Weißgerberviertel: Strolling Through the Centuries

Behind the façades of this quiet district lie tales of witches, gladiators, a nature-bound architect and Toilet of Modern Art

Top Stories | Nicholas K. Smith | December 2012 / January 2013

Urban waterfronts are hard to find in Vienna. The Kaisermühlen section of the 22nd District immediately springs to mind, but it’s the downtown Weißgerberviertel that boasts a richer (even violent) history, hundreds of years worth of buildings and pockets of interesting storefronts that just can’t be found in the outer districts.

The No. 1 tram winds its way past most of the sights and the elevated, minute-long segment of the S-Bahn between the Wien Mitte and Praterstern stations bisects the neighbourhood. But Weißgerberviertel should be enjoyed on foot; a walking district if there ever was one.


A walk of ages

Lopped off from the rest of the massive 3rd District by Marxergasse, and surrounded on the other sides by the Wien River and the Danube Canal, Weißgerber is as architecturally diverse as any area you’re likely to find in the city, and perfect for a midday saunter for those with a spare hour on their hands.

A good starting point is the Urania. While the observatory-cum-movie-theatre technically lies in the inner city, it presents the walker with two paths: Along the canal’s right bank or through the heart of the district. Take the canal and you can see what might be the oldest structure in the Weißgerberviertel: a monument dedicated to the Holy Trinity dating from 1683. Farther down are columns of a different sort: The more colourful and bulbous of the Friedensreich Hundertwasser-designed Weißgerber Lände.

Completed in 1873, St. Othmar’s church is the most dominant building in the skyline, sitting smack in the middle of Weißgerber. The church was badly bombed during WWII and it’s easy to pick out the differently coloured bricks used in its renovation. Behind the church lies the Kolonitzplatz playground and elementary school, both of which come alive in the late afternoon hours.

Most people coming to the area are less interested in the church than in the creations of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Whether you see him as an expressionist poobah or a low-rent Gaudi, Hundertwasser’s architecture is clearly the main tourist draw in Weißgerber, boasting three of his five total Vienna projects. The colourful Hundertwasserhaus is certainly a hit with kids, who enjoy running around the rim of a nearby fountain or ramping themselves off the cobblestone mounds. His famed museum, Kunst Haus Wien is also nearby.


Massacres and toilets

Dig deep enough in any area of the city and you’ll uncover a dark past. The Weißgerber’s comes in the form of the execution grounds near present-day Rotundenbrücke and the Hetztheater. The Brücke was home to a mass burning of Jews in the 15th century as well as Vienna’s only witch execution. The Theater, located at present-day Hetzgasse 2, was a wooden, three-tiered arena where lions, tigers, bears and more were pitted against each other in gladiatorial combat. The Hetztheater burned down in 1796, but its memory lives on in the Viennese phrase Des woar a Hetz! (That was fun!) Neither of these places today bears any mention of their pasts. Walking past Hetzgasse 2, it’s just another building and the most prominent structure at the former execution grounds is a tram stop.

Nowadays the offbeat rubs shoulders with the more straitlaced Biedermeier buildings of Weißgerber. The Museum of Art Fakes (Fälschermuseum) is here as is the Toilet of Modern Art, which features a Hundertwasser-ified commode, itself an anachronism as the architect advocated compostable toilets, going so far as to publish a how-to on the subject titled The Holy Shit.

Hit-and-run tourists will miss the hidden gems of the area. In various store windows you can see displays of hundreds of toy soldiers, fat suits hanging inside a costume shop, a manufacturer of Schlaginstrumente, or an old-time conjurer’s paradise, Vienna Magic. Beginning at Strandbar Hermann (lively in the summer, dead all other times of the year) the canal path transitions form the centre’s graffiti-decorated walls into the greener area of the lower canal.


Haute- and Kalb cuisine

No walk is complete without a stop for a snack. You can find the typical Viennese fare of Schnitzel and sausages in every corner of Vienna and Weißgerber is no different. Two of note include Gasthaus Wild, situated in a renovated wine house on Radetzkyplatz and Stadtwert, located near the S-Bahn line; both of which offer their own affordable take on Austrian grub. Both these places stand in "locals only" areas, so you’ll be given a respite from the beaten path.

Those looking for more haute cuisine needn’t walk far. Kuchlmasterei is one of those restaurants where food comes plated not in heaping piles but in artful designs. It currently holds a "two fork" rating out of four on Austria’s Falstaff guide.

As with the older areas of Vienna, Weißgerber’s past is just as on display as tiny pockets of the modern write their way into a history hundreds of years old. It’s a neighbourhood like others in the city: Quiet, but far from dead.

Gasthaus Wild

Radetzkyplatz 1, (01) 920 94 77

Kuchlmasterei, Obere Weissgerberlände 6

(01) 712 90 00, www.kuchlmasterei.at

Stadtwirt, Untere Viaduktgasse 45

(01) 713 38 28, www.stadtwirt.at

Sankt Othmar unter den Weißgerbern Kolonitzplatz 1

Kunst Haus Wien

Untere Weißgerberstraße 13


Löwengasse 41-43, (01) 712 04 91, www.kunsthauswien.com

Toilet of Modern Art, Weißgerberlände 52

(01) 204 27 92, www.viennalive.com

Museum of Art Fakes, Löwengasse 28

(01) 715 22 96, www.faelschermuseum.com

Vienna Magic, Marxergasse 7

(01) 713 47 20, www.viennamagic.com

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