Vienna 6., Mariahilfer Strasse

Most people, who arrive in Vienna by train, arrive at the Westbahnhof. (This will be changed in a couple of years, as Vienna is building a central station.) Seen from Vienna, Austria extends mostly westwards, but even the connections to foreign countries, to Germany, France, Belgium, Switzerland and as far as Spain, leave from here. Today only a few people know, that the Western Railway, which was opened in 1858, was called Empress Elisabeth Western Railway. In the basement of the station there is still a statue of "Sisi" - as a memory of this. The Emperor himself had also a railway-line named after him - that is still today called Franz Josephs-Bahn, but is is not important at all for foreign connections.

Back to the Westbahnhof. In our days most people won't leave the station-building, because they will continue by city-train or underground. The city-trains connect Vienna with the surrounding suburbs and cities, attending them as a shuttle service - but they also go straight through the city of Vienna and thus represent a big relief in peak time.

The lines of the Underground - U3 and U6 - are as well integrated in the lower parts of the station building.
But should you leave on foot in the direction of the city center, you'll find yourself on the Europaplatz, which is crossed by the Mariahilfer Strasse. In the other direction it leads until the castle alley of the Castle of Schönbrunn (tram 58), but leading downtown the Mariahilfer Strasse is a traditional shopping street. In the past it was only outdone by the Kärntner Strasse, today it has a lot of competition in many other districs, not at least due to the newer shopping centers.


But before we start walking, we have a quick cup of coffee. We get that in the Café Westend, right on the corner of the Europaplatz. There will be lots of pavement cafés later, but the Westend is at least as traditional as the Mariahilfer Strasse itself. The building and the café have known better days - you are supposed to benevolently overlook a possible hole in the leather sofa - but on the other hand you are still served by waiters in tailcoats and the furniture is as well from the "good old times".

The Mariahilfer Strasse got its name in 1862, called after the sixth district in Vienna, which is called - sic! - Mariahilf. But the truth is, that i forms the border between the sixth and seventh district. The original village was founded in the 17 th century and got the name Mariahilf after a statue of the Virgin.
The length of the street from the Western station to the Ring around the city center is about two kilometers, but it slopes downwards in our direction. The look of the street has changed a lot during the latest decades. Earlier there were trams passing, together with the rest of the traffic, later all of it became a pedestrian area and today it is something in between - there are rather wide pavements, but cars may drive on the street.

In the second half of the 19th century large stores started to establish themselves in the street. Herzmansky and Palmers probably only are known to the elder half of the population, but Gerngross and Stafa still exist today, even if they now mostly are hosting boutiques and specialised shops. August Herzmansky and his partner and later competitor Alfred Gerngross were the first to build their stores here.

Herzmansky was at that time (1897) the biggest shop in the entire Habsburgian Empire, that was specialised in textiles. Today international fashion shops, like Esprit or H&M, crowd together among colossal electronic stores and small shops for stamp collectors or tobacco shops, which somehow have managed to survive among the giants.

Survived has also the Spatzennest, to which I have a personal relation. It was, as long ago as fifty years, "my" Kindergarten. But still much older is - on the other side of the street - the Mariahilfer church, in which one can see the statue, giving the name to street and district. In front of the church you find a monument of the famous composer Joseph Haydn, holding a sheet of music in his hands, a work by Heinrich Natter.

The side streets to the right descend rather steeply here, down to the Naschmarkt and the bed of the Vienna river, which though is covered and flowing underground in our days. Many of the streets are so steep, that they only can be made walkable by the use of stairs. It is worth to mention, that the "Fillgrader staircase" in 2004 was elected as the forth most beautiful staircase in Europe.

"Is Vienna different", as the city's own slogan tells? Yes, maybe, because where else can you find a blend of old Viennese cafés, a supermodern, four stories high bookshop, together with the house number 45, where Ferdinand Raimund was born in 1790, and finally a modern house with a glass front and a giant mosaic, that we just have passed? And all that together within a very compact area ...

Last not least are the Museum quarters, situated at the end of the Mariahilfer Strasse, also a very good example for this. As a continuation from the two big museums at the Ring, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Fine Art, there were the former imperial stables. The outer parts of the old buildings, in baroque style, were kept, but in the inner yard space was made for two new, highly modern museums - and created in this way one of the ten biggest cultural areas in the world. Apart from that there are locations for festivals, artist's studios, assembly halls for lectures, a dancing area and even bars and cafés - the latter ones not being very traditional, but which fulfill the needs of a modern big city - in the middle of the old buildings, dating from 1725.

Bernhard Kauntz, Wolvertem 2011

Back to or to the of

19.11.2011 by