Wedged between the lively arteries of Wiedner Hauptstrasse and Margaretenstrasse, Mittersteig is a mostly residential area with some hidden gems
For years, cycling down Mittersteig was just part of my daily commute from the 12th district to the inner city. Mornings and afternoons were always calm and uneventful, much like the neighborhood itself, almost making me feel like an intruder in someone’s living room. Life takes on a slower pace in this mostly residential area. Even the creeping gentrification of the inner districts seems delayed here, as you can see from the worn facades of the Altbau buildings – or the deteriorating entrance of Mala Strana, a historical theater on Cissy-Kraner-Platz that opened in 1913 and shut down in 1998. It’s still looking for a new purpose. Curiosity got the best of me, convincing me to take a peek and discover gems that were hiding in plain sight.
Castles and filmcasinos
Straddling both the 4th and 5th districts, the area was originally mostly fields and vineyards attached to Margareten Castle (built in 1373), and the neighborhood’s central drag Mittersteig a mere footpath. It was only after the estate was sold by the Count of Sonnau to the city in 1727 that rapid urbanization kicked in, turning Mittersteig into a steadfast middle class enclave. You can still see what’s left of the castle, now known as the Schlossquadrat, just off Margaretenplatz. It’s easy to overlook – at first glance it seems unremarkable compared to the imposing Margaretenhof just across. Yet behind the narrow, dark entrance an oasis of cafés and restaurants beckons, serving customers for over 200 years, according to a plaque. On the square is the Margaretenbrunnen, a fountain erected in 1836 to thank Kaiser Franz I for allowing locals to tap into the Hofburgs’s private water pipes.
Tiptoeing further down Margaretenstraße, the bright neon signs of the Filmcasino calls out to cinephiles. Established in 1911 as the Margaretner Bürgerkino, it reopened in 1989 under its current name, as a showcase for independent films, often in English. No evening at the movies would be complete without a bite to eat, and the surroundings do not disappoint: Hearty Viennese dishes are just next door at Haas Beisl, a staunchly traditionalist establishment operating since the early 1980s. A bit further down the road, Das Powidl offers Bohemian culinary classics and fresh Czech beer on tap. Looking for something lighter? Aromat offers galletes and crêpes in a cozy, welcoming atmosphere. A refreshing vegan dessert is only a few steps away at the Veganista ice cream parlor and the neighboring Délices du midi caters to Francophiles with a large selection of French amuse-bouche and wines.
Galleries and hideouts
Those looking for a nightcap need look no further than the nearby basement hideaway Schlupfwinkel, known affectionately as Schluwi by locals. Down the street is Fladerei, serving freshly baked flatbreads along with their own brews to wash them down. A block away on Große Neugasse, the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery catches your eye thanks to its pink exterior; this pales however compared to its current Hieronymus Bosch-inspired exhibition, Earthly Delights.
Only a stone’s throw away is the Carla Mittersteg, a second-hand store run by Caritas offering everything from vintage furniture to clothes and CDs. While the selection depends on what’s currently available, it’s a great way to skip IKEA and decorate your new apartment.
No Viennese Grätzl would be complete without a scenic place to enjoy a Melange, and the Café Wortner has been providing that for over a century. Overlooking Wiedner Hauptstrasse from behind the Engelbrunnen fountain, it’s a great place to sit down and take in the ambiance while people watching or perusing a newspaper.
With a sizable student and artist population taking advantage of its lower rents, charming old buildings and central location, Mittersteig is a throwback to Vienna’s recent, pre-gentrified past. Enjoy it while it lasts.