Right at the heart of Cafe Sacher Torte, just beside the W.C., is a table cloth filled with signatures, protected in a glass frame. The tablecloth of Anna Sacher bears the signature of the prominent people who have dined at the cafe — John Travolta, Queen Elizabeth II, Sean Connery, Bruce Willis, Anna Netrebko, Caroline of Monaco, and even Justin Beiber. At the center, the signature of Emperor Franz Joseph I.
I doubt anybody would have noticed; I didn’t notice it too, until a courteous staff pointed at the glass frame and told us stories of his life in Vienna, which made my experience at Cafe Sacher different from the rest.
But I didn’t fly to Vienna just to taste the Original Sacher Torte. Original, because they won a ruling back in 1962 that only Hotel Sacher can claim the Sacher Torte is the Original Sacher Torte.
To a layperson, it is so easy to hate the Original Sacher Torte of 1832 and call it overhyped. I myself lined up 45 minutes in minus 2 degrees Celcius just to compare its quality against their competitor across the street, Gerstner. I still preferred Gerstner, even in retrospect, even without the magic of the fluffy Viennese whipped cream. Besides that, the cup of melange and hot chocolate were the best among all cafes I have tried in Vienna.
But it isn’t just the cake. Dining at Cafe Sacher Wien represents Viennese luxury and its imperialism, heavily seen in its red, gold and crystal interiors and portraits of Sissi. To the fortunate like the late John F Kennedy, perhaps, a stay at the Hotel Sacher Wien. This is a cafe where prominent people in the 1800s communed about ideas that would push the world forward, the world we know today. Antonio Vivaldi himself was a resident beside the hotel, and I can only imagine the birth of his compositions.
To put it simply, what was it about Vienna that propelled these creative geniuses? How was it that the country managed to produced so many intellectuals — both humane and inhumane?
There is an allure in Vienna that can only be satisfied with the remnants of the past in these old cafes now sorely overcommercialized. Regretfully, I think about Cafe Landtmann every now and then.
Is it the Austrian cuisine? The climate? Its geographical location? Why were the movers of the world born in this continent?
I learn it is a way of life in Vienna. A melange. A celebratory Einspanner. Occasional luxuries at Cafe Sacher punctuated by the delicious Smoked Salmon and an outstanding bowl of boiled potatoes. Regular dishes Wiener Schnitzel, Sacher Würstel, and for myself, a Viennese boiled beef soup to chase away the cold.
I wish I can take all of these home. But I can only relish and savor a few days in Vienna. The chilling cold might bite my bones. But I find that the wheels in Vienna do not turn as fast as metropolitan cities. And I do not find the same inspirations I did in New York, in Singapore, even in London. I find a ride in a horse-drawn carriage outrageous at 50 euros for 10 minutes, but transports me back in time as two horses canter from Michaelerplatz to Albertinaplatz. I find the real reason for long lines around the block at Cafe Sacher for a dry “fudge cake” is a comment made by the misunderstood and those who do not listen. It is the invisible music that traps its visitors in a a state of flow you can only find in Vienna.