I grew up in a ‘Kaffeehaus’ culture. Starbucks at all weren’t even a blip on the horizon. You went to a café to meet friends and sit in style. Or read a book or the paper for as long as you pleased. Nobody would have dreamed of eating and drinking out of plastic. The cakes you took away with you were lovingly placed in a box, wrapped and adorned with a bow. Not thrown helter skelter into a paper bag which becomes a soggy mass in a matter of minutes. I have to admit, I still hate any kind of self service joint, although it can’t always be avoided.
Luckily, it isn’t as if the Kaffeehaus culture has vanished. It is alive and well and two of my favorite examples are to be found in Italy and Austria. In Venice and Salzburg to be precise.
I visited Venice’s Caffé Florian for the first time during carnival last year. Which gave the place a special magic, but even in ‘normal’ times it’s the epitome of an elegant café. Here is a bit of history.
Opened on December 29th of 1720, Caffe Florian is a contender for oldest coffeehouse in continuous operation. Originally is consisted of only two rooms, but successive owners (most of them family ) expanded the premises to include the Hall of Illustrious Men, the Chinese hall, the Hall of the Senate and the Oriental Hall. Located in the arcade which surrounds Venice’s Piazza San Marco, the café became a meeting place not only for the rich and famous like Goldoni, Casanova, Goethe, Lord Byron or Marcel Proust but for citizens from different social classes. It was one of the few places where the new Gazzeta Veneta could be bought, read and…discussed. True, it’s also a tourist attraction, but basically it remains a Venetian meeting point. You can listen to the piano player and enjoy wonderful cakes and of course, the world famous Italian ice-cream.
No less fascinating and enjoyable is Salzburg’s Café Sacher. Café and hotel are side by side and it opened in 1876. The terrace is overlooking the River Salzach but I like best the indoors and the Wall of Fame
. Not to mention the famous Sacher torte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam. The cake is actually older than the café, having been created by Mr. Sacher in 1832 when he was a humble apprentice at the court of Fürst Metternich. Having been asked to dream up an especially delicious desert, he had the inspiration for his chocolate and apricot cake. A concoction I enjoy every time when I visit Salzburg.