Monday, July 14, 2014

The Vienna of Wittgenstein's Nephew

Frankfurt, July 14, 2014

"He would be sitting in the Sacher at ten in the morning in a white suit, in the Bräunerhof at half-past eleven in a gray stripped suit, in the Ambassador at half-past one in a black suit, and at half-past three in the afternoon he would be back at the Sacher, wearing a fawn suit."

Thomas Bernhard, "Wittgenstein's Nephew" (1982)

It seems hardly possible that anybody could follow the daily routine that Bernhard describes in such an exquisitely compact sentence. His eccentric character not only has to complete an elaborate cafe circuit in about six hours, but also go back home after each stop and change clothes. And all of it with the parsimony of Viennese tradition. But Vienna is perhaps the only city in world with that kind of dense urbanity. Particularly in the old center, its "Innere Stadt".

A few pages earlier in the novel, we learn that Paul Wittgenstein's apartment is "... in the Stallburggasse, diagonally opposite the Spanish Riding School" (Stallburg means "the stable of the palace".) From there it's only a few blocks to the Sacher hotel, most likely walking to the Neue Markt--the open space where Vienna's grain and flour market stood since the middle ages--and then either turn right immediately, or walk an extra short block to approach the Sacher from the main Kärtner Strasse. In either case, less than a ten-minute stroll.

Next is the Bräunerhof, right there on Stallburgasse. It is a wonderful place, but less formal than most Viennese traditional cafes--actually, Thomas Bernhard's favorite--and the change of attire registers this difference in character. Given the time, Paul may have stayed at the Bräunerhof for its delicious appfelstruddel, coming out of the oven around noon. Back to the apartment for another suit and a short walk to the Ambassador at the Neue Markt.

Then one last suit to end the afternoon back at the Sacher. All within 500 meters! Add another 200 meters in the opposite direction and you reach Knize, the most exclusive tailoring house, on the Graben (yes, that is the shop designed by Adolf Loos,) where Bernhard tells us that Paul's suits come from. Of course.

(Photo credit: Thomas Bernhard at the Cafe Bräunerhof, 1988, by Sepp Dreissinger.)