My family’s hat-making business, Mühlbauer Hutmanufaktur, has been in Vienna for decades. I moved to the city in 2002, when I knew I wanted to take over the company. After working at a textile manufacturer in a rural part of northeastern Austria, I had a desire to reimmerse myself in an urban setting, so to speak. I bought a home by the Karmelitermarkt, in the Leopoldstadt district.
Leopoldstadt has undergone something of an “ugly duckling” transformation since I’ve lived there. So many stores and restaurants have cropped up, and there has been significant development along the Donaukanal, the tributary of the Danube River that separates Vienna’s 1st and 2nd districts. I’ve been a grateful beneficiary of this change, since real estate in the neighborhood was quite inexpensive when I moved here, before the area became popular. Some of the attraction certainly comes from recent gentrification, but Leopoldstadt’s most recognizable characteristics, such as its rich Jewish culture, have a long local history. The Karmelitermarkt, a year-round village market with dozens of food stands and restaurants, has existed for more than a century. The 2nd district is also home to the Wurstelprater, which claims to be one of the world’s oldest amusement parks. Today, you’ll find a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum here, but there are also old rides like bumper cars and a giant Ferris wheel that has been a prominent symbol of the city since 1897.
With all of its organic cuisine, independent shops, and creative-industry types, the area around the Karmelitermarkt has gained the nickname “BoBo City.” BoBo is short for “bohemian bourgeois.” I understand why this demographic—my demographic—gets satirized, but to be honest, I feel very comfortable here. There’s a village atmosphere to this place that’s extremely appealing.
The latest extension of the U2 U-Bahn subway line was completed in 2013. Now it only takes a couple minutes to get downtown from my neighborhood. Of course, good BoBo that I am, my main method of transport is my folding bike, which I ride year-round. I tend to split my time between our office, across the canal from where I live, and our stores, near Stephansplatz in the city center. Fortunately for me, our main shop is just steps away from one of Vienna’s most gorgeous bars, the Loos Bar.
Does my neighborhood inspire my work? Of course, but for me, inspiration isn’t tied to a particular place—or time. I suppose that’s fitting, since the hats I make are both traditional and modern designs—think pork pies, but not Buster Keaton pork pie. Design ideas often emerge from trips to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which showcases classic art. My company has conducted guided tours in collaboration with the museum, under the theme “Historic Headwear.” If those painters aren’t inspiring—well, I don’t know what is.