What’s the Big Deal About Vienna?

What’s the cultural capital of the world? What place, more than any other is known for its art, its fashion, its intellectual output, its music and its food? I’d say if you were to scratch music off of that list, and put aside any national biases, most of us today would probably say Paris. And indeed it has been the cultural center of gravity in the Western world since the days of Napoleon, some 200 years now.

But before that the place to see and be seen in Western Europe was without question Vienna. Way back when Paris was considered something of a cultural backwater, Vienna was the seat of empires: specifically the Holy Roman empire, starting in 1556 (though it had been the de-facto capital of the empire for almost 150 years by them). As such it occupied a position much like Rome once did, as a focal point for ideas and innovations from across its area of influence which stretched from lands that are now Poland down to Italy, from Eastern France to Turkey.

Sure, we could talk about what all that meant for Vienna in terms of its architecture, performing arts and politics. Me, I’d rather focus on the pastry, which was the best in the world at the time. Some would argue it still is, regardless of what the Pierre Hermé’s of the world have to say about it. But no matter what you might think about the Parisian versus the Viennese versus the New York pastry scene, what isn’t in dispute is that most of the fundmental techniques every pastry chef uses can be traced back to Vienna.

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