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IF THE WALLS COULD SPEAK – A SCHNITZEL WITH TURKISH INVADERS, BEETHOVEN, TWAIN AND JOHNNY CASH

Eating and sleeping are the only activities that should be allowed to interrupt a man’s enjoyment of his cigar. – Mark Twain

Print This Post Nestled amongst the cobblestones of the Vienna’s 1st district, beside the beautifully orange- and gold-tiled Greek Orthodox Church, is Vienna’s oldest tavern. 1350 (a whopping 665 years ago!) is the first documented date that the building is mentioned in Vienna city records when the place belonged to a knight commoner (yep – even knight status apparently has its hierarchies) by the name of Lienhart Poll. As early as 1447, the building was first used as a tavern which was named “Zum Gelben Adler” (To the Yellow Eagle).

Now let’s just stop here for a moment to appreciate the age of this place. The good old US of A is a

A look into the Griechenbeisl from outside

A look into the Griechenbeisl from outside

mere bubbling 239 years old. This place is almost 3 times older than that. Imagine! I know I’m a sucker for nostalgic tales but how can anyone resist wondering about the musings, confessions, sweet nothings, inspirations, gripes and debates these walls have witnessed while sheltering those who have passed through its doors from the harsh elements of fires, plagues, wars, and weather. Isn’t it cool to imagine?

Translated, the name “Griechenbeisl” means “Greek Tavern” but the Zwiebelrostbraten, Wiener Schnitzel and Tafelspitz you’ll find on the menu are all true Viennese specialties and have nothing to do with Greek food. The Greek in the tavern name refers to the Greek traders and merchants who liked to dine here in the 1800s.

The house came under attack twice when Turkish invaders attempted to seize Vienna (1529 and 1683). A remnant is still visible inside the tavern  — a cannonball from 1529 which was unearthed during renovation work in 1960 and remains stuck in the wall near the stairway at the entrance.

Former Guests of Griechenbeisl

Former guests of Griechenbeisl – Mozart’s signature is above the red label

Over the centuries, the tavern has expanded and along with it, the amount of rooms. Today there are eight dining rooms, each preserved in a different era and style. My personal favorite is the Twain room which you can request when making reservations (always make reservations before coming) but can be difficult to score since it is often reserved for private parties. The room is considered a historical monument and the ceiling is filled with the signatures of all the famous folks who have dined and drank within the walls. If you don’t land a lucky table in this amazing room, kindly ask your waiter if it is possible to have a look in. The waiters have long sticks that they can use to point out some of the better known guests. Historic guests include Beethoven, Mark Twain, Schubert, Wagner, Strauss, Count Zeppelin, Mozart, and Brahms to name a few. Then you have the more recent “promis” and these include, amongst others, Johnny Cash, Pavarotti, Barry Manilow, and Phil Colins.

Griechenbeisl Signatures in Mark Twain room

Griechenbeisl signatures in Mark Twain room

The guy who seems to be sleeping off his hangover in a cage in the floor at the entrance isn’t some sorry sap who failed to pay his beer tab. Well, then again, maybe he is.  But if you pause and listen, you might hear him whistling the song written in his honor and since sung by beer-mug-swinging admirers for decades– “Oh du lieber Augustin.” Supposedly he (Marx Augustin) sang and drank here in 1679. But he became famous because he was so intoxicated that when he fell into the pit dug out for the city’s plague victims, he simply made himself cozy and slept off his hangover (and you thought you woke up in some shocking places the morning after). We all know the amazing clensing powers inherent in an Austrian apricot Schnapps, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that good old Marx climbed out of the grave the next day and was fit for another round (and I’m not talking about the row-row-row-your-boat musical kind).

A dining room in the Griechenbeisl

A dining room in the Griechenbeisl

A meal in the Griechenbeisl will set you back — just for the main course — anywhere between 17 and 28 € depending on what you order. Granted, not cheap but this is no fast food joint and they do take plastic. Waiters decked out in suits and bow ties who can switch languages in a blink of an eye and actually correctly serve your Zweigelt in a decanter are bound to send your date’s heart aflutter. The menu is in German and English and you might even get some live music accompaniment from a zither for your meal (if you really want to show what a good guy you are, discreetly tip the zither player as you leave). The wine cellar is currently being renovated and sometime later this year, the restaurant plans to host wine tasting events. This isn’t Applebees or The Cheesecake Factory so leave your shorts and tennis shoes at home. Dressy casual is fine here but don’t expect to eat and run. Have an appetizer, have a Grüner Veltliner or Zweigelt, a Melange, a Schnapps and some very good Viennese food and then sit back and listen to the rustic tales of history and whisper to the walls some new ones of your own.

“Street” scene from a recent visit to the Griechenbeisl:
Conversation at a neighboring table filled with no less than ten older refined gentlemen and not one single lady.
Waiter: Ah! A round of just gentlemen!
One of the guests from the table: laughing Indeed! Tonight we left the ladies at home.
Waiter: I don’t believe a word of it. Tell the truth. You guys all got kicked out. Print This Post

Griechenbeisl: Fleischmarkt 11, 1010 Vienna (subway: U4 or U1 to Schwedenplatz)
Open daily from 11 am – 1 am (food service: 11:30 am – 11:30 pm)
Definitely call and reserve a table and try to score the Mark Twain room: +43 1 533 19 77

Griechenbeisl Wikipedia Entry

 

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Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts to Rock Me Amadeus

“In Berlin so many people are out walking, that you meet up with no one. In Vienna you meet up with so many people that no one is out walking.” – Karl Kraus (In Berlin gehen so viele Leute, dass man keinen trifft. In Wien trifft man so viele Leute, dass keine geht)

1)      Don’t mix up Australia and Austria

Don’t even joke about it. The joke’s just old. Older than a worn out record. Granted – if you made it the whole way here, you must realize you won’t be finding any koalas hanging out in the chestnut trees along Prater Allee. That being said, if you expect to receive any kind of mailing while here, be sure to advise the sender to write “EUROPE” in big bold letters across the bottom of the envelope. The kangaroo image Australian postal employees stamp onto Austrian mail that has detoured its way Downunder might be adorable evidence of the Aussie sense of humor but is little consolation for the extra month you will have to wait till your mail finally arrives.

 2)      Don’t Call Austrians Germans

Don’t. I’m not kidding. Austrians are touchy about this for many reasons but I think it is also similar to Canadians who are mistaken for US Americans and New Zealanders who are mistaken for Australians. It’s that big neighbor complex. Austrians speak Austrian German and would never be caught dead humming a hymn honoring Kaiser Wilhelm. They seem to feel an affinity towards that Bavarians but I suspect it has something to do with the shared love of Lederhosen.

Salzburg - Mozart's Birthplace

Salzburg – Mozart’s Birthplace

3)      Do Feel Free to Austrianize Beethoven 

Pasqualatihaus - Beethoven Residence in Vienna's 1st District

Pasqualatihaus – Beethoven Residence in Vienna’s 1st District

Beethoven was born in 1770 in Bonn, Germany but came to Austria to study under Mozart at age 17 but had to leave before he could begin his tutoring only to return in 1792 (aged 21) to study under Haydn. He then stayed in Vienna until he died in 1827. In Vienna, you can visit places he lived, played concerts, and hung out. Though he moved about 70 times while in Vienna to different places in the city, he considered Austria his “Wahlheimat” (chosen homeland). And between you and me, Mozart’s Austrian citizenship is disputable because he was from Salzburg, which was actually the independent Archbishopric of Salzburg from his birth 1756 until his death in 1791. But I strongly advise you to keep this our little secret. No one has to know. What good would it do to bring it up?

 4)      Don’t confuse the Von Trapps with the Brady Bunch

Yes, you might go to Mondsee and do the Sound of Music tour. And if you are feeling romantic, book yourself a room in Villa Trapp if you can navigate the supposedly English version of the their website that only appears in German and has no prices. Austrians might love raindrops on roses, Edelweis and Schnitzel but they won’t break out in a round of Do-Re-Mi at the first sight of the Untersberg Mountain. Most Austrians will have never seen The Sound of Music nor will they know anything about it. So if the Alps inspire you, Climb Every Mountain till your heart’s content but don’t expect the Austrians to join you in harmony.

 5)      Do mention Vienna’s High Quality of Life

Vienna Museum of Natural History

Vienna Museum of Natural History

In 2014, for the fifth consecutive year (!), Vienna ranked the world’s number one most livable city. Yeap! Number one, not two, not three, not four! And Viennese are rather humble about this but will definitely appreciate your knowing it. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101423558. Perhaps it is a good little secret like the second district and Karmelitermarkt once used to be.

 6)      Do mention soccer and beloved Austrian player, David Alaba

“How about that soccer game.” He plays as defender for Bayern, Munich, and the Austrian national soccer team. His charming smile is bound to disarm you just like his attacking prowess does his opponents. He stars on billboards, in commercials and all over the place. The Austrians LOVE their Alaba. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Alaba And if you know Hans Krankl and Cordoba, then you are really good and the Austrians will soon be buying you the beers.

 7)      Do Know the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra

Famous for a reason. The Austrians are understandably proud of their Viennese musicians. And in a place that has served as the breeding ground for centuries of musical talents, one would expect nothing less. Viennese audiences are notorious for their strict standards. Artistic pieces celebrated the world over often prove just good enough for the Viennese audience. And every New Year’s the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra rings in the New Year to a sold out house at the Musikverein in Vienna. Brush up on your concert facts and impress your country hosts: https://www.wienerphilharmoniker.at/new-years-concert/history

 8)      Do know your coffee

Melange in Kleines Cafe, Vienna, Franziskanerplatz

Melange in Kleines Cafe, Vienna, Franziskanerplatz

This means do not even attempt to order a decaffeinated coffee in the world capital of coffeehouses. And should you eye a Starbucks, that is NOT a traditional Viennese coffeehouse. They have cool souvenir mugs and great chocolate chip cookies but are incomparable to the centuries old Viennese institution. Check out more on my blog post on Viennese coffeehouses.

 9)      Do smile at their Fipsis

Viennese love their dogs. Smile at their dog as you pass by and I guarantee the owner will smile back at you. Smile at the owner and the chance of a return smile reduces to about 50/50. Trust me on this. And if you want to engage Viennese in a conservation or meet the locals, try taking a dog for a walk. Come to think of it, maybe the city should offer rent-a-dogs to increase chance encounters between visitors and locals.

 10)   When you see someone you know, stop, say hello and shake hands

Austrians are more formal than a pass and greet though this is starting to ease up a little. So if you see someone you know, you actually walk up to them, shake their hand and greet them. Simply ducking your head or waving can be construed as rude. And if an Austrian greets in the breakfast room of a hotel or an elevator please do yourself a favor and greet them back loud and clear. They get annoyed when these friendly overtones are ignored. And rightly so. That being said, neighbors you can simply greet but be sure to actually do so. So remember, when you

Leopoldsberg - Vienna

Leopoldsberg – Vienna – the perfect place of a Sunday walk

get into an elevator at a smaller office or hotel, it is not uncommon to greet the others in the elevator and also say good-bye as you leave. The tricky part is knowing when to do so and when not. If you notice others doing it, then do it too. In the countryside, if at a small shop, greet when you go in and say good-bye as you leave. Always err on the side of politeness.

And if all else fails, invite them for a Grüner Vetliner (and be sure it’s Austrian – probably Wachau and a “young” wine).

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Life and das Ding an sich: How are You Interpreting Your Life? As Eeyore or Beethoven?

“… you’re not getting paid for living a life, but transforming it, interpreting it and giving it meaning.”
– Jane Alison, author of The Love Artist, discussing historical fiction writing in coursera.org University of Virginia Historical Fiction course, Plagues, Witches and War

Which is your world?

Grumpyland Poster

Grumpyland?

OR

Life is good

Happyland?

Sometimes the most obvious truths are the most enlightening. But what Jane Alison said got me thinking.

Not just writers, but everyone, is not just living a life, but transforming it, interpreting and giving it meaning.

Maybe we can’t choose if it is sunny or rainy, but we do choose if this will influence our view of the morning.

“There are those who will wish you good morning. If it is a good morning, which I doubt.”
Eeyore, A.A. Milne’s Winne-the-Pooh

And on a grander scale, we choose every single minute of our lives, what meaning we will give to life’s everyday challenges.

Will we think, “Oh, I’m a failure, because I haven’t got a brain,” like Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz?

Or will we write one of history’s most moving musical pieces at a time when we are almost completely deaf, like Beethoven? In fact, when the 9th premiered in Vienna on May 7, 1824, the composer could not hear the enthusiastic applause of the strict Viennese audience and remained turned toward the stage until a singer went to where he was sitting and had him turn to bathe in their adoration.

So what meaning are you giving your life?

Are you the born loser? Like Charlie Brown who sometimes lies awake at night and asks, “Where have I gone wrong?” Only to have the voice inside his head answer, “This is going to take more than one night.”

Or are you Ned Flanders? A person who exudes so much contentment with life that everyone, and especially Homer Simpson, automatically assumes he has a charmed existence.

There is no objective reality in this world.

Every action, reaction, and experience is subject to interpretation. Like the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, argues in his Critique of Pure Reason “things in themselves” (das Ding an sich) are unknowable. We interpret our experiences.  A passive knowledge or observation does not exist.

When the times are a-changin and the waters are grown and you’re drenched to the bone, are you gonna start swimmin’ or sink like a stone?

And afterwards, will you look back and say, “I learned how to swim because of that” or “Woe is me. Who wouldn’t end up a drenched miserable rat with all that water”?

Up to you.

Transformation, interpretation, meaning.

We are all transcribing our life experiences, not on paper but in our own self-perceptions.

To my fellow writers, struggling to get published or write the next best seller, I think we have to remind ourselves that we decide how we handle our setbacks. We can write our best possible book but in the end, we ultimately can’t control if an agent or publisher is interested. We can’t influence the particular tastes and preconceived notions of particular readers. But we can decide how we will interpret the long waits, countless rejection letters or critical reviews.

Will they strengthen or break us?

If only Charlie Brown, Eeyore and the Scarecrow had taken the following advice:

Give it all and ask for no return
And very soon you’ll see and you’ll begin to learn
That it’s alright, it’s alright
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It’s Alright, Guns N Roses

 

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