Wallenstein Viertel: The Roaring 20th
Grätzl (Viennese dialect) a neighbourhood in Vienna contained by subjective boundaries and a coherent identity
The reason you haven’t heard much about the 20th District is probably because they’re trying to keep it a secret! Unlike the trendy Naschmarkt, Karmelitermarkt or Schleifmühlgasse, abounding with hob-nobbers and the übercool, this is a place that doesn’t like to call itself a "hub" of any sort.
Tame, but not tired, marked by the gentle curves of the Danube Canal to the south and the comforting green retreat of the Augarten park to the north, the Wallenstein Viertel unfolds, as the summer does, and welcomes visitors to discover multiculturalism in all its splendour.
Foreigners at home
According to a 2008 Statistik Austria report, 27.1% of the district’s population is foreign-born, the fourth highest percentage in Vienna.
Among "Merhaba," "Buna Ziua," "Zdravo" and the occasional "Grüß Gott," you will have to adapt to the new rules of the game and keep an open mind (and arguably a securely closed bag), as you make your way across the Brigittenauer Lände onto Wallensteinstraße for an overflow of "Special Offers" on possibly the kitschiest dresses you have ever seen on display. Try to resist the urge to make unnecessary purchases for now, hard as it may be amongst hard-headed touts beckoning in the doorway, and take a left on to Jägerstraße.
Just a few blocks down, the Hannovermarkt unfolds its plentiful stands and welcomes with open jars – literally. A taste of pretty much anything you could want, from baked goods to fresh fruit, herbs or exotic sweets, will cost you no more than a smile. Reasonably priced and fiercely diverse, the market counts primarily on its regulars, as the tall and dark-moustached Turkish businessman Orhan assures me. "This is a flourishing community, after all," he said with a hint of school-boy humour.
Across the street, the Roman Catholic Brigitta Church stands tall as a symbol of what once was: Built in 1874 in the Neo Gothic style, the church pays homage to the Swedish national Saint Brigitta (1303–1373), benefactress of a women’s religious order and protector of Christianity. Now, 100-plus years later, with Muslims at 14.1% and 8.4% Eastern Orthodox living in the district today, the church increasingly becomes a monument of another time.
Frame, Hacienda Ephemer, Shelter
On the opposite side of Jägerstraße, walking back, the road blooms into the spacious square of Wallensteinplatz. Here time seems to have stood still, and suddenly, everything looks inviting.
Opt for the unprepossessing, but wonderfully aloof Café Frame, just down to the right. Kaffeehaus by day and party Lokal by night, Frame is home to an eclectic mixture of eccentrics, artists and weirdos that Vienna does so well. The atmosphere alone, if not the photography on display or Kaiserspritzer (wine, sparkling water and elderflower syrup) in hand, is worth lingering for.
Head down a couple of metres and change the pace with some Mexican spice: Hacienda Ephemer, a classy and relatively inexpensive lounge version of a good restaurant, offers real-deal quesadillas, fajitas and burritos and another potential premature ending to the evening (if you’re into South American electro beats and decide to go with the good vibes and stay for "one more").
As dusk approaches, the infamous nightclub Shelter comes to life, just across the street. It is a haven for punk rockers and heavy metal enthusiasts, and one of the best little known live-act venues in town. Scruffy, grungy and at times rousing a real rumpus, it might not be your thing – unless you have a predilection for half-naked, long-haired guitarists, but it is still well worth checking out as one of Vienna’s real underground hot spots.
The alternatives: upscale or exotic
Should you decide on a more upscale dining experience, continue to Mraz&Sohn (see "Mraz&Sohn: A Journey from Fear to Fascination", TVR Dec/Jan 2011) on Wallensteinstraße and prepare to have your senses tickled by one of the most exclusive (and pricey!) eateries around. The shaded Schanigarten is rustic and beautiful, with vines growing up the courtyard’s brick walls, a great choice for a hidden candlelight dinner.
Not far away, along the tram tracks leading to Praterstern, you’ll find Vienna’s Little Thailand if it has one: Thai Lotus and Siri’s Thai Haus. Both are family businesses, both proud of serving "real Thai cuisine". Perhaps slightly overpriced by Thai standards, you will not be able to order a Pad Thai (shrimp fried noodles) for €0.30 as in Bangkok. However, the flavours are authentic and the service notably friendly.
Regardless of where you go in the Brigittenauer Viertel, you will find something that suits you. The district’s true flair lies in the multitude of choices, cultural and otherwise.
Being adventurous in Vienna doesn’t happen in the safe passageways leading to and from the palaces or on the cobble-stone streets of the 1st District, but in the back alleys of districts like the 20th, where new collisions of cultures continue to shape the city’s future and create what we now like to call our multi-faceted, inclusive and particularly diverse hometown. A "many-peopled-land" for a new era.
Frame: Jägerstraße 28
No website available, 0699 1166 7945
Hacienda Ephemer: Jägerstraße 28/1
(01) 925 05 42
Shelter: Wallensteinplatz 8
0650 660 6665
Mraz&Sohn: Wallensteinstraße 59
(01) 330 45 94
Thai Lotus: Rauscherstraße 15
(01) 276 25 49
Siri’s Thai Haus; Jägerstraße 38