This, being the start of our eighth year of publication, seems as good a time as any to simplify our system of rating hotels and restaurants. Under our old system we occasionally found places that didn't fit any of our rating categories. There were other shortcomings, too.
We will now rate both hotels and restaurants on a 0-20 scale and place them in one of five categories: Unacceptable, Adequate, Average, Above Average and Excellent. The ratings will be based on weighted criteria. For hotels the criteria are: Location, Guestrooms, Public Rooms, Restaurant(s), Facilities and People. For the restaurants the criteria are: Food, Service and Atmosphere.
Of course, it is impossible to reduce such a process to mathematics. A beautiful restaurant run by wonderful people could conceivably serve food so awful the restaurant could only be rated "unacceptable." This system, however, might yield enough points for service and atmosphere to place it in the "adequate" category. In cases like that we will simply resort to more subjective methods and give the restaurant its deserved "unacceptable" overall rating.
Though not perfect we still believe this is a step in the right direction. We welcome your suggestions.
World War II scholar Bob Gillespie of Lake Bluff, Illinois, corrects our October item concerning Hitler's "Wolfs Lair" in Poland being turned into a tourist attraction. We wrote that Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who tried to kill Hitler with a briefcase bomb at the "Wolfs Lair," was hung with piano wire. Mr. Gillespie points out that von Stauffenberg, who returned to Berlin thinking Hitler was dead, was actually shot. Hundreds of other conspirators were executed in a variety of ways, including being hung from meat hooks with piano wire.
Mr. Gillespie also sent us information on the Bendlerblock, a complex of buildings near Berlin's Tiergarten, where the failed plot to overthrow National Socialism was mostly hatched. It is now known as the German Resistance Memorial Centre. Several of the plotters against Hitler were executed here on July 20,1944, the same day of the attempted assassination. A permanent exhibition "documents the motives, methods and aims of the struggle against the National Socialist dictatorship." The German Resistance Memorial Centre, is at Stauffenbergstrasse 11-13.
It was our first wintertime visit to Vienna, my favorite city. It's a great cold weather city; plenty of places to duck in for a lusty bowl of soup, a beer or, during the Christmas season, a hot Weihnachtspunsch. This potion of tea, orange juice, red wine and rum is seemingly sold everywhere by everyone. Kärnterstrasse restaurants erect sidewalk stands that compete with the local Rotary Club's stands. No matter what the weather the booths stay open and gather crowds until late at night. One of my best 1993 Vienna memories is wandering through the snow one night after 11 p.m. sipping hot Weihnachtspunsch from a paper cup.
The stuff is also sold at the Vienna Christmas Market, which, by the way, is not to be missed if you're in town during the season. The city's Neues Rathaus, its lovely grounds dazzlingly lit and decorated, provide a spectacular backdrop for the hundreds of Christmas stalls.
As long as you're in the neighborhood you should amble up Burggasse to the tiny Christmas Market that winds through narrow Spittelberggasse. The Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg is a charming little collection of cubicles that hawk the wares of neighborhood artisans along with various libations that warm the inner traveler. Go in the evening and have dinner at Boheme, a nifty little restaurant that well review next month.
Alas, Gypsy music has apparently disappeared from the Vienna restaurant scene. Of course, our beloved Café Budva packed it in several years ago. Though neither was in Budva's league, we now mourn the passing of the Csardasfürstin and Mathias Keller. The latter burned down and the former is now a Russian restaurant. So where does one find authentic Zigeunermusik? Try Budapest.
Actually we did get our Gypsy music fix at the Volksoper where the Emmerich Kalmans, Csardasfürstin, was playing. Inside, the old building looked better than ever and the first-rate performance had just what we were looking for, dancing, rousing choruses and teary love duets...a very satisfying dose of Viennese operetta. I recommend it. But don't expect Volksoper personnel to welcome you with open arms. Our encounter with a coat checker made me think I was in Paris. But we would never have met this charmer had not our unsmiling usher forbidden us to take our coats to our seats. Past Volksoper visits have taught us not to expect a "Hi, I'm Klaus your usher" kind of welcome but this time things got a little out of hand. Ah, but don't let me deter you, we probably just hit a couple of about-to-retire not-so-civil servants having a bad day. Anyway you'll forget it all once the curtain rises. Don't wear jeans. Men will feel out of place without a tie and women wear dresses. RHB