The Oxford historians' discovery of Vienna

Coffee Culture in the 10th District

When I first arrived in Vienna, I was warned by well-meaning locals to keep away from the 10th district, an area wrought with crime and beset with danger. I later worked out that “crime” in Austria means something very different from “crime” in the U.S., for example. Austrians generally don’t think of crime in terms of violent crime, which is extremely rare compared to that of almost any other big city – and even many small towns in America. The dangers that beset you are mainly along the lines of a stolen purse. Even that hasn’t happened to me personally or to anyone I know, but I accept that it does happen.

The Cafe Pascucci in Columbus Platz.

So, one day I ventured into this Viennese Bronx. Clearly, the 10th district is far from the magnificence and opulence of old, imperial Vienna. Equally clearly, it’s not going to provide any of the excitements of a gangster movie. The main pedestrian street that cuts across the district with its benches, on which men and women, most of them originally from the Balkans, sit and idly chat, creates a rather sleepy atmosphere. On the one side of the street there are women mostly of Turkish origin, the older ones wearing headscarves, on the other side, girls from Serbia and Bulgaria are parading their mini-skirts and high heels. It almost looks like one half of the street has stolen the clothes of the other half. Apart from that, the only obvious difference from the more upscale parts of Vienna is the better quality of the kebap (the “Pasha” has the best kebap in town).

Yemeni coffee-house in the 10th district, Vienna

When I ordered my coffee in the Café Pascucci in Columbus Platz, the square in the pedestrian Favoritenstrasse, I didn’t feel beset by any real or imagined dangers. I felt in a place where Turks and Eastern Europeans had imposed their presence in all sorts of small ways, which have traditionally made Vienna a multicultural city and a melting pot of the East and West. The recently opened Yemeni café in Leibnizstraße, which serves real Turkish coffee, prepared in metal pots, reminds one that coffee itself is the result of the contacts between the East and the West.

According to legend, after the defeat of the Ottomans at Vienna in 1683 by a combined force led by Jan Sobieski of Poland (the Austrian Emperor Leopold I had, remarkably, fled the city and was waiting, at a safe distance, to see if the Polish King would save his capital) in what has been described as one of the most decisive battles of European history, the retreating Turkish army left many of its treasures behind. Among the rest were several sacks of coffee, an Oriental product that was to have a glorious history in the West.

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