Am Kahlenberg: The Sky’s the Limit – Literally
Grätzl: (Viennese dialect) a neighbourhood in Vienna contained by subjective boundaries and a coherent identity
As a Grätzl, the Kahlenberg – the "Bald Mountain" that crowns the Wienerwald on Vienna’s western edge – is like no other. Of course at 484 metres it’s not really a mountain, even for the English, and laughably not by the standards of the Alps. That’s just Wiener Schmäh – a bit of ironic exaggeration typical of the Viennese. Still, it’s not so far from the emotional truth of the central place this little Hügellein holds in the hearts of the locals.
"There’s definitely a mysticism about the Kahlenberg," admitted Giuliana Schnitzler, an Austro-American who lives in the tiny village of Josefsdorf at the crest of the mountain. Maybe it’s the height (you know, thin air and all that), or some kind of kinetic energy from the quartz, marl and limestone in the layers underfoot.
The air up there
Or maybe it’s the good vibes emanating from little St. Josef’s Church, on the square, where for centuries, a Cameldulenser order of Benedictine monks lived and prayed under a vow of silence, in mystic harmony with powers natural and otherwise. And – best vibes of all – it was from this site on 12 September 1683 that the Polish King Jan Sobiesky charged down the hillside with his army of horse soldiers to defeat the Ottoman Turks who had again laid siege to the city.
We started our walk at the flagstone look-out that lies between the Terrace Kahlenberg restaurant in the Modul University building to the right and the coffee shop in the Suite Hotel Kahlenberg to the left – all part of the 2007 reconstruction of the crumbling 1930s-era hotel that had previously occupied the spot. The current buildings are handsome and high polish, offering stunning views out over the valley from the restaurant windows and terraces and the elegant hotel suites.
And for us foot soldiers, there is quite a generous stretch between, served by a surprisingly pleasant Coffee to Go, that spills outside onto comfy wicker under broad red umbrellas as shelter from the sun. The stylish Café-Restaurant Kahlenberg is an invitation to elegance, with a choice menu of local specialties with dashes of French and Italian, Fiakergulasch but also Hühnerroulade Florentin (chicken roll stuffed with paté and spinach). The breath-taking views make it popular for receptions and weddings, and the Sunday Jazz Brunches or Magic Shows are often sold out, so it’s important to reserve.
From the watchtower to the Heuriger
We headed off up the little climb that remained to the 1887 Stefaniewarte, the highest point on the Kahlenberg. This handsome brick fire tower, named for Rudolf’s Princess Stefanie, was the end station of the cog railway that had once brought day-trippers up the mountain, until the tracks were scrapped for the steel during World War I. In the summer months you can climb the 183-step spiral staircase for the ultimate view across the valley – tactfully ignoring the ghastly ORF broadcast tower behind it.
Cutting back through the woods you reach the Villenweg with its elegant villas perched along the mountainside; with breathtaking views down over the vineyards of Neustift am Walde below. One, chalet-style, was owned by a Swedish diplomat, a hunting lodge by some mysterious Russians no one ever saw, and a wondrous Art Deco construction designed by Gustav Eiffel owned (of course) by some Germans. Total population under 100 – but very international.
From here you can take the Kahlenbergerstrasse, which is more a path than a street that meanders down the mountain through the vineyards to a string of Heuriger. There’s the no-frills and most congenial Heuriger Hirt (Eisernenhandgasse 165) with views across to the Leopoldsberg, the gracious Sirbu (Kahlenbergerstraße 210) whose wide terrace has dramatic views across the valley, and turning off on Eichelhofweg the charming (though unpronounceable) Hajszan Buschenschank am Nussberg with wonderful big basket chairs and a superb Welschriesling from Weinbau Wiegel.
Back at the square, we approached the Imbiss Standl Sobietzky. Herr Slatner greeted us. "Was darf’s sein? Let me invite you!" he offered magnanimously. Pays to come with a local. I looked at the chalkboard. Glühwein? Perfect for the March chill... "Aber natürlich!" He beamed, and brought a perfect brew of hot mulled wine. So we toasted mug to beer, and ordered a hearty lunch of Schnitzel (her) and Debreziner (me) – all in all, surprisingly good.
Living above the city
So what’s it like to live atop the Magic Mountain? "Well, we don’t have a lot of neighbours," Guiliana said laughing. But they’re surrounded by legends, including the lore of their own ancient dwelling that dates from the last Turkish Siege, whose metre-thick walls and eccentric spaces became a house in 1980. Others became a villa for Princess Stefanie, that she didn’t want. "And Mozart wrote part of the Requiem in one over there," she said, waving vaguely behind me.
Then there was the day last spring when "thousands and thousands of people all dressed in white suddenly appeared at six o’clock in the morning" following the Brazilian faith healer John of God, alias João de Deus. "They arrived with tents and camped out for three days," Giuliana related, still amazed.
But the sun was waning, and a chill was in the air. Time to go. We settled the very modest bill, and I headed for the bus. Riding down, we passed the Hütte am Weg – the former Josefinenhütte – now "a cross between a Jagdhütte and 1001 Nights" Guiliana teased. Limited, select menu and relaxed atmosphere. And then the Schloss-Restaurant Cobenzl, another excellent look-out for a summer afternoon.
So much to do, so little time.
Café Restaurant Kahlenberg
Modul University Vienna
Hütte am Weg
(01) 320 39 75
(01) 320 39 75
(01) 43 32 059 28
Café Restaurant Cobenzl