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The Café of the Heavens

Edition 2 / 22. August 2017

In his satire about the coffee house, the Viennese best-selling author Andreas Pittler has Beelzebub, Leopold Hawelka and God himself fight about Viennese coffee house culture.

I. In Hell

The angry snorting of Satan made all the hell servants huddle together anxiously. Presumably something was bugging the lord of the devilish army again. No question, the devil wasn’t getting any milder with old age. For eons, he had struggled to recapitulate his deep fall, which he had always felt to be a blatant injustice and even the most veteran helldogs could no longer keep track of all the attempts which Beelzebub had ever made to overthrow the heavens and make himself the ruler of the world. Nor could they say what had upset the old man once again.
“These stupid Viennese,” he cursed, “they are still doing too well.” The devil’s servants looked at each other stealthily, but they knew not to comment. “I am sending them austerity packages, police scandals, and even permanent frost, and what do they do? They are still charming as ever, staying nice and cozy and handling everything just fine. This is driving me up the wall. We still have a score to settle.”
A much younger bystander – by standards of eternity, at least – ran the back of his hand along his lush mustache and looked questioningly at his neighbor. He quickly peeked to the left and to the right and then pulled his mustache aside. “A few hundred years ago, when you were not yet been born, the devil ­repeatedly tried to impose severe tests on the Viennese. He summoned the master builder of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and tried to beat them with an old tree where apprentice blacksmiths drove nails into the wood. But the Viennese always proved to be more clever than our supreme ruler and he cannot forgive them for it.”
The bushy eyebrows of the enlightened man went up, almost touching his pitch-black pomaded hair. “Thank you, comrade Attila,” he whispered roughly before taking a step forward. Just enough to arouse the attention of the hell prince. “What is it,” he snapped, “do you have something to tell me, Stalin?” He nodded, moving two more steps toward Satan. “In my experience, comrade devil, only the closed fist helps in such cases. It must come down mercilessly on the enemies of the Soviet… to the enemies of H…, to your enemies, comrade ­Satan.” Beelzebub looked at Stalin with a mixture of irritation and amusement. “You are no longer in the Kremlin, dear friend, and your methods are not very en vogue at present. Besides, the Viennese are no fools! If you attack from the front then they all pull together. No, naked violence will cause the opposite effect. They only become stiffer and we would fail.” A hoarse cough interrupted the Prince of Darkness’ monologue. A small man with a square mustache hastily wiped a strand of hair from his face, before his throaty voice rose. “As you know too well, I myself was a victim of this cosmopolitan melting pot for many years. The Viennese are barbaric. You won’t get far with arguments …” Attila chuckled. “Just as far as Meldemann street …” The Hun’s objection caused a flash of lightning in the orator’s eyes, who immediately concentrated on his own cause. “So if you want to hit the Viennese, noble master, then you have to act as deviously as you usually do.” Satan paid no more attention to Stalin, and instead turned to Hitler. “That sounds encouraging. Tell me more!” Hitler enjoyed the attention. He threw himself into a pose, crossed his hands in front of his waist and took a deep breath. “You know what they say about the Viennese. Leave them their wine and their peace and they are satisfied. But my experience tells me otherwise. It is the coffee, this very special Viennese brew, with its hundreds of varieties, from the “Einspänner” to the “Fiaker” to the “Pharisäer” that makes them quite unique around the world. And for the Viennese, coffee is not simply a drink, which they drink on the side like the French or Italians do. No. For the Viennese, coffee is a philosophy, almost a religion. An elixir if you like. They can sit for hours with a single coffee while reading or writing books. They study the domestic and foreign newspapers, they discuss Go… about who knows what, plan their life, their future, their world view. Coffee is the world that keeps the Viennese together at heart. Take away their coffee, noble Satan, and their strength will be broken once and for all.” The devil swayed his head thoughtfully. “This is a very nice idea. But how can it be done? I can scarcely leave all the coffee of Latin America and the Middle East withered, just so that the Viennese are high and dry.” Now it was again Stalin, who saw his opportunity to speak. “Where you cannot march, you must destabilize. With a fifth convoy. We infiltrate the Viennese coffee houses to the old-established salami tactics. I had …, we had great success with those seven decades ago.”
“Should I send my agents out to buy up all the Viennese coffee houses or what?” Satan seemed helpless. “But no, not at all. That would not change. You must destroy the culture that is connected to the coffee in Vienna. Just let foreign chains that have no idea of tradition and philosophy set up shop in Vienna. Strategically get rid of the old, cozy Viennese cafés using fast food. The best is if they pour the coffee, the brew, which they then so boldly call it, into shabby cardboard cups that you have to drink up while standing so you don’t come up with any ideas or think of staying a while. And let them dilute this brew with some scents and flavors, give them absurd names like Latte or Macchiato, which does as much for the Viennese as a refrigerator does for the Inuit in Greenland.” For the first time something like a smile crept over the Prince of Darkness’ face. “Yes, that could work. The older ones will prove to be resistant, but the youth, who still have no idea of Viennese coffee house culture, could be spoiled. They’ll find a Latte safe … cool.” Beelzebub’s fist hit the armrest of his infernal princely throne. “This is how we do it. Immediately give appropriate instructions to our agents. They should get started right away.”

II. In Heaven

Leopold Hawelka sat on his cloud and sadly looked down at his Vienna. Ever since he had been recruited to heaven by the dear Lord God, the good old Viennese coffee culture slowly but surely began to go downhill. Traditional old Viennese cafés were being converted into pizzerias, tourist offices into an American style cafeteria and elsewhere hot drinks were being sold “to go”, although one couldn’t say, whether they sold tea or coffee. The old Mr. Hawelka’s heart bled and he knew it couldn’t be the will of God that the Viennese were being cheated out of their heritage. So he took heart and petitioned to Peter that he would like an audience with God. Which was promptly granted, seeing that Mr. Hawelka was well-known, even in heaven. A little later, he stood before the heavenly throne and lowered his gaze to the radiant splendor of the Holy Trinity. “Your heart is heavy, brother Leopold, so speak,” God spoke. “Heavenly Father, I have come to ask your mercy for my ­Vienna. What is going on down there is shattering the foundation of all Viennese.” And Mr. Hawelka explained to God what was going on with the Viennese and their coffee. He ran his divine hand through his divine white beard and compassionately looked at Mr. Hawelka. “Dear brother Leopold. You know best of all that coffee in Vienna has already survived ­
every imaginable situation. Epidemics, wars, fires, disasters, the Viennese café has ­always existed. And that will continue in the future, dear brother, so do not worry.”
“Dear Heavenly Father, who am I to question your divine council? But believe me, oh Lord, this time the situation is different. It is not just these fashionable foreign franchises, which may soon be history. There are the crowds of unsuspecting tourists, who mistake the café for a museum, then the many new regulations that spoil the good old café owner’s passion for his trade. Nowadays, you need to sit at your computer and type more than you can be with your guests. And for the Viennese it is important to talk to one another over coffee. With the patron or at least the head waiter. The Viennese, you must know, sir, goes to the café, so that he can be with himself.” The Lord in heaven leaned forward. “Is the Viennese coffee house really that important to you?” Mr. Leopold seemed to have waited for this question. “With your permission, Lord!” As no divine objection came, Mr. Hawelka gave the two angels at the door a sign to open the door. A small group reverently approached the heavenly throne. They all needed a good while to concentrate on Mr. Hawelka, as overwhelmed as they were. “I figured, oh Lord, that you would ask me that. That is why I have invited some Viennese, who will be glad to tell you what the café meant to them.” He made a gesture toward some older men. “These are, as your Divinity certainly knows, the gentlemen Kuh, Polgar, Perutz, Kraus, and Altenberg. They will surely confirm that they have written world literature. At the café. In the ­VIENNESE café. And that,” Mr. Hawelka now pointed out to some more men, “are the gentlemen Loos, Wagner, and Pleˇcnik. Without their buildings, my Vienna would look a little bland. And you know, since you are omniscient, oh Lord, where it was that they designed and planned these buildings.” Hawelka turned a little to the right. “And the gentlemen Freud and Adler, have been thinking about what constitutes the soul of man while sipping a ‘Melange’. You …” God raised his right hand. “Enough, brother Leopold. I understand. Without the coffee, Vienna’s culture would be infinitely poorer.” Hawelka bowed. “The world’s culture would be infinitely poorer, venerable Heavenly Father.” God looked right to his son, then to the Holy Spirit, before resting his gaze on the ­assembled immortal Viennese. “I can see I cannot look away. The Viennese would never forgive me, and I in turn could not forgive myself for it. I will therefore send the angels and archangels to Vienna, so that the Viennese coffee house will remain there forever under my divine protection. And so we have something from it up here, too, I entrust you, brother Leopold, with the task of setting up a real Viennese coffee house here in heaven. But,” the Heavenly Father smiled affably, “don’t name it after yourself again. Otherwise, brother Georg (Danzer) will write another song about the naked guy and we don’t need that in heaven. No, we will ask you, brother Leopold, to call your establishment Café of the Heavens, so that it shall be known for all time that the Viennese coffee house has my divine support.”

III. In Vienna

Anyone who roams through Vienna today can choose from an almost infinite number of coffee houses. Even in the most remote districts, there are enough places where you can read, stare out the window or chat. As at that time, it is possible to order a small or a large brown coffee, a short or long one, a “Melange”, a Turkish or a mocha, a “Pharisäer”, an “Einspänner”, or even a “bowl of gold”, always served with water. You can read the newspapers, have your culinary desires met, be available for conversation and keep discreetly to yourself when you realize that a guest wants to be left alone. This inimitable noblesse, which always elicits boundless amazement among tourists, is unquestioned by the Viennese. Understandable, seeing they are accustomed to it. This divine service is part of the Viennese coffee house culture. But you, dear reader, you know more now. You who know the whole story. The word “divine” does not come by chance. And now, as you know the connections, you’ll have to look around at the café where you are sitting. Discreetly, because you don’t want to attract attention, you want to observe quietly. As is customary at a Viennese coffee house. And now concentrate on the serving staff, on the piccolos, on the head waiters. For, if you look closely, you will see that all these ministering spirits who bring you your coffee are none other than the angelic angels whom the Lord has sent to make the Viennese coffee house culture truly heavenly.

PS: According to unconfirmed rumors, the devil is to have had yet another fit after his latest defeat and to have banished coffee from hell forever. So be good, dear readers! You wouldn’t want to miss your coffee in the afterworld.




Text :  A. P. PITTLER