Coffeehouse writers – The café as a workshop

A second home and place of inspiration for writers

As the word already suggests, Kaffeehausliteratur (Coffeehouse literature) denotes literature that begins in the coffeehouse. With its coffeehouse tradition, Vienna offers plenty of opportunities for this.

Wiener Kaffeehauskultur Cafe Korb
Wiener Kaffeehauskultur © Österreich Werbung, Fotograf: Lammerhuber

Occasional literature and social studies

The Viennese coffeehouse experienced its heyday from the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, so-called coffeehouse writers such as Peter Altenberg, Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Alfred Polgar, Karl Kraus, Stefan Zweig, Hermann Broch, and Friedrich Torberg made their regular café into a preferred living and working place.

Many famous artists, scientists, engineers, and politicians of that time, including Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Theodor Herzl, Siegfried Marcus, or even Leo Trotzki, were frequent coffeehouse guests.

At the end of the 1930s, coffeehouse literature in Vienna came to an end, as many of writers from the Jewish bourgeoisie were persecuted and driven out.

In 1880, Hermann Bahr founded the “Jung-Wien” group at Café Griensteidl. After this closed, they met in Café Central at Herrengasse 14, which still exists today. In its entrance area, you are even greeted by the figure of the playwright Peter Altenberg. He had once been a regular guest there and even wrote a theory about the café.

Coffeehouse writers – Lingering without the urge to consume

The artists were inspired during their coffeehouse visits and recorded a lot of things in their occasional literature. At this time, you could still stay in a café for hours without having to consume anything.

It can best be described with the words of Stefan Zweig:

The Viennese coffeehouse represents a special kind of institution that can be compared with no other in the world. It is actually a kind of democratic club where the entry fee is just the price of a cup of coffee, where every guest can sit for this small amount of money for hours on end, discussing, writing, playing cards, receiving their post, and above all, consuming an unlimited amount of newspapers and journals.