Chapter IX: TELLING HOW COFFEE CAME TO VIENNA -- All About Coffee, by William H. Ukers

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Chapter IX


The romantic adventure of Franz George Kolschitzky, who carried "a message to Garcia" through the enemy's lines and won for himself the honor of being the first to teach the Viennese the art of making coffee, to say nothing of falling heir to the supplies of the green beans left behind by the Turks; also the gift of a house from a grateful municipality, and a statue after death—Affectionate regard in which "brother-heart" Kolschitzky is held as the patron saint of the Vienna kaffee-sieder—Life in the early Vienna cafés

A romantic tale has been woven around the introduction of coffee into Austria. When Vienna was besieged by the Turks in 1683, so runs the legend, Franz George Kolschitzky, a native of Poland, formerly an interpreter in the Turkish army, saved the city and won for himself undying fame, with coffee as his principal reward.

It is not known whether, in the first siege of Vienna by the Turks in 1529, the invaders boiled coffee over their camp fires that surrounded the Austrian capital; although they might have done so, as Selim I, after conquering Egypt in 1517, had brought with him to Constantinople large stores of coffee as part of his booty. But it is certain that when they returned to the attack, 154 years later, they carried with them a plentiful supply of the green beans.

Mohammed IV mobilized an army of 300,000 men and sent it forth under his vizier, Kara Mustapha, (Kuprili's successor) to destroy Christendom and to conquer Europe. Reaching Vienna July 7, 1683, the army quickly invested the city and cut it off from the world. Emperor Leopold had escaped the net and was several miles away. Nearby was the prince of Lorraine, with an army of 33,000 Austrians, awaiting the succor promised by John Sobieski, king of Poland, and an opportunity to relieve the besieged capital. Count Rudiger von Starhemberg, in command of the forces in Vienna, called for a volunteer to carry a message through the Turkish lines to hurry along the rescue. He found him in the person of Franz George Kolschitzky, who had lived for many years among the Turks and knew their language and customs.

On August 13, 1683, Kolschitzky donned a Turkish uniform, passed through the enemy's lines and reached the Emperor's army across the Danube. Several times he made the perilous journey between the camp of the prince of Lorraine and the garrison of the governor of Vienna. One account says that he had to swim the four intervening arms of the Danube each time he performed the feat. His messages did much to keep up the morale of the city's defenders. At length King John and his army of rescuing Poles arrived and were consolidated with the Austrians on the summit of Mount Kahlenberg. It was one of the most dramatic moments in history. The fate of Christian Europe hung in the balance. Everything seemed to point to the triumph of the crescent over the cross. Once again Kolschitzky crossed the Danube, and brought back word concerning the signals that the prince of Lorraine and King John[Pg 50] would give from Mount Kahlenberg to indicate the beginning of the attack. Count Starhemberg was to make a sortie at the same time.

Franz George Kolschitzky, Patron Saint of Vienna Coffee Lovers Franz George Kolschitzky, Patron Saint of Vienna Coffee Lovers

The battle took place September 12, and thanks to the magnificent generalship of King John, the Turks were routed. The Poles here rendered a never-to-be-forgotten service to all Christendom. The Turkish invaders fled, leaving 25,000 tents, 10,000 oxen, 5,000 camels, 100,000 bushels of grain, a great quantity of gold, and many sacks filled with coffee—at that time unknown in Vienna. The booty was distributed; but no one wanted the coffee. They did not know what to do with it; that is, no one except Kolschitzky. He said, "If nobody wants those sacks, I will take them", and every one was heartily glad to be rid of the strange beans. But Kolschitzky knew what he was about, and he soon taught the Viennese the art of preparing coffee. Later, he established the first public booth where Turkish coffee was served in Vienna.

This, then, is the story of how coffee was introduced into Vienna, where was developed that typical Vienna café which has become a model for a large part of the world. Kolschitzky is honored in Vienna as the patron saint of coffee houses. His followers, united in the guild of coffee makers (kaffee-sieder), even erected a statue in his honor. It still stands as part of the facade of a house where the Kolschitzygasse merges into the Favoritengasse, as shown in the accompanying picture.

Vienna is sometimes referred to as the "mother of cafés". Café Sacher is world-renowned. Tart à la Sacher is to be found in every cook-book. The Viennese have their "jause" every afternoon. When one drinks coffee at a Vienna café one generally has a kipfel with it. This is a crescent-shaped roll—baked for the first time in the eventful year 1683, when the Turks besieged the city. A baker made these crescent rolls in a spirit of defiance of the Turk. Holding sword in one hand and kipfel in the other, the Viennese would show themselves on top of their redoubts and challenge the cohorts of Mohammed IV.

Mohammed IV was deposed after losing the battle, and Kara Mustapha was executed for leaving the stores—particularly the sacks of coffee beans—at the gates of Vienna; but Vienna coffee and Vienna kipfel are still alive, and their appeal is not lessened by the years.

The First Coffee House in the Leopoldstadt The First Coffee House in the Leopoldstadt

From a cut so titled in Bermann's Alt und Neu Wien

The hero Kolschitzky was presented with a house by the grateful municipality; and there, at the sign of the Blue Bottle, according to one account, he continued as a coffee-house keeper for many years.[65] This, in brief, is the story that—although not[Pg 51] authenticated in all its particulars—is seriously related in many books, and is firmly believed throughout Vienna.

It seems a pity to discredit the hero of so romantic an adventure; but the archives of Vienna throw a light upon Kolschitzky's later conduct that tends to show that, after all, this Viennese idol's feet were of common clay.

It is said that Kolschitzky, after receiving the sacks of green coffee left behind by the Turks, at once began to peddle the beverage from house to house, serving it in little cups from a wooden platter. Later he rented a shop in Bischof-hof. Then he began to petition the municipal council, that, in addition to the sum of 100 ducats already promised him as further recognition of his valor, he should receive a house with good will attached; that is, a shop in some growing business section. "His petitions to the municipal council", writes M. Bermann[66], "are amazing examples of measureless self-conceit and the boldest greed. He seemed determined to get the utmost out of his own self-sacrifice. He insisted upon the most highly deserved reward, such as the Romans bestowed upon their Curtius, the Lacedæmonians upon their Pompilius, the Athenians upon Seneca, with whom he modestly compared himself."

At last, he was given his choice of three houses in the Leopoldstadt, any one of them worth from 400 to 450 gulden, in place of the money reward, that had been fixed by a compromise agreement at 300 gulden. But Kolschitzky was not satisfied with this; and urged that if he was to accept a house in full payment it should be one valued at not less than 1000 gulden. Then ensued much correspondence and considerable haggling. To put an end to the acrimonious dispute, the municipal council in 1685 directed that there should be deeded over to Kolschitzky and his wife, Maria Ursula, without further argument, the house known at that time as 30 (now 8) Haidgasse.

It is further recorded that Kolschitzky sold the house within a year; and, after many moves, he died of tuberculosis, February 20, 1694, aged fifty-four years. He was courier to the emperor at the time of his death, and was buried in the Stefansfreithof Cemetery.

Statue of Kolschitzky Erected by the Coffee Makers Guild of Vienna Statue of Kolschitzky Erected by the Coffee Makers Guild of Vienna

Kolschitzky's heirs moved the coffee house to Donaustrand, near the wooden Schlagbrücke, later known as Ferdinand's brücke (bridge). The celebrated coffee house of Franz Mosee (d. 1860) stood on this same spot.

In the city records for the year 1700 a house in the Stock-im-Eisen-Platz (square) is designated by the words "allwo das erste kaffeegewölbe" ("here was the first coffee house"). Unfortunately, the name of the proprietor is not given.

Many stories are told of Kolschitzky's popularity as a coffee-house keeper. He is said to have addressed everyone as bruderherz (brother-heart) and gradually he himself acquired the name bruderherz. A portrait of Kolschitzky, painted about the time of his greatest vogue, is carefully preserved by the Innung der Wiener Kaffee-sieder (the Coffee Makers' Guild of Vienna).

[Pg 52]

Even during the lifetime of the first kaffee-sieder, a number of others opened coffee houses and acquired some little fame. Early in the eighteenth century a tourist gives us a glimpse of the progress made by coffee drinking and by the coffee-house idea in Vienna. We read:

The city of Vienna is filled with coffee houses, where the novelists or those who busy themselves with the newspapers delight to meet, to read the gazettes and discuss their contents. Some of these houses have a better reputation than others because such zeitungs-doctors (newspaper doctors—an ironical title) gather there to pass most unhesitating judgment on the weightiest events, and to surpass all others in their opinions concerning political matters and considerations.

All this wins them such respect that many congregate there because of them, and to enrich their minds with inventions and foolishness which they immediately run through the city to bring to the ears of the said personalities. It is impossible to believe what freedom is permitted, in furnishing this gossip. They speak without reverence not only of the doings of generals and ministers of state, but also mix themselves in the life of the Kaiser (Emperor) himself.

Vienna liked the coffee house so well that by 1839 there were eighty of them in the city proper and fifty more in the suburbs.

Coffee Pot

[Pg 53]

Chapter IX: TELLING HOW COFFEE CAME TO VIENNA -- All About Coffee, by William H. Ukers

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