A bookish tour of Vienna

We have just returned from a lovely couple of days in Vienna!

Those of you who are frequent readers will know that I had a pretty hefty itinerary planned – luckily we did manage to do pretty much all of it.

Is there a doctor in the house?!

Freud's doorbell

First on the list was the Freud Museum. Not only does it give you a chance to see the real rooms in which Freud used to see his patients for psychoanalysis, but there are also loads of images, books and videos to look at and a cool audioguide you can log into on your phone. There’s even the only existing audio recording of Freud speaking to the BBC (he speaks a bit like an Austrian Dumbledore, only slower).

The waiting room has been restored to pretty much exactly how it was when patients were waiting, including putting all the photos and art on the wall back in its original place. Anna Freud was a big part of the process and donated a lot of the original exhibits you can see.

I found an early copy of ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’:

The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud

One of the saddest things we learnt at the museum was that Freud and his family suffered a lot at the hands of the Nazis following the Anschluss, when Vienna was occupied. Anna Freud was interrogated by the Gestapo for an entire day and the family home was raided several times.

The family were only allowed to escape after paying the Reichsfluchtsteuer (Reich’s Flight Tax) of about $200,000 in today’s money. It was only their position of wealth and prestige that allowed them to escape the concentration camps, although two of Freud’s sisters were not so lucky. It’s one tragic story among so very many, but truly sad. The move broke the ailing Freud’s health for good, and he died shortly after arriving in London.

Having already read ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’, the museum inspired me to give ‘On Murder, Mourning and Melancholia’ next. Despite its depressing title, this book contains ‘Totem and Taboo’, one of Freud’s most celebrated works, and seems strangely prescient with all the current political instability and the possibility of conflict. Asking why humans give into their darker urges seems more appropriate than ever at this time.

I was told there would be cake

After some heavy Freuding, we headed over to one of Vienna’s most famous coffee houses, Café Central. This claims to be the place where Freud, Trotsky and Zweig used to go for coffee and cake (probably not together).

You can see the beautiful interior in the picture at the top of this post – but these guys are probably the most beautiful:

Beautiful mini cakes at cafe centralWe ended up getting a chocolate brownie topped with raspberries, marshmallow and raspberry jelly – the red rectangular thing you can see above.

After learning so much about Freud I was surprised to see that there was so little information around about Stefan Zweig, apparently one of Vienna’s most famous literary sons. Instead, I had to Google him when we got back.

Although roundly ignored in England, as it turns out he was one of the most popular and most translated authors in Europe back in the day. It seems, though, that his ‘florid’ style has fallen out of favour since, and the articles I found on him describe him with various degrees of viciousness; one critic described him as: “a pedestrian stylist; a used-goods dealer in the Viennese literary bazaar”. Perhaps one to nudge in fairly low down on the reading list then.

The original torte

I’m a big fan of Sachertorte, that chocolatey bit of mischief that is so unique to Vienna, so I couldn’t visit without a trip to the famous Hotel Sacher.

Legend has it that the original torte was invented by kitchen boy Franz Sacher for Prince Wenzel von Mettelnich in 1832. The prince wanted something ‘special’ for dessert, but the main pastry chef was off sick, so Franz had to think on his feet and came up with a chocolate cake covered in apricot jam and chocolate ganache. It was a hit, and became a regional delicacy.

After Franz Sacher’s death, there was a big fight between the Demer bakery, where Franz initially worked, and the Hotel Sacher for rights to claim the ‘original Sachertorte’ crown. The Hotel won and has a nice little chocolate tag to prove it. I can confirm that the tag itself was also delicious.

Original Sacher torte

I discovered I would make quite a good aristocrat

The next day we headed to Schonnebrunne Palace on the outskirts of Vienna. We had to wait two hours to get in – fortunately, there was a little Christmas market where I was able to coax Mr Shelf into waiting by supplying waffles and Glühwein – but it was worth the wait to see the incredible, beautifully preserved interiors. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos, but you can take my word on it being epic.

schonnebrunne palace vienna

Much as I am a card-carrying feminist and I don’t much fancy returning to the days where my future husband would have to be supplied with a dowry in order to marry me (nonsense! They should pay me to marry them!), I can see a certain appeal in spending my days surrounded by gold leaf and walnut panels as I fastidiously embroider some edelweiss onto a handkerchief for my beloved.

Or perhaps the appeal comes from the prospect of the balls; I can just see myself trotting up to the grand front gate in my horse-drawn carriage, wearing a big-ass ball gown and sable hat (I am reading War & Peace at the moment, which may have influenced this somewhat).

The Christkindlmarkts

Of course, the big draw for going to Vienna at this time of year is for the Christmas markets. There were about five on while we were there; we went to three deliberately and stumbled upon several smaller, informal ones too.

Christmas market in Vienna

It was the perfect place to recover from our wanderings with some Glühwein which, naturally, is served in a boot. I can also recommend the hot apple glog/punsch.


All in all a very happy pre-Christmas trip! If you have a few days before Christmas, I highly recommend it.

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