On a little square, tucked away at the bottom of Praterstraße, stands a gentleman cast in iron, his Napoleon collar high on his neck, top hat in hand, making his entry. It’s Johann Nepomuk Nestroy, all around man of the theater, after whom this Grätzl is named.
Hardly a household name in the English-speaking world, in Austria, Nestroy is a giant, a 19th century genius of comedic satire with a reputation akin to novelists Charles Dickens in Britain or Mark Twain in the United States.
Born in Vienna in 1801, Nestroy was cursed (or was it blessed?) to come of age under the humorless eye of Chancellor Klemens von Metternich. To protect himself, Nestroy wrote in dialect (beneath the dignity of the court) and reveled in the game of dodging the censors with euphemism, parody and double entendre. (“I always think the worst of people – even myself,” one Nestroy character says. “And I am rarely disappointed.”)
It’s a bit of a fluke that the statue is at Praterstraße 17. It was intended for No. 31, the site of the famed Carltheater where Nestroy was actor/director from 1847 to 1859. But when the theater closed in 1929, the newly minted statue by Oskar Thiede was erected across the street before the grand Nestroyhof, now home to the Theater Nestroyhof Hamakom. Nearly melted in a bombing raid in 1944, the statue lay forgotten for 30 years in the United Metals Factory in Erdberg until it was restored to the Grätzl in 1983.
The little square itself comes to life in April, as the buds return to the trees and it’s warm enough to sit outside. There are three very pleasant eateries here, beginning with the café-bar Ramasuri behind the statue, urban chic under a red and white striped awning. It’s a favorite with students of Webster University up the street, with seating spilling out onto the sidewalk. Also joggers and cyclists, kitted up from Tony’s Laufshop at Praterstraße 21 and Roadbiker at No.29, or the young talents training at the Broadway Connection dance school at No. 25.
Piazza on Praterstrasse
Just below are two culinary stars, the Japanese restaurant Mochi, multicourse mini feasts for lunch and dinner, and Café Ansari, a spacious, Kaffeehaus-brasserie whose affordable Austrian-Georgian-Lebanese menu makes reservations advisable, especially indoors. Outside under the trees, you find the timeless luxury of village serenity in the middle of town. And if you glance across at Praterstraße 16, you’ll see the birthplace of Arthur Schnitzler, another literary legend best known to English speakers for Dream Story, the basis of Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 erotic drama Eyes Wide Shut. Schnitzler was a pioneer of the human psyche, whom Freud considered a Doppelgänger and James Joyce acknowledged as his model for the stream of consciousness. There is as yet no museum. There should be.
A few doors down is another rarity:
Eisendorn, an old-fashioned hardware store, of the type once found in every Grätzl. The shop carries a full line of tools, supplies and equipment, active online and serving far beyond the neighborhood. Nearby residents can count their blessings; for the rest, it’s an easy walk from Nestroy or Schwedenplatz.
Turning back a hairpin, Ferdinandstraße feels different again, with tidy storefronts of galleries and eateries. On a recent evening, we happened on the gallery-wine bar Farimi, a pleasingly eccentric venue with no fixed hours and overflowing good cheer, that folded us in among friends and art lovers, all for a bank note in the box at the end.
Crossing the Aspernstraße, passing the studios of ATV, and the Novotel (behind a classic façade) and the elegant Five Senses restaurant – we were back in the neighborhood. On the Ferdinandstraße, we paused at a little pocket park with benches and a playground named for Veza Canetti , author of Die gelbe Strasse (Yellow Street) portraying Jewish life in interwar Leopoldstadt, who lived with her husband (later Nobel laureate) Elias Canetti at Ferdinandstraße 29.
Making a left on the cobbled Tempelgasse, two giant white columns commemorate the Leopoldstadt Temple, burned to the ground by the Nazis on Kristallnacht, November 10, 1938. And then, we were back at Theater Nestroyhof Hamakom. Relaunched as an arts center in 2009, with gallery and theater café, the complex has become a popular center of Jewish culture and the avant-garde.
Turning up Praterstraße, we headed for Palais Rohan, with the stylish café-bar Balthasar and, our goal, the Institut Français de Vienne, where we signed up for a class in Culture et Cuisine (“Oui, madame, efferyzhing, she iss bettair in Frehnch!”). Then past the perennial Italian favorite Osteria Stradina, to Foto Soyka, the haven of analogues, with real cameras – Nikon, Canon, Leica, Voigtländer – and the real experts to go with them.
But in this Grätzl, nearly every house has a story – like Praterstraße 35, home of the great Alexander Girardi, who immortalized the straw boater and made operetta history with every role. We dined at last at Gasthaus Nestroy on Zirkusgasse – traditional Austrian cuisine at its best, with local beer on tap and fine regional wines at local prices.