Helena attends one of Vienna’s state run bilingual primary schools and the system also operates at the middle/senior school and kindergarten levels. Morning drop-off and afternoon pick up finds an interesting mix of German and English being spoken by parents and children at the school gate and the surrounding streets. It’s noticeable how conversations will switch between the two languages, especially amongst the children.
I rather like the website statement regarding this approach to education: ‘To prevent language from being an obstacle between people – that is why there is ‘Vienna Bilingual School’. In these schools’ bilingual classes comprise a 50/50 split of native English and German speaking children. All the children study the same Austrian curriculum and work with a combination of Austrian and native English speaking teachers.
For Helena school starts at 8am and finishes at 1pm, after which she settles down to between an hour to two hours home work each day. She usually heads off to her room with the announcement of whether she has home work in English and/or German (and Maths) today.
On a personal level Helena generally operates in German with her friends and class mates at school, unless the ‘cool’ kid happens to be an English speaker. Given that Helena has always been brought up to be bilingual the two language environment has been less of a shock to her than the difference in the approach between the English and Austrian teaching systems. Of course Romana regularly notes that this bilingual environment would be so much more enriched if I got on with learning German….a saga I think for another day.
So this Saturday morning Schopenhauer in the 18th District became the first stop on the quest for my perfect Viennese Coffeehouse. Entering this large L shaped venue it immediately scored points with me for its space, layout and décor. Romana and I had just done some light shopping in the local street market where we had found some lovely cheeses and fresh bread. The cheese seller had been happy to try out his English on me and as often happens did not at first realise that Romana was Viennese rather than English.
We found a nice corner booth in which to sit and received a friendly welcome from the waitress. In addition to coffee and cakes, the menu offered various breakfast options or you could help yourself to the breakfast buffet. The coffee was enjoyable and we settled down to the bright and comfortable atmosphere. An added bonus was the free internet access which allowed me to make use of my iPhone (which is still English and so I try not to use outside of the house or free hotspots). After uploading a few pictures and comments I received a few replies’ from friends and some light abuse from one friend who would clearly have wished to swap places for the morning.
We were joined after about half an hour by Charly and Regina who live locally. Their arrival was a wonderful excuse (if one was needed) to order some more coffee and to settle down to a morning of catching up and generally chit-chat. Importantly, Charly and I discussed the prospects for Austria Wien this season, dates for home games we would attend in the second half of the season, as well as debating the merits and use of technology to resolve controversial decisions in matches. Throughout our morning conversations the staff at Schopenhauser kept us supplied with drinks and provided excellent service.
As the morning crossed over into the afternoon the coffeehouse had become busier and yet its space and light never made the atmosphere anything less than relaxed and enjoyable. I noted that some of the children were using the toys and space made available to them and seemed to be as happy as the adults. The gradual increase in customers coincided nicely with the equally gradual increase in staff which meant that the level and quality of service remained as good as when we entered.
The Schopenhauer provided the setting for a relaxing morning with friends. As the start of my quest it set a high standard for other coffeehouses to meet.
Coffee Houses are one of those things closely associated with people’s image of Vienna. Over the years I’ve always tried to find space, during my trips to the city, to spend at least a little time in one or more such establishments. Now I’ve moved back to Vienna, I intend to set myself the enjoyable quest of finding my perfect Coffee House(s). Over the coming months I’ll amble through different districts seeking out places new and old to find that perfect blend of coffee, strudel, atmosphere, service and welcome.
Now I’ve long been a fan of Meinl coffee and will have to try to avoid undue biased if my search for the perfect Coffee House is to be a success. My preference for Meinl coffee has been sufficiently strong that whilst living in England, over the last four years, I have only run out of this preferred blend once.
The Viennese coffee house tradition originates from the end of the 2nd Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683. The fleeing Turks left behind a range of valuables including sacks of coffee beans which were (it seems) used by a knowledgeable entrepreneur to establish the Coffee House tradition. The first formal Coffee House, however, was opened the Greek Johannes Theodat in 1685. By the year 1900 there were approximately 600 Coffee Houses in the City, alas today economic pressures mean there are far fewer true Coffee Houses.