Nibelungenviertel: Walk of The Valkyries
The Grätzl: (Viennese dialect) a neighbourhood in Vienna contained by subjective boundaries and a coherent identity
Just behind the pomposity of the Wiener Stadthalle, sandwiched between Hütteldorfer Straße, Gablenzgasse, the Schmelz with its Schrebergärten (small inner city gardening plots), and the famous Viennese Gasthaus Schutzhaus Zukunft, a tiny Grätzl is slowly waking from its beauty sleep: the Nibelungenviertel.
Until recently, the neighbourhood seemed to follow a different pace than the bustling Gürtel just a few blocks downhill, but over the past few years, as students and creative minds have discovered this neighbourhood, new small businesses have begun to settle in the area. A metamorphosis is beginning. Slowly.
Jugendstil meets Gemeindebau
Exactly 100 years ago, construction began in the area with the aim of creating a new residential space on the former military parade ground, the Schmelz. As the Wiener Secession set the artistic tone for the turn of the century, architects followed suit, designing upper-class, four to five storey buildings with graceful Jugendstil floral ornaments. Interrupted only two years later by the Great War, the Grätzl was speckled with vacant lots. These holes were then filled with Gemeindebauten – Vienna’s famed community housing of the interwar period. And the streets were named after characters from the epic poem Nibelungenlied (The Song of the Nibelungs, the German equivalent to Beowulf), hence its unofficial name.
The Nibelungenviertel is becoming gentrified and it is easy to see why. With higher poverty rates, and a low density of bars and restaurants, you’d think property values would be low, but cheaper rents also appeal to a creative crowd of students, artists and self-employed business people that bring new ideas, lifestyles and – in the long run – a different flair to the neighbourhood.
A stroll along the tree lined Markgraf-Rüdiger Straße will give you the feel. You will find the über-hip fashion studio of young Viennese designer Julia Cepp and her label mija t. rosa. Her women’s wear is clean-cut and artsy; setting itself apart from seasonal trends, Cepp produces collection after collection of modern classics in her tiny Nibelungen studio.
Down the boulevard on Kriemhildplatz is Buchkontor, a little independent bookshop that opened three years ago, right at the heart of the Grätzl. This cosy corner location has a friendly staff and bright, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves offering a wide selection of literature for all ages and is, oddly enough, still the only bookshop in the 15th District.
"We definitely feel that the Grätzl is changing", says Buchkontor’s Stefanie Jaksch. "Those lovely spacious Jugendstil flats that you can’t get at a comparable price anywhere else in town attract a lot of young families – which is why we had to stock up our children’s book section." And children make a community.
People-watching at Café Kriemhild
Right across the street you will find Restaurant Mader, a family run establishment with a menu that includes all-time-favourites from Leberknödelsuppe (liver dumpling soup) to cordon bleu. Next to Mader, a traditional Viennese Gasthaus Café Kriemhild greets its guests with an unmistakable neon sign. The place has pleasing, down at the heel charm, with an interior design concept one could call "faded glory": cheap dark wood, plastic plants and worn colours on upholstered bar chairs. But the Café that used to cater to elderly chess players seems to feel the changing clientele, now offering free WiFi and serving Aperol Spritzer.
In summer there is no better place in the Nibelungenviertel to engage in the ever-popular sport of people watching. The terrace on the corner of the café offers a perfect view of three different streets that all meet at Burjanplatz, where, in the evenings, football-playing children, dog-walking 20-somethings, beer-drinking workmen and stroller-pushing parents all mingle. Everyday drama at your feet!
On the other side of Burjanplatz is the inconspicuous Christkönigskirche – which doesn’t look much like a church, with its plain white façade and equally plain glass windows. But in this case personality trumps façade, in the form of the very committed pastor Martin Rupprecht, a Roman-Catholic priest known for his love of Islam and his dedication to Christian-Islamic understanding. He is the founder of the Christlich-Islamische-Begenung (Christian-Islamic Encounter), which organises community events and supports inter-religious marriages, a topic that is important to this sleepy part of the 15th District, with the highest immigration rate in Vienna.
As the Nibelungenviertel slowly develops its identity, the residents are discovering theirs. The website www.nibelungenviertel.at is an initial attempt to display this identity via a blog that focuses on life in the neighbourhood. "Small, local networks are very important for community life and that’s what we want to focus on," explains blog founder Kerstin Liedtke. The website will go live in autumn, not only as a news site but also as a bulletin board, flea market and forum for discussion.
"We want to connect digitally without losing analogous contact," she says, "…if that makes any sense." Close enough. And for some reason, it seems to fit perfectly in the in-between, transition world of the Nibelungenviertel.
Kultur Café Kriemhild:
(01) 985 51 30
Buchkontor: Kriemhildplatz 1
mija t. rosa:
Christkönigkirche: Vogelweidplatz 7
(01) 982 22 41
Restaurant Mader: Markgraf-Rüdiger-Straße 12, (01) 982 33 50
Schutzhaus Zukunft: Verl. Guntherstraße (01) 982 01 27