Downtown Diplomacy – Gußhausviertel
Taking a stroll just behind Karlskirche into the 4th district is a calming experience. Gone is the buzz of tourists and traffic snaking its way through the city. Instead, the streets are filled with venerable Palais and townhouses that often host foreign embassies, giving it a quiet sense of purpose; some would say a call of duty to their nation. One often sees students rushing to their next lecture, as youngsters make their way to school. This is Gußhausviertel, or the Casting Quarter, its name a reminder of the artillery and cannonballs manufactured here in the 1700s.
The area is cut through by Argentinierstraße, named in gratitude for the financial aid offered by Argentina to Vienna after the First World War. Its western border is dominated by the former summer residence of the Habsburgs, the Neue Favorita, which was repurposed by Empress Maria Theresa into a knight academy in 1746, charged with preparing young aristocrats for civil service. Today it is better known as the Theresianum, a renowned private boarding school, and the Diplomatic Academy, both still serving their original purpose for over a quarter century. The eastern border is clearly marked by the wall of the Belvedere Gardens following Prinz-Eugen Straße.
With close proximity to the 1st district and ample tall, representative Altbaus, it should come as no surprise that this is home to many diplomatic missions, embassies and residences. Most are hidden away, with only national flags and the occasional patrolling police officer reminding us of their presence. Some are prominently featured however, like the illustrious Art Noveau French embassy across from Schwarzenbergplatz or the Greek embassy in the former Palais Falkenstein.
However there’s more to this seemingly quiet enclave than diplomatic affairs. Along the northern border, Gußhaus-straße is teeming with culinary delights. Coffee aficionados can find their fix at kaffeefabrik, a little hole in the wall on the corner of Favoritenstraße, part of the contemporary “third wave coffee” movement slowly taking over the city. A bit further down the street, right across from the TU campus, the Wiener Wia z’ Haus serves classical Viennese dishes in a vintage Beisl atmosphere. More traditional interiors await at the recently opened Petz im Gußhaus, a Wirtshaus (tavern) a few meters away, but don’t let the name fool you – local haute cuisine is on the table along with a warm atmosphere.
Those looking for a quick midday meal don’t have to tread far: Delicious Monster is on the corner of Argentinierstraße and Gußhausstraße and has been a local favorite for years, with a daily lunch menu and an ambitious claim to the best burger in town. Just around the corner, across from the Palais Schwarzenberg, the Louisiana Blues Pub is always open late, beckoning passersby with livemusic every night.
Delving further south unearths a few more gems hidden away. Opposite the Diplomatic Academy on Favoritenstraße, Miller-Aichholz deals in fine wines from across the continent and beyond. Further down the road, Cafe Frey has been welcoming guests for over 120 years with melanges and warm meals, although its traditional look gave way to vintage 1980s decor.
Up the hill and behind the Theresianum lies Theater Akzent, one of the city’s younger stages. Built in 1989 by the Arbeiter-kammer Wien (Vienna Chamber of Labor) to focus on current social issues; it has since softened its mission, but still keeps societally relevant themes in its program. Finally, the Radiokulturhaus dominates the midsection of Argentinierstraße, a beloved icon and Austria’s oldest broadcasting center. Around since 1939, it is currently home to the public radio stations Ö1 and FM4, the recording studios of ORF2’s regional programming and a popular venue for concerts, discussions and debates. While large parts of the building were recently sold to a private investor, the cultural venues and several radio studios will remain.
With a variety of attractions for mind, body and soul, a heady mix of young students, urbanites and old world splendor, a location most would be envious of and an abundance of peace and tranquility close to the city center, it’s no wonder so many diplomats feel as much at home around Argentinierstraße as the Habsburgs did.