Demel is one of the most elegant pastry shops and chocolateries in Vienna, actually, it isn’t a coffee house, it is an institution! It was established in 1786, near the Imperial Court Theatre, by Ludwig Dehne, a confectioner from Württemberg. He had offered mostly ice cream but soon, cakes, candies and other sweets were added to his assortment. Ludwig’s son August sold the well prospering business to his first journeyman Christoph Demel in 1857, including the family recipes.
Sweet specialties from Demel soon rose to fame in Vienna. No Court and private ball or Christmas tree in any noble family were possible without them. In 1874, Demel received the title of a Purveyor to the Imperial Court (K.u.K. Hofzuckerbäckerei). Every year before Christmas, the Emperor personally invited Mr Demel to his palace in Schönbrunn to choose sweets for the Emperor’s children. The poor confectioner was so agitated by this audience with the Emperor that he spent the whole day before and after in his bed!
The most popular product was sorbet, a frozen fruity drink. They even had special metal vessels which – filled up with the sorbet laid on ice – were carried by apprentices through an underground passage into the Court Theatre. Empress Sisi loved the sorbet made of violets which is not available anymore but you can still buy another Sisi’s favourite product – candied violets. Mr Demel was personally bringing the violets to the Hofburg and the Empress took them also to her long train trips.
The historical interior was designed by the famous company Portois & Fix, it is still original, 130-year-old! – mahogany furniture, bronze decorations, green marble, white and golden plastering and an old clock which appears as if it is going backwards, returning us into the times of the monarchy. Entering the house, some people stop staring with an open mouth.
The court confectioners were responsible for breakfast, they cooked marmalades and compotes but they were also artists who created statues of marzipan or grillage for festive imperial tables.
The waitresses are also special here, actually, they are no waitresses, they are the “Demelinerinnen” who used to come from the same monastic school. Starting their job at Demel, they received the clothes and learned the Demel-language in a traditional honorific third-person style.
The visit at Demel is like a trip to the past. The original interior, cakes prepared according to old recipes, paintings of the Emperor and the beautiful Empress Sisi on a horse, the waitresses in the traditional dress…
Nevertheless, something has changed: the visitors. Once, ladies from the highest Viennese social circles used to sit here, laced in tight corsets, accompanied by their gentlemen they sipped hot coffee from a porcelain cup holding it with two fingers and straightening their little finger. Two ladies were allowed to enter without a male escort – Ms Benesch and Ulam – always dressed in the newest models from Paris. Demel was like a stage for them, and all the other present ladies knew what they had to order at their tailors the next time. This is what you cannot see at Demel anymore. The Rococo little finger went out of fashion and nobody is ashamed of licking the coffee spoon with milk foam anymore. The guests put their phones, maps and guidebooks on the table…
One man just rolled out the strudel dough with a machine, threw it over his hands like a piece of a precious fabric and put it on a table covered with a floured white tablecloth. After that he and his colleague spread out the dough around the table edges, the dough became so thin and almost transparent that you could read a newspaper through it (it is said that this is the standard at Demel).
After Christoph Demel had died, his sons Josef and Carl continued the business. Actually, it was operated by Demel’s powerful women – first by Carl’s wife Maria, later her sister-in-law Anna Demel was in charge together with her sisters Mina and Flora and adopted niece Klara from 1911 until her death in 1956, which was also during the time of the collapse of the monarchy. The relic from the imperial era was preserved thanks to that lady. Although Austria became a republic, the impoverished aristocratic clients could still find a shelter at Demel where a lord would remain a lord and a baron remained a baron.
The cake is decorated with a mixture of a very fine grillage (roasted and grated hazels mixed with fat) and couverture chocolate. The mass is spread on a cold marble board and cut in strips after chilling. Finally, the cake is covered with those strips. Every cake is different, every cake is an original!
Even if haven‘t you finished your drink or cake yet, one of the Demel-ladies will come and ask if you wish anything more. The Austrian cabaret artist Gerhard Bronner composed a song about these waitresses. It was performed by the actor Helmut Qualtinger. He sang that the Demel-ladies “are the very last protectors of the true Viennese tradition, the priestesses of an almost forgotten religion”… Demel is a history melted into the present, just let’s hope that it won’t be destroyed by the day-to-day invasion of tourists from all over the world.
If you stop here, don’t miss the shop windows. The artworks made of marzipan, chocolate and sugar icing are also a continuation of an old tradition. They are dedicated to the seasons of the year, special occasions, events or jubilees.
It was Federico Berzeviczy-Pallavicini, the husband of the adopted Klara, who started these creations. He designed the figures as well as the packing papers and boxes which are still in use. On the 3rd floor of the house, he used to have a copy of a shop window where he tested the exhibition of his creations. The artworks are displayed in the museum in the vaults which is open every Friday from 10 am to 12 pm.
Address: Kohlmarkt No 14
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri