Saturday, August 30, 2008

Schwarzspanierstrasse 15

On the site of this building stood the house where Beethoven died in 1827. Beethoven had many residences in Vienna. Otto Weininger, a very odd philosopher admired by Karl Kraus, Ludwig Wittgenstein, James Joyce, etc. -- took his own life in this apartment building in 1903.

Weininger hung out with some of the writers from Cafe Griensteidl, but his basic ideas seem largely unconnected to his Viennese contemporaries. His ideas have precursors in Kant and Schelling.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cafe Imperial

I wasn't much interested in Cafe Imperial. It seemed to be just an extension of a ritzy hotel, so I didn't even venture inside. Too bad, since it turns out to have a very interesting history.

First, Elias Canetti gives a mean-spirited anecdote about his meeting there with Stefan Zweig. I don't believe this anecdote to be accurate -- Canetti's autobiography is not that reliable, especially when he's talking about someone he didn't like. He evidently didn't like Zweig. Here's the relevant quotation:

"Soon after my return I ran into [Stefan] Zweig at the Cafe Imperial. He was sitting alone in one of the back rooms, holding his hand over his mouth to hide the absence of teeth [due to dental work]. Though he did not like to be seen in that condition, he beckoned me over to his table and bade me be seated. 'I've heard the whole story from Broch,' he said. 'You've met Joyce. ... Get Joyce to write a preface. Then your book will get attention.'" (Elias Canetti, The Play of the Eyes, p. 186)

Cafe Imperial also appears in Robert Musil's Diaries, but (again) Musil doesn't have much of interest to say about a cafe: "Yesterday, or the day before yesterday, spent some time with Morgenstern in the Cafe Imperial." (Robert Musil, Diaries, entry for March 26, 1930, p. 366)

More interestingly, Ludwig Wittgenstein met at this cafe with Ludwig von Ficker during the latter's visit to Vienna (so that Wittgenstein could give away part of his family's fortune to worthy artists under Ficker's guidance). Here's Ficker's description of a meeting with Wittgenstein on July 24, 1914:

"We met in Cafe Imperial, where there ensued a somewhat strenuous, but positively stimulating conversation between [Ludwig Wittgenstein] and the hard-of-hearing builder [Adolf Loos] on the still contoversial Haus am Michaelerplatz on questions of modern architecture, which seemed to interest Wittgenstein." (Ludwig von Ficker describing a meeting on July 24, 1914 at Cafe Imperial; quoted from Wittgenstein in Vienna, Allan S. Janik & Hans Veigl [Springer, 1998], p. 123)

The cafe in the Hotel Imperial was initially called Cafe Frohner. It's mentioned by Fritz Wittels, a med student and budding psychoanalyst in Freud's circle. According to Edward Timms, Wittels was also part of Karl Kraus' circle in 1907-08. Timms summarizes Wittels' description as follows:

"Later they [Kraus and Wittels] would go on to the Cafe Frohner, situated in the luxurious Hotel Imperial. Kraus was a heavy smoker, but never took a drop of alcohol. He was a gifted conversationalist and on good days, Wittels recalls, he enchanted everyone. All kinds of people -- senior government officials as well as artists, actors, and attractive girls -- would come to his table; and Kraus made them feel they were the 'centre of the universe'. Later, feeling the need to escape from the stifling atmosphere of bourgeois coffee houses, Kraus and his circle would move on to lower-class cafes patronised by prostitutes and bookies." (Edward Timms, 'The 'Child-Woman': Kraus, Freud, Wittles, and Irma Karczewska', in Vienna 1900: from Altenberg to Wittgenstein, ed. E. Timms and R. Robertson [Edinburgh University Press, 1990], p. 88)

Cafe Imperial was favoured by musicians; Mahler was a regular, as were Schonberg, Berg and Webern. According to Janik and Veigl, the Imperial was also visited by Freud, Hofmannsthal, Werfel, Rilke, Bruckner, Wagner, Brahms and Trotsky -- which raises a question: Is there a Viennese cafe from Trotsky's time in the Habsburg capital in which he did not luxuriate, excogitate or vegetate?

Update: I just read that Stalin was in Vienna briefly in early 1913 with Lenin, Bukharin and Trotsky. I can't find evidence that Stalin frequented any cafes. In his excellent Stalin biography, Simon Sebag Montefiore reports that Stalin, like Hitler, liked to take walks in the park around the Schonbrunn Palace.

Montefiore quotes Trotsky's description of his first encounter with Stalin: "I was sitting at the table beside the samovar in the apartment of Skobelev ... in the ancient capital of the Habsburgs [...] when suddenly the door opened with a knock and an unkown man entered. He was short ... thin ... his greyish-brown skin covered in pockmarks ... I saw nothing in his eyes that resembled friendliness [...] Then, as silently as he had come, he left, leaving a very depressing but unusual impression on me." (Simon Sebag Montefiore, Young Stalin [Weidenfield & Nicolson, 2007], p. 275)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cafe Rudigerhof

This is the Rudigerhof apartment building in Vienna. It's a nice example of the Jugenstihl style. It was designed by Oskar Marmorek and built in 1902. It has a neat cafe on ground level, which (according to my TimeOut Vienna guidebook) was frequented by the socialist politician Viktor Adler (who organized the 1st May Day parade), and was the site of at least one meeting between him and Lenin and Trotsky (though I'm suspicious of the claim about Lenin -- his movements in Vienna are harder to track than those of the other socialists).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cafe Museum

Cafe Museum is between the Karlsplatz subway station and the State Opera House. Its customers included Ludwig Wittgenstein, the artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, as well as the Jugendstihl architect Otto Wagner. It's famous for having an interior designed in his typically spartan fashion by Adolf Loos.

This historic cafe was also a stomping ground for such literary heavyweights as Elias Canetti and Robert Musil. Canetti frequently mentions Viennese cafes in his autobiography, esp. in the third volume thereof (The Play of the Eyes). Musil, by contrast, is much more sparing in his cafe references -- in his Diaries he devotes much more space to describing his walking routes through Vienna.

Here's one of Musil's few mentions of a cafe: "We then went on foot to the Cafe Museum in the hope of meeting Morgenstern; I wanted to tell him about Frankfurt. But, to our surprise, we met Frau Krista." (Robert Musil, Diaries: Robert Musil 1899-1942 , ed. Frise & Mirsky, trans. Philip Payne [Basic Books, 1998] p. 365, entry for March 16, 1930)

Canetti's descriptions of Cafe Museum are more informative. Here are three of them:

"Georg Merkel, a painter ..., was a man of about Broch's age. I had seen him at the Cafe Museum, though less frequently than some other painters." (Elias Canetti, The Play of the Eyes, trans. Ralph Manheim [Granta Books, 1999], p. 128)

"At the Cafe Museum, where I went every day after moving back to town, there was a man [later identified as Dr. Sonne] whom I noticed because he was always sitting alone and never spoke to anyone. That in itself was not so unusual, lots of people went to cafes to be alone among many." (Ibid., p. 112)

"I saw [Alban Berg] last at the Cafe Museum a few weeks before his death. It was a short meeting, at night after a concert." (Ibid., p.230)

Update (Sept. 27): There's a nice description of Cafe Museum in Wittgenstein in Vienna (by Allan S. Janik & Hans Veigl [Springer, 1998], pp. 57-8). The authors say that this cafe was originally (1886) at Babenbergerstrasse 5, and then moved to its current Loos-designed location in 1899. Among its patrons, they list (in addition to Musil, Klimt and Schiele) Hermann Broch, Peter Altenberg, Karl Kraus, Joseph Roth, Franz Blei, Roda Roda, etc.

They also include this bit from a letter written by the poet Georg Trakl: "Dear Mr. Ficker! I beg you to loan me 40 crowns, for I am momentarily in a very sad situation.... I would be very happy to be able to meet with you tomorrow, Thursday, at 2 p.m. in Cafe Museum." (Wittgenstein in Vienna, p. 58)

Friday, August 22, 2008

The physicists' cafe -- Cafe Astoria?

In the late 1800's, the physicists at the University of Vienna were moved into a horrible building at 3 Turkenstrasse. Here's a quotation from Maria Rentetzi's article (in Endeavour 28 [March, 2004]):

"The Physicalisches Kabinett and Stefan's Physics Institute moved into the four-story building located in Turkenstrasse 3, a short side street crossing Wahringerstrasse. A 'very primitive, converted apartment house,' as Lise Meitner described it...."

Another description of the building is in Ruth Lewin Sime's 1997 biography of Lise Meitner (Lise Meitner: a Life in Physics [University of California Press]): "The physics institute was on the Turkenstrasse ..., on the same block as the institutes for pharmaceutical chemistry and medicinal chemistry. ... A photographer's studio and a coffee house stood on either side of Turkenstrasse 3 .... Originally the structure had been a small apartment house, already run-down when the university purchased it as a temporary building in 1875 (a permanent physics building opened in 1913). Its entrance reminded Lise Meitner of the door to a hen house. 'I often thought "If a fire breaks out here, very few of us will get out alive."'"

The coffee house mentioned above was at 12 Wahringer Strasse, at the corner of Turkenstrasse. I've included here two photos of that site from August, 2008. Given the inadequacy of the physics quarters, the physicists seem to have sought refuge in the little cafe at the corner. Here's Rentetzi again:

"The same architectural absurdity led the physicists, working at Turkenstrasse, to the charming coffee house at the corner of their laboratory and contributed to the confluence of scientific disciplines and discussions. Of that 'idyllic time', the physicist Karl Przibram later recalled with nostalgia that 'the young generation of physicists can hardly imagine the passion of the debates, echoed in those days, particularly in the above mentioned coffee house.' [19] The 'above mentioned coffee house' was a cafe at the corner of Wahringerstrasse and Turkenstrasse, one of the distinct Viennese cultural spots, which literally housed the young physicists of the Institute." ['19' is a reference to Przibram's 1959 'Erinnerungen ...' in Beitrage zur Physik und Chemie des 20. Jahrhunderts, ed. O. R. Frisch et al]

While in Vienna, I bought a book called Kaffeehaus Album: 1860 - 1930 by H. Seemann and C. Lunzer (Album Verlag, 2000). On p. 58, they include a 1925 picture of Cafe Astoria's interior, which was located at 12 Wahringerstrasse. So, Cafe Astoria appears to have been the physics hotspot of Vienna.

Update (Sept. 12): Maria Rentetzi has published a book with Columbia University Press entitled Trafficking Materials and Gendered Experimental Practices. She has made the full contents of the book available on-line. Chapter 3 of her book ('Gender, Science, and the City') has more information on physics in Vienna in the early 20th Century and includes a photo of several physicists in their cafe.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Godel's Viennese Hangouts -- Cafes Arkaden, Josephinum and Reichsrat

These two photos are of the building in Vienna in which the Cafe Arkaden was located. It's across the street from the Votivkirche. Today, this space is occupied by the Votiv Cafe.

The Arkaden was patronized by members of the Vienna Circle. Here's a relevant description from Wittgenstein in Vienna by Allan S. Janik and Hans Veigl ([New York: Springer, 1998] p. 188): "[Kurt Godel] sat frequently with [Rudolf] Carnap in this cafe, which was in the arcaded building built in 1883 ... opposite the university's stately old main building. ... We even see in Carnap's notebook: '[...] In the morning Arkadencafe. Discussion: Godel on propositions of language. Feigl, Waismann, [Marcel] Natkin present (30.11.1928).'"

Members of the Vienna Circle also frequented the Cafe Josephinum. I walked right past its old site without realizing it, which is strange since the same building housed one of Godel's apartments, and his old residences in Vienna have plaques indicating his residency. The building is still there, but is now the Hotel Atlanta (address: 33 Wahringerstrasse). In the 1920's this rather plain-looking structure was an apartment building. Among its residents (from October 1927 until July 1928) were the brothers Kurt and Rudolf Godel (according to John Dawson, Jr. in his biography, Kurt Godel [Logical Dilemmas, p. 33]).

The Cafe Josephinum makes an appearance at the beginning of Janna Levin's novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines: "At the centre of the Circle is a circle: a clean, round, white marble tabletop. They select the Cafe Josephinum precisely for this table. ... The first mark is made, an equation applied directly to the tabletop, a slash of black ink across the marble..." (A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin, p. 8).

Another hangout for members of the Vienna Circle was the Cafe Reichsrat (also no longer in existence). In this cafe Alfred Tarski met with Godel on the former's visit to Vienna. The Reichsrat is also notable for being the first place where Godel presented some of his incompleteness results. This is according to John W. Dawson, Jr., who writes, "Specifically, on August 26, 1930, Godel met Carnap, Feigl and Waismann at the Cafe Reichsrat in Vienna, where they discussed their travel plans to Konigsberg. Afterward, according to Carnap's [diary] entry for that date, the discussion turned to 'Godel's Entdeckung: Unvollstandigkeit des Systems der PM; Schwierigkeit des Widerspruchsfreiheitbeweises.' Three days later another meeting took place at the same cafe. On that occasion, Carnap noted 'Zuerst [before the arrival of Feigl and Waismann] erzahlt mir Godel von seiner Entdeckungen'" (quoting from Dawson's article, 'The Reception of Godel's Incompleteness Theorems', PSA, vol. 2 (1984): 253-71).

Cafe Reichsrat is hard to locate, partly because the street name has been changed (from Reichsrat to Rathausplatz). According to Matthias Baaz, the old cafe's site is now occupied by the Konditorei Sluka. I wasn't sure about this at first, since the Sluka itself dates from 1891 (it was mentioned in a play by Thomas Bernhard); but it looks like the Sluka expanded at some time into the Cafe Reichsrat's location. Compare this photo of the Reichsrat's door to this picture of the Sluka's patio. The door under the window in the background of the latter shot (towards the right, behind the lamp) appears to be the same door that appears in the old Cafe Reichsrat picture. More pictures of the Sluka are available at Merisi's Vienna For Beginners.

I wonder if Cafe Reichsrat was owned by Walther Mayer. Mayer was a Privatdozent in mathematics at the University of Vienna, and he later moved to Princeton University as Albert Einstein's assistant. Mayer owned a small cafe near the university. According to Maria Rentetzi (in her article 'The City as a Context for Scientific Activity', Endeavour 28 [March, 2004]), Mayer's cafe was across the campus from the Schottentor cafe, which could put it near the Rathaus. However, Retentzi adds that Mayer's cafe was near the Institute for Mathematics, the current location of which is far from the Rathaus.

Update (Aug 23, 2008): The math institute in Vienna seems to have had the same location when the Vienna Circle was meeting. Karl Menger says, "The meeting place of the Schlick Kreis was a rather dingy room on the ground floor of the building in the Boltzmanngasse that housed the mathematical and physical institutes of the University." (quoted from Friedrich Stadler's The Vienna Circle [Springer, 1997], p. 204 -- Stadler's book includes a photo of the entrance to the math seminar room where the Vienna Circle met)

Update (Sept. 11, 2008): I just bought Kurt Godel: Das Album/The Album (Karl Sigmund, John Dawson and Kurt Muhlberger), a bilingual book with many photos of Godel's old haunts, associates, etc. On p. 27 of this book, there is a picture of the interior of Cafe Josephinum, accompanied by the following description: "The ground floor of Godel's apartment house was occupied by the Cafe Josephinum, which was frequented by students and academics and hosted the post mortem discussions following scientific talks." The authors add that in addition to this cafe, members of the Vienna Circle liked to visit the Arkaden, the Reichsrat, Cafe Central and Cafe Herrenhof. The book also includes a picture of the Reichsrat's main doorway (to which I linked above) on p. 32.

Update (July 24, 2014): I was wrong about the Reichsrat's location. Richard Zach has found its place.

Cafe Parsifal

"As to the Parsifal, while it was generally known as the coffeehouse favoured by members of the philharmonic orchestra ... there also sat -- in a reserved niche at a table usually strewn with newspapers -- Karl Kraus" (whose tirade against the Young Vienna authors provoked a physical assault by Felix Salten) (Friedrich Torberg, Tante Jolesch, or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes [Ariadne Press, 2008; 1st published in German in 1975]). The Parsifal was in this building on the northeast corner of Josefstadter Strasse and Albert Gasse, which has been home to the Cafe Hummel since 1936.

Viennese Cafes

I was in Austria for about ten days and spent about half that time in Vienna.

Here are some nice descriptions of the ethos of Viennese cafes which suggest why they were so attractive and stimulating for artists and intellectuals (a feature which has prompted at least one academic conference about Viennese cafes).

1. Alfred Polgar wrote an essay about Café Central ('Theory of Café Central'). His article is included in H. B. Segel's collection Vienna Coffeehouse Wits. Polgar writes, “Its inhabitants are … people whose hatred of their fellow human beings is as fierce as their longing for people, who want to be alone but need companionship for it” (Segel, p. 267). Polgar adds, “There are writers … who are unable to carry out their literary chores anywhere but at the Café Central. Only there, only at the tables of idleness, is the worktable laid for them, only there, enveloped by the air of indolence, will their inertia become fecundity” (Ibid.).

2. Here's an observation by Stefan Zweig: "The Viennese coffeehouse is a particular institution which is not comparable to any other in the world. As a matter of fact, it is a sort of democratic club to which admission costs the small price of a cup of coffee. Upon payment of this mite every guest can sit for hours on end, discuss, write, play cards, receive his mail, and, above all, can go through an unlimited number of newspapers and magazines" (Stefan Zweig, The World of Yesterday [University of Nebraska Press, 1964; 1st published in English in 1943]).

3. Here's a more recent blurb from Friedrich Torberg in his Tante Jolesch, or the Decline of the West in Anecdotes (Ariadne Press, 2008; published in German in 1975): "The classical attitude of a true habitué was possibly demonstrated even more convincingly by District Court Judge Reiter. Judge Reiter appeared each day -- for decades -- at Café Colosseum at four o'clock in the afternoon, sat down each day at the same table, was served a Melange with whipped cream and two horn-shaped shortbreads, received the evening papers first and then successively all other national and international newspapers, read them, paid, and did not have to utter a single word during this entire procedure." (p. 98 of Torberg's Tante Jolesch).

4. From Peter Altenberg's 'Coffeehouse': "You've got troubles of one kind or another -- get thee to the coffeehouse! ... You make four hundred Crowns and spend five hundred -- coffeehouse! ... You're a paper pusher and would've liked to become a doctor -- coffeehouse! ... You loathe and revile people and yet can't live without them -- coffeehouse! No place else will let you pay on credit -- coffeehouse!" (Telegrams of the Soul, trans. Peter Wortsman [Archipelago Books, 2005], p. 13)

5. In her article 'The City as a Context for Scientific Activity' (Endeavour 28 [March, 2004]), Maria Rentetzi writes: "The role of coffee houses as locations of scientifc exchange, as sites of learning ... has recently become the interest of historians of science. For Vienna, coffee houses have been associated with the city's cultural pre-eminence at the turn of the 19th century, and have been portrayed as clubs of philosophical, political and artistic circles." [Rentetzi here cites U. Heise's Kaffee und Kaffeehaus (Insel Verlag, 2002), which has been translated into English.]

6. In a book published just last year (Sacred Spring [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 2007]), Robert Weldon Whalen writes: "Vienna's coffeehouses were highly specialized. Journalists could be found at one cafe, artists at others. While artists frequented the Scheidl, and the Fenstergucker, actors tended to congregate at the Dobner or perhaps the Café Stadtpark. Café Gabesam was a good general place for middle-class people. ... Public places with a strong sense of privacy, open businesses with intimate charm, they were the Viennese equivalent to public squares. Landsdale, in her turn-of-the-century guide to [Vienna], noted that 'the café is the centre of social life; there business is discussed and bargains concluded ... it corresponds to the Forum of the ancients.'" [Whalen here cites Maria Horner Landsdale, Vienna and the Viennese, (Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates, 1902), p. 146.]

One of the above-mentioned artists' cafes, the Fenstergucker, is now a Starbucks.