Unless you are a die-hard rock fan, visit a Vienna Ball. In the first place, a Wiener Ball with all its glitz and elegant dress codes is a luxurious experience that will connect you more closely with our old world culture. Secondly, a Vienna ball brings classical music to life like no other Vienna event. To help you get a flavour of what to expect, I’m sharing my night at Kaffeesiederball (Ball of the Coffee Brewers).
Choosing The Right Vienna Ball
There are more than 400 Vienna balls each carnival season. Picking the right one is important but not difficult, if you know the success criteria. My friend Elisabeth and I travelled to Vienna at the same time, in mid February. That week, there were a handful of balls on in town.
The Ball of the Coffee Brewers was an obvious choice for trained Viennese like us: First, it is simply one of the most reputable balls in Vienna. Second, it takes places at Hofburg (Imperial Palace), and third, the raffles traditionally boast a few dozen eye popping cake creations, each stunningly decorated and donated by a traditional coffeehouse. On top, more of the all-important socialising was guaranteed by my sister joining with husband and a bunch of friends.
We bought our tickets online via the ball’s website, packed our long ball gowns, and booked a local hairdresser.
Not having to arrive on time was relaxing. We had an hour between the opening of the doors, and the official opening ceremony of the ball. In any case there was no need to rush as our ‘flaneur tickets‘ let us wait outside the main ballroom during the opening, and watch the ceremony from video screens.
Seven dozen young ball debutants in white dresses and black tuxedos, with rosy cheeks and thumping hearts paraded through the glittering main ballroom, bowed, curtsied and finally broke off into waltz swirls.
What came next was nothing I had even remotely expected: A boldly dressed black-maned drag queen strode through the room and began to belt out ‘I’m sexy’ to an amused and partly shocked audience. ‘Fantastic’, Elisabeth and I nodded to each other, ‘even the most perfect tradition gets stale if it doesn’t connect with the present.’ It was hot and the traditional Vienna Ball ladies’ donation (Ballspende) we had received at the entrance – this time a fan – came in handy.
The following hours we were busy exploring the terrain that consisted of half a dozen ball rooms spread over the Hofburg’s three floors, various gourmet snack bars, and the splendid exhibition of raffle cake donations. Our favourite was the attic foyer with its splendid view of the illuminated palace dome.
Socialising And Dancing
Socialising with family, friends, and friends of friends was fun. Like us, most of them weren’t avid ballroom dancers, either. They were out for a night of glamour and party, and to catch up with friends and acquaintances. We probably passed EU commissary Johannes Hahn, former Austrian skiing legend Karl Schranz and a couple of Austrian politicians who were all at the ball. (Instead, we saw our joint local gynecologist, and felt slightly embarrassed…)
A word about dancing: As usual with these balls, there are society dancers and dance pros. The society dancers love the crowds and step in right from the start. They don’t care if all they can conquer is half a square metre of dancing space to perform the most basic steps. The dance pros populate the ballrooms off the main room, where there is more space for manoeuvre. As we had left our husbands back home in London, we considered hiring one of the free ‘taxi dancers‘ of a local dancing school. We didn’t stumble across them, and decided to give socialising and food preference.
At midnight it was back to the main ballroom to get a glimpse of the midnight showpiece. We were about to join the midnight quadrille dance – most fun element at any Vienna ball. Then we discovered that the last square centimetre of dance space had just been snatched away. Top Austrian opera and operetta singers filled the room with classical Viennese tunes. ‘Sooo schön‘, our Viennese souls whined, ‘how we miss all that music and ball pow-wow back home!’
Other Fun Things
Each Vienna ball has special fun things in store for its attendees. At that event, Austrian coffeehouse brand and sponsor Julius Meinl had people photographed using Meinl’s iconic Turkish red fez, a key part of its logo. ‘Very funny’, we thought, after our third glass of champagne…
You can book tickets online via Kaffeesiederball’s website. Ticket sales usually start in September. Tickets for this and other popular balls sell out fast, make sure you book early.
During the ball season, space at local hotels fills up equally fast. Most luxury hotels in Vienna do help with arranging ball tickets.
As for ball attire, make sure you get the dress code right. There are a few excellent evening dress shops in Vienna where to buy or rent dresses and men’s wear.
If you intend to dance, book a one-hour private dancing tuition at a renown Viennese dancing school. Available in various languages.
Access a list of the best Vienna balls, and when they are on.