Dining and Discussion Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations

Imagine dinner with a stranger and a menu of questions that invites conversation...

Services | Eugene Quinn | March 2013

Locals get paired off with outsiders for a new kind of conversation (Photo: space and place)

In his book An Intimate History of Humanity, British philosopher Theodore Zeldin explores world history through how people have related to each other in different cultures and at different times. Especially men and women. With the aim of being a "catalyst for conversation", Zeldin developed 25 questions that would lead to self-revelation and thus more trust between people.

Those 25 questions are now set to come alive here in Vienna, with a series of experimental encounters, starting this month: These Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations aim to revive the spirit of lively debate, which made the best cafés buzz with energy 100 years ago.


The speed-dating treatment

After a quick introduction to the concept, participants will be paired off – one Viennese and one outsider – for fine regional food and two hours of fresh perspectives and an exchange of ideas. We have selected contrasting coffeehouses to reflect the range of the city. The 114-year old Café Museum is cosy and tradition rich, once the hangout of Gustav Klimt and Otto Wagner. The Café am Heumarkt is a more bohemian haunt, with a Wiener edge to it.

Sample questions: 1) What did you rebel against in your youth, and what are you rebelling against now? 2) How important are money or respect to you? 3) Which different kinds of love have you known?

At the end of the meal, all participants are welcome to stand up and join for a looser chat. Organisers hope some new connections of like-minded people will be formed, from across the city and beyond.


Forging tolerance

At a time of populist Austrian politicians making headlines about intolerance, the Coffeehouse Conversations aim to send out another message from Vienna, about the openness and curiosity residents have for people from around the world. Here the Viennese will be sitting down with foreigners for dinner as 21st century politics. The project has attracted coverage in The New York Times, The Guardian and Condé Nast Traveller, as an innovative way to open up Vienna to the world.

Readers of The Vienna Review can choose whether to be "Viennese" – and thus ‘represent’ the city and sit with a visitor, or as an outsider with the chance to meet a local. The "visitors" are broadly defined to include musicians, conference attendees, diplomats and general cultural travellers.

The first Vienna Coffeehouse Conversation takes place 9 March at Cafe Museum, and then monthly thereafter.

To register: spaceandplace.at/vienna-coffeehouse-conversations/


Eugene Quinn is a frequent contributor to The Vienna Review and a co-founder of the urban events project space and place, which with the city guide Vienna Unwrapped is co-sponsor of the Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations.  


Other articles from this issue