Viennese Coffee with a Dash of History


Cafe Hawelka is a dimly lit old-school coffeehouse in the heart of Vienna.  Now as in decades past, a cup of coffee entitles the buyer to sit all day with one of the many newspapers neatly arranged on racks. The cafe first opened in 1938, just before World War II broke out.  Its founder, Leopold Hawelska, had to close when he was drafted into Hitler’s army.  He survived the deadly fighting on the Russian front and returned to reopen the place in 1945.  Fortunately the building still stood.  In impoverished postwar Vienna, the cafe was one of the few places that had heat.  Poor people were welcome to come in for a free glass of water, to warm up.  Some sat there for hours.  Princely folk, like the Liechtensteins, also hung out there, hawking artwork and valuables they had managed to hide from the Nazis.

Later, the place became a sort of living room for artists and writers.  Some artists paid with paintings, which still hang on the smoke-stained walls. (I think the place is non-smoking now, as most Austrian restaurants are in recent years).

Mr. Hawelska and his wife Josefine were benevolent presences for decades, watching over generations of artists, writers, students, and tourists.  She baked the specialty, Buchteln: a yeast bun with plum filling.  It is still served there today. The preferred accompaniment is a melange, or what Starbucks has taught us to call a cappuccino.


Josefine Hawelska died at age 91, in 2005.  Leopold Hawelska lived to 100, still frequently occupying his usual seat at the cafe almost to the end.  Their descendants continue the tradition.

Leopold Hawelska, photo by Lili Strauss, in article cited below

Leopold Hawelska, photo by Lili Strauss, in article cited below

In Vienna, as in other cities, Starbucks locations are filled at all hours.  I’m sure the free Wifi attracts customers.  Still, historic coffeehouses like Cafe Hawelka endure.  I hope to spend some quality time in them, trying to read German-language papers and soaking up the atmosphere of history.

An article from The Guardian, about the Hawelka family and cafe, appears at

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