Sometimes, Berlin can be a bit too frantic for me. Whenever I feel that I need to retire for a while, I book a flight to a calmer place such as Stockholm. But after I got invited to visit a friend’s art performance abroad and finally returned to Berlin, I knew there was a strong and beautiful competitor: Vienna.
Let me give an example of how serene Vienna is: Though being used to the street musicians and pavement performers who are intertwined with the fabric that makes up Berlin’s and particularly Kreuzberg’s public space, I somehow turned grumpy and narky in Vienna. Having a delicious piece of Sacher cake and a Café mélange in a coffeehouse at Stephansplatz, I got fed up with a crew of foreign breakdancers who dared to disturb my celestial peace. Furiously, I had to go and come to rest at another café. Obviously, over these few days Maria and I spent in this wondrously calm city, I got completely assimilated.
The first thing Vienna surprises you is its lack of any street noise. Hardly any car is seen in the central district. Vienna is placid, but vivid. You might not find Vienna the city of excessive open-air raves and ever-lasting techno parties, that we love Berlin for. Because it has simply too much serenity for that. Picture it a more classy version of Prussian and Bavarian cities, but with a lot of dolce vita flowing in from the South. Take Unter den Linden, add fairly a lot of Kreuzberg laissez-faire and spice it with some Kranzler Eck mood. Best served with a piece of fine Austrian pastry.
The second thing you’ll encounter is Vienna’s rich bike culture. Since we are passionate bicycle lovers, our jaws literally locked wide open due to permanently dropping in awe over all the beautiful and stunning bikes that dash through the streets. Rare vintage racing bikes, collectible single speeds and the fanciest fixed gears gathered throughout the city in what I still feel was a huge showcase stunt. They were simply everywhere. Just to make it clear to you: Even the elderly riders had more class than what you might ever achieve on two wheels. Deal with it.
But our hearts still didn’t feel their greatest bike related joy until we stumbled upon carefully hidden Radlager Palazzo. As its name implies it was nothing less than a treasure cave to us, displaying and selling the finest examples of bike craftsmanship along with fresh organic vegetables and fruits straight from Italy. Complete with a connected café and some calm Jazz tunes this was the perfect place to get back after a long and stressful day. Well, don’t get me wrong, Vienna surely can be frantic at times, but you’ll have to go for it.
The best opportunity to experience Vienna’s vivid sides is to plunge into the more than a kilometer spanning Naschmarkt, the city’s most renowned market for fresh vegetables and fruits, exquisite delicacies from all over the world and whatnot. Be it forty types of vinegar, a vast collection of rare Chinese spices or Italian ravioli in flavours you probably never heard about – name it, they got it. This mild mould cheese you had at this picturesque restaurant in Britanny? Sure, they sell it over there. You’d like the spinach Börek you always enjoyed at Mehringdamm? Excellent choice, do you like some refreshing Anatolian mountain water with that? I’d reckon it was hand-bucketed by a Turkish beauty and carefully transported by a pace of donkeys to Vienna’s Naschmarkt, just for your pleasure. (Look, there’s a greeting card attached to it, hand-written by said beauty!)
After these way too short days in Vienna, that had an enormously captivating influence on us, one thing is sure: We’ll return on a warm summer’s day, as a crew of at least five, get some bikes and just keep riding through the empty streets from one café to the next, having one sort of cake at a time, to fully merge in what we’d approvingly coined the Viennese art of living.