07 January 2008

Daily Life: A Snapshot of Vienna
(Or Research Under the Influence of Pink Rabbits)

By Jennifer Linforth

If there is one thing about daily life I am tyrannical about it is Strawberry Quik. I must have profuse amounts of the pink rabbit on hand, especially when my editor forwards revisions to me. So protective am I about that little yellow container of florescent pink powder my attitude would fit in perfectly with the Viennese of the 19th century. They too were a bit obsessive about aspects of daily life.

Much like today, ones says Austria and ones mind goes to Vienna. Daily life in the imperial city was as diverse as it was ordinary. Vienna under Franz-Josef was a unique portrait--one that even today is a bit curious.

The Viennese of the late 19th century rose early and retired on schedule (much like writers in the frozen wally wags of Maine.) Food was an art form taken very seriously. Any good restaurant had no less than thirty two varieties of boiled beef and equal amounts of dressing to go with it. Desserts--like the sugar crystals peddled by over active cartoon bunnies--boarded on obsessions for the Viennese.

Vienna had a sweet tooth. Milchrahmstrudel (cheese strudel with cream sauce), palaschinken (crepes), Kaiserschmarrn (broken-up crepes), the famous Sacher torte (a cake of chocolate and jam) made up many a cafe window. My favorite is the ever popular Gugelhupf. Its unique history I showed in this snippet from my Austrian historical romance Adelrune:

Rebecca hesitantly approached the pianoforte and laid a linen napkin on top of it. "I stole some Gugelhupf, I thought you would like it."

"Is that another of your jokes? Because it is one of the few I understand. Gugelhupf? The cake that gave its name for the Narrenturm? The fool's tower? The hospital for the insane? A crazy cake for a crazy woman?"

"No," Rebecca snipped. "I just thought it would be nice."

Adelrune plunked her arm against the keyboard. The pianoforte yipped in pain. "Forgive me for finding it hard to associate the word nice with you..."
(The Narrenturm was founded under Joseph I. Its odd round shape gave its name to the Gugelhupf. The sweet yeast cake is consumed during Jause, the 5 o'clock tea--which is actually coffee.)

The Viennese ate five times a day: a breakfast of coffee and rolls, a 'fork breakfast' at ten, the main midday meal of soup and rolls (crescent in shape to remind them of the defeat of the Turks), Jause at five and a supper at eight.

If they were not at home or at work, they were in the Kaffeehaus. And they were very specific about which ones caught their fancy. The amount of Kaffeehauses in Vienna in the late 19th century bordered on the amount of Starbucks you'd see in Seattle today. They were numerous and each catered to a different clientele. Bankers, artists, military men, jewelers and masons all had their haunts. It was a rendezvous point for lovers, a meeting place for business, and the spot to read one of Vienna's numerous political papers. And Vienna had many papers. The crown prince himself wrote political articles--under a pen name of course--often with articles contradicting his imperial father.

After reading in the Kaffeehouse the Viennese returned home and enjoyed a game of tarok. But come ten it was lights out… until it was the next day and time to be seen strolling the streets.

My next post, later this month: daily fashion and the jobs that made Vienna hum. Right now, I have scene to address my editor wants me to delete... which I am refusing to delete... which means it is war between us... which means I hear a rabbit calling my name...