The upside-down catfish is the most hideous fish I have ever seen. That it’s been welcome on the mini-reef at Café Sperlhof for the past 17 years is down to the spirit of the place. There’s no need to be rich, cool or beautiful here or to have a predilection for ugly fish – the aquarium is far too unobtrusive for that. The only things that stand out are the towers of over 1100 board games stacked 2.5 meters high in places. They include classics – Parcheesi ludo, chess and Monopoly – but most are unknowns. Or has anyone heard of “Baksheesh,” “Bazaar” or “Therapy”? The latter involves pushing psychiatrists’ couches onto spaces like “Hysteria,” “Nightmare” or “Phobia.”
We are in Vienna. In this city, time generally moves at a slightly slower pace, but at Café Sperlhof it evidently came to a standstill decades ago. It has no Internet, but there’s a mountain of books guests are free to add to or deplete by leaving their novels here or taking some home, free of charge, but with a right of return. Credit cards are not accepted, but you can still pay with Austrian shillings if you run out of euros. And before I forget: Six pool tables, two foosball tables and one ping-pong table are dotted about the café’s labyrinth of side and back rooms. Live music wafts from some corner or other – bass, clarinet, guitar, and a keyboard instrument. The musicians play well, but they’re not hired, just neighbors who are not able to practice at home because things soon get too loud. The upside-down catfish couldn’t care less.
Our columnist, Helge Timmerberg, an irrepressible globetrotter since 1969, writes travel books and contributes monthly to our magazine.