Two Suitcases – Schillerlocken

For your enjoyment, a new draft of what I think of the pastry scene. And afterwards, take a look at Two Suitcases’ GoFundMe campaign.

(I’ll have to get Tom to make Schillerlocken to get a bigger picture, I think.)

April 22, 1929

The University of Vienna, Ringstrasse

 Ida hurries out of her first afternoon class, Dr. Charlotte Buhler’s lecture on Child Development. After experimenting with sitting on three different benches, she settles on the second, and, her book bag settled on her lap, looks first to the right, and then to the left, and then to the right again. She intends to keep an eye on the door Erich may emerge from, while simultaneously watching the route he is likely to take to the Konditorei where they’d first met, in case she misses him coming out. 

She doesn’t have long to wait. Erich’s mop of wild hair is obvious above the group of students pouring out of the Mathematics building.  He’s walking with someone and gesturing animatedly. What next? Should she stand up and go to him? Or hope that he notices her there on the bench? The courtyard is crowded and noisy now. 

Ida decides she shouldn’t chance sitting, so she stands up and makes her way toward Erich across the current of chattering students, glad of her own height. Should she call out? She will miss him if she doesn’t. She is raising her arm, about to wave, about to call out his name, when he turns, spots her, and grins. He says something to his companion and makes his way, cross-current, to where she is. 

“Hello!” he says, genuinely glad to see her. “I was hoping we’d run into each other again!”

“And I you!” she says. He’s very handsome despite the pockmarks all over his face. She hadn’t noticed them before, but it’s not such an uncommon sight. Lots of children get smallpox and most of them die. He’s lucky to have survived, she thinks. Money and good doctors: always a help.

“Join me for Jause, will you? I’m going to Sluka.” 

“I’d love to,” says Ida, and she lets herself be drawn into the outward flow of the crowd, with Erich at her side. Then it hits her. Sluka! Not the little bakery where they’d met! What have I done? What kind of fool am I to have accepted?

Konditorei Sluka is one of the best bakeries in the city. It is elegant, luxurious, and outrageously expensive, a place inhabited by tourists, the wealthy, and even the very wealthy. The Empress Elisabeth was a regular customer! Ida knows where it is, of course, but she has never been inside. As a child she looked through the window with longing and more recently with disdain. Frantically, she searches her mind for a reason to back out now, to decline Erich’s offer, to walk away and never see him again. 

They are too different; they’ll never get past their class differences. She is poor. He is rich. That is that.

Before she can decide on an excuse, he turns to her and asks how she likes her coffee. With cream? One teaspoon of sugar or two?

By the time they reach the Konditorei, Erich and Ida have discussed their mutual enjoyment of good coffee, pastry, and the cinema, as well as establishing the comforting fact that they are both Jews. 

Once in the bakery, however, the problems begin. Ida has no money. She could allow Erich pay for a small cup of coffee, but it is much too soon in their acquaintance to let him buy her pastry. 

She looks around. A wall of ceiling-high windows draped in diaphanous curtains fills the lavish bakery and cafe with light. Glistening chandeliers hang above and matching lamps extend from the walls all around. The walls are deep yellow with gold trim, interspersed with panels of pale green framed in rich brown. Ladies in silk and satin and dapper gentlemen sit at highly polished round tables, cutting their pastries with forks and knives. The chairs have graceful bent wood backs and legs so delicate that Ida wonders how people dare to sit on them.

Erich leads her to the pastry case. The polished wood and glass case radiates golden light. Ornately decorated pastries and cakes satisfy every visceral sense: moist cream fillings; bright fruit slices shimmering in fruity glazes atop voluminous cakes; crispy puff pastry layers surrounding vanilla scented creams; soft nut tortes offering only a fleetingly crunchy resistance to the bite while rewarding one’s every nutty desire; unctuously melt-in-the-mouth coffee butter creams topped with crunchy crushed coffee beans.  

“So,” asks Erich, “What is your favorite? Perhaps the Schillerlocken, so creamy and crispy—an excellent contrast—or the Indianer with its opposing flavors, chocolate and vanilla?” He moves slowly along the curved glass case. “I love the Haselnusstorte because it’s so light and creamy. Ah, there is the notorious Punschkrapfen, delectable pastry soaked with our lovely Austrian rum.” He wanders on, pointing to one elaborately decorated pastry after another. “As for myself, I have a hard time deciding between the Mohnstrudel—oh, that delicious filling of ground poppyseed mixed with red plum jam and raisins—and the Topfengolatschen, with its wonderfully sour Topfen cheese filling. But in the end,” he says, arriving at the far end of the case, “I am usually my boring self, and I order the Buchteln.”

Erich’s enticing ode to pastry gives Ida a moment to think about how she will handle the situation.

“Erich,” she begins, having decided to be straightforward and perfectly honest in her explanation. “Erich,” she begins again, though she is not ordinarily a person who loses confidence in what she is saying and needs to begin again. “Erich,” she says, “Let me be forthright with you…” 

“Gruess Gott, Herr Stein, I have kept the two Buchteln, the lightest ones again, especially for you. May I wrap them for you as always?” asks the comfortably round woman behind the counter.

Erich puts a soft hand on Ida’s arm to indicate that he’ll listen to her in a moment, and answers,“Thank you, that is very kind of you, Frau Gisi, but the lady and I will be taking a table today. I am just recommending all my favorites to Fraulein Ida.”

“Would Herr Stein like to take that table near the window? We are very crowded at this time of the day.”

“Thank you very much, Frau Gisi. The table next to the window is fine.” 

“Thank you, Herr Stein. It is our pleasure,” she says.

Erich smiles at her. “See you the next time!” 

Then he takes Ida by the elbow and guides her through the maze of silk and satin and fine wool, past masterpieces in cream, butter, and golden pastry, through fragrant clouds of the scents of coffee and baking. Forks and knives clink; the conversation is just loud enough.

Ida cannot help comparing her father’s choice of venue for afternoon coffee with Erich’s.  At least one can be heard here. Nobody is arguing politics. She will tell Erich she can’t accept his offer to pay when they sit down.

Their table is near the center of the front window, where the sheer curtains are swept back, and one can watch the people walking by on the Rathausplatz. Erich holds Ida’s chair out for her. 

As she lifts her skirt to seat herself, Ida remembers what she is wearing: a dress so often updated and remade that no one could mistake it for anything else. Everybody in the room will know exactly what social class she belongs to the moment they look at her. Most of them already do.

Well, she thinks, so what. Here is an opportunity to prove that class doesn’t matter. She straightens her back and holds her head high. 

“Erich, listen. I haven’t any money at all. I can’t afford a pastry and I don’t feel comfortable letting you pay. I’ll have a small cup of coffee, and that’s all.” 

“What? You’ll let this excellent opportunity go by? You are so often offered your choice of such exceptional pastries?”

“It’s not that. Of course not. It’s just that we don’t know each other!”

“I know that you like your coffee with cream and just a little sugar. And that you enjoy funny films.”

A waitress in a crisp black dress and a frilly white apron is already standing next to their table. 

“Good afternoon, Herr Stein. Are you ready to order?”

“Indeed I am, Fraulein Inge,” Erich  answers. “For me, the Buchteln and einen Verlaengerten, and for the lady, einen Melange, and the Schillerlocken.”

“No! Just the coffee for me, please!” Ida says.

“Be so kind as to bring the Schillerlocken as well, Fraulein Inge,” Erich tells the waitress. “That will be all for now.”

As the waitress moves on to another table, he lowers his voice and says to Ida, “I’ll eat it if you won’t. But I hope you won’t be so silly.”

A few minutes later the voluptuous dessert is sitting in front of Ida. She looks at the roll of delicate, flaky pastry with its dusting of powdered sugar and sprinkling of chopped walnuts, its filling of luscious, lightly sweetened whipped cream spilling onto the plate. With a sigh, she picks up her dessert fork. Erich is sipping his coffee and looking across the room.

Tentatively, she presses the long edge of her fork into the pastry. The consequences of cutting into the crispy roll are immediately apparent: the whipped cream will spurt out and spill over the gold rim of the bone china plate and onto the paper doily below it. 

She turns the fork and scoops up a little of the cream. She puts it in her mouth. Oh my.

“Good?” he asks, returning his attention to Ida. 

The cream is such a luxury and she is so hungry for something sweet, for something special, that she almost has no words. Between bites she manages, “It’s wonderful! It reminds me something my grandfather brought me for my birthday when I was very small.”

“I think it is the best in Vienna, “ he says. “But you must try the pastry.” 

Ida has eaten all the cream and every little bit of walnut from around the crispy roll. Now there is no option but to attack the roll. With vigor borne of the pleasure she found in eating the cream, Ida strikes the crisp pastry with her fork. 

It is worse than she anticipated. The cream spews out, flying over the edge of the plate, over the edge of the table, and onto her dress.

Without speaking, Erich hands her his still-perfectly-folded cloth napkin.  

Ida wipes the errant cream from her bodice. “How clumsy I am!” she says, looking down.

Erich is surveying the room again. “I didn’t see a thing,” he says. Then he turns back to her and continues more softly, “Do you see that man near the pastry case with the short black beard and pince-nez?”

Ida gives up on her dress and glances in the direction Eric is indicating with his eyes, a quirk of his mouth, and his eyebrows. If she weren’t so embarrassed, she would find the gesture endearing. She sees the man with the beard.

“That’s Viktor von Ephrussi, the banker,” Erich says so quietly she can barely hear him. “I can’t see who is with him.”

Ida’s eyes widen. What am I doing here? Viktor von Ephrussi.

“Von Ephrussi, you said? You aren’t aware that aristocratic titles haven’t been used since 1918?” She shakes her head in disbelief. “I’m afraid you aren’t much of a candidate for membership in the SAJ.” 

Erich blushes deeply, one of the difficulties that comes with having red hair.

“You are right, of course,” he says. “It slipped off my tongue. It’s what my parents call him, you see. As for myself, I never think of the man, but there he is, and he is a great hero in my family.”

Ida decides to discontinue her acquaintance with Erich as soon as possible.

The pastry, most of its cream gone, is more compliant throughout the rest of their visit to Sluka. Ida refrains from saying anything disparaging about the very, very rich and their role in the woes of society. Instead, they speak of films.

As they walk back to the University, they share their favorite scenes from Charlie Chaplin’s movies: the boxing scene in “City Lights,” the barber scene in “The Barber Shop,” the fight scene in “The Kid.”  When they part, Ida hears herself agreeing to meet Erich for a simple coffee in two days’ time.

Don’t forget to check out my GoFundMe campaign!

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