Did you know, that some of the biggest names in Formula One made their debut by racing cars built by a man from a quiet Viennese suburb? Neither did I, until this weekend.
Alex and I took the 7:30 a.m. train to Vienna from Munich Central station. There’s something dreamy about morning train journeys – the crunch of pastry bags, the steady rocking of the train car, the sun’s rays fanning out through tree tops, still wrapped in morning mist. Outside the scenery alternates between postcard valleys and shimmering, fluffy corn fields. Pastures, perfectly trimmed, are slowly chewed on by sleepy cows. Occasionally, there’s a lake, blue and shimmering in the morning sun.
Upon arrival in Vienna, we checked into the Steinenberg Herrehof hotel. Located smack bang in the centre, it’s a great base for walking around the historic quarter and the main shopping area. The narrow cobbled streets surrounding the hotel are lined with shop windows displaying artisanal jewellery, sweets and weird and wonderful tricklets.
Just off Michaelerplatz, you find yourself in the midst of luxury boutiques, and schools of middle-eastern tourists navigating the stony landscape, laden with shopping bags and children in toe. We turned off, into the side streets, to find shelter from the heat on a shaded terrace of a small trattoria. A cold white wine spritz is just what you need in this weather.
Classic Cars and Family Heirlooms
After refreshing ourselves, we took a drive out into Donaustadt to meet an old friend of Alex’s father. Karl Holzinger, an antique car collector now in his 80s, greets us openly, with a firm handshake and eager eyes. He is dressed in a blue-striped shirt and suit pants. He carries himself upright, with a headful of long silver hair and plenty of charm. I imagine the kind of havoc him and Eberhard wreaked on racetracks back in the day. Without further ado, he leads us into his garage.
One of the cars is an original from Winkler Racing – Eberhard’s team. He is a picture of nostalgia. While his father is reminiscing, Alex is nose-diving into the engine, all light up, like a kid who just met his favourite superhero. I notice how meticulously the cars are looked-after – every bit of leather is softened, every piece of steel is polished, and not a speck of dust on any hood.
After the private collection tour, we headed out to the local VW garage for a little party. Think big, open space with tall ceilings, island bars clothed in white and a display of vintage race cars from 1970’s and 1980’s.
The star of the show was a twin engine Volkswagen golf. For rookies like me, this is a car with one engine in the front and one in the back. Why a car needs two engines is beyond me. I guess I’ll just stick to soaking up the atmosphere and the free-flowing champagne!
He experimented with the Volkswagen beetle, turning it into an open-wheeler, and developed technologies that transformed motorsports. These DIY cars, built in Austrian suburbia, had a higher corner speed than Formula 1, and an average speed of 163 km/h on the racetrack.
They say Kurt was so passionate about his work that he had tools everywhere – in his living room, in his bedroom, in his bathroom. Inwardly, I feel for his wife. Today Kurt is a sweet man of 87, happily pushing start buttons on a suspended engine for the delight of the party guests and the village photographers.
They say Kurt was so passionate about his work that he had tools everywhere – in his living room, in his bedroom, in his bathroom.
Plachutta – a local’s favourite
Once back in central Vienna, we strolled through the cooling streets to Plachutta, a gastronomical institution recommended by Karl. I had a Hugo to start – a refreshing cocktail of prosecco, elderflower, and mint, and decided that there’s nothing better on a summer evening in the city.
We ordered a Viennese schnitzel, and tafelspitz – a traditional Viennese dish of boiled beef. It is served in its broth, with creamed spinach and rosti potatoes on the side. The brass pots are placed onto an electric hot plate, which means you can spend several hours eating the dish without it going cold. Admittedly, it is not the lightest of meals. However, it is as Viennese as it gets and it’s definitely worth working up an appetite for. Try the Kruspelspitz, the piece between 7th and 8th rib; so tender, it melts in your mouth.