On the same day we saw the Lipizzaners, I showed Michael around the Michaelerplatz. We went inside the Michaelerkirche, which was decorated for Christmas and well lit, unlike my previous visit on a Fulbrighters’ field trip. In November, Molly from the Fulbright staff took us on a tour of the famous and quite grisly crypt (filled with rotting coffins and piles of bare bones heaped up in corners, and a few Renaissance-era mummies), which I did not feel the need or desire to revisit this time!
We had lunch at the gorgeous Central Café in the Palais Ferstel, with its beautiful gothic arch ceilings, and a nearly life size sculpture of the poet Peter Altenberg who frequented the café so much that he used it as his postal address around the turn of the 20th century. The history of the Palais is interesting (http://www.palaisevents.at/en/palais-ferstel/style-history.html)- now named for its architect, it was built in Venetian style during the mid-19th century as part of the architectural boom under Franz Josef. In its heyday before WWI it hosted many regulars, or „Centralisten,“ including Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Leo Trotzki, Robert Musil and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The building was “arianized” (taken over by the Nazis) during WWII and all but destroyed during the war and postwar occupation. Its renovation was only begun in the late 1970’s, and reopened in the 1980s (with some subsequent renovations). In my opinion, its cuisine is currently among the best of the old-world style cafes in Vienna, and although it can be packed with tourists, it’s still possible once seated to linger over a wine or coffee, and locals can be found here too – especially mid-afternoon when the tourists are off doing other things! TRAVEL TIP: The best time to come here is around 3 pm on a weekday.
After the Central Café, we visited the famous bakery Demels which once provided sweets for the imperial family. One of their famous life-size dolls was in the window, dressed entirely in sugar.
That evening, we had a traditional Viennese dinner at the Esterhazykeller, deep underground. Molly had introduced us (Fulbrighters) to the place at the end of our November field trip to the Michaelerkirche, and we had a delightful Stammtisch – mostly with the younger students whose areas of study are widely varied. They are all just so smart and fun to be with! In the days before refrigeration such subterranean cellars were created to store wine and beer, and also to dispense them. The handmade brick ceilings date back to the 15th century, and the Keller was very close to the ancient city walls. Because of its location, it is said that Prince Esterhazy rounded up the locals to form a brigade against the invading Turks and provided them with liquid courage in the Keller before the battle. (http://www.esterhazykeller.at/historisches.html#anchor-top.)