This was my third time visiting Vienna and I love it more and more each time. I have seen most of the city’s important sites, and yet I still feel like there is so much I have yet to see. One day I will have to come back and spend an entire week there, but this time around I was still able to check a few things off my list. I spent my time doing four things I had never done in Vienna: I rode the Riesenrad (Vienna’s giant ferris wheel), I walked around the massive Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery), I went inside the Austrian National Library, and I saw a performance of Swan Lake at the Vienna State Opera.
This ferris wheel, the name of which is literally “Vienna Giant Wheel,” is located in Prater, an amusement park in Vienna, and was built in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I. The wheel stands 212 feet (64.75 meters) high and at the top you can see a marvelous view of the city. When it was constructed there were two taller ferris wheels in existence, one in the United States and one in England, and then later a taller one in France was built. However, all three of these taller wheels were demolished, so from 1920 until 1985 the Wiener Riesenrad was the tallest ferris wheel in the world. In 1916 a permit for the Riesenrad’s demolition was issued, but it survived because there were not enough funds to destroy it.
Today, the Wiener Riesenrad is one of Vienna’s most famous attractions and is considered an important symbol of the city. Some of its fame comes from its appearance in Orson Welles’ film The Third Man, in which the Riesenrad is the setting for the film’s most famous scene. But mostly, it is popular because it is the best place to get a high-up view of Vienna. When I came to Vienna two years ago I had decided against paying 10 euros to ride the Riesenrad, but I am glad I did it this time around and found the experience to be worth the price. The views were fantastic and waiting in line didn’t take too long. The cars on the wheel are large and each can hold about 15 people, and there are windows on all sides. Also, it is possible to have dinner on the ferris wheel. I saw a car set up for a dinner for six, and the car in front of us was set up for a dinner for two. The couple got on right before us, and after one turn of the wheel, instead of getting off they received their dinner from the staff.
The Vienna Central Cemetery is massive. My roommate had told me so, and I still balked at its size compared to the rest of Vienna on the map. It is half the size of the entire city of Zürich, Switzerland, which has inspired a joke that the cemetery is “half the size of Zürich, but twice as much fun.” Unsurprisingly, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the world, having the most graves of any cemetery in Europe, and a dead population twice that of Vienna’s current population (1.9 million). Though it has “central” in its name, the cemetery is actually on the outskirts of the city, and was far outside the borders of Vienna when it was opened in 1874. It was established because industrialization was causing population booms in Europe, and as Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, city leaders predicted that the population of the city would grow to 4 million by the end of the 1900s. This didn’t happen because the empire collapsed in 1918, but now they have lots of space to bury present and future inhabitants.
The cemetery was controversial when it was established because it is interdenominational, having sections devoted to Jewish, Muslim, and Russian Orthodox inhabitants, and many conservatives in the mainly-Catholic Austria were resistant to the idea of Catholics being buried on the same grounds as those of other religions. However, it stayed interdenominational, and holds different monuments to the different religions of those buried there. Today, there is now even a Buddhist section, which became Europe’s first Buddhist cemetery, and a section dedicated to Mormons.
Many famous people are buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery. The church in the center is called the Dr. Karl Lueger Memorial Church, as it holds the crypt of the former mayor of Vienna. Perhaps most famous person who rests here eternally is Beethoven, though he is not the only famous composer buried in the cemetery. Beethoven’s grave is in a small section of graves of famous composers, including Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, and Johann Strauss II. At the center of this section is a monument to Mozart, though he is not buried here but in another cemetery in Vienna. Antonio Salieri is also buried in the Central Cemetery, though unfortunately I did not see his grave. Other famous burials include the author Arthur Schnitzler and the Rothschild family. There is also a section dedicated to Russian soldiers who fought in WWII, and a memorial for those who resisted the Nazi regime and were executed because of their actions
Dr. Karl Lueger Memorial Church
Monument to Mozart
Memorial for Victims of the Nazis
Fountain in a park within the cemetery
Austrian National Library
I had heard that the Austrian National Library was one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, so of course I wanted to visit it. But, like the Riesenrad, when I came to Vienna two years ago I decided against paying an entrance fee to go inside. This time, though, I paid the fee, and once again found the experience to be worth the price (which for non-students is 7 euros, but the cashier gave me a student ticket at 4.50 euros). The library is very large and much of it is public, but it was the Prunksaal that requires a fee, which is the central part of the library and the most magnificent.
The Austrian National Library is located in Hofburg Palace, the formal imperial palace in the center of Vienna. The Prunksaal wing was completed in 1723. It is divided into two sides symbolizing war and peace, and the frescoes on the walls and ceiling reflect this theme, while also honoring the Habsburgs and their lands. The Prunksaal also contains several marble statues of the Habsburg emperors, and Charles the VI has the honorable spot in the center of the hall. When I was in the Prunksaal there was an exhibit on Maria Theresia, Austria’s favorite monarch, which consisted of 20+ placards with information about her life, reign, and influence.
The library also contains three museums: a Papyrus Museum, Globe Museum, and an Esperanto Museum, all of which I think would be fascinating but unfortunately I did not have time to see them. There is a single combination ticket for all three museums that only costs 4 euros.
Vienna State Opera
This is the main reason I came back to Vienna, so I could see a performance of Swan Lake. I went to a few local ballet performances when I was younger, of The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, and I loved watching the performances. I still do, even though I quit ballet lessons when I was six after only three years. I wanted to see Swan Lake because I love its music. Actually, the music for all three of the ballets I have mentioned was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a 19th century Russian composer, who also happens to be my favorite composer (and not just because of Swan Lake, though obviously that plays a large part).
I could not gush enough about the performance, so I will just say that it was an amazing experience to get to see the ballet performed on stage with the music played by an orchestra. But part of what made the experience so wonderful was being able to be inside the Vienna State Opera, which is a classic Neo-Renaissance Opera House. Construction of it was finished in 1869, and since then it has been the main venue for important cultural performances in Vienna like ballets and operas, and is today one of the busiest opera houses in the world. Unfortunately much of it was destroyed during WWII and had to be reconstructed, but some important parts miraculously remained intact, and nowadays is still beautiful.
A few extras: The Gasometers and Hofburg Palace
I have added a few extra pictures from my latest trip to Vienna. Walking around the center of Vienna I passed by Hofburg Palace a few times, of which I can never resist taking pictures. But another very interesting structure (or structures) I encountered during my stay were the Gasometers, which are located close to where I stayed. The gasometers are four massive former gas tanks that were built in the late 1890s that stored gas until 1984. Nowadays they are protected historic landmarks and contain apartments, offices, shopping, and a concert venue. All four are all connected by bridges. It’s hard for me to fathom that I had never heard anything about the Gasometers despite how interesting they are. In many other cities they might be a main attraction, but because there’s so much in Vienna, they are not as well-known to tourists. I guess that just goes to show how amazing Vienna is and how much it has to offer to tourists and residents alike.