Karmeliterviertel – No Mazzes is an Island
(Viennese dialect) a neighbourhood in Vienna contained by subjective boundaries and a coherent identity
Just over the Danube Canal from Schottenring, the Karmeliterviertel in the second district is sandwiched between the Canal and the Augarten, loosely carved out between Taborstraße and Obere Augartenstraße, a tangle of curvy, one-way streets. Over the last decade, more and more addresses in Leopoldstadt want to be counted as part of this Grätzl. Formerly a "problem neighborhood," today’s Karmeliterviertel has become more international, more sophisticated and more beautiful. All this without losing its old-school Viennese charm: a BoBo’s dreamland.
The history is a lot less pleasant. The Grätzl was named after the popular Karmeliter Market, named for the Karmeliter Church, which is all that remains of a vast Monestary whose wall surrounded the area from today’s Karmeliterplatz to Tandelmarktgasse, with fields and orchards stretching to the Danube beyond.
In the 1600s, the vicinity north of the monestary was the Judenstadt (Jew City), a ghetto made for the Viennese Jews who had been "relocated" from their community centre in Himmelpfortgasse, within the city walls. The violence against Jews continued to grow, peaking in 1670, when Emperor Leopold I banished them from the city altogether.
Still they gradually came back, establishing the quarter’s Jewish character over two centuries, earning it the name Mazzes Insel, after the traditional Jewish bread. Then, on 9 Nov. 1938, the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass) saw the majority of Jewish residents driven out or killed.
After the war, Jewish families gradually returned, including many Orthodox Jews, especially from Eastern Europe – if only for the infrastructure, which offers Jewish community centres, Hebrew schools, a Rabbinical School and kosher food stores.
Today, they have been joined by international artists, politicians, young families and the well-meaning BoBos, the Bourgeois Bohemians whose taste and ready cash are helping fuel the revival.
On Fridays and Saturdays religious families flock to Shabbat services at the neighbouring temples or cross the bridge to Vienna’s largest synagogue on Seitenstettengasse. And everyone else heads for the Karmelitermarkt.
From pheasant eggs and goat cheese, to walnut bread and asparagus-ham, the farmer’s market whets the appetite, especially the "Slow-Food Corner" with seasonal regional organic products. Saturday morning is a nibbler’s prime time; tasting is always welcome.
During the week, there is still a lot going on: From flower shops to fruit stands, the shops on the market are thriving. After construction on an underground parking garage was completed in 2000, the market has slowly come back to life. Staples like the Gasthaus Marktachterl have gotten much-needed makeovers (see restaurant review in October 2011 issue), and other gems are shining, like Madiani, where the Georgian menu and neighbourly service make you feel immediately welcome. On an evening with live music, try the pomegranate and bean salad or khartscho, a beef ragout with walnuts.
The newest favorite is Tewa (meaning "nature" in Hebrew; see photo), sister of the Naschmarkt restaurant, with a reasonably priced Middle-Eastern menu and a laid-back atmosphere for drinks with friends or coffee after slow-food shopping.
One Way Streets
First off: this Grätzl is best experienced on foot. If you are sporting wheels, a Fiaker, even a tricycle, beware of the (sometimes cycle-mounted) police. Walking from the market on Haidgasse, you’ll run into one of the most hidden attractions of the Viertel, the Wiener Kriminalmuseum (Vienna Museum of Crime). A mecca for the morbid, this place – ranging from medieval torture to modern-day homicide – is way beyond the TV series CSI.
Continuing to Taborstraße, across the street you’ll find Lhotsky’s Literaturbuffet, a cafe-bookstore serving a select assortment of fiction, and non-fiction, including neighbourhood memoirs and guides, as well as excellent coffee and snacks.
Down Taborstraße, outbound, turn left onto Grosse Pfarrgasse. Past the Leopoldskirche, built on the foundations of a 17th-century synagogue, the restaurant Leopold is a warm beacon on a dark night. The high ceilings, good food and clean décor are inviting, but more private than the alternatives around the market.
Taking a right onto Grosse Sperlgasse, discover Café Sperlhof, a living room away from home. It features billiards, board games, cards, dice, a foosball table, chess, table tennis, backgammon and a daily book flea market. And an "extra" room you can book for free.
Following Grosse Sperlgasse further you reach the Augarten. This back yard to the entire Grätzl is where young families, panting joggers, groups of grandmothers laughing behind headscarves, old men playing boule, picnickers and lovers take their time, find serenity.
After all this walking, it’s time for one of the best inside scoops of the Karmeliterviertel. At Dianabad, the real steal are the saunas. Professionals offer special treatments with salt, honey or yogurt – the perfect way to wind down after Karmeliter-combing.
Perhaps it’s the bustle at the Market, the proximity to the centre, or just the charming maze of one-way streets that make you glad not to need a car. Something about the mix of international, interrcultural, of old and new, the artists, musicians, brings out the real feeling of a neighbourhood – a definitive Grätzl.
Augarten, Main entrance on
Café Sperlhof:Grosse Sperlgasse 41
Dianabad: Lilienbrunngasse 7–9
Kriminalmuseum: Grosse Sperlgasse 24
Leopold, Grosse Pfarrgasse 11
(01) 218 22 81
Lohtsky’s: Taborstraße 28
Madiani: Karmelitermarkt 21–24
Tewa: Karmelitermarkt 26–32