The Servitenviertel is almost hidden, with countless side streets and cobblestones walks inviting you to a leisurely stroll. It’s almost impossible to rush anywhere here.
Just off the Ring opposite the old Stock Exchange (Börse), the “D” tram leads you quickly across the Berggasse and into an- other world: The Servitenviertel. With the pedestrian Servitengasse itself peeling off to your right, you are in the heart of a miniature urban village, everything you need for both everyday living and the finer nourishment of body and soul – a supermarket, a cobbler and the best fresh pasta and chocolate in the city.
The natural epicentre – as in any real village – is the church that gave the Grätzl its name, the Servitenkirche Maria Verkündigung (the Annunciation of Mary). Founded in Florence in the service of the poor, the brotherhood of Italian monks spread out over Germany and Austria, completing the present church by 1670. Although outside the city wall, it survived the second Turkish siege of 1683 almost unscathed, apart from the indignity of housing the Ottoman cavalry. Now it is the parish church of the Rossau (the “stallion pasture” where the heavy barge-horses were grazed). For Father Giovanni Micco, his church is an “oasis of peace,” where people come any time of the day or night to pray or contemplate. The Order’s original mission of caring for the needy is still part of everyday business: Over 50 refugees, unaccompanied minors, are currently being sheltered in the church’s extensive complex.
Next to the church and sharing the cobbled square is the Servitenwirt, outwardly a typical Wiener Beisl, although a Gault-Millau certificate proclaims it 13th out of the 20 best restaurants in Austria.
Certainly the creamy leek soup with its two little dumplings was close to perfection. Right across the street is La Pasteria, a shop with freshly made pasta (a choice of six or more delectable ravioli fillings), fresh fish and its own restaurant. Two doors away is the Suppenwirtschaft, a tiny space with meal-sized soups featuring lentils, beans and the like.
Also scoring well on the cute names competition are Curry Me Home, everything you’d expect in exotic profusion, and Imbisseria, a minimalistic snack bar with Italian pretensions.
But for anyone with an inclination to chocolaty stuff, nirvana beckons just across the street: Xocolat Manufaktur. A real chocolate factory, watch the stuff through a plate glass wall being stirred and molded, pressed and decorated – and then try the results in the shop. Few leave without bagging considerably more than conscience should, by rights, allow. But think of it this way, if you’re buying them as a gift, it’s your responsibility to try them out.
Back on the Berggasse is perhaps Vienna’s most famous address at No. 19 – the Sigmund Freud Museum, Freud’s former apartment and practice. Even today you press the button on the first floor, beside the simple plate, reading PROF. DR. FREUD, just as his patients would have done. In the practice itself the atmosphere is largely unchanged: the same floors, windows and dark red brown walls. The famous couch went with Freud to London, but Director Monika Pessler wouldn’t want it back. The museum is a living tribute to his ideas, not a shrine: “It is both the birthplace of psychoanalysis and a memorial to the Holocaust.” It is a cruel irony that after the Freuds fled, his apartment was used by the authorities as a holding place for Jews awaiting deportation. The current special exhibition Das ist das starke Geschlecht (So this is the Strong Sex) is a fascinating documentary of the early women in psychoanalysis, some of whom were Freud’s patients before becoming pioneering psychoanalysts themselves (see the 2011 movie A Dangerous Method).
Down the Berggasse is a storefront of weird and wonderful animals, the Penguin Factory, where Sabine Berchtold has been turning out handmade ceramics both decorative and practical for 25 years. Through the ornate passage is Vintage Stadl, another emporium of off-beat stuff: a trove for retro lovers, furniture, lamps and charmingly useless deco bits and pieces.
Weather permitting, enjoy a cost-free stroll along the Porzellangasse marking the western edge of the Grätzl, handsome architecture from the prosperous Gründerzeit (1870 through 1910), period logos of long-vanished businesses still in- tact and sumptuous penthouse studio facades. Further along a cheerful late-night Beisl, D’Landesknecht, is just the place to recover from a serious dose of culture at the Schauspielhaus next door. This is an off-Broadway-style venue with an eclectic program of classical theater and contemporary political dialog – Schnitzler’s Grüne Kakadu or a Swiss company’s Islam für Christen, most productions in German.
The Servitenviertel feeds body and soul, all in a ten-minute walk.
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