I have found myself, during quiet moments in the past few weeks, vaguely longing to go back to Vienna. I‘ve been lucky enough to travel there for work, and I have always wanted to go there for a week just to hang out. I don‘t know when I will be able to make that happen right now, which probably adds to that vague longing.
I have a list of things I want to do in Vienna that I haven‘t done before. The Central Cemetery, where Beethoven, Brahms, and Falco are buried. The Belvedere Museum, which houses Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. The Hundertwasser House, designed by the eccentric artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
And I have a list of places where I want to return. The Leopold Museum, home to much of Egon Schiele’s body of work. Grinzig, the wine neighborhood and home to the wine bars known as heuringer. The Augarten, a quiet respite in the middle of the city.
And very specifically, Fischer Bräu, which makes and serves some of the best beer I’ve ever had. Their house beer is Helles, a style of lager popular in southern Germany and in Austria. Fisher Bräu’s version is rich and creamy, with a sweet wheat flavor. It goes down alarmingly easily, and it has a mysterious lightness that convinces me that I have room for another one.
I’m always on the lookout for a lager available in Maryland that can help me imagine I’m in Fischer Bräu’s biergarten. Manor Hill Brewing’s Pilsner comes pretty close. It’s smooth and zippy with an astringent tang and a sweet, light bran undertone. It’s a cozy beer, like a well-worn pair of slippers or a nice plate of spaghetti and meatballs. I’m also a fan of RavenBeer’s Pendulum Pilsner, a sweet and malty beer with a surprising richness. Both hold up well to schnitzel or käsespätzle or any of the other Austrian dishes I’m cooking up these days.
Food is the easiest way to explore the world when I can’t travel, and sometimes I don’t even bother trying to be authentic when I can create a simulation of the experience.
Let’s say that one day, I get a craving for a Käsekrainer. It is a sausage stuffed with Emmentaler cheese that is widely found at Würstelstands around Vienna. Apparently, it is often referred to by locals as “Eitrige,” which roughly translates as “pus-filled.” This is because the cheese oozes out when the sausage is cut.
If I’m in Aldi and I get lucky, I will find Emmentaler cheese and Kaiser rolls in stock. That’s all I need, because I usually have a stash of Costco’s Kirkland brand hot dogs in my fridge. I grill and chop up the hot dogs then serve them with chunks of Emmentaler, a lightly toasted Kaiser roll, and dollops of Dijon mustard and ketchup. It misses out in the oozing cheese area and lacks any semblance of authenticity. But if I’m drinking a Maryland-made Pilsner-style beer and pretending it’s some of Vienna’s finest, then authenticity is never a part of the equation.
Another thing I try to replicate is an Austrian soda called Almdudler. It’s sort of like a ginger ale with citrus and elderflower flavors. I adore it. The closest I’ve gotten to it is mixing together Sierra Mist and Ikea’s elderflower syrup. It’s not quite right, but it will do in a pinch.
Coincidentally, one of the hotels I have stayed at in Vienna is walking distance to the Almdudler House. My work colleagues thought it was amusing that I had to stop by and take a picture. But let’s be honest, when you have a doorway shaped like a soda bottle, you are inviting tourists like me to post photos of it on Instagram.
To be honest, I can’t tell if I like Almdudler because it tastes good or because it instantly makes me feel at home when I get to Austria. Or maybe I am amused by the strange looks I get from waitstaff when I order one in my broken German. I might be reading a bit too much into that. It’s not like I ordered a Hugo.
Except for the one time I did order a Hugo. It came like this, which probably tells you all you need to know about it:
I realized as I was writing this that I have done quite a bit to recreate much of what I like about Vienna at home. I can cook schnitzel like a pro. I can buy Austrian wine locally. If I really feel adventurous, I could try to make authentic semmel at home. Sure, I can’t immerse myself in Viennese culture right now, but I have ways to scratch the itch a bit.
And sometimes a little taste of what I love will help tide me over until I can make my way back. Someday. Hopefully soon.