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Why Europe’s fika capital isn’t actually in Sweden

Swedes are crazy about coffee. They’re so crazy about it that they’ve even coined a special word for a simple coffee break.

Why Europe’s fika capital isn’t actually in Sweden
Photo: Chevanon Photography from Pexels

Fika – taking time to enjoy coffee and a bite to eat with a friend or colleague – is a cornerstone of Swedish culture. If the country offered a Swedish 101 course for newbies, fika would probably be the first subject taught in the curriculum. Followed by a mandatory break for fika

But what if we told you that there’s a European city where fika is taken so seriously that its coffee house culture is protected by UNESCO world heritage? If you’re as hooked on java as the Swedes are, an extended coffee break in Vienna is just the cultural pilgrimage that the barista ordered. Follow in the footsteps of some of Vienna’s most notable past inhabitants like Mozart, Beethoven, Klimt and Freud and soak in the gemütliche (cozy) atmosphere of the city’s famous coffee houses. 

Presenting four reasons why all coffee lovers should visit Vienna.

It’s bean around a long time

Coffee first arrived in Vienna courtesy of a failed Turkish invasion in 1683. Forced to flee, the Ottoman army left behind sacks of coffee beans, initially assumed to be camel feed. Allied military officer Jerzy Francieszek Kulczychi had spent time in captivity in Turkey and knew that the unidentified beans could be brewed into delicious cups of liquid energy. The beans were roasted, a drop of milk was added, and Viennese coffee culture was born.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Wien | Vienna (@viennatouristboard) on Sep 27, 2019 at 4:00am PDT

It wasn’t long before elegant coffee houses sprung up all over the city. Today, these establishments are still the cultural heart of Vienna — places to while away the day sipping high-quality coffee in (often palatial) built-for-purpose spaces. Austrian writer Stefan Zweig once wrote that the coffee houses are ‘a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for hours with this little offering, to talk, write, play cards, receive post and above all consume an unlimited number of newspapers and journals.’

There’s a latte variety

Swedes are big fans of a bryggkaffe (brew/filter coffee, often taken without milk) and are rarely seen without a cup of black coffee in hand. But one can’t claim to be a true coffee connoisseur without extensive knowledge of the many different ways coffee can be prepared. There are dozens of different varieties of Viennese coffee, from traditional styles to third-wave artisanal brews. You could argue that some ‘Viennese creations’ are suspiciously similar to varieties of coffee found elsewhere in the world, but there are also many which are wholly unique to the Austrian capital. 

Take the Einspänner, a shot of strong espresso topped with plenty of whipped cream, named after the one-horse carriage which required just one hand, leaving the other free for holding a cup of coffee. Then there’s the Cafe Maria Theresia, a traditional Viennese recipe prepared from black coffee with warming orange liqueur and a dollop of cream. Not forgetting the Verlängerter, an espresso with added hot water for when you want to prolong your espresso hit.

Nice buns

Napoleon and Josephine, Wills and Kate…coffee and cake. Some things just go together. And so naturally Vienna has a long tradition of baking some of the most decadent delights known to man. From cream-filled cakes and flaky pastries to slabs of chocolate cake slathered in shiny chocolate ganache, there’s a treat that caters to every sweet tooth. It’s no wonder that cake was the first thing Viennese-born French Queen Marie Antoinette thought of when asked what the peasants should eat instead of bread. 

Try a sugared violet, the favourite sweet of the beautiful but tragic Empress Sisi, at Demel, once the royal patisserie; indulge yourself with a Buchteln – a sweet Austrian bun served with plum jam – at the iconic Cafe Hawelka; and have your cake and eat it at classy Cafe Sacher (the birthplace of Sacher torte – the aforementioned chocolate cake which is, perhaps, the most famous cake of all time).

Use code CoffeeBreak19SE for 165 SEK off flights from Sweden to Vienna. Click here to redeem*.

 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by Austrian Airlines (@austrianairlines) on Oct 1, 2019 at 5:45am PDT

Coffee in the clouds

Hop on an Austrian Airlines flight from Stockholm or Gothenburg and you can be in Vienna in just a couple of hours. The planes are designed to reflect the gemütliche ambience of a Viennese coffee house with premium cups of Julius Meinl coffee served onboard, so you can start your coffee odyssey precisely as you mean to go on. 

*Offer valid until 31st May 2020

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Austrian Airlines.

HAMBURG

Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic

Which city is the best place to live? While Hamburg and Vienna frequently topped the charts in previous years, both cities lost significant ground in an annual ranking.

Hamburg and Vienna plummet in ‘most liveable cities’ ranking due to pandemic
People go for a sunny walk in Hamburg in late May as the city began to open up after seven months of lockdown measures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Wendt

In the most recent Global Liveability Index by the British Economist group, European cities have become noticeably less attractive due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vienna, Hamburg and other major European cities such as Prague, Athens and Rome fared significantly worse in the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranking than in previous years. Other German cities also made big drops, such as Frankfurt (-29) and Düsseldorf (-28).

READ MORE: Why is Vienna no longer the ‘most liveable’ city in the world?

New Zealand, Japan and Australia, on the other hand, gathered significant ground.

Vienna was top of the EIU ranking from 2018 to 2020. Now the Austrian capital has dropped to 12th place. Germany’s northern city-state of Hamburg even slipped 34 places to 47th.

Only two European cities made it into the top 10 in the rankings – Zurich (7th) and Geneva (8th) in Switzerland.

What accounts for the big drop?

For the ranking, the EIU uses criteria such as stability, health care, culture, environment, education and infrastructure.

The EIU cites the “strain on hospital systems” and the resulting “stress on healthcare” as two of the main reasons for the weak performance of German and Austrian cities this year.

The pandemic has also had a particularly strong impact on the cultural sector and general quality of life in Europe, it wrote in the report. 

Other reasons behind Hamburg and Vienna’s decline this year include restrictions on local sporting events, educational institutions and restaurants, bars and cafes.

While both Germany and Austria fared relatively well in the first wave of the pandemic, both struggled to keep case numbers down in the second and third waves. 

Germany introduced a one month “lockdown light” in November, which was continually extended and sometimes made stricter until mid-May, when states began to reopen public life again

Austria also introduced various on-and-off shutdown measures starting in October, including curfews from 8pm or even periods when no one was allowed to leave their homes for 24 hours. It also began to significantly open up again in late May.

READ ALSO: Has Austria picked the right strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic?

However, other factors unrelated to the pandemic also played a role in the Economist ranking. The authors of the report also looked at the quality of the road network and public transport, level of corruption and religious restrictions.

Yet Hamburg still scored high in other quality of life rankings for 2021. It was named the ‘Green City of the Year’ by the European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies. 

A full 45 percent of the harbourside city is devoted to parks and forests, said the centre, who also awarded it extra points for using sustainable construction materials and creating ‘green jobs’.

Every year from 2009 to 2019, Mercer’s Quality of Living survey named Vienna as the best place to live in the entire world.

 
 
 
 
 
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It’s rationale was similar to that of the EIU: The city’s infrastructure, public transport network, clean water supply, healthcare and – last but not least – cultural and leisure activities helped it play a leading role in the worldwide ranking. 

So where are the ‘most livable cities’ now?

The title of “most livable city in the world” this year went to the New Zealand port city of Auckland. The EIU explained its selection by citing its success in containing the pandemic as a key factor. 

“New Zealand’s tough lockdown subsequently enabled rapid relaxations and allowed citizens of cities like Auckland and Wellington to live almost as they did before the pandemic,” the report read.

The biggest improvement in the ranking was achieved by the capital of the U.S. Pacific island and state of Hawaii: Honolulu got the spread of the coronavirus under control particularly quickly and therefore climbed 46 places in the ranking to 14th place.

The Syrian capital Damascus, on the other hand, remains the city where life is most difficult due to the ongoing civil war, according to the study.

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