Hietzing: Graceful Living Remuddled
Grätzl (Viennese dialect) a neighbourhood in Vienna contained by subjective boundaries and a coherent identity
One day, just as I was passing the noble portal of Plachutta’s legendary Hietzinger Bräu, an exotic figure emerged with his entourage.
"Why, it’s DJ Ötzi!" exclaimed my female companion excitedly. "Wow!" I said, not having the slightest idea who DJ Ötzi might be, but not wishing to appear uncool. Evidently the occasional bunte Vogel may yet be sighted in the 13th Bezirk, as in years past when cameras rolled at a film studio nearby, or the further past, when Ferdinand Raimund strutted his stuff at the long demolished Hietzinger Theater.
But that is emphatically not what solid, bourgeois Hietzing is about today. Nor is DJ Ötzi the typical Stammgast at Hietzinger Bräu, the carnivore’s temple whose elegance recalls the lamented Zu den drei Husaren in the Inner City in its halcyon days.
The conservatism, mirrored in Plachutta’s signature dish of Emperor Franz Joseph’s favourite Tafelspitz, is entirely appropriate to Hietzing which, after all, borders on the park of Schönbrunn. Its turn of the century inhabitants included the actress and imperial companion Katharina Schratt, who lived only a short walk away (Gloriettegasse 9). Other satellites of the imperial circle also took up residence here, notably the senior bureaucrats whose elegant residences stretch into the Hietzing hinterland.
Artists, musicians and the media
The "new" (1787) Hietzinger Friedhof bears witness also to cultural icons like Alban Berg, Otto Wagner, Fanny Elßler, Franz Grillparzer, and industrialists who have favoured leafy Hietzing in the past. Architectural buffs may spend a rewarding day tracking down their elegant Secessionist villas designed by Josef Plecnik, Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos. The most celebrated is surely Hoffmann’s fine Villa Skywa-Primavesi (1913 – Gloriettegasse 18), built, says Architektur Wien, "at the high, and simultaneously end, point of the Viennese style of cultivated living."
Politically too, Hietzing remains (like the Altstadt) conservative, an oasis of the ÖVP in a Socialist city. Tradition reigns at the lovely Café Dommayer, where Johann Strauss Jr. made his wildly successful debut on the music scene. Today it belongs to the upmarket Oberlaa chain of Konditoreien, but its idiosyncrasies remain: The international newspapers still hang near the entrance, the velvet benches are soft, the niches cosy. But they have upgraded the sticky cakes and extended the garden at the rear. The clientele is sprinkled with ORF journalists descending from their fiefdom on Küniglberg, but otherwise few Promis (celebs), all served by staff whose dignified courtesy stands in stark contrast to the vulgar mateyness of a London coffee shop.
No doubt the tranquil villas and noble apartments in residential Hietzing were deemed conducive to reflection and creativity. Gustav Klimt rented a small house at Feldmühlgasse 11 that was his studio between 1911 and his death in 1918. Here he would start the day’s work after a notorious breakfast that included a pint of cream from the Schönbrunn dairy, not exactly calculated to prolong life. Of the paintings created in this atelier, the landscape Litzlberg am Attersee (done from sketches after his annual Sommerfrische) sold in New York in 2011 for $40 million. It was also thanks to Klimt that the young Egon Schiele rented a studio at Hietzinger Hauptstrasse 101 in 1912, only four blocks away. This autumn, the restored Klimt villa will reopen to the public 30 Sept.
The Emperor and new clothes
Hietzing village is the retail and service centre of the neighbourhood at the west end of Schönbrunn Park, which, with its museums, Orangerie, Tiergarten (zoo) and Palmenhaus is a universe unto itself. And overlooking the park gates stands the neo-baroque Parkhotel Schönbrunn, built in 1907. Thomas Edison stayed here in 1911 during his European tour, promoting his inventions. Later came the stars from the Maxingstrasse film studio, making the hotel’s "Film Ball" a highlight of the season.
Sadly, traffic streams and tram routes have ruined Hietzing’s architectural cohesion, not improved by the ugly Ekazent shopping centre (1965), the hideous glass and metal extensions to the Parkhotel and adjacent boutiques, the worst of '60s urban renewal. Many a Hietzinger claims this was the revenge of the Socialists. Still, the shopping centre houses one of Vienna’s increasingly rare bookshops, a CD shop with a good line in classics and curiosities, an organic food joint, and a Radatz doing a roaring trade in pensioners’ lunches.
Alternative medicine is big as is everything organic, and (perhaps significantly) there are two distributors for hearing aids doing brisk business in the High Street.
The young head to the trendy Mario, Plachutta junior’s Italian locale, where a laid-back younger set toy with their iPhones while nibbling over a breakfast of farmer’s cheese and fruit salad. For the trencherman, however, the marvellous Brandauer’s Schlossbräu, formerly a Biedermeier dance hall, serves the best spareribs in town under the chestnut trees of its gemütlicher Biergarten.
And don’t forget the delightful Hietzinger Pfarrkirche, a late 17th century Baroque gem incorporating the ruined core of an earlier Gothic church destroyed by Turkish and Hungarian incursions. Am Platz, north of the church, is a statue of the ill-fated Maximilian, Franz Joseph’s talented and frustrated younger brother who accepted the crown of Mexico, only to be slaughtered by his intended subjects in 1867.
Just as Hietzing once swam in the imperial orbit of Schönbrunn, so Maximilian swam, and sank, in the orbit of the European dynasties that lost interest in the imperial adventure on which they had sent him.