Exhibition preparations | 12. Juli 2021

Caffeine on Kohlmarkt

by Michael Freund
© Collection AD
The Story of Alfred Weiss and His Café, Coffee (and Tea) Arabia

When the Espresso Arabia on Vienna’s Kohlmarkt closed in 1999, giving way to a boutique, regular guests and architectural connoisseurs both felt regret. Not only a popular meeting place in the city center, the coffeehouse represented one of the most important designs realized by the architect Oswald Haerdtl, who created a kind of “Gesamtkunstwerk” here in the early 1950s—an icon of the new, fast espresso culture. The Jewish Museum Vienna is dedicating an exhibition to the café and the life of its founder, the entrepreneur Alfred Weiss (1890–1973); the opening is planned for June 2022.
 
“Arabia” had already been the name of the coffee and tea import company that Weiss took over from his father after the First World War and successfully continued. The well-known graphic designer Joseph Binder (“Meinl Moor”) drew the distinctive company logo with a capital “A” for him. In 1938, the company was “Aryanized,” and Weiss and his family had to flee. The daughters survived in England, he and his wife in Rome following an odyssey through Europe. They returned to Vienna after the war; from Italy he brought along what he had seen blossoming there: the new technique of espresso coffee preparation, as well as a new consumer culture. He is regarded as one of the pioneers who established this culture in Austria.
 
Assuming ownership of the import company again, he developed the Arabia name into one of the major coffee brands in the post-war decades. Weiss also commissioned Haerdtl with designs for trade fair stands and branch cafés. He turned Palais Auersperg—likewise according to the architect’s drafts—into the company’s headquarters in the 1960s and 1970s. In short: he worked tirelessly right up to the end. The visible center of his work was and remained the Arabia café and coffee brand. The exhibition will further pursue this biographically and culturally exciting story.



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© Collection AD
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© Collection AD