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Mariahilf, Vienna

1 March 2015

Words: Adrian Mourby / Images: Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek

Expensive urban art and the best scruffy flea market in Vienna sum up Mariahilf, a Boho area south of the Ringstrasse that sports some of the best fin-de-siècle buildings by Otto Wagner, alongside some pretty dodgy nightclubs Mariahilf grew up on a hill outside Vienna’s city walls with an important food market, Naschmarkt, down below in the valley of the River Wien. When the city walls came down to create the Ringstrasse in the 19th century, rural Mariahilf became the city’s District 6. Apartment blocks sprang up and the river was roofed over (later to feature in the famous sewer chase in Carol Reed’s The Third Man). 

But this was always a Bohemian area, attracting composers, artists and designers. After the Second World War, Mariahilf went into a decline. Cheaper housing needing less maintenance could be found further out of the city, and it wasn’t until 2004 that the area started to become fashionable again, with the opening of das phil bookshop, followed by Terence Conran’s revamp of Café Drechsler in 2007. Today it is a fashionable food district also boasting art galleries, pop-up shops, the youngest population in Vienna and lots of surprises.

INOPERABLE

This first floor art gallery is a twofer. Not only do you get to browse the works of contemporary urban artists but you also get to to look around a genuine 19th-century Viennese apartment. Inoperable was started by Natalie Halgand and Nicholas Platzer five years ago in a tiny gallery with a non-working (inoperable) lift, but it moved here last year and kept the name. Visitors enter past the Portier’s office. It’s just as if you were visiting Freud in his consulting rooms, but then up winding stairs an apartment opens up with four interlinked rooms, bright parquet flooring and great views over the Saturday flea market. 

Inoperable’s taste is eclectic and international. Natalie and Nicholas’ only criteria is that they must believe an artist is 100 per cent committed to his or her work. Paintings can cost from €1,000 to €10,000, but cheaper limited-edition prints are also available. 

Stiegengasse 2/3
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 699 1171 2925
inoperable.at

VINTAGERIE

Ali Bechstein is famed for his sparkling rosé wine, which he offers to everyone who calls in at this repository of 20th century design. Ali believes life should be fun, so every six months he and his business partner Peter set off across Europe with an empty van and a lot of euros. They return when the money’s gone and the van is full of retro-chic merchandise. 

The reappearance of Ali’s van is such an event these days that, by his reckoning, he sells 20 per cent of his new stock on the pavement before he has a chance to move it inside. Vintagerie is the place for classic 1960s light-fittings by Kalmar, Lobmeyr and Bakalowits (the Austrian company that designed chandeliers for the Met in New York). Ali also sells Art Deco objets, OTT 1980s classics and unique Austrian designs, such as the Ottakringer (a chair that doubles as a step ladder). 

Nelkengasse 4
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 699 1144 1967
vintagerie.at

DISCO VOLANTE

The giant pizza oven decorated to look like a disco ball is so well known these days that no one bothers to look for the small neon sign above the door of Disco Volante. It’s the sight of the oven glittering through the window of this pizza parlour that pulls people in. Maria Fuchs, who also set up Pizza Mari in District 2, chose this Italianate square at the scruffy end of Gumopendorferstrasse in 2013 because it was cheap – but not anymore. 

Disco Volante and the headquarters of Ögussa, Austria’s gold and metal trading company, keep the nearby taxi rank busy. This is a functionalist pizzeria with limited decor and tables in straight lines. It’s also loud, crowded and very good value. Espressos at the bar are only €1. Try the delicious house speciality Pizze Bianche, which comes without tomato sauce. 

Gumpendorfer Strasse 98
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 664 195 2545
disco-volante.at

NENI

Neni calls itself an eclectic kitchen with an art focus. It’s actually a café that stretches across two historic food shops in trendy Naschmarkt. Four Austro-Israeli brothers, Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv and Ilan, gave their initials to its name and their mother provided the recipes. The slightly older 25 and over crowd target Neni for its chicken-based Jerusalem Platter or Sakshuka oriental omelette. 

But art is very much an equal part of the Neni project. Every month there’s a new display of affordable artworks and last year the brothers organised an Instagram competition for images of Vienna. All the entries were posted on the café walls and the winner received a free meal. Neni buzzes with energy, people cram in together on metal chairs, chatter and down their coffees quickly. The boys have since opened Neni branches in Zurich and Berlin. 

Naschmarkt 510
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 1585 2020
neni.at

DAS PHIL

das phil is not so much a café or bookshop as a living room where you can put your feet up pretty much any time of day (except Mondays – evenings only). Christian Schädel started the revival of District 6 more than a decade ago when he re-opened this old corner shop to sell coffee, books and vintage records. Since then das phil has been much-copied but remains very much the quirky original. 

Adapting the famous Mexican novelist and essayist Carlos Fuentes, a sign over the shelves reads, “Don’t classify me, read me. I’m a book, not a genre.” The laid-back vibe continues in a menu that offers breakfast until four in the afternoon. So browse the vinyl, check out American novels in German translation, pick up the latest DVDs, eat a panini or buy a table lamp. Or maybe just fall asleep in an armchair. Anything is possible in das phil (except quick service). 

Gumpendorfer Strasse 10-12
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 1581 0489
phil.info

WE BANDITS

Back from studying fashion in Paris and Brussels, Sophie Pollack now sells Scandinavian design in a seemingly unremarkable side street that bristles with indie fashion shops, bars and photography studios. Inside this tiny boutique there’s no artwork on the plain white walls. Nothing distracts from the imported clothes hanging off tree branches and the shoes piled up on old travelling chests. 

The stock is mainly Danish (occasionally Korean) and is currently dominated by innovative prints. Blacks and whites predominate, enlivened by splashes of flamingo pink and mustard. The latest offerings from Henrik Bibskov, Hansen and Won Hundred include cocoon coats, caftans and jumpers, ideal for layering up against the middle European winter. Vienna’s Scandi girls are the queens of Strasse-Street Style and do it without breaking the bank. 

Theobaldgasse 14
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 699 1900 3895
webandits.tictail.com

HAUS DES MEERES

One of the weirdest sights on the Viennese skyline is a 50m high artillery platform built to bring down Allied bombers attacking Vienna at the end of the Second World War. Had Hitler won the war, he wanted this concrete tower clad in black marble as a memorial. Instead it’s been turned into an aquarium in the sky. Head past the children packed into the ground floor shop and take the lift to the ninth floor for hammerhead sharks. The aquarium glass is so clear you’ll think they are levitating in front of you. 

On the tenth floor is a café with the best view of Vienna. Then stroll back down through the tropical house where uncaged macaques jump over your head and Technicolor birds fly free. Strictly speaking, Haus des Meeres is an Aqua-Terra Zoo, which means there are crocodiles and boa constrictors in there, too. 

Fritz-Grünbaum-Platz 1
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 1587 1417
haus-des-meeres.at

CAFÉ SPERL

Adolf Hitler’s favourite Viennese café is so far behind the times it’s actually hip. Once upon a time Austrian cavalry officers used to play billiards here, but now newspapers from Germany, the UK, Italy and France are laid out on sticks across the green baize. Sperl used to have a Kein Handy (no mobile phone) policy, but it’s no longer enforced and there’s even internet now. But the essence of Sperl – marble-topped tables, floral banquettes and black lacquer chairs – has not changed since it opened in 1897. 

Today, as then, you can linger all day over one cup of coffee, enjoying the chandeliers and the smoke-stained ceiling. Enjoy, too, speciality cakes such as Linzerschnitte and Sperltorte, as well as Sperl’s own unique bitter coffee. Monica Staub, wife of the current owner, still oversees the café from her kitchen. 

Gumpendorfer Strasse 11
Mariahilf
Vienna
Tel: +43 1586 4158
cafesperl.at

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