Café Museum, Steinway Haus, 2009
Chris is lost in his music. He doesn’t see people passing by outside although they are hardly two meters away, only separated by the window pane of the Viennese Steinway piano store. A policeman gets out of his car to do some legal act, a delivery man unloads his van, everything looks like the normal tide of events in Vienna. But you can see the surprised expression on people’s faces when they pass the scenery. For a second they get derailed from their routine by this graceful young man from New York in his green pullover, sitting at the piano and being filmed while performing a song. No one stops, but everyone hesitates, pauses for a moment, while Chris plays the new song “Hands On The Radio” and “Not Nice” from his 2006-album “Music For Tourists”. After the first one he amusedly admits to have spit on the piano, but we didn’t find a proof. For another song we move to a classy Viennese café, where there are no more window panes between Chris and his audience. The few people around get to hear a very emotional rendition of “We Don’t Try”.
Its coffeehouse culture is something Vienna is famous for. One of the reasons is Café Museum, a traditional café on the corner of Operngasse and Karlsplatz in the first district. Prices are above-average, the waiters wear tailcoats and typically ignore new guests for a short while before serving them. They are aware of the illustrious past of the café that opened its doors in 1899. The interior was designed by the Austrian-Czechoslovakian architect Adolf Loos, renowned for his vehement opposition to that times’ predominant form of art in Vienna, the Art Nouveau. Contrary to artists like Gustav Klimt and Otto Wagner, Loos abdicated elaborate frets and ornaments and preferred a sparse, functional architecture that made him become a pioneer of modernity. Café Museum’s furnishing was so unadorned that guests soon nicknamed it Café Nihilism. Nonetheless the café quickly developed into a meeting point of artists, writers and journalists, with the likes of Elias Canetti, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Joseph Roth and Robert Musil all having been regulars. Like most traditional coffeehouses Café Museum somehow conserved the old flair and remains a good spot to hang out for a few hours, have some coffee and read a book written by one of the guests a century earlier.
The Austrian branch of Steinway & Sons piano manufacturing company has – in contrast to its New York based headquarters – a quite short history. It was in 1997 that the renowned piano manufacturer opened the Steinway-Haus in Vienna’s first district, situated in the posh area of Ringstraße with the State Opera, the Albertina Museum and the Hofburg just around the corner. The handcrafted pianos and grand pianos exposed in the Steinway-Haus are both for sale (expect a price range from several thousand to several ten thousand euros) and for rent, with some of them being used in classic Viennese concert halls like Konzerthaus. Steinway & Sons was founded in New York in 1853 by Henry E. Steinway and his two sons and developed into one of the leading piano manufacturing companies within the 19th century. Due to superior quality and clever marketing, Steinway – now merged with The Selmer Company – still enjoys a great reputation and its grand pianos are played by the world’s leading pianists and orchestras.