Brace yourself readers, but I have been out. It was hard to avoid because around this time, more than a decade ago I put myself at the mercy of the Viennese Standesamt (Register Office) and got married. The shock was so great that I had to cease drinking for three months whilst various medical professionals performed an assortment of tests and reached the damming conclusion that I might have been over-doing the summer spritzers. So I stopped drinking just long enough for my body to re-calibrate any sense of normalcy and just in time for Christmas and the societal pressure to drink Punsch.
Counterintuitive it may be to equate the happiest day of my life with the appurtenances of over-consumption, this time of year certainly gives me a water-tight excuse to relive the days of pre-parenthood and mose about the still intriguing chambers of the inner city with the swagger of the child free. Unreconstructed romantic that I am, however, I first inveigle Mrs Barratt with the prospect of a quick gander at Mariahilferstrasse to gauge the part-pedestrianisation and to witness first-hand the aggressive storm of pedal-powered hooligans I have read so much about.
All I can say is that apart from the odd chancer with Viennese number plates and a few tourists relying on satnav rather than road signs, the street was largely vehicle free – and disappointingly bereft of Radl-Rowdys. I might cautiously opine, therefore, that Mariahilferstrasse is working although if you want you can demonstrate your inconsequential antagonism alongside the Freedom Party (avowed enemy of innovation and social inclusiveness) on Friday at 13.00 pm. Just don’t forget your credit card if you fancy a spot of shopping.
But it takes me to Otto Bauer Gasse to understand the true meaning of what I am seeing and hearing. In this tightly-packed urban space, in the middle of a city, with an absence of petrol engines and the affiliated trappings of the socially in-cohesive car driver there is an unmistakable sound, gentle, hushed and rhythmic in its conviction. It is the sound of conversation. And I hear myself beginning to approve.
After a brief interlude, where my wife deemed it necessary to interrupt my urban appraisal to enhance her wardrobe, we escape the now contemporary laid back calm of MaHü and cut down Capistrangasse past one of my top ten cafes in Wien, Kafka. Averting our eyes as we pass the Church of Scientology, we take the steps leading down to Fillgradergasse and onwards to Gumpendorferstrasse below, home of Boho chic, a stinky Irish pub and the heavily leaden tourist guide favourite of Cafe Sperl.
Our destination is just south of here, however, in Puff, one of Vienna’s newer and trendier bars. It is so named because it’s housed in a former brothel (Puff in German is knocking shop) although I am convinced it was inspired by a magic dragon. Unfortunately, this being Vienna, and this being late August, it is closed. For a month. Until September. But not disheartened (we are not new and not very trendy) we know that at the bottom of Giradigasse, only a short walk away, is the eminently renowned Cafe Drechsler which is never closed, so off we skip with a vigour that suggests we are now in need of a drink.
But this being Vienna, and this being August, it is, er, closed. A holiday until September. Now normally I would internalize such events with a feeling of undisguised admiration. After all, who wants to work too hard? But as I stand there, desperate for a drink, colluding with myself and formulating treacherous thoughts of retaliation I cannot help wondering, bastards! Fortunately, across the street is Naschmarkt Deli smack in the middle of what used to be a market and good a place as any to get a beer and observe the ontological nuances of Vienna. Of course, If you can’t be arsed with the metaphysical nature of being on a Friday afternoon, then like me you will just want an indulgent and unfailing Helles (essentially lager). So in spite of the glorious weather, we spy a couple of bar-stools and venture inside negotiating the tightly packed tables, the comforting aroma of tobacco and music which seems to challenge the very intrinsic notions of rhythm and melody.
We sit next to a cigarette smoking man reading “The Rules” who keeps whipping out his notebook and scribbling furiously and underlying chunks of text. As he does so, he intermittently extracts himself from his stool (like a philosopher changing positions to ignite new insights or revelations) to sit on the ledge of an open window behind him (unfortunately, the drop is only about 70 centimetres). I make a concerted effort not to let this distract me on my Hochzeitstag and visualise, Tom and Jerry style, shutting his fingers in the window.
This is my first evening trip to Naschmarkt since I wrote about it back in the spring (see March in the blog) and most likely my only chance to get a fleeting look before the restaurants and bars scurry back inside as the darker afternoons sweep through the city. The place is undoubtedly buzzing with even more places to eat, drink and pontificate everywhere we look. But as we make our way out towards Karslplatz, fortified by a couple of beers from Carinthian Villach, drunk at a pace only parents can appreciate, I see very little to change my faintly damming analysis from back then. I find it both disheartening yet poignant and I know that it will almost certainly not improve, even with beer from the southern most reaches of Austria diminishing my resistance and tempering my mood.
Placing our lives in the erratic nature of the Viennese driver, we escape the clutter of the market, cross the street at Getreidemarkt and saunter past the Secession building where I make a mental note that after 15 years in the city I really should go inside and see the Klimt fresco. A bit further along, on the right side across from the entrance to the Third Man Sewer Tour is Café Museum – motto: this was once a beautiful traditional café but now please give us nearly 5 Euro for a coffee because we buggered up the restoration and no one came. Café Museum is all the evidence you need of a café that seems content to charge an outrageous price for a small coffee (and they always vexingly ask you if you want mineral water on top with a price to rattle your fillings) and chase, at the expense of locals without a civil servant’s pension, a ostensibly bottomless stream of tourists who are typically primed to pay over the odds. And as a local I would never do that. At least not intentionally.
… to be continued.