation. Gone are the Grant and grumble brought on by dreary winters now replaced with blue skies, convivially clinked glasses, warmth and laughter.

The streets, often empty and gray in hiberian season, swell with masses of carefree people. Suddenly released from the cages of our offices and homes, we can again live our lives outside.

So, when you sip your first spritzers or “Hugos” this year, raise your glasses to the Schanigarten: the city’s breathing space.