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Reviewed by:
  • The Viennese Café and Fin-de-Siècle Culture ed. by Charlotte Ashby, Tag Gronberg, and Simon Shaw-Miller
  • Cynthia A. Klíma
Charlotte Ashby, Tag Gronberg, and Simon Shaw-Miller, eds., The Viennese Café and Fin-de-Siècle Culture. Austrian and Hapsburg Studies 16. New York: Berghahn, 2013. 244 pp.

The purpose of this highly interesting volume is to bring forth various areas of research and mutually to provide information regarding the café culture of Central Europe. The impetus for this “coming together” was twofold: the exhibition Vienna Café 1900, held in 1980 in Vienna, and the Viennese Café as an Urban Site of Cultural Exchange conference, which took place in 2008 in London. The eleven essays that make up this volume do not disappoint; in fact, each one shows the reader that a great deal of research been done in the area of café culture, but also that there remains more work to be pursued, especially in the realm of the former Habsburg lands.

The essays in this work discuss topics that delve deeply into café culture, from the importance of space, to the fin-de-siècle era and the radical changes in the personality of the café, to the presence of the Yiddish language in the intellectual atmosphere, to design and conversational stimuli. Indeed, the discussion topics make up a highly intricate and complex mix of the philosophy, history, and psychology involved in the emergence of the café culture from the 1870s through the fin-de-siècle era. The café became a site for the birth of urban modernity (1) and, in a society such as Vienna’s, where free speech and freedom of association was strictly regulated, it loosend the inhibitions of the Viennese citizens. The enclosed area of the café, the ability to mix with one’s social level, the sharing of ideas, and the pursuit of literary activity were all stimulated by the relaxed, off - the- street atmosphere of the café. Thus was born the age of Viennese modernism, resulting not only in great literature but [End Page 117] also in the discovery of writers and artists whose activity might not have been known had the café been a restrictive and less intellectually friendly entity. In Gilbert Carr’s essay, the importance of the Café Griensteidl cannot be denied, for it became “a magnet for ‘politicians, non-politicians, jurists, and philosophers, scholars reticent and loud, citizens from all districts’ to play, read or to debate current affairs” (34). In the essay by Steven Beller, the work Die Tante Jolesch by Friedrich Torberg is used to discuss the link between the Jews and the modern Viennese coffeehouse. The original Café Griensteidl was, as a matter of fact, a gathering spot for Jewish intellectuals from 1848 until the cafe’s démolition in 1897. In the Café Central and Café Herrenhof, Beller states that “the cast of characters, while not exclusively Jewish, was predominantly so” (53). Beller questions why Jews would feel an affinity for the coffeehouse and concludes that “the coffeehouse was completely reliant on the sort of international trade in exotic, colonial goods that Jews were also associated with, and coffee’s centrality to Viennese consumer culture thus reflected a globalisation, or exoticisation of European culture […] that paralleled the rise of tea in British consumer culture” (53). Schachar Pinsker investigates the “Jewish character” of the Viennese, Berlin, and Lemberg cafés and questions whether it is possible to define and identify their Jewishness. He states that the Jewish link to the café was the result of “the encounter with the big city and with the disorienting pulse of metropolitan life” (83). Thus, the café became a refuge for those who could relate in experience, language, and culture and at the same time share intellectual creativity. Pinsker states that the “flowering enclave of Hebrew and Yiddish modernism in Vienna gave us many literary representations of the cityscape and its cafés” (87). Torberg’s work again serves as a point of departure for Tag Gronberg’s essay; however, he refers back to Kolschitzky’s influence on café culture, the defeat of the Turks in 1683, and the introduction of coffee...


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pp. 117-119
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