The Cakes of Vienna Part 7 – High ceilings and tiny cake at Cafe Central Vienna, plus finding the Danube (eventually)

Here it is – the much-delayed new installment of The Cakes of Vienna series. Some measure of willing suspension of disbelief will be required on your part.

The Cakes of Vienna

Map of Vienna

Vienna – it’s pretty self-explanatory

It is the last but one day of my stay in Vienna, and I have an embarrassing secret – namely, I still haven’t found the Danube. Haven’t even accidentally run into it, despite its being, according to Wikipedia, “the European Union’s longest and the continent’s second longest [river]”.  I would have been happy with as little as a glimpse of a distant river bend. Even a simple “Danube – this way” sign would have been nice. But no, the obstinate river hasn’t bothered to make its presence known to me in any way.

The general direction of the Danube looks deceptively self-explanatory on my now severely battered tourist map – just follow the red line, past the Cathedral, walk a bit further down and voilà – the river. While sounding very reasonable in theory, in practice this route has never got me much further than the other side of the Cathedral, more specifically the Manner wafer shop (the Viennese equivalent of the London M&Ms shop).

Cafe Central Vienna

Cafe Central, obviously

The other thing I still haven’t found is Café Central, a  “must see” Viennese Café on my list, but I consider this to be the lesser of my two embarrassing secrets. After all, cafés are just buildings and one could argue that it’s not unusual not to be able to identify one building among other buildings, whereas the Danube is, well, the Danube. In other words, allowing this kind of sightseeing failure to happen might be indicative of a more general problem, i.e. severely impaired spatial co-ordination. And this is clearly not good. Therefore I decide to prioritise the Danube (P1) over Café Central (P2).

At first my strategy fails to produce the desired results. However, this time the particular wrong direction I take on my way to P1 unexpectedly leads me straight to the doorstep of P2 – Café Central.

On the outside, the building is gray and vaguely government-like and one might never think that this is the renowned café. That is, if it weren’t for the enormous Café Central sign above the entrance. Standing there before the glass doors, I realise that I must have walked past this building a dozen times in the past few days without noticing it, giant sign notwithstanding.

Cafe Central Vienna

The vaulted ceiling of Cafe Central

Once inside, I mentally acknowledge the fact that Café Central is the epitome of the Viennese café culture for a reason. That reason being that… well, it’s huge. It’s the mothership of Viennese cafés. One can imagine lesser Viennese cafés clinging to its side like pods before shooting off into space to embark on a journey of independent existence. Moving on to a different metaphor, it is the cathedral of coffee and cake. In fact, if the high vaulted ceilings are anything to go by, this place might have been an actual cathedral at some point. A subsequent Google search reveals that this place was originally a bank, but still it’s… well, it’s huge.

However, for such an enormous place, its cakes are incongruously small. The cakes neatly arranged in the glass display are half the usual size, which is about half a brick. Or this might be a matter of proportion. Perhaps the vastness of the place is so imposing that all other objects appear smaller than they actually are. As it were, I make a mental note as to which cake I’m going to order and then proceed to find a table, sit down and wait for the waiter to turn up, because that is how things work here.

And what a wait it turns out to be – proportional to the size of the place. While I wait, I become aware of the presence of a grand piano, which is in the process of being played. By a pianist. Truly a textbook Viennese café.

A waiter finally appears in this temple of coffee after what could have been 5 or 25 minutes (time is meaningless in this parallel universe) and I order the cake that caught my eye during my initial visual inspection of the display – a redcurrant, yogurt and poppy seed torte. Gluten free to boot, not that I really care one way or another.

After another unquantifiable amount of time has elapsed, the torte finally arrives, looking as minuscule as its image in my short-term memory. However, the cake’s diminutive proportions are soon forgotten, because what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for with classiness and, unexpectedly, tartness. The latter is a welcome change after the sugar-packed excesses of the previous few days.

Redcurrant yogurt torte Cafe Central Vienna

The cake itself

The tartness must be doing something beneficial to my senses – purifying them, perhaps – because I’ve only just started to notice that the café is alarmingly busy. It’s insanely busy. At the same time, there is a single pistachio half on my cake. A sole pistachio on a semi-gelatinous redcurrant layer. For a moment I ponder on the meaning of it all. Then I decide it’s just a pistachio half.

Now that the P2 is all done, it’s time to move on and find the Danube once and for all.

And I do find it in the end, after a brisk and purposeful walk. It’s not as overwhelming as I expected. In fact, it’s somewhat underwhelming. I take a few disappointing pictures and turn back in the direction I came from, where the remaining cake to be sampled awaits.

The Danube

The Danube. Meh.

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About Sonja Kudei

Sonja Kudei is a writer and web developer based in London.

4 Responses to “The Cakes of Vienna Part 7 – High ceilings and tiny cake at Cafe Central Vienna, plus finding the Danube (eventually)”

  1. Did you see James Fox’s recent doc on BBC4, about Vienna in 1908? He mentioned Freud, Trotsky and Hitler all hanging out at the Café Central, no doubt eating lots of cake. Excellent post, thank you.

    • Hi Jonathan, thank you for your comment! So nice to see you in these parts of the internet 🙂
      I haven’t seen the doc, but I did some research on Café Central and read about some of its famous patrons. Besides those three, I think there was also mention of Tito and Lenin. Overall, it looks as if it used to be an early 20th century version of Starbucks, except with fewer Macs and more socialism.

  2. I think that’s what Starbucks needs myself – fewer Macs and more socialism!