On a warm Sunday morning in Alt-Hietzing, an elderly lady pushes her walker along the old wooden parquet terrace of Café Dommayer, a coffeehouse where dukes and duchesses strolled in days past.
Famous in the 19th century as a dance hall where Johann Strauss Sr. and Jr. both performed, it was recently added to the Kurkonditorei Oberlaa empire. But nothing much has changed: This Grätzl’s social epicenter is a true time capsule, much to the joy of its patrons who act as a living testimonial to the ageless good taste of the residents, a third of whom are over 60 and the rest smart enough to know a good thing when they see it.
Alt-Hietzing (old Hietzing) is the down-town of the 13th district, where all the action is – “action” being a relative term in the city’s tranquil west. Dominated by the vast gardens of the former imperial summer palace of Schönbrunn, the area is decidedly upscale and conservative, rife with once noble families and retired senior civil servants. While Vienna often looks toward Berlin and London for inspiration, this traditionalist neighbor hood is perfectly happy just the way it is. Who knows? The next post could bring an invitation for an aperitif in the palace garden.
Originally an idyllic wine growing area, Alt-Hietzing changed dramatically when the Habsburgs transformed Schönbrunn from a modest hunting lodge into their palatial summer residence in the 18th century. Throngs of aristocrats moved in to be close to the emperor and enjoy their “Sommer-frische” (summer vacation). The many Palais that line the streets are as lovely as ever, enviable to this day. By 1890, Hietzing had been incorporated into the city and in 1899 the Stadtbahn (a precursor to the subway powered by steam engine) connected the newly created 13th district with downtown Vienna.
Alt-Hietzing’s two main drags are the busy thoroughfare Hietzinger Hauptstrasse and the quieter, more residential Altgasse. At the latter’s end lies Waldemar Tagesbar, which has become Alt-Hietzing’s gathering point for the young and hip after opening last year. Here you’ll find excellent curry, roastbeef sandwiches and brunch on weekends.
Every neighborhood needs its local watering hole, and the Irish Pub Hietzing, or simply the “Alt,” serves the purpose well. Dark and shabby, there’s little to remind you of the surrounding grandeur, but locals seem to enjoy the down-to-earth atmosphere, watching football or playing pool in the back room.
Toward the end of Altgasse you’ll find the well-stocked organic grocer Bio-paradies, which provides Alt-Hietzing’s best vegan lunch, with two different warm dishes together with a soup and salad every weekday. Just around the corner is Da Ferdinando, an Italian restaurant generous with southern charm, and the best pizza south of the Danube. Already a local favorite since opening last year, their backyard seating feels like a small town in Tuscany.
After eating and drinking to your satisfaction, you may want to take a long walk along the Alois-Kraus-Promenade, or head down to the yoga studio Veda Vital, which offers Ayurveda, massages and yoga classes as well as sound meditation and workshops.
Tradition and Socks
Aside from a few nods to modernity, Alt-Hietzing remains decidedly old school. Guaranteed hipster-free, for example, is that bastion of traditional Viennese cuisine, Plachutta Hietzing, which holds court at probably the best location in the Grätzl. The first of a group now spanning the city, the entire menu is authentic Viennese and the Tafelspitz legendary.
As for sights to catch, the parish church Maria Hietzing is definitely worth a visit. Its current appearance stemming from 1685, it’s a place of pilgrimage on the square next to the entrance to Schönbrunn gardens. Legend has it that several locals tied to a tree by Turkish invaders were rescued through divine intervention.
Visitors who want to enjoy the full royal treatment can stay at the Parkhotel Schönbrunn, only 10 minutes by foot from the palace. Having hosted Thomas Edison and other dignitaries in its heyday, it spreads old-world charm, with an intact 19th-century ballroom that is a popular venue during Vienna’s ball season.
As for shopping, boutiques are tastefully upmarket, although there are some quirky exceptions. If you are looking for a pair of new socks, Socken Werner will fulfill all your foot-warming dreams in his tiny, five-square-meter shop.
Alt-Hietzing is a Grätzl that staunchly resists change, remaining, with a few fresh coats of paint, as it was decades ago and proud of it. But, then again, the city center is only 10 minutes away.