Siebensternviertel: Community by Design
In early 20th-century Vienna, Secession artists met in the coffeehouses like Sperl or Café Museum near Karlsplatz; in the early 21st century, Vienna’s artistic set can be found in the coffeehouses of the Siebensternviertel.
The neighbourhood had me seriously (for about five minutes) considering chopping my long hair to a face-framing bob like the ones around me. A lot of the area’s energy comes from places like 7stern Cafe, openly KPÖ (Austria’s Communist party) and a cultural centre for far-left politics.
But let me begin elsewhere, as I trace out a walking tour of this unique Viertel’s most memorable destinations.
All things bright and bobo
From the Volkstheater U-Bahn, walk up Burggasse to Das Möbel, a café that doubles as design showroom for contemporary furniture and lighting. If you have a bit more cash than the Ikea minimum, stop by here for interesting lights, chairs, benches and storage units. Or just sit under one of the potted trees and people-watch, while you nurse a Mélange or one of their excellent beers.
Next, head up Breite Gasse to Carina e Vincenzo Concept Store. A mere six months old, the shop is a boutique-sized luxury department store: Daniele Fiesoli’s menswear, shoes by Ishikawa, vintage armchairs, Swedish make-up, Italian wines and olive oils, and my favorite – the sexily classic and unfussy women’s line by Erika Cavallini Semi-Couture.
Turn right up Siebensterngasse and drop in at Stress Deponie and browse their selection of bath products from Pangea Organics or schedule a Pilates class or Ayurveda massage.
Continue on to Die Kunstwerkstatt, an eclectic artist co-operative with products ranging from beaded necklaces in the mid-€200 range to small paintings for €30. (My purchase: a toddler t-shirt that says in German (and German script), "I ate the big, bad wolf.")
Further up is Casa México, where you can answer all your Tex-Mex and Mexican culinary cravings. From queso fresco to nopalito cactus to Cholula salsa picante – not to mention the imported beer and liquor – they have the makings for great dinner parties. Plus they have piñatas, of which there are never enough!
Dishing up design
Take a little rest at Café 7stern or my go-to café in the area, Café Nil, a North African-styled place with light Mediterranean offerings, a breezy, mirrored, green design scheme, and (closest to my heart) sugar-free Afri-Cola.
If you’re young (or youthfully hip) stop by District 7 for t-shirts and streetwear, or simply to admire the tiny shop’s massive black-and-white murals. Wiener Konfektion offers locally designed, relaxed looks that seem to get better by the season. In the Spring/Summer 2013 collection, I’m tempted by a knee-length dress (in the upper €100 range) with a Japanese-inspired band of lace around the lower ribs. Very "sexy-demure".
Ina Kent may well be the most interesting bag designer in Austria. That I would fall head over heels for a shoulder bag in a leather called "metallic anthra", is shocking. Yet there I was, face to face with a bag that paired the femme with
the tough. And I wanted it. Next spare €170, I’ll head to Ina Kent.
I’ve seen bookshops organised by genre, author’s last name, nationality, language, even price. But Salon für Kunstbuch is the first I’ve seen organised by colour. All the black-covered books are together. The fuchsia books have their bookshelf. Same with green, white, and so on.
Brainchild of video artist Bernhard Cella (check him out on YouTube), the grey-walled shop is itself an exhibition. The shifting and growing archive includes academic critical theory, valuable collectable books and the accordion-style you sometimes find in small galleries. A whimsical limited edition Hannah Hoch captured my interest, as did a cookbook that unhinged the traditional format. Instead of a photo of carp ragout next to the given recipe, it featured a vintage illustration of tigers at play framed by a cutout of teeming fish.
Hidden treats and treasures
Across the street, peek in the celebrated organic and vegetarian lunch destination Naturkost St. Joseph. The place makes healthful cuisine so easy, you might end up lunching there daily, meeting the other regulars, and showing off your bathing-suit figure by summer.
Stroll on the boutique-rich Zollergasse (the Danish clothing store Wood Wood is a highlight) to the block just before Mariahilferstraße. There, you’ll find the ever-popular Café Europa. My only complaint is the name. Really, people, you come up with the buzzing-est café/bar in the 7th District, you do it up with bold paint, a wall of posters, driving music, sidewalk seating and window alcoves, even dancing late on Fridays – all this, and then you give it the most exhausted name on the continent? Still, the place fills up fast even on weeknights, so arrive early if you’re dining. Food-wise, start with either the coconut-pumpkin soup or the beet-chèvre salad.
At the end of my Siebensternviertel day – meeting people dedicated to innovative design – I felt supercharged by the creative possibilities still alive in the world. As Café Europa grew busier, the makers of culture jostled elbows at the bar. And even if they weren’t the "real" designers or artists of my imagination, they cared enough to look the part.
Which was good enough for me.
Carina e Vincenzo Concept Store
Breite Gasse 11
Naturkost St. Joseph