The Prater in Vienna

I have been fortunate to have five children. Apart from all other happiness, that this implies, it is only logical that I have come to know quite a lot of different amusement parks. To me, being from Vienna, it was a big surprise that one is required to pay just to get close to the attractions. It has probably not been any problem for my children, but I for one couldn't help sadly thinking of the Prater - where the area is not fenced, where admittance is free and where you can stroll among the amusements whenever you want to and without being robbed already at the entrance.
The area of the Prater really is much more than only the amusement park. It covers a couple of square-miles and was used as hunting grounds by the Emperors, until Joseph II, the son of Maria Theresia, gave the Prater to the people, about two centuries ago. It was only then that the amusement park, the name of which actually is "Wurstelprater", started to grow. The word "Wurstel" derives from "Hanswurst", a kind of tragic-comic harlequin-figure. And, true enough, it is such a harlequin, who has the patronage of the amusement center. He can be seen standing on one of the open squares and his name is Calafatti.

Calafatti, watching over his domain

The Riesenrad - landmark of the Prater
But before you even get close to him your attention will be attracted by the Riesenrad, the giant wheel, which has become a landmark of the Prater. Everyone of my children and probably every child in Vienna, knows on which side to sit in the Schnellbahn, to catch a glimpse of the Riesenrad, when the train passes by.
A peak of exitement is though, if you get off the train at the station of Praterstern, which so cruelly has been renamed in recent years - and now is called a simple Wien Nord. I suppose that the global market is better served by this neutral description of position, so who cares about the joy of children's hearts, when naming places?
However, if you get off the train there and leave the station, your eyes immediately catch the sight of the impressing Riesenrad, which was built in the last years of the 19th century. It has a height of 65 meters and the carriages are century-old tramwaycarriages. Once there were twice as many carriages on the Riesenrad, but that was before World War II.
The war didn't bother about entertainments either, so even the Riesenrad was burnt down. Afterwards, when reconstructed, every second place was left empty for security reasons.
Taking a ride with the Riesenrad isn't one of the most breath-taking adventures, you are to go round only once during a ride of 10 minutes - but you get a marvellous view from the top over the Prater-area and part of the city. After having come down again, the real fun starts. There are roller-coasters, haunted palaces, merry-go-rounds, among shooting alleys, games of fortune and restaurants. And much more.
Once again my own memories take over. There is the car-track, where my friend and I used to work, driving the cars aside, when people left them anywhere after driving them. We did it without pay, because our reward was picking up the coins, that had fallen out of the pockets at a hard crash. (Experienced enough, I make sure to keep my money in a safe place, when I am there today.) These memories are not among the brighter ones from my growing-up period, but we did it with the owner's quiet consent and anyhow, we needed the money to buy some cigarettes now and then.

There are entertainments for all ages

You canít find anything better...
Another form of money-raising were the flippers. There were some, on which we became well-experienced and had little trouble to get them up to six or seven free-plays, which we then sold for half the price. No wonder, that I still compete quite well on these machines. There is no doubt, however, that a amusement park not necessarily has a good influence on the character of a teenager, given that he is there alone and spends a lot of time there...
But there are other memories as well. Throughout the years there are plenty of those paper-roses, that I have shot for one of my more or less steady-going female acquaintances. The Prater is naturally a good growing-ground for romance as well, especially during the later hours of the day, when the families with their children already have left for home.
Those dark, warm summer-nights after a really hot day are probably what I miss most, since I left for Scandinavia. Not really because of the romance, which sprouts under the midnight-sun as well as anywhere else. But to be able to sit outside, wearing only a shirt, in a place where they serve a good meal and a cold beer, where you can think about and feel the pleasures of life - that goes far out.
It is a tradition, that I have kept during decades, to spend the last evening in Vienna in the Prater. Of course this is partly because of the children, but also for myself a visit in Vienna would not be complete, if we wouldn't finish it in the Schweizerhaus in the Prater. Their grilled pork-legs with mustard and horse radish beats easily the most exquisite dishes of well-established restaurants - not to talk about the beer. I have drunk quite a lot of beer in my life and in very many places - the best one I know of is served there.
At those visits it often tends to become rather late and the final round through the amusement park, when the lights are glittering and twinkling and paint the different entertainments with their colours, is another climax for the children. At this time they usually are quite tired, but suddenly they have a new expression in their shining eyes, they get fascinated of this new and unknown world. The suggestive music, typical for the Prater and the background-noise from the people around, adds to their exitement. It happens that the children don't want to ride any more, it is quite enough to experience this wonder passively.
And could there be anything else more worth to remember, as a father, than the words of my first-born, when at an age of nine or ten years, he said to me on our way home: "You know, daddy, this was the best day in all my life."

The final view of the visit

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18.7.2001 by