Vienna, Austria Wherever the design and fashion winds were blowing for at least the last millennium, Austria was right in there, adapting to the newest trends or leading the pack.
Design is important here, and almost every building — private or municipal –has some ornamentation representative of its era that takes it beyond the everyday. We are surrounded by beauty and quickly got accustomed to the high level of sophistication that fills this city.
To get an even more concentrated dose, we spent the afternoon at the Museum of Applied Arts, which showcases furniture and decorative art from Vienna’s artistic golden age, the turn of the last century.
The museum is housed in a grand Italian Renaissance palace, which is breathtaking at every level.
But the contents of the museum relate to a very different time. The permanent collection, Vienna 1900, follows Viennese designers as they moved from Historicism to Art Nouveau and on to Modernism and Internationalism with gorgeous examples of every period.
A quick way to show a furniture history was cleverly done through chairs. Lovely chairs.
There is an additional large exhibit space dedicated to Josef Hoffman, a premier and prolific architect and designed who lived from 1870 to 1956 — spanning a very volatile period in tastes. He anticipated and created many of the changes over that time, working with any different media and pushing design constraints with new technology and materials.
We took a break in the middle of our visit and sat in the garden café enjoying a sweet in Don’s case, and some wonderful cream of asparagus soup in my case. We got to the café by going through the most beautiful dining room — which was a perfect example of the overall aesthetic of the museum. What a hidden treasure.
Don’s Food Corner
As those who have followed this blog with some regularity will know, our experience at Vienna’s famed café/restaurant Demel five years ago when we first visited the city was one of the best dining experiences we ever had — anywhere. It was at Demel that Jo reached the zenith of her life-long passion for wiener schnitzel. In fact, five years ago I think we ate at Demel at least three times.
Demel has been around for a few hundred years. It still occupies the same location, which is about a half block from the Hapsburg palace. It was said the Empress Elizabeth (aka “Sissi”) had a secret tunnel to reach Demel without having to mingle with her subjects (aka the commoners). Today, the waitresses still are costumed completely in black as they have been since Sissi’s untimely death, continuing a 100-year plus period of mourning.
Unlike our previous experience at Demel, which was in January after a snowfall, we were not able to just walk in. The line to get in has grown. And no reservations allowed.
Noting from our past travels around central Vienna that the lines aren’t too bad at about 11AM, we thought that would be a good time to go and expect to be served lunch.
Anticipation was high today. Would Jo’s memory of the perfect wiener schnitzel hold up to today’s reality? We got a little nervous when we first walked past Demel. It’s been changed — physically. Instead of a large gift shop selling all types of goodies and trinkets that spanned over three rooms in the front of the building, there is now just a single small room for these goodies in the back (and seemingly priced at about twice as much as they had been). Also, the open kitchen, where the fine pastries were made and where you could watch how the magic happened, has been closed. In fact, that’s where the new (greatly reduced in size) gift shop is.
We were getting a little scared.
Then, when we got to the head of line and were getting ready to be seated at about 11:30 we asked if lunch was being served. Oh, yes. And the wiener schnitzel? Nope. Not on the menu any more. Jo almost started to weep. I mean she really almost started to weep. She has been dreaming of returning to Demel for what she has been holding up as the best wiener schnitzel on earth only to be told the entire dish has been jettisoned from the menu.
Instead of wiener schnitzel, they offered breaded chicken. The head waitress promised that it would be just as good if not better than their past wiener schnitzel offering. She lied. Jo ordered breaded chicken and, to be kind, it was just above McDonald’s Chicken Mc Nuggets. No, not even much better.
Jo was devastated. She had been holding back on giving out an A+ to previous samplings of wiener schnitzel to make sure that Demel lived up to its past reputation and our memory. Now, however, it gets an F because, well, it wasn’t even schnitzel. It was Mc Nuggets! And without the sauces. At least it was served with German-style potato salad instead of French fries and that might have bumped up the grade to D-, but it was so favorless that she’s sticking to the F grade.
We were given a small table in what had been the old gift shop. Only that small room and the outdoor seating in front of the building was open. The large room in the rear as well as the upstairs rooms, where we had dined before, were all closed off. Perhaps Demel is a victim of the pandemic. But I fear it will never return to its past glory days. As long as there is a line of people trying to get in and who have no past to judge it against, why bother.
I had beef goulash and some boiled potatoes. It was fine, but nothing that I haven’t had before.
Things got worse, however, when I sat down and realized I was right under a speaker pouring out Muzak.
Folks, it’s over.
We sat there reviewing the many things — both in Europe and certainly in America and New York — that are no longer the same as they had been. With the fall of a bastion like Demel, it all seems hopeless. It makes the good experiences we’ve had in Austria, the U.K, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary over the last two months seem all the more precious.
But what a bummer.