VIENNA’S polite coffee house society is in open revolt over plans to turn one of the city’s most prestigious cafes into an Italian-style coffee bar.
Vienna prides itself on a coffee house culture that allows guests to sit all day long on a single melange - a coffee served with a milky froth - or Maria Theresia, a strong brew served with a hint of orange liqueur.
The Caf Demel, located on the Kohlmarkt opposite the Imperial Palace in the heart of the city, is undoubtedly one of the top three of more than 500 coffee houses in Vienna and has been regarded as one of the guardians of tradition since it was founded in 1888.
The elderly Viennese ladies in fur coats who mingle every day with tourists at Demel regard it not only as a coffee shop cum patisserie but also as a Viennese institution proud of the fact it has been almost unchanged since the Emperor Franz Josef used to visit.
The 114 mostly female staff at the Demel known as ‘Demelinerinnen’ feel so strongly about the threat to their beloved cafe that they have sent an open letter of complaint to the new Turkish-born owner, Attila Dogudan.
The letter was written after staff found out that he planned to give Demel a facelift, which they claim would do away with its traditional image, despite its success in attracting large crowds of tourists every year.
The ultra conservative Demelinerinnen, who wear traditional black dresses with white collars and are known for their discretion and their reserved silence on the excesses of those around them, yet the plans for the Demel have proved too much.
Their spokeswoman, Herta Schleiffer, said: "After we - the female staff - survived various owners with ever more severe changes, it seems now the traditional substance of the house will be changed forever by owner Attila Dogudan."
She claimed 44-year-old Dogudan, who took over the insolvent cafe in 2002 and has achieved a turnaround, wants to turn the main room into a modern coffee shop to attract a younger audience.
The open letter, which was sent to various authorities and newspapers, said: "The salon which has been in use for more than 100 years, where the members of the high society of bygone days found their place, where artists and writers sat, whose beauty and popularity has been preserved up until today, has lost its purpose. The area where cakes are displayed and sold is to make way for an Italian-style coffee bar."
But Dogudan has rejected any criticism that he would destroy the character of the cafe.
He confirmed that "the narrow part of the room where all the cakes are displayed" is to be turned into a bar. But he insisted: "We are not talking about an Italian-style coffee bar, but about establishing an area where customers can help themselves to a pastry or piece of cake."
He said the new bar area and additional display spaces for cakes would be built "sticking to the original structure".
He added: "The Demel has to remain the Demel, but you can’t shut yourself off from modern business structures just because that’s how something has always been. You need progression."