Vienna feeds the imagination. Sydney and Melbourne? Not so much

Vienna feeds the imagination. Sydney and Melbourne? Not so much

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Sitting in Vienna’s Café Central a few years back, drinking a coffee with whipped cream on top (the original cappuccino, so named because the topping looked like the hood of a Capuchin monk) I was reflecting that 100 years ago, I could have watched Leon Trotsky playing chess with Joseph Stalin at the next table.

Like me, they probably dipped a croissant in their coffee. The croissant was invented by Viennese bakers in 1683. The shape was a reference to the crescent moon on the flag of the Ottoman Turks, who had been defeated in their efforts to overrun the city.

I’d just come from Sigmund Freud’s apartment at 19 Berg Gasse, where I’d been thrilled to see a red velvet couch.

“Is this The Couch?” I asked one of the psychology students who look after the apartment these days.

“Well, it’s not the couch where the patients lay to discuss their psychosexual fantasies,” the student replied with characteristic Viennese bluntness.

“That is in Freud’s house in London. But this was the couch where the patients waited to see him.”

Trotsky, Stalin and Freud were all living in Vienna in 1913. So was Adolf Hitler, working as a carpet cleaner while trying to sell his crappy paintings.

I developed the fantasy that Hitler could easily have been hired by Martha Freud to beat the rugs on the floor of the family apartment.

The history of the 20th century would have been different if Freud had spun his chair around and said “You look like a troubled young man. Come and have a chat.”

Vienna is a town that feeds the imagination. Can we say the same about Sydney or Melbourne?

Is a deep dive at Bondi or St Kilda more satisfying than a deep dive into the history of western civilisation? Sorry, we’ll just have to be content with positions two and three.

David Dale is the author of Essential Places – A book about ideas and where they started.