My Home is My Grätzl
This month: the Weißgerberviertel in Vienna’s 3rd district
One sunny weekend in February, I set off with two friends to explore the Weißgerberviertel in Vienna’s 3rd district. I was curious, and “it is desire that creates new worlds,” poet Jeannie Ebner had written at the nearby Café Zartl on Rasumofskygasse. “But impatience destroys them before their time.”
So we meandered, the fresh late winter air making us glad the malodorous work of the medieval tanners, the Weißgerber, had long since moved on. Gone too are the city’s bloody execution grounds on the Gänseweide (goose meadow), busy here between the 14th to 18th centuries, the brutal pogrom in 1421 and Vienna’s sole witch burning in 1583. Crowds that once cheered regular bear and wolf baiting (hetzen) are immortalized in Viennese slang with the expression “des is a Hetz!” (This is fun!).
Bordered by the Danube Canal, the Wien river and Marxergasse, today’s Weißgerberviertel is best known for its magnificent monuments to Austria’s extravagantly eccentric artist and self-trained architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Tourists snap photos of the Hundertwasserhaus, a 1980’s “green” Gemeindebau (council housing), whose undulating pavements and walls exemplify the artist’s mantra, “The straight line is godless.”
Nearby you can take a break in the little café and craft shop along Löwengasse, or the Terrassencafé im Hunderwasserhaus around the corner on Kegelgasse. Two floors of the nearby Kunst Haus Wien are
dedicated to Hundertwasser’s life and works, with a further two floors showcasing contemporary photo exhibitions. The current artists – Peter Piller and Anita Witek – reveal the pleasure of recombining
images in unexpected ways.
Past two grinning gargoyles, my companions and I entered the calming neo-Gothic sanctuary of St. Othmar’s parish church of the Tanners. Lit by thousands of yellow stained glass squares, the church’s architect Friedrich von Schmidt also designed the Rathaus, and rebuilt the Stephansdom and the famous Cathedral in Cologne.
At the tiny vegetarian café Gedöhns, surrounded by Barbies and pink flamingos, a ginger tea means infused freshly sliced ginger. The Fälschermuseum, the Museum of Art Fakes, has a fascinating collection of “masterpieces” from expert forgers such as Han van Meegeren, who cheated Herman Göring with a Vermeer copy. A reminder of this district’s Jewish past, the museum Für Das Kind memorializes the Kindertransporter that carried Jewish children to safety in the UK on the eve of World War II.
Old and new in harmony
We’d heard much about Café Zartl, which has been celebrated by the Austrian writers and artists who were its regulars: These included Jeannie Ebner, Robert Musil, Heimito von Doderer and Karl Farkas. It was easy to fall in love with Zartl’s retro neon signage, satin banquettes, chandeliers, and the wood-paneled Sitznischen, where young couples chatted and elderly locals read newspapers Sonja, the Slovak head waitress has operated the ancient Kolschitsky coffee machine for 14 years. Zartl hosts piano jazz on weekend afternoons as well as regular gatherings of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in the Kalanag Salon, named for a famous illusionist who performed here in 1935.
Across the street at the acclaimed Walking Chair design gallery for contemporary Viennese design, the co-founder Fidel Peugeot showed me a kaleidoscope tool for the iPhone. “Design has to be fun,” he shrugged. The location, formerly the Rasumofsky Cafe, is filled with wonders like the recycled “Sister Blister” lighting made from pill packets, and the round table-tennis table called “Ping meets Pong”.
As light fades, residents return for post-work activities – thrusting épées at the Vienna Fencing Club, boxing at the “oldschool” Garage Combat Club, or booking a table at the revamped haute-cuisine Kuchlmasterei. The S-Bahn runs regularly over Garage01 on Radetzkyplatz, a restaurant where couples tango on Monday nights. For decades, the excellent Gasthaus Wild dominated the square, a cozy classic serving excellent Schnitzels. Its neighbor Café Menta brings modernity to the mix.
We end at the Sofiensäle. Built in 1826 as a Russian bathhouse, it was converted to a dance hall with unparalleled acoustics, thanks to the resonant empty pool underneath the floor. Later, it showcased Strauss waltzes, Decca recordings, then club nights. Devastated by fire in 2001, it was resurrected in 2013 as the hipster Ruby Sofie hotel (where you can “share” guitars), The Room restaurant, a fitness center, and private apartments. The bright modern spaces surrounding the painstakingly restored ballroom and historic facade reflect the Weißgerberviertel’s mix of creativity, innovation and a past that matters.
More info and links for places mentioned in this article:
CAFE ZARTL, 3., Rasumofskygasse 7, daily 07:00-24:00, (01) 943 89 72