Legendary Leopolitans No. 11: Yuriy Kulchytsky The Grandfather of European Coffee Culture.
The history of coffee in Lviv begins in the late 17th century when Lvivite Yuriy Kulchytsky founded Vienna’s first coffeehouse in 1683. People gained a true appreciation of coffee when the Austrians moved to Lviv, and revealed the niceties of coffee culture by opening numerous cafes. Lviv will celebrate its rich coffee heritage with its fifth annual September festival on Rynok square from 23-25 September. It will be an important event for all of our coffeehouses, many of which are architecturally and thematically unique.
The story starts during the reign of King Jan III Sobieski of Poland (1624—1696), who on September 12, 1683, headed a Christian coalition of Polish, German, French and Austrian armies to lift the lengthy Turkish siege at Vienna. The Muslim troops panicked at the sound and fury of the heavy mounted, winged Polish Hussars’ avalanche, and frantically fled the battlefield. On October 9th, Sobieski won the decisive battle in Parkany, Hungary. Never again did the Islamic military attempt to subjugate Europe. During those long weeks of the Turkish siege of Vienna, the Polish king was ably served by a personal confidante Yuriy-Frants Kulchytsky. (His name is often written in German as Georg Franz Kolschitzky and in Polish as Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki). Kulchytsky was born in 1640 in Kulchytsi near Sambir about 50 km from Lviv. As a young man, he became deeply interested in the Turkish language and culture, mastering Turkish then taking work as a translator for the Belgrade office of the Austrian Oriental Company (Orientalische Handelskompagnie).
Kulchytsky could also be considered the equivalent of today’s secret agent. He was of noble birth, and through hard work he became a wealthy merchant, who travelled extensively in the Middle East. Fluent in several Turkish dialects and dressed in appropriate Turkish garb, he could penetrate the Turkish siege lines and sneak into the tunnels that ran beneath Vienna city walls. There he kept Count Von Starhenberg informed of the impending rescue attempts. They developed a method of communication using primitive rocket signals - a great morale boost to the beleaguered Viennese. Through his broad experience in the Middle East, Kulchytsky also became aware of commander Kara Mustafa’s ambitious plans to dominate Europe.
On the morning of September 12, 1683, Sobieski ordered thousands of his heavymounted winged Hussars to initiate constant mass charges and forays on all fronts against the encamped Turks. Surprised at every turn, Kara Mustafa, ordered a rapid, mass retreat to the East, abandoning their command posts with maps, battle plans, armor, cannons, tents, stables, kitchen fires, coins, jewels, food and bags of Turkish coffee beans. Despite their forced swift evacuation, the Turks killed most of their concubines and camp followers, to save them falling into the hands of the Christian infidels. By evening, the battle was over and Sobieski relaxed in the Turkish Grand Vizier’s magnificent tent. The spoils of war were divided between the victors, Kulchytsky chose to take his share in bags of coffee beans, surprising the Viennese, who considered them strange, worthless items. At this time although enjoyed in England, Marseilles and Paris, coffee was still unfamiliar to most of continental Europe. The grateful Viennese also presented Kulchytsky with a house in the Inner Stadt (Old Town). Here the enterprising fellow established the first coffee house in Central Europe, named the Hof zur Blauen Flasche or ‘House under the Blue Bottle’. Kulchytsky’s abilities helped popularize coffee in Austria and in time his cafe became one of the most popular places in the city. Kulchytsky always served the mortar-ground coffee wearing Turkish attire, which added to the place’s popularity. Originally coffee was served in the Turkish style without milk, but later he introduced milk and sugar to taste. Kulchytsky also created an appropriately designed pastry to serve with this new intoxicating brew.
His first pastry was shaped like a Turkish crescent, or half moon, a symbol on the Turkish banners. Legend has that it was based on the jeweled stirrups from the Polish King’s saddle. When Sobieski made his triumphal entry into the Austrian capitol, the jubilant Viennese reached up to touch the Polish monarch’s boots and stirrups. Pastries evolved into other shapes, one of which is the round, hard-glazed doughnut shaped roll, known as the bagel. In 1883, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Vienna’s rescue, the city erected a largerthan-
life statue of Kulchytsky. You can spot it on the first floor pediment of the apartment on the corner of Favorittenstrasse and Kolchitskygasse in Vienna. To this day he stands in Turkish dress, a coffee pot in his right hand and a tray of cups and bagels in his left. At his feet lie Turkish flags, banners, pikes, swords, shields... and bags of coffee. Over time coffee and bagels spread throughout Europe, and the coffee house or ‘kawiarnia’ became popular in Lviv. It quickly became the cultural center of meetings, literary discussions and ordinary city life gossip, as well as a hotbed of political connivance. They also served as libraries, where newspapers and books were available to customers. Nowadays, with the advent of radio and ubiquitous television, this pacific, relaxed atmosphere has been considerably disturbed. However, for coffee drinkers who enjoy a sweet treat or two with their java, “Pid Synej Plyashkou” or ‘Under the Blue Bottle’ coffee house at Rus’ka str., 4 is a must when visiting Lviv city centre. Inside is a bustling atmosphere where tasteful décor blends with the mingled scents of coffee and sweets, whisking you back to the times of legendary Yuriy-Frants Kulchytsky, - merchant, soldier, spy, diplomat, avowed hero of Viena and a man who left Europe a great legacy by introducing coffee culture.