Cultural Stories of the Viennese Laundry Girls
by Thomas Stiegler
The Viennese laundry girls must have been a funny bunch – lively, lively and never at a loss for a cheeky answer. At least that is the image we have of them even after more than a hundred years and for which their contemporaries loved them.
Just read how Vincenz Chiavacci described them in his Sketches from Vienna: “Handling the soap foam also seems to exert a regenerating power on the heart and mind, as well as on physical well-being. Where else would the many buxom, healthy girls with the loud ‘hamur’ and the polished ‘göscherl’ come from?
Today, of course, these “girls” have long since disappeared from Vienna’s cityscape. There are only a few old pictures left in which we see them in their characteristic costume, with the headscarf tied backwards and the clothes hanging from the side of their backs.
“When these ‘Venus girls’ climb through the streets with their butts full of snow-white, beautifully smoothed hair, their eyes flashing, their auburn hair adorned with perky ‘sixes’, their tight little skirts down to their knees, their immaculate legs clad in a nice chaussure, it is obvious from their whole demeanour that they are aware of their value; You can see from their whole demeanour that they are aware of their worth, and the bold looks of the young gentlemen are parried by them with a defiant, ready-to-fight smile. Woe to the daring one who dares to speak an impertinent word, a bold importunity; a flood of choice terms of endearment, which cannot be found in any dictionary, is his reward; every word an English penknife.”
But behind this deliberately launched image of the “Viennese Laundry Girl” as the epitome of joie de vivre and mother wit was a harsh reality that was cruel and mean and full of hardship.
In summer and winter they had to start work long before sunrise. They would then stand in the dim laundry rooms for up to sixteen hours, ready to sort, soap, roll and beat the laundry and, last but not least, hang it up and flatten it.
And the reward was a few pennies that were barely enough to survive.
But still, despite all these hardships and hardships, they seemed to have somehow managed to keep their cheerful nature. Maybe it was just their way of coping with this difficult life, but in any case they were known for it and over time it almost developed into something like a culture of its own.
Their little pleasures and festivities, too, especially the Wäschermädelbälle, soon became a well-known attraction in the city, to which the good citizens aspired just as much as the sons of the old Viennese nobility.
But in the course of industrialisation and the spread of the washing machine, they too eventually had to give way to progress and the only things that still remind us of them today are a few old pictures, a few anecdotes and a wonderful dessert that bears their name.
20 g icing sugar
60 ml apricot liqueur
80 g marzipan
1/4 l white wine
250 g flour
2 tbsp oil
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
10 g sugar
Wash the apricots, pour boiling water over them and quench in ice water. Cut into the
cut the side with the stalk and remove the stone.
Mix the liqueur and icing sugar, put the apricots in and leave to infuse for 15 minutes.
Form small balls from the marzipan and place them in the apricots instead of the seeds.
Separate the eggs for the pastry. Mix the flour, wine, oil, egg yolks, lemon zest and 1 pinch of salt to a smooth batter.
stir into a smooth batter.
Beat the egg whites with the sugar until stiff and fold into the batter.
Dip the filled apricots into the batter and bake in hot fat until golden brown.
Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
Zedlers Universallexikon aller Wissenschaften und Künste,
Johann Heinrich Zedler, 1731
A new cookery book, Marx Rumpolt, 1581
Chronicle of beautiful baked goods, Irene Krauß, Stuttgart 1999
Franz Maier-Bruck, on the website: Culinary Heritage Austria