The Freyung is a well-known area of the city with a long history and a peculiar name. It is in this area that Irish monks settled down in the 12th century upon the request of the Babenberger Heinrich II Jasomirgott. Although these monks were Irish, people referred to them as Scots and that is why the abbey is known as the Schottenstift (“Scottish Abbey”). Leopold V gave the Scots a number of privileges, including immunity from public courts. An additional privilege given to them was the right of “Freiung” (something like a “sanctuary” right). In practical terms, if the authorities were looking for you, but you managed to make it to the Freyung area, they could not follow you. It is from this “Freiung” right that the name Freyung derives, and it was only in the 18th century that this right was abolished. There is an interesting legend about the Freyung. In 1308, the Duke of Austria Albert I was assassinated in Switzerland by his nephew John Parricida who escaped and eventually, of all places, managed to enter Vienna. As he was tired from all the running, he found a place to rest next to a big stone in the Freyung. His break was not long, however, as a servant of the Hof recognized him, but by the time soldiers came to arrest him, John was nowhere to be found. It is likely that the story is false, but the stone did exist and was known as “Bei den Schotten am Stein” (something like “At the Scots, by the stone” or “At the stone of the Scots”) and was removed at the beginning of the 19th century. Apparently, the legend and the stone led to a saying: If someone was “Bei den Schotten am Stein”, it meant this someone was nowhere to be found! (Cr).
In its lifetime, the Böhmische Hofkanzlei (“Bohemian Court Chancellery” in English) has seen and experienced many things: all sorts of government offices, expansion works to add more space, important imperial decisions, refurbishment work after the Napoleonic wars and WWII, and even Roman history under its grounds. After this long journey, the Böhmische Hofkanzlei is now home to the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court. The existence of the Böhmische Hofkanzlei dates back to the 17th century and it consisted of two houses. As this location was too small, the famous baroque architect Bernhand Fischer von Erlach was given the task to build a new house, which he did in 1709/1714. Years later more space was needed and an additional part was built in 1751/1754. If you visit the building you will likely notice that the street between the Hofkanzlei and the old Rathaus is very narrow. This street is the Wipplingerstrasse whose path dates back to the Roman times. Because of this narrow spot, at the beginning of the 20th century, some voices supported the idea of demolishing the Hofkanzlei to build a broader street. Fortunately, these voices did not prevail and eventually, during refurbishment work after WWII and by removing some rooms, a corridor was open up in this part of the building. The Roman past of the house was evident in 1937 as during maintenance work of water pipes on the Wipplingerstrasse side, Roman walls were found some meters underground. The bricks used for this wall had the symbol of the 10th Legion and Roman numbers indicating the 1st and 2nd centuries. There is indeed a lot of history behind the Hofkanzlei! You have the chance to visit the Böhmische Hofkanzlei during Open House Wien on September 9. There will be tours in German and English. Don’t miss this opportunity! (Cr).
We have told you the story of two controversial buildings in
Vienna: The Loos Haus and the Haas Haus. Although the architects were criticised
by many, their buildings were eventually built. There is one architect who was
not that lucky. It was the year 1900 and the city of Vienna was looking for a
location to build a Museum dedicated to itself. It was decided that the museum
would be built in the Karlsplatz area and that the new building should be in architectural
harmony with its older peer, the Karlskirche. This last condition proved to be
a mistake. Two architects were on the lead and their ideas symbolized what
could be considered the old and the new: Friedrich Schachner with a baroque proposal
and Otto Wagner representing the Jugendstil architecture. As with the Loos Haus
and the Haas Haus, supporters and proponents could not agree on which way to go
and both camps fought each other bitterly. Although Wagner later enjoyed some
advantage (Schachner passed away and in 1911 it was decided that the museum
would be built somewhere else) his proposals remained forever on paper. It was
only in 1953 that it was decided again that the building would be located at
Karlsplatz and the museum was eventually inaugurated in 1959. Looking at the
museum today, perhaps neither Schachner, Wagner, nor their respective
supporters, would have agreed with the architecture of what was eventually
built. Regardless of its looks, the Vienna Museum has performed very well over
the years with many successful exhibitions. The current exhibition is entitled “Bird's-Eye
Vienna” and there you will see, among many other interesting things, panoramic
views and maps of the city that date back many centuries. We really encourage
you to visit it if you are in town! (Cr)
imagine Vienna during the construction of the Ringstraße? The whole area was a
construction site for many years. Fortifications being demolished, buildings
under construction everywhere, and plans for more construction being prepared. During
this period, many architects made a name for themselves building several buildings
and leaving their mark in the city. One of those who distinguished himself was
the Danish Architect Theophil von Hansen. After many years working in Athens he
moved to Vienna in 1846 and became a prolific architect in his own right. Hansen’s
time in Athens influenced his vision of colors, materials, and forms and this
inspiration is evident in his buildings. Hansen’s first public building on the
Ringstraße was the Börse (the Stock Exchange) where he successfully prevented, most
of the time, budget constraints, agreed plans, or timelines from stopping him
in pursuing his ideas of splendor. He even used his own money to cover the
costs of works that he believed were necessary for the building. It is because
of these ideas that his financiers followed his progress closely as it was
believed that “the architect thinks first about the beauty of the
building”. Hansen could not always prevent
outside influence and this led to the use of low-quality material here and
there and compromises to the interior design that were necessary to limit the
costs. Eventually, after 1 year delay and 1 million gulden over budget, the
Börse was ready to be inaugurated by the Kaiser in 1877. The Börse survived the
second world war with some damages that were refurbished, but a fire in April
1956 completely destroyed its main hall, which was not restored during
reparation works. Today, the Börse does not fulfil the functions for which it
was built and instead houses several business offices. Soon you will have a
chance to visit the Börse and learn more about its history and architecture
while getting a feeling for Hansen’s inspiration.
As part of the Open House Wien 2017, the Börse will be open for visitors on Saturday September 9 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be tours in German and English. Don’t miss this opportunity! (Cr). For more information visit: http://www.openhouse-wien.at/de/boersegebaeude.html
The Schwedenplatz metro station was built in 1978/79 and is the
connection of the metro lines U1 and U4; a vital intersection in Vienna’s
public transportation system. Part of Vienna’s fortifications used to stand at
the Schwedenplantz, but after the Kaiser decided to remove the walls, the
fortifications in this area were demolished in 1858/59. One gate located in the
area was called Rotenturmtor (“Red tower gate”), which gave the name to the
Rotenturmstrasse that connects the Stephansplatz and the Schwedenplatz. A bastion
that was located next to the Schwedenplatz area was named Gonzagabastion after
Annibale Gonzaga, who was a commander of the city’s guard, and the reason why
the Gonzagagasse exists. Today, except for some street names, there is not really
much in the area that would remind you of the fortifications and the gates that
once existed here. Or maybe there is? Next time you are on the metro U1
platform you may see three stone figures that may seem to be out of place here.
However, at least two of them have been in the area for a long time. The Gonzagabastion had two emblems at two of
its corners (see the pictures) and these were preserved after the bastions were
removed. The small one seems to be the coat of arms of Hungary and the larger one
is most likely one coat of arms of the Gonzaga family that is in the middle of
a double-headed eagle. These are indeed vivid reminders of Vienna’s history!
Some time ago, we told you about the Loos Haus, “the house without eyebrows”, and the controversy that its simple façade led to. Well, roughly 120 years later another building faced a similar challenge. Have you ever heard of the Haas Haus? Probably you have, but perhaps you don’t know that there were actually three versions of it. The first Haas Haus was built by August Siccard von Siccardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll (the architects of the Opera) in 1865/1867. This was a beautiful department store and belonged to the industrialist Philipp Haas, but that did not survive the Second World War. The building that replaced it was finalized in 1953, but its construction was a bit more complicated: How to replace a building in such a representative area as the Stephansplatz? How to maintain harmony with other neighbouring buildings? Can one see the Stephansdom from the Graben? Indeed, the question was not only about the building, but about the entire design of the Stephansplatz area. This debate led to the decision to demolish the second Haas Haus in 1986, as it was considered to not meet the requirements of the time. The replacement, which still stands today, was built in 1987-1990 and from its conception to its finalization was defended and criticised by many. Critics did not like, among many other things, the mirror glass façade and the shape of it, in particular the little tower that faces the Stephansdom. Today, the Haas Haus hosts a variety of businesses and it is well visited. And it is still popular with many and less popular with others. This will be most likely always the case! (Cr.)
We have mentioned several times that Vienna’s city center was surrounded by walls. Well, those were not the only walls that the city had. Kaiser Leopold I decided to add an additional line of defence to the city by building 13 km of walls in 1704. This wall was nothing compared to the fortifications of the city center but led to the separation of the Vorstädte (something like the “inner suburbs” in English) and the Vororte (“Outer suburbs”). One interesting neighbourhood in the Vororte was Neulerchenfeld (located in today’s 16th district), which in 1803 a chronicler referred to as “the biggest Wirtshaus (“tavern”) of the roman empire” because it hosted a large number of restaurants. The chronicler also tells us that at that time, out of 155 houses roughly 83 had a license to serve beer or wine! And the names of the taverns were very peculiar: “The Golden Ostrich”, “The White Swan”, “The Six Pints”, “The Blue Bottle, “Hope”, and many others. Of these generation of Wirtshäuser, only one survives today, namely the “Golden Pelican”. Located right where the walls used to be, the house that hosts the pelican dates back to the 1740s and it is now under protection of the Federal Monuments Office.
so many Wirtshäuser? It was all about money. A tax was imposed on food entering
the Vorstädte and, therefore, people would just cross the wall and go to the
outer suburbs, in particular Neulerchenfeld, for eating and drinking as this
was more affordable. Perhaps an exaggeration, but our chronicler tells us that
on a nice Sunday around 16,000 people would be there… and Neulerchenfelder’s
population was roughly 5300! (Cr).
One of the most impressive and imposing buildings in the 1st district is the Otto Wagner-designed Österreichische Postsparkasse (Austrian Postal Savings Bank) building.
It was opened in 1906 and represents not only the pinnacle of Wagner’s career, but also the culmination of decades of architectural study and design work. The bank itself was established by a parliamentary bill in 1882, and was originally located in the Wollzeile. The founder and first director of the bank, Georg Koch, revolutionized banking by introducing cashless transfers, and by the turn of the century the bank was looking for a new and larger headquarter. They found a location on what was formerly called Lisztstrasse, but which today is known as Georg-Koch-Platz in honor of the bank’s founder. Otto Wagner won the commission to build the new headquarters, beating out 35 other architects, and it is safe to say that he delivered!
The building is an exquisite example of Austrian Jugendstil, and Wagner had a hand in designing every element of it, from the exterior, to the interior, down to the very last table, chair, and doorknob. The exterior of the building is clad with Sterzing marble and countless small bolts that serve both a practical and aesthetic purpose – very much in line with Wagner’s claim that “something which is impractical can never be beautiful”. In addition, the building exterior is meant to evoke a treasure chest as a symbol of deposited and saved money (which is appropriate for a bank!).
But if the exterior is imposing, the interior is even more impressive. The main hall with its glass ceiling almost looks like it should have a swimming pool in the middle of it, but it manages to maintain a cool elegance through its airy and spacious design. Many of the interior walls can also be moved in order to change the size and shapes of offices, depending on the desired use. Famously, Wagner even designed the heating vents for the building, which snake up the wall with steely yet pragmatic grace. In fact, even Kaiser Franz Josef was reportedly so impressed with this modern architecture that, upon touring the building, he said “It’s remarkable how well people fit in here!”.
The österreichische Postsparkasse truly is a building to experience and behold – and now is your chance! As part of Open House Wien (OHW), it will be open for you to explore and learn more about on September 9&10. For more information visit http://openhouse-wien.at/…/oesterreichische-postsparkasse.h…
In 1909, Leopold Goldman hired Adolf Loos to build a store for his gentlemen's outfitters business. Loos agreed to do this with the condition that he would have free hand when designing the façade. During construction, the façade was covered with a scaffold and in 1910, when construction was basically finished, the time came to remove it. This is when all hell broke loose. The Viennese did not like the simplicity of the façade as it had no ornaments, which was common for most of the surrounding buildings at the Michaelerplatz. The Viennese came up with good nicknames for the house and even Franz Joseph referred to it as the “House without eyebrows”. The situation got so bad that it took one more year for the city authorities and Goldman/Loos to reach an agreement about the façade. Eventually, Loos suggested putting flower boxes in the windows of the building as, apparently, he figured these boxes could be taken away if necessary!
Today, the boxes are still part of the façade and there is
even a decision by the Bundesdenkmalamt (“Federal Monuments Office” in English)
that in summer time the boxes must have flowers. In 1912, the Loos Haus became the
home of Goldman & Salatsch, which was the most exclusive gentlemen's
outfitters business in the city at that time. When you go inside the house it
is likely that the first thing that gets your attention are the stairs that
take you to the first floor. On the top of these steps, you will see a clock:
this was designed by Loos and manufactured by the Swiss/Viennese company Magneta-Julius
Liebewein. Fun fact: Adolf Loos apparently never finished his degree as an architect.
That is why he had another architect signing his building plans for this
If you have been in Vienna most likely you have noticed that in some parts of the city there are long and short passages that go through buildings and save you time when exploring the city. One important corridor is the one that takes you from the Mariahilferstraße to the Windmühlgasse or vice versa. Once in the Windmühlgasse you are minutes away from the famous Naschmarkt. This corridor is actually inside a housing complex, whose original name was Zum goldenen Hirschen (“To the golden deer” in English) and it dates back to the end of the 18th century. As Ferdinand Raimund was born here in 1790, a famous Austrian actor and playwright, the complex is now called the Raimund-Hof.
The Raimund-Hof falls under the category of a Durchhaus (Literally “passage through buildings”), which in the old days, and also today, people loved to discover as it was useful knowledge. In many of such passages you will see the announcement “Freiwilliger Durchgang” (something like “voluntary passage”). One may think that pedestrians will decide voluntarily whether to use the passage or not. As in the old days some of these passages were dark, narrow, and dirty, this interpretation would make a lot of sense. However, the voluntary part is on the side of the owners of the house where the passage is located. Many of them decided to open these passages voluntarily and save us time when moving around the city. The Raimund-Hof is a really useful one! (Cr).
The building that stands at Graben 16 today was built in 1909-1911 after the previous building was demolished. The current building was built in the Secessionist style that was popular at the turn of the century, and glass mosaics of Mercury and two genies can be seen on the 5 th floor of the facade. The building also previously had a cupola, which was later removed but can still be seen in photos from as late as the 1940s.
The 16th district of Vienna, also known as Ottakring, was established in 1890/1892 when the neighbourhoods Neulerchenfeld and Ottakring were united. The district’s architecture is a combination of small houses that survived modernity, late 19th century buildings, Gemeindebauten (“communal housing” in English), and other, sometimes strange, types of architecture. In all this architectural melange, there is a building that deserves attention, namely the Lobmeyrhof. As the 50th anniversary of Franz Joseph’s reign was approaching, he decided to establish the “Kaiser Franz Joseph Anniversary Foundation” in 1895, with the goal of building homes for those who could not afford it. The Lobmeyrhof, built in 1900/1901, is one of only two projects built by the foundation and it is considered a precursor of Vienna’s communal housing. Although the building was forgotten and was in bad shape for many years, a refurbishment program allowed a remarkable comeback of the Lobmeyrhof in 2016.
And who was Lobmeyr? Josef Lobmeyr started his glass manufacturing business in 1823 and soon became a purveyor to the royal house. His son Ludwig Lobmeyr, after whom the Lobmeyrhof was named, inherited the company and, among many achievements, developed the first electric chandeliers together with Thomas Alva Edison. This connection with the U.S. continued in the 20th century as Lobmeyr’s chandeliers were present at the inauguration of the Metropolitan Opera House in N.Y. in 1966. Located in the Kärntnerstraße 26 since 1895 the Lobmeyr glass manufacturing company is a family business now in the 6th generation! (Cr)
We wish there were a better story to tell about the boat, but unfortunately, we’d have to make it up!
So, remember the large chimney sweep mentioned in the Hohe Brücke story?
He can be found jutting out over the street with his ladder and flue brush at Wipplingerstrasse 21, just next to the Hohe Brücke. While real chimney sweeps can still regularly be seen walking around town, this large representation of a chimney sweep actually has nothing to do with cleaning chimneys. Instead, and disappointingly, he is merely an advertising logo for the licensed lottery company Hohe Brücke, which belongs to the Austrian Lottery Foundation.
However, even this corporate advertising has a few secrets to tell. Why would a lottery company have a chimney sweep as an advertising logo? Well, it’s because chimney sweeps in Austria have long been seen as bringers of good luck – something one generally needs to win the lottery!
This goes back to the Middle Ages, when life was organized around fire and chimneys as a source of light and warmth in the winter. While chimneys provided comfort within the home, they also presented a constant danger. If the chimneys were not cleaned regularly, poisonous gases and spontaneous fires could break out, often with fatal consequences. Wives were therefore constantly nagging their husbands to clean out the chimney, but this was difficult and often also dangerous work for people who were not properly trained.
Thus, it was considered great luck if a chimney sweep happened to be walking by, who would do the work professionally and for relatively little money. The danger would be gone for a while, your wife would stop bothering you about it, and you didn’t have to blame yourself for anything that went wrong during the cleaning process – an excellent and lucky solution!
But, it wouldn’t be Vienna if the venerable chimney sweeps didn’t also allegedly have the Kaiser and Imperial Court to thank for their reputation. The story goes that the K&K chimney sweep, who was responsible for cleaning the imperial chimneys at Schönbrunn Palace, once heard about a plot to kill the Kaiser while working inside a chimney shaft. He alerted the Imperial house of these plans, thus foiling the plan and saving the Imperial family. Is this story true? We don’t know, but it helped cement the reputation of chimney sweeps as bringers of luck and good fortune in the minds of the Viennese!
Vienna is not just a city of many secrets, its also a city of multiple layers. This can be seen most clearly in the Roman ruins unearthed at the Michaelerplatz in front of the Hofburg, where one can see just how much lower those walls and buildings were built. But there are other areas where this multi-layered nature of the city is also evident, if somewhat more subtle.
One such place is the Hohe Brücke (high bridge), which spans the Tiefer Graben (deep ditch). If nothing else, Viennese names are highly descriptive and accurate, because the Hohe Brücke is indeed a high bridge over a deep ditch!
The bridge that currently connects Wipplingerstrasse over the Tiefer Graben was completed in 1904, but it is far from the first bridge to be built in this particular spot. Indeed, the first recorded bridge comes from the Babenburger times, with a sketch from a wooden bridge stemming from the year 1295; already then it was called the Hohe Brücke. The street that is now the Tiefer Graben, over which the bridge goes, was originally the riverbed of the Ottakringer Creek, which was later re-routed to become an arm of the Alser Creek – aka the Alserbach, a name which might ring a bell to people living in the 9th district. The current bridge is a Jugendstil gem, constructed out of steel and decorated with golden engravings.
It is particularly beautiful at night when it lights the street below it with some 3,000 watts, through the stairway to get up to the bridge.
You may also notice that it is constantly watched over by an larger-than-life chimney sweep who juts out from the building above the bridge, but that is another story for another time...
The Türkenschanzpark is one of Vienna’s most beloved parks, but have you ever wondered about the name?
It comes from the fact that Ottoman troops built entrenchments here during the second siege of Vienna in 1683. The Ottomans remained entrenched here for two months before the decisive Battle of Vienna broke out on the Kahlenberg on September 12, 1683, which reportedly included the largest cavalry charge in history.
There are also other Turkish connections, most notably the türkischer Brunnen (Turkish fountain) at the Dänenstrasse entrance of the park. While you might think that this fountain has something to do with the name of the park or the historical siege of Vienna, it has only been there since 1991, and is dedicated to Yunus Emre, a Turkish poet and Sufi mystic, who died in 1321.
The fountain was dedicated to the city by the Turkish ambassador as a symbol of friendship between Vienna and Turkey, and is one of the few memorials that focuses on commonalities rather than differences between these erstwhile rivals.
Another notable fountain in the park is that of a female nude washing herself above a cascading fountain of water that flows into a basin. This is called the Preißnitzbrunnen, named after Vincenz Preißnitz, who was a farmer and self-taught natural healer in the first half of the 19th century. He earned his reputation already at a young age, after being thrown from his horse and run over by a wagon at age 17, which resulted in two broken ribs. This would have been a potentially fatal injury at the time, but Preißnitz was apparently able to heal himself by wrapping his torso in towels dipped in cold water, and then covering them with dry towels. After this, he became known as the ‘water doctor’, and became a prominent proponent of water therapy and open air cures to draw the ‘bad juices’ out of people’s bodies.
In fact, Preißnitz is so closely associated with water that the Polish word for shower (prysznic) apparently comes from his last name. However, his great reputation and promotion of healthy life through water therapies didn’t prevent him from suffering a stroke, and ultimately dying at the age of 52. However, given his lifelong devotion to the healing properties of water, we can’t think of a more fitting tribute to him than a beautiful fountain in the Türkenschanzpark!
As the days get hotter, its time to head for the hills – specifically the hills of the Wienerwald (Vienna forest), and for those looking for a glamorous cool-down with a view, to the Krapfenwaldbad in the 19th district. This is Vienna’s highest lying public pool, offering spectacular views over the city; unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the most popular pools in the city. The pool has existed since 1923, and was named after Franz Josef Krapf, who built himself a small cabin here in 1751, and named the surrounding forest the Krapfenwaldl. Krapf was the son of a master saddler, who provided horse saddles free of charge during the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, and was later honored for this service with generous remuneration, affording him great wealth as well as the ownership of wineries in Grinzing and Nussberg. The cabin built by Krapf on some of the land owned by his father later served as a small reserve hospital during the First World War, and today is integrated into the pool grounds as a small restaurant. As some of us may or may not personally know very well, this is also a good place to follow local advice and get an onion to soothe a bee sting – although wearing flip-flops while walking through the grass might be even better advice!
While the Krapfenwaldbad is THE place to see and be seen these days, it has long been at the forefront of Viennese bathing culture. It had one of the city’s first segregated nude bathing areas, separated between men and women, and euphemistically called the “Sonnenbad”(sun bath). In the summer of 1979, the Krapfenwaldbad also became Vienna’s first topless bathing area, which caused a sensation at the time. Today, the Sonnenbad still sits quietly behind a discreet wall at the perimeter of the pool grounds, topless bathers are sprinkled here and there, and both the people watching and city views continue to deliver!
Karl Kraus and Arthur Schnitzler. Camillo Sitte and Stefan Zweig. Politicians, artists and musicians all did the same. And so did many others: they all were there. During the 1848 revolution, it was renamed the “National Café” and later it became known as the “Literaturkaffeehaus”. We are talking about the famous Café Griensteidl, located in the Michaelerplatz, just meters away from the Vienna Hofburg. The Café Griensteidl opened its doors in 1847 in the ground floor of the Dietrichsteinpalais (build in 1815). The owner of the Café was the pharmacist Heinrich Griensteidl who never owned a pharmacy in Vienna, but had a permit to own a café. During its lifetime, the Café Griensteidl became the meeting point of many writers and intellectuals. It also became famous for its large number of newspapers. However, the Café Griensteidl closed its doors in 1897. Not voluntarily, it seems. The Dietrichsteinpalais changed ownership and its demolition was decided. In 1899 the new Herbersteinpalais opened its doors, but without the Café Griensteidl.
This event prompted the young Austrian writer Karl Kraus to write a series of essays in 1896/1897 entitled “Die demolirte Literatur” that started with the famous sentence “Wien wird jetzt zur Großstadt demolirt” (“Vienna is being demolished into a major city”). Kraus stated that with the fall of the old houses the last memories are also gone. He also complained that literature was now homeless, as the Café Griensteidl had been the literary hub for all writers and intellectuals. But after a little bit more than 90 years, like a phoenix, it rose again: in 1990 the Café Griensteidl’s doors were re-opened. This time its lifetime was shorter, however, as after only 27 years the Café Griensteidl will close once more on June 28, 2017. An expensive rent is mentioned as the reason for this decision. When the Café Griensteidl closed its doors for the first time 120 years ago, some of its frequent visitors found a new home in the Café Central. It is likely that, for the second time, customers will also find a new place to visit. Unfortunately, Vienna loses once again a historical café. But not all is lost. Perhaps, in 90 years the Café Griensteidl will make another come back, as phoenixes tend to do. (Cr)