Sacher Vienna - the making of
YOU CAN HAVE THE CAKE - AND ENJOY IT
by Andreas Augustin
No other cake in the world sells better than the Original Sacher-Torte. The Hotel Sacher produces around 320,000 of this sweetest of Viennese ambassadors per year. On good days the order reaches 3,500. Hardly surprising, then, that The Most Famous Hotels in the World turned to the Austrian capital in 1990 to research the unique history of the Sacher, and to discover the secrets of this legendary hotel which opened during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth. It was the year 1876, the same year that saw the inauguration of the Frankfurter Hof and the Oriental in Bangkok. The Sacher is one of the last privately owned and run luxury hotels in the world, a living reflection of the ideas and standards of its owners. Doors are still pushed open by human hands and the wakeup call still comes from a real person.
In 1990 we met Elisabeth Guertler (the mother of the two owners of the hotels Sacher in Vienna and Salzburg. Alexandra and Georg, here pictured with her mother), who had just taken over the ‘Direktion’ of the hotel. Blessed with impeccable quality minded, modern management skills, she also possessed an unsurpassed sense of style. Her concept was catapulting the old fashioned Sacher Hotel into the future. She would accomplish what her late husband Peter Guertler had started (the Guertler family had acquired the hotel in 1936).
Today, the house is the very epitome of elegance from head to toe, from the rooftop spa overlooking the opera house to the cosy lobby beneath and the downstairs bar and restaurants. Upstairs, in the spa, you enter a fascinating world of exotic aromas, water elements, and a sauna that exudes history. The future, meanwhile, is represented downstairs in modern spots like the Sacher Corner, a stylish glass front corner bar, inspired by Alexandra Winkler, the daughter of the house, and her brother Georg Guertler: Family business at its best. We collected stories from the late Peter Wanninger, the chef concierge, since replaced by Wolfgang Buchmann, and Robert Palfrader, a legendary former restaurant manager. We visited retired members of staff, recording long forgotten tales and keeping them alive for the next generation. In total, we spent over one hundred hours interviewing them.
Hotel manager Reiner Heilmann had started a small collection of historical photographs. He personally guarded the hotel's collection of historic menus, as well as its legendary century old embroidered tablecloth, a kind of Sacher's private Who’s Who. It was an invention by the legendary Anna Sacher, who ran the hotel from the fin de siècle to the 1930s. All the illustrious guests were and still are invited to sign on the tablecloth and these signatures would later be embroidered. The centre piece is a signature by His Imperial Majesty, Kaiser Franz Joseph. The latest one is by Sharon Stone. Many imitators have tried to copy the Sacher cake. Japanese spies have even attempted to infiltrate the inner sanctuary of the Sacher in search of the secret of all secrets. One son of the rising sun sought employment in the hotel kitchen. Being Japanese nobody batted an eyelid when he happily began to take snapshots of his surroundings, including the mixing, baking and decorating of the cake. He subsequently returned to his homeland and opened a confectionery selling Sacher-Torte. Focusing our efforts on international guests, we unearthed a treasure trove of tales. Charlie Chaplin, for instance, stayed at the Imperial Hotel in 1931. The day after his arrival, he escaped his fans to meet his composer friend Richard Strauss at the Sacher Bar for a good chat. Walt Disney, dining at the Restaurant Rote Bar, ordered a saddle of venison to the delight of the restaurant manager Robert T. Palfrader, who took the order with the words: ‘A saddle of Bambi, Mr Disney!’
Nobody was aware that the late Graham Greene (1904-1991, left) had spent one week at the Sacher in February 1948. He lunched at the Sacher with a British intelligence officer, who told him about penicillin trafficking in the Viennese underground sewer system. As a result of this chance meeting, Greene was inspired to pen The Third Man, starring Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles and Trevor Howard. Interestingly, the lead actor, Orson Welles, became a regular at the Sacher. He later said that when he agreed to play Harry Lime, he was offered either a straight salary or a percentage of the profits. Welles chose the salary. It was a decision he would live to regret - the movie went on to become the most successful film of the immediate post World War II era. We searched far and wide for people who, once upon a time, started their career at the Sacher. We found Toni Piringer, who began as an apprentice at the hotel, before rising to the post of Executive Vice-President of Fairmont Hotels and later became President of Adam's Mark Hotels.
Rudolf Paller, a former manager and another great character, told us about Edward VIII, the King of England, who visited Vienna in 1936 on a state visit. As was the official custom, he stayed at the Hotel Bristol but all the same insisted on holding a lunch at the Sacher.
The next time he came to Vienna, he was no longer King of England, having of course abdicated because of his relationship with the American divorcee Wallis Simpson (to the left). Unbound by royal protocol, he could enjoy the cozy privacy of his hotel of choice, the Sacher. Edward was in fact the first man to sign the hotel’s new guest book. Today Edward VIII would have enjoyed the treatment in the Spa's steam room / to the right. The complete collection of legends, stories and – of course – history will be published in the new editon HOTEL SACHER VIENNA in the series THE MOST FAMOUS HOTELS IN THE WORLD. One chilly winter evening, while leaving the Sacher, we met Kurt Wachtveitl, general manager of The Oriental in Bangkok, who was visiting Vienna. For years we had been talking about a book about the Oriental. We had a long meeting the next day. It is no exaggeration to say that the final corner stone to our next book, The Oriental, had been laid at the Sacher in Vienna, some 8,420 km (5,230 miles) away from Bangkok.