Cafe Louvre was famous as the hangout in Vienna for foreign correspondents during most of the 1920s and all of the 1930s. When you read their memoirs, you find that it was a place where some of the city's most interesting people met and where news of the Balkans and Central Europe was written.
Though Cafe Louvre no longer exists and memory of it has faded, I can imagine what it looked like in its heyday. And from accounts by the journalists who frequented the cafe during the inter-war years, I can envision what would occurred there in the evenings.
|Reading and working at Cafe Hawelka|
When I was a customer of Cafe Hawelka in 1967-68 and 1970-71, it was a wood-paneled, no-frills hangout for Viennese intellectuals and students. There, you would find a combination of well-dressed older gentlemen and casually dressed students sitting in booths or on rickety chairs at small, round tables, puffing on cigarettes while reading newspapers or talking. It was at this smoke-filled and crowded cafe in November 1971 that I had a potential girlfriend -- a blond beauty from Arkansas visiting Vienna -- stolen by an Austrian student who looked meaningfully into her eyes as he translated into English the final words of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, which she and I had just heard at the Musikverein. She was lost before the last "...ewig...ewig..."
Stammkunden Mitzi (left) and Joerg
Wollman (center) at Gasthaus
Heidenkummer in a recent year;
the Gasthaus is now more upscale
than in 1971-1972.
Heidenkummer was located around the corner from where I lived on Laudongasse during the 1971-72 academic year. The Wollmann family, from whom I rented a room in their large flat, were stammkunden, long-time and frequent customers, of this modest restaurant with wooden tables, chairs, booths, and walls. It offered solid food and good portions at a reasonable cost, and it was in no way pretentious in its furnishings or decorations. I went often enough to Heidenkummer with Joerg Wollmann -- a young graphic artist who worked at home -- and his wife Mitzi -- a school teacher -- that Willi, the head water, came to sometimes acknowledge my existence, which I considered quite an accomplishment.
Assuming the feel and ambiance of Cafe Louvre in the '20s and 30s resembled that of Hawelka and Heidenkummer in the late 60s and early 70s, I would expect it to be comfortable, well-kept place in which customers felt at home. The waiters would be courteous and efficient, possibly a little condescending to visitors. The chairs and booths would not be especially comfortable, and the air would be polluted with ubiquitous cigarette smoke. At this cafe, I could order not only coffee, but also beer, wine, and hard liquor. To eat, I could request a pastry such as a delicious apple strudel, or I could have soup or even a full meal. We know from Joseph Baird, a journalist who visited Cafe Louvre in the 1930s, that Cafe Louvre's head waiter was Gustav and he "could produce marvelous schnitzel for a mere two marks." Who could pass that up?
Although I have found only two pictures of Cafe Louvre (one of the interior in 1896), some information exists about how it looked. Ken Cuthbertson, the biographer of journalist John Gunther, a regular guest there from 1930 to 1935, described the cafe thusly: "The interior was typical. It was spacious, with about forty marble-topped tables and violin-backed chairs in the center of the high-ceilinged room. Along one wall were booths, finished in dark brocades. Along another were a buffet of snacks and pastries and some rattan racks holding the day's newspapers...." [Cuthbertson, Inside: The Biography of John Gunther, 1992, p.108] This set-up sounds similar to the one I remember at Cafe Hawelka.
When famous authors William Shirer (Berlin Diary and Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) and John Gunther (Inside Europe) were reporting from Vienna, they were regulars at Cafe Louvre. It is thanks to Gunther that we know as much as we do about the role of Cafe Louvre in the lives of foreign journalists in Vienna during the 1930s. He wrote a 1935 Harper's Magazine article ("Dateline Vienna") about the daily life of a foreign journalist in Vienna, plus he described this life in detail in his fictional, but largely autobiographic novel, The Lost City. He wrote this novel in 1937, but because of his portrayal of some of his Vienna colleagues, lawyers who reviewed the book concluded that it was libelous. It was first published in 1964.