Pratercottage – Secret Suburb Downtown

On The Town | Binu Starnegg | May 2013

On a thin strip of land, sandwiched between the Prater greenery and the Danube Canal, is a unique neighbourhood, unknown, even to many Viennese. In the late 19th century, well-heeled citizens built free-standing English-style "Cottages" (Kottedsch, in Wienerisch), in contrast to the hefty Gründerzeit apartment buildings in the rest of town. To this day the "Pratercottage" remains an unlikely oasis of calm within the busy city.

But this isn’t Surrey – no accurate Edwardian cottages so much as approximations imagined by fin-de-siècle Viennese: Miniature versions of classic Viennese architecture, gothic revival, Jugendstil and Art-Deco villas sit aside odd bits of Bauhaus. Needless to say, such a prestigious hood attracted notable tenants: Egon Schiele had his first studio on Kurzbauergasse, but left due to high rent.

On Böcklinstraße, you’ll find former homes of actor Peter Lorre and Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, as well as the secret Vienna headquarters of Operation Walküre, Colonel Stauffenberg’s plot to overthrow the Third Reich. Renowned Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal also owned property here in the ‘60s, a few blocks away from Eichmann, a man he helped capture.

Public leisure

More famous "cottage" Viertel are in the 18th and 19th Districts and in the 13th District of Hietzing, but none so close to the city centre. The Grätzl’s undeniable draw is the gargantuan Prater Park, a former imperial hunting ground that has been Vienna’s six-square-km playground ever since Emperor Josef II opened it to the public in 1776.

Recreation dominates life in the Pratercottage. At the end of Wittelsbachstraße you’ll find the Jesuitenwiese, a large meadow popular for sunbathing, soccer, Frisbee, slack-lining and beach volleyball (with a free sand court – first come, first served). It’s particularly popular with young families, and boasts Vienna’s largest children’s playground. In wintertime, the small hill with a giant slide turns into a sledding slope, complete with free rentals for kids and snow machines in case Mother Nature misses her cue.

The Jesuitenwiese’s most prominent event is in late summer, where the Austrian Communist party throws their 3-day Volksstimmenfest. It’s free and everybody’s welcome. Just beyond it is Vienna’s largest dog zone, where the canines can frolic unleashed and un-muzzled.

Sports and more

Down the Rotundenallee, you arrive at the Hauptallee, the Prater’s central avenue, where walkers, joggers, cyclists, and horseback riders pass in perpetual parade under the chestnut trees. There you are promptly confronted with die Qual der Wahl: the sweet torment of choice.

To your right is the trabrennbahn krieau, a venerable old harness racing track where punters have been gambling on the trotters and pacers since 1878. Its signs of wear only add to the charm that attracts sizable crowds on racing Sundays. Another staple is the ever-popular stadionbad. While far from luxurious, it is certainly the largest inner-city pool, sporting a wave pool, which is packed in hot weather.

Heading left you find brunswick bowling, with American-style alleys; a pool-hall-cum-sports-bar that is surprisingly serene in spite of the crashing of pins and the crack of a cue ball. Across the street are the sports facilities, including the askö playing fields, where joining a sports Verein gives you access to one of the few publicly accessible baseball and softball diamonds in Vienna.

At the fair 

When you’ve worked up an appetite, head next door to the estancia santa cruz, a pan-Latin American cantina with a delightfully cheesy atmosphere, hispanophone staff and probably the best value quesadillas in town (4 for €5.90).

Heading into the amusement park you find the famed schweizerhaus, a vast leafy garden restaurant whose signature Stelze (a ham hock roasted until the skin is crispy) is a tourist attraction in it’s own right. Here, portions are hearty and meat-heavy, leaving vegetarians nibbling on a Pommes or Langos, a deep fried potato pancake, slathered in garlic.

At republik kugelmugel you cannot buy anything, take a ride or even enter: it is a self-proclaimed sovereign micro-nation, boasting over 600 citizens worldwide and issuing its own stamps. A spherical building is surrounded by barbed wire and its own border crossing. It is the brainchild of eccentric Austrian artist Edwin Lipburger. It began as an art project and a way to evade property tax (due to the house’s spherical shape, it only touches the earth on a miniscule point, not taking up any tax-worthy space).

The republic’s diplomatic relations with Vienna, however, are very frosty as the municipal government – which had initially invited Kugelmugel to the Prater – reneged on its agreement to provide it with utilities, leading to closed borders and Austria’s most bizarre courtroom battle. Large signs on Kugelmugel territory indicate its current legal status.

Alternately, doubling back towards Pratercottage brings you to another culinary delight: the jolly ox, situated right across from the Danube International School; a very rustic steakhouse and a beef lover’s dream come true.

The peace and quiet of suburban life with countless outdoor activities on your doorstep and an amusement park next door – yet still within walking distance of the Ring? If location is king, Pratercottage is the undisputed ruler.

Other articles from this issue