Social Justice

Hotel Sacher is changing lives one slice of cake at a time

Hotel Sacher is associated with elegance, exclusivity and delicious Sachertorte. But an exhibition with local street paper vendors is promoting inclusivity

Two young women sit on a sofa in chef's whites with Sacher branding

Trainee chefs Esther Krautner (left) and Emma Novak. Image: © Michael Preschl Photography

The name Hotel Sacher is associated with elegance, exclusivity and the delicious Sachertorte. People travel to Austria from all over the world to taste a wedge of heaven: indulgent, not too sweet chocolate cake, covered in an indulgent dark ganache with a layer of apricot jam providing a tangy bite. The cake (costing €8.90/£7.70) was invented in 1832 and it is still made to the original secret recipe, involving 34 steps. 

It’s a lot for a new recruit to Hotel Sacher’s kitchens to learn. But this year’s apprentices have cooked up something even more special. 

At Sacher’s Salzburg hotel, trainee chefs Esther Krautner and Emma Novak have pioneered a partnership between the luxury destination and local street paper Apropos. They created an exhibition called A Change in Perspective, featuring 15 vendors, bringing their stories from the streets inside the hotel. 

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“We were given the task of thinking about an apprentice project that has a social purpose,” Krautner explains. “Last year’s apprentices baked and sold biscuits – that wasn’t enough for us. 

“I often chat with the Apropos vendors in town. Although I’m normally the one who talks more than they do. I thought it would be nice to get to know them better but also to give them the opportunity to show us who they are. 

“We went to speak to our management and suggested inviting the vendors for an evening. We wanted to give them the opportunity to tell us their life stories and have conversations with those visiting the Sacher Bar.” 

This led to an event in the plush winter garden for 250 guests where there were readings and first-hand testimony from people that live on the streets.  

“It was a huge success!” Krautner says. “Apropos vendors talked about their lives, we cooked and served food from different street paper vendor’s home nations, and at the end there was an auction of the pictures to raise money for the Apropos emergency fund.” 

An exhibition was developed with 17 other apprentices and photographer Michael Preschl, who brought together vendors’ words and placed them in collages. Despite the hotel’s exclusive reputation, management had no objection to shining the spotlight on homelessness. 

“On the contrary, they were very enthusiastic and also touched by the idea we came up with,” Krautner says. “They also asked us to set up part of the exhibition in front of the hotel, so that passers-by would be curious and could take a closer look at the exhibition at their leisure. 

“In the beginning, our biggest challenge was that we wanted to make the project suitable for our guests while still making it slightly provocative,” Novak continues. 

“We wanted to engage the people of Salzburg in line with the motto; ‘Look, listen, the thoughts you have about poor people aren’t quite right’. We then developed a concept that got the management onside. 

“If you can tell your friends that you have been to Hotel Sacher and seen and heard stories from people that live on the streets, then it will be remembered for much longer.  

“It’s the image that catches the eye first and makes a strong first impression. Since the text on the collage is limited, more text is enclosed below the picture so you can read about the vendor in more detail. 

“We felt that once the guests had seen the pictures and read the stories, it would simply be more difficult to walk past street paper vendors on the street. You don’t have to buy five papers every day. But if you give someone a smile because you know their story, or buy an issue once a month, well, that’s the impact we wanted to achieve.”

Krautner adds: “Right from the start, we wanted to make people think. Salzburg is a beautiful city and has a lot to offer to tourists. But there are also people who are not doing so well. We therefore wanted our guests to change their perspective. We wanted them to not just think: ‘Here is a person who wants to sell me a street paper’ when they encounter a vendor, but to ask themselves: ‘Who is this
person? Why are they doing this kind of work?’ 

“Sometimes the most important thing in life is that you don’t just pass by and that you don’t have prejudices.”

Interviews by Michaela Gründler, translated by Eva Schuecke. Courtesy of Apropos / International Network of Street Papers

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine out this week. Support your local vendor by buying today! If you cannot reach your local vendor, click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop. The Big Issue app is available now from the App Store or Google Play

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