Michaelerplatz square has its fair share of buildings rich in history and one example is Palais Herberstein. Though this proud townhouse might just be more famous for what came before it.
- Constructed around 1897
- Built on the site of Palais Dietrichstein, which housed Café Griensteidl (a legendary literary coffee house)
- See also: Michaelerplatz | Hofburg
When a Café trumps a Palais
Back in the mid-19th century, Count Herberstein came into ownership of Palais Dietrichstein, an impressive building on the edge of the Hofburg palace complex where the Habsburgs lived and worked.
The end of that century was a time of redevelopment in Vienna, with buildings shooting up all over the place. No surprise, then, that Herberstein decided to rebuild his property; architect Carl König put up a new palais in 1897.
The new Palais Herberstein took the adjoining palace as its role model, which included putting a dome on top. Which is fine in theory, but some observers of the time thought it a little disrespectful to pretend to some kind of imperial equivalence.
Anyway, various redevelopment works saw the dome disappear and the building grow in height to today’s imposing construction that guards the entrance to Herrengasse.
(Incidentally the same aristocratic family owned huge swathes of the province of Styria, south of Vienna.)
Griensteidl – the coffee house connection
Although a fine building in its own right, Palais Herberstein’s place in Viennese history comes largely through its predecessor.
Palais Dietrichstein went up around about the same time that Wellington and friends put an end to Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Some 30+ years later, a chap named Heinrich Griensteidl moved his coffee house into the palais. His imaginatively-named Café Griensteidl disappeared a few decades later along with Palais Dietrichstein.
Under normal circumstances, a 19th-century café barely deserves comment. It’s not like Vienna had a paucity of them. But Café Griensteidl played a key role in the rise of the coffee house as driver of cultural change and intellectual discussion.
The high point of this phenomenon came in the years around 1900, when Vienna was a seething mass of intellectual progression and creativity. All sorts of artists, architects, philosophers, politicians and the like would meet in the city’s coffee houses. Think Freud and Klimt, for example. And the list of coffee house intelligentsia included numerous authors, of course.
Café Griensteidl was a famous early protagonist of this cultural movement and known particularly for the writers that collected within its elegant walls, including the Young Vienna group that featured the likes of Felix Salten (author of Bambi) and Stephan Zweig.
(The German word Kaffeehausliteratur literally means “coffee house literature”. It refers to writing completed in whole or part in a coffee house. Most consider Vienna the traditional home of Kaffeehausliteratur, which finds its modern global expression when authors sit in Starbucks using the Wi-Fi on their laptops. Ironically, there’s a Starbucks on the other side of the square from Palais Herberstein.)
The Café Griensteidl name and location remains a cultural beacon in the consciousness of many Viennese. So much so that it made a recent return in Palais Herberstein, which housed its own Café Griensteidl between 1990 and 2017. Today, you can still buy coffee at the address but in packets sold by the supermarket that moved in in 2020.
How to get to Palais Herberstein
Just follow the tips at the end of the main Michaelerplatz article.
Address: Herrengasse 1-3, 1010 Vienna