by Anastasia Gromontova & Binu Starnegg

The lure of suburbia, with its promise of the tranquility of country life within city limits, is a strong one. And while Vienna mostly consists of large Gründerzeit apartment buildings and even larger communal Gemeindebauten, the city has not always been immune to the charms of life with a backyard. In fact, for a brief period in the 19th century, Anglo-American-style family homes were all the rage, as you can see in the historic Cottageviertel, a small but architec­turally distinct neighborhood on the cusp of the 18th and 19th districts.

Taking a cue from Great Britain, where public transit systems were enabling rapid suburbanization, the Cottageviertel was purpose-built by a special society, the Cottageverein, founded in 1872 and still active today as a neighborhood association.

The brainchild of Dr. Edmund Kral and architect Heinrich von Ferstel, the society aimed to improve life quality in the crowded capital and had stringent rules: Houses were to be no higher than two stories, with ample space between properties; additionally, each block would have a central garden accessible via individual backyards. While decoration was left to homeowners, most stuck to Ferstel’s historicist aesthetics, opting for British-inspired or later French, Spanish or Jugendstil styles. In practice, however, most of the “cottages” ended up looking more like small-scale contemporary Palais than the mock Tudor dwellings prevalent within the Anglosphere.

The Cottageviertel quickly became a favorite among the empire’s wealthy middle class and the cultural elite, attracting the likes of writer Arthur Schnitzler, whose house still stands on Sternwartestraße, author Felix Salten of Bambi fame and Theodor Herzl, father of Zionism; later on, conductor Karl Böhm and artist Arik Brauer would also move here.

Today, these spacious villas remain popular with lawyers, doctors and diplo­mats, with numerous embassies dotting the tree-lined streets. The relaxing atmosphere is also popular with young families and university students looking for a time out.

PARKS AND RECREATION

The Türkenschanzpark, built where a Turkish supply depot stood during their two sieges of Vienna, is a gorgeous English-style expanse with green lawns, shady paths to get lost in and a gothic revival observation tower. After a long stroll you can find respite near the pond on the spacious terrace of Meierei Diglas, an outpost of the famous 1st district coffeehouse. Nearly adjacent, the Sternwartepark is home to the University of Vienna’s Observatory. Reminiscent of a mysterious wood from a fairytale, it’s the perfect place for a romantic date or a contemplative walk.

Another venerable academic institution, the Universität für Bodenkultur (University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, or BOKU for short) can also be found on the edge of Türkenschanzpark. Its atmospheric courtyard is an inviting place to spend an hour or so reading or chatting.

Just around the corner is Billrothstraße with its numerous eateries and businesses that cater to the Cottageviertel’s inhabitants. Nearly as old as the area itself, the Sektkellerei Kattus, a former supplier to the imperial household, still produces spar­kling wine on site. Its historic cellar is often used for exclusive events.

For everyday treats, there’s the Kaffeehaus Café Billroth with its cozy courtyard garden, or the Café-Bar Anton Frank, a classic Beisl (bistro) popular with students that regularly features live jazz.

A more recent local mainstay is the hip Pie Factory, committed to the Anglo pasty in both its savory and sweet forms. Finally, you’ll find Paulis Hundeausstatter further down, a canine boutique offering accessories for the countless local lapdogs trotting behind their owners as they make leisurely rounds through the Cottageviertel.

While the city is gradually creating a suburban sprawl in Transdanubia, the modern split-levels are much closer to American-style living than the grand villas around Türkenschanz­park. The Cottageviertel may have been a passing 19th century fad, but its lovely mini-mansions and precious quiet still make it one of Vienna’s most exclusive and charming neighborhoods.