What makes Vienna particularly charming at Christmas In conversation with Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich

Where you feel like you are on a luxury yacht in the heart of Vienna. What fashion has to do with environmental protection and animal welfare. And how Viennese merchants create a stunning Christmas atmosphere.

Michael Sicher: "Zur Brieftaube" (“carrier pigeon“) is a family business in the fifth generation. What has been its long journey from its foundation in 1860 to the presentday? And what about the carrier pigeon?

Marie-BéatriceFröhlich:  The company was founded by my great-great-grandfather. Originally so-called "Pfaidlerei", in which shirts and white linen, such as wedding and baby equipment, were produced. It was always about textiles, never about carrier pigeons or other animals. My great-grandfather bred carrier pigeons as a hobby. That's where our name comes from. So we are a textile retail veteran of the city of Vienna and have developed over time, as has the fashion market. From white linen it went to the fashion sector, to women's, men's and children's fashion. 

About 30 years ago, my father started building mono-brand stores when it wasn't even so well known and trendy. At the time, he asked himself: "Which brands do we work particularly well with?" Then we opened franchise stores with them. Over time, it has become clear that with our size, it was simply better to do business with only one brand. This allows us to present the entire brand world, the philosophy much better. Now we are currently represented with the Paul & Shark Store on the Graben.

Michael Sicher: Paul & Shark is an Italian brand with a strong connection to the sea. How does it fit in with Austria, a country without a sea?

Marie-BéatriceFröhlich:  That fits incredibly well, because the sea, I think, is a longing of many people who do not live there. Coming to our shop is always a kind of short break to satisfy this longing a little. The store is furnished like a luxury yacht, from the design to the seven-fold lacquered walnut wood. This is something very special. This actually gives you the feeling of being on a yacht.

With the company behind the Paul & Shark brand, which was founded in 1921 as a knitting mill,  we have been working together almost since I was born, i.e. since the seventies. It has always produced knitwear locally in Italy. In 1975, the company, which is also a family business, created the Paul & Shark brand. Again, the focus was on an animal. The shark, as a symbol of strength, of the sea. Paul is the first name of the founder, Paolo Dini. Our philosophies largely coincide and we have been working very well together for decades.

Michael Sicher: What is special about a family business, what are the challenges?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich:  In a family business, business and family blur. Your own company is always present, the thoughts of it always there. Especially in the last two years, which were really a bad crisis for all of us due to the coronavirus, it was of course also more difficult to just zone out. My life is my family. But my life is also the company. 

In family businesses, intergenerational cooperation is often a challenge. That was never really a problem with us, my father was always very open. I started working in the company at the age of 16 during the holidays and started working fully after my studies. It was always a collaboration that was characterized by a lot of mutual appreciation and respect. Of course, we were not always of the same opinion. That is also good and important. My father encouraged this and challenged me. But we have always agreed well. In the interest of the family, in the interest of the business. As a family business, you have a different perspective. One also thinks about the next generations.

Michael Sicher: How do you manage to relax?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich:  When I have the time, I like to go for a coffee, as we do now in the Café de l'Europe at the Graben. I am grateful to be able to work in Vienna's city centre. Every day I see the many visitors who come especially to experience all this here. Then I realize: I am allowed to walk over the Graben, the Kohlmarkt, the Kärntner Straße every day. That's just insanely beautiful. Even in the morning driving to work on the bikeway on the Ring is pure luxury. You have to look around again and again and enjoy it. I consciously enjoy such short moments. This is important so that you do not become blind to all these beauties and no longer perceive them. I find that very enjoyable and I also unwind a bit.

And at home, my relaxation recipe is good music, a fine glass of red wine and preparing a delicious meal for my family.

Michael Sicher: Getting back to fashion. What is the journey from design to your store?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich:  At Paul & Shark, every model, every design is still personally approved by the owner. He himself is on site a lot at the factory in Varese, a city in the north of Milan. There, all this is designed and a prototype is immediately sewn. The work for the collections begins a good one and a half, two years earlier. The winter collection, for example, I buy a year in advance. 

It's about always setting new impulses, creating desire for something again. Make people want to indulge themselves and say to themselves: "I'm doing something good for myself. I go to a shop and have a nice time, a nice conversation." This is very important to people, especially now after the coronavirus. Even more important than before. Or they have come to appreciate it more now. We have switched to WhatsApp sales advice, video calls, online store and so on during lockdown. But of course, people appreciate the personal conversation more – and so do we. This is the strength and even the raison d'être of brick-and-mortar retail. We have people who stand behind it and offer this service personally on site.

Michael Sicher: How has online retail influenced shopping? Do people still take the time to get into a store?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich: As a retailer, you can't stop at the concept of a brick-and-mortar store. The question has to be: How do I bring the digital world into my store? An online store doesn't pay off for everyone, but you can think about how to sell if the clientele can't get to the store. For example, customer service on the phone, via video call. That worked great for us. We set up an online store when the stores were closed. A month later, it was online. A special online store where you don't just order and get the stuff without comment. You order and receive a call or an e-mail from us, so that a sales conversation and a consultation is also concluded here. As a result, we have almost no returns. I think every merchant will find something that suits him. 

What has definitely changed is that you have to offer the even better service in a brick-and-mortar store. What desire do customers have that they may not even be aware of yet? Why do they enter my store in the first place? They don't come for a sweater or a shirt. They may be looking for a piece of clothing, but they also have a need for social interaction, for communication, for advice. You have to incorporate that and really offer a very personal shopping experience. Nowadays's customers are incredibly well informed, often research in advance, have thought about advantages and disadvantages. We in sales must therefore offer a shopping experience with expertise, service, and personal advice that the customer cannot find online. 

Michael Sicher: What makes good fashion?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich: Good fashion should convince through quality, good design, longevity. It's better to invest a little more in an item than to buy a lot of things that you discard at the end of the day. If you think about how much work it is until a piece is in the store, put quality and value into the balance, then you have a completely new appreciation for fashion. 

Of course, this means that it is sustainably produced under good working conditions. Unfortunately, the textile industry currently has a rather mixed image in this regard. But that's starting to change massively. A lot is happening related to recycling and production methods that have less impact on our environment. Our down jackets, for example, are partly made of recycled downy feathers from upholstered furniture and mattresses or other garments. This is almost more expensive in production, but it is important and correct. We carry products that partly contain yarn obtained from recycled PET bottles. Paul & Shark is very involved in the protection of the oceans and has thus created, for example, a high-quality material, Econyl, which is made of plastic found in the sea and regenerated in a recycling process. Sustainability and environmental protection are of great importance. There is also the Shark Trust, an organization dedicated to the protection of sharks, co-founded and co-funded by Paul & Shark. The wool we process comes from a particularly animal-friendly farm in Tasmania. From keeping the animals to shearing, every area is worked with respect for the animals. 

In general, sustainability and ecology now have to be the values guiding us along the entire production process.

Michael Sicher: The city centre has a very special flair at Christmas time. You even organized a Christmas concert for it. How did this come about?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich:  The Christmas lights give Vienna a very special charm. At the Graben, for example, you have the feeling of being in a ballroom, at the Kohlmarkt it looks like the heaven’s tent. The merchants of the city center, who are organized by streets, organize the Christmas lights and finance half of them – so the merchants take a lot of money into their hands year after year to make the city shine. The rest is contributed by the City of Vienna and the Chamber of Commerce. It is not at all self-evident that we have such magnificent Christmas lights in Vienna. We owe it to the very committed merchants. You don't even know how big the effort is. The assembly work begins in October and lasts six weeks. On November 12, this year will be switched on again.

To strengthen the coordination between the streets and to hold joint events, I founded the platform Wien (m)Eins, which has built up a community on Facebook and Instagram (@wieneins). It all started with the opening of the Christmas lights three years ago. That's why I organized a big concert. Because it was just a pity that we put so much work and money into the Christmas lights and it was just turned on. It was important to me to consciously shape this moment together with all the streets in the 1st district. When you're standing at the “Stock-im-Eisen-Platz” and suddenly all the Christmas lights in every street shine at the same time in a star shape, that's very beautiful and also a very emotional moment. And I think wherever are emotions, music is part of it. My husband is a musician and singer. As a result, I am somewhat prejudiced. It was very nice to work with the choirs and I hope that we will be able to do that again in the future. 

For this year, we have come up with a hybrid concept. Online and on site in the streets, we want to enchant people and inspire them for Vienna's city center. I am very pleased that I was able to win 11 downtown “Grätzl” (neighborhoods) to participate this year. There will be a broad campaign on @wieneins's social media channels from November 24 and on Christmas Saturdays we have prepared some surprises for our visitors in the shopping streets.   

Michael Sicher: When you have visitors, what do you show them in Vienna?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich: Of course, the Inner City. Because it is simply beautiful to walk through the magnificent streets. But also through the small alleys and especially into the many courtyards. For example, in the “Heiligenkreuzerhof”. There are also great guided tours to discover the backyards of Vienna. I also love the Franziskanerviertel, the Franziskanerplatz, where it is always a bit more leisurely than in the rest of the city. I like the Wollzeile because it has a lot of small, nice shops. The stock exchange district with its many furniture stores. Kohlmarkt, Graben, Kärntnerstraße. These are the "wow places". A "must see" at Christmas alone because of the Christmas lights. 

In general, it is best to just let yourself drift and really consciously experience the small side streets. There are many beautiful, small, intimate places that you may not even know yet and small owner-managed boutiques, with very special assortments.

In addition to the huge shopping offer of brands and stores, the city center also offers a rich selection of restaurants for physical well-being. New restaurants, small bars and cafés are constantly opening up. Discovering these always pays off. Last year I discovered the “Fenstercafé” (window café) at Griechengasse. This consists only of a room with a window through which they serve. It is run by a lovely crew that makes a great coffee in a chocolate glazed ice cream cone. A recommendation. Just drift and enjoy the city with your eyes open.

Michael Sicher: Where do you like to eat in Vienna?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich: If I must recommend Viennese cuisine to anyone, it is Reinthaler's Beisl in Dorotheergasse, right next to my store, because it has a wonderful kitchen and a particularly warm service. The Mangia e Ridi is an original Italian osteria – a short holiday break in the heart of Vienna. In summer I find the terrace of the Artner at Franziskanerplatz beautiful. Just like the Small Café next to it. Café Korb definitely has the best scrambled eggs with pumpkin seed oil in town! It is hard to choose – too many great and nice places!

Michael Sicher: So, you can definitely find something delicious to eat in Vienna?

Marie-Béatrice Fröhlich: Yes, you will definitely find something in the Inner City. Really for every wallet and for every taste. From uncomplicated food to luxury meals, there is simply everything. And maybe that's what the city is all about. As individual as the tastes of the people, are the stores and the restaurants in the city center. You just have to take the time to discover and enjoy all this – with your eyes and with your heart.


On November 24, the new Christmas campaign of Vienna's city center's "Kaufleute" starts on facebook and instagram under @wieneins. FOLLOW – LIKE – SHARE. And let yourself be surprised!