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Why Europe’s fika capital isn’t actually in Sweden

Swedes are crazy about coffee. They’re so crazy about it that they’ve even coined a special word for a simple coffee break.

Why Europe’s fika capital isn’t actually in Sweden
Photo: Chevanon Photography from Pexels

Fika – taking time to enjoy coffee and a bite to eat with a friend or colleague – is a cornerstone of Swedish culture. If the country offered a Swedish 101 course for newbies, fika would probably be the first subject taught in the curriculum. Followed by a mandatory break for fika

But what if we told you that there’s a European city where fika is taken so seriously that its coffee house culture is protected by UNESCO world heritage? If you’re as hooked on java as the Swedes are, an extended coffee break in Vienna is just the cultural pilgrimage that the barista ordered. Follow in the footsteps of some of Vienna’s most notable past inhabitants like Mozart, Beethoven, Klimt and Freud and soak in the gemütliche (cozy) atmosphere of the city’s famous coffee houses. 

Presenting four reasons why all coffee lovers should visit Vienna.

It’s bean around a long time

Coffee first arrived in Vienna courtesy of a failed Turkish invasion in 1683. Forced to flee, the Ottoman army left behind sacks of coffee beans, initially assumed to be camel feed. Allied military officer Jerzy Francieszek Kulczychi had spent time in captivity in Turkey and knew that the unidentified beans could be brewed into delicious cups of liquid energy. The beans were roasted, a drop of milk was added, and Viennese coffee culture was born.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Wien | Vienna (@viennatouristboard) on Sep 27, 2019 at 4:00am PDT

It wasn’t long before elegant coffee houses sprung up all over the city. Today, these establishments are still the cultural heart of Vienna — places to while away the day sipping high-quality coffee in (often palatial) built-for-purpose spaces. Austrian writer Stefan Zweig once wrote that the coffee houses are ‘a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours with this little offering, to talk, write, play cards, receive post and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.’

There’s a latte variety

Swedes are big fans of a bryggkaffe (brew/filter coffee, often taken without milk) and are rarely seen without a cup of black coffee in hand. But one can’t claim to be a true coffee connoisseur without extensive knowledge of the many different ways coffee can be prepared. There are dozens of different varieties of Viennese coffee, from traditional styles to third-wave artisanal brews. You could argue that some ‘Viennese creations’ are suspiciously similar to varieties of coffee found elsewhere in the world, but there are also many which are wholly unique to the Austrian capital. 

Take the Einspänner, a shot of strong espresso topped with plenty of whipped cream, named after the one-horse carriage which required just one hand, leaving the other free for holding a cup of coffee. Then there’s the Cafe Maria Theresia, a traditional Viennese recipe prepared from black coffee with warming orange liqueur and a dollop of cream. Not forgetting the Verlängerter, an espresso with added hot water for when you want to prolong your espresso hit.

Nice buns

Napoleon and Josephine, Wills and Kate…coffee and cake. Some things just go together. And so naturally Vienna has a long tradition of baking some of the most decadent delights known to man. From cream-filled cakes and flaky pastries to slabs of chocolate cake slathered in shiny chocolate ganache, there’s a treat that caters to every sweet tooth. It’s no wonder that cake was the first thing Viennese-born French Queen Marie Antoinette thought of when asked what the peasants should eat instead of bread. 

Try a sugared violet, the favourite sweet of the beautiful but tragic Empress Sisi, at Demel, once the royal patisserie; indulge yourself with a Buchteln – a sweet Austrian bun served with plum jam – at the iconic Cafe Hawelka; and have your cake and eat it at classy Cafe Sacher (the birthplace of Sacher torte – the aforementioned chocolate cake which is, perhaps, the most famous cake of all time).

Use code CoffeeBreak19SE for 165 SEK off flights from Sweden to Vienna. Click here to redeem*.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Austrian Airlines (@austrianairlines) on Oct 1, 2019 at 5:45am PDT

Coffee in the clouds

Hop on an Austrian Airlines flight from Stockholm or Gothenburg and you can be in Vienna in just a couple of hours. The planes are designed to reflect the gemütliche ambience of a Viennese coffee house with premium cups of Julius Meinl coffee served onboard, so you can start your coffee odyssey precisely as you mean to go on. 

*Offer valid until 31st May 2020

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Austrian Airlines.

TOURISM

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

Vienna's Fiaker - the horse-drawn carriages seen across the city's streets for centuries - are popular with tourists, but animal rights advocates say the practice is cruel, particularly as temperatures rise.

EXPLAINED: Will Austria ban horse-drawn carriages?

The image of two horses carrying a carriage full of tourists mesmerised by beautiful Austrian sights is quite a common one, particularly in Vienna.

The Fiaker, which is the Austrian name (borrowed from French) for the set of two horses, plus a carriage and coachman, are quite popular and represent an important part of Viennese history.

The first license for a Fiaker was granted in the capital around 1700. They rose in popularity before the advent of cars in the 1900s.

“They are just as much a part of Vienna as St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Giant Ferris Wheel: the fiakers”, according to the Vienna Tourist Board.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Now, though, the symbol for the capital has become the target of controversy. For years, animal rights groups have protested against the overworking of the animals, the stressful conditions for the horses on busy Viennese roads and the extreme heat they face in summer. 

What are the main issues raised?

For years now, several animal rights groups have protested against exploiting the animals for touristic purposes.

By Vienna regulations, the horses need to be out of the streets once temperatures reach 35C. Many groups ask for the limit to be at least 30C instead.

Additionally, the temperature base is measured at the stables, in the mostly shaded areas from where the animals leave every morning to work in Vienna’s first district, where the blazing sun and scorching pavements could make temperatures higher by several degrees.

READ ALSO: Why Vienna is a haven for wild animals – and where you can find them

Another issue raised by groups is that the fiaker no longer fits in a busy 21st-century capital – with its busy roads and loud cars. They claim that walking among the many vehicles and tourists of the first district is unnecessarily stressful for the horses.

A traditional Fiaker in the Viennese first district. (photo: Amanda Previdelli / The Local)

What do the fiaker associations say?

Many representatives of the organisations reiterate that the animals are well-cared for and used to the heat.

A spokeswoman for the carriage companies asks for a round table with politicians as debates heat up, ORF reported. The veterinarian Isabella Copar, who works for two Fiaker farms, says there is no basis for the 30C regulation.

“I don’t understand that politicians make a judgment on animal welfare, even though they have no idea about the animals”, she told the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Copar mentions a 2008 study by the Veterinary school of the University of Vienna saying that after nearly 400 measurements on the animals, not a single case of “heat stress” was found.

As for the infamous cases when horses have collapsed in the streets of Vienna during particularly hot days, she states that the collapses are usually due to a horse disease.

It was never possible to establish a connection with the heat. “If this happens in the stable, no one is interested,” the veterinarian said.

What is next?

The latest news in the controversy is a major one. The Health Minister, who is also Animal Protection Minister Johannes Rauch (Greens), has stated he would “welcome” a debate about a Fiaker ban.

“You should think about it, really for animal welfare reasons, whether you should expose a horse to this stress.

According to the minister, there is a question also as to whether the use of the carriages fits in the context of a large city at all. “I think that’s a bit outdated”, he said.

READ ALSO: Austria bans ‘senseless’ killing of chicks with new animal welfare rules

There is a particular tug of war between the City and the Federal Government regarding whose responsibility it is to act on a possible ban or even tighten the rules.

Both authorities are set to talk about the issue in June. They are set to also speak with the Fiaker associations.

Vienna is unlikely to see a total ban as early as that. Still, a 30C temperature limit after which the horses would need to be sent back to stables could be heading to the capital.

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