I still haven’t quite made up your mind yet whether I hate dogs or just their owners. I realise such animosity is problematic for the simple reason that my best friend in Austria has a poodle. But equally I know it is not the fault of a neglected dog that an ill-equipped owner cannot take simple steps to ensure that the welfare of their pet is paramount. This and making certain that their bundle of fur does not impinge on the right of other people to enjoy their home and surroundings without feeling they live in a Lassie movie with a high body count.
On the other hand, I know some pooch owners are superbly endowed with the social and cognitive skills to ensure both doggy welfare and a wider adherence to the sacred values of Vienna (whinging, moaning and complaining). I can be certain because I have seen them. Walking their dogs. Exercising their dogs. Picking up their shit. Keeping them on a lead anywhere where trouble might flare. Ensuring they stay quiet in public transport or cafes or restaurants. In short, taking responsibility for their family pet in a way which enhances the greater good. (Spookily this also sounds like I could be talking about children.) What I am trying to say is there are some good folk out there and dog ownership is not necessarily predicated on being a societal pain in zee arse.
But assuming you want to avoid the egregious presence of our four-legged friends, even the good ones, where in the city should you venture outdoors? Here are five of the best, sponsored by Mr Frisky, Vienna’s leading catfood brand.
The Altes AKH (Old General Hospital) in Vienna’s swanky 9th district is nowadays part of the University Of Vienna campus. Within the main part is a large square enclosed by a ring of buildings dedicated to academia and student-based idleness. It is bordered to the east by the Otto Wagner Park, overlooked by the imposing Austrian National Bank, to the south by the Alserstrasse, and to the west by the aptly named Spitalgasse, home of the Pie Factory. (Spital is hospital in German. This has nothing to do with pies unless you eat too many of them.) Walking through one of the arched entrances, you are transmuted into an oasis of trees, gravely pathways and calm. Unless it is Christmas and the ever burgeoning Advent industry is in town. That said, it is a favourite Christmas market with families due to its sheltered space and more low-key approach than the brasher Rathaus and Karlskirche. There is a fair sprinkling of half-decent restaurants including the Stiegl Ambulanz with a beer garden as good as anywhere in Vienna. And most importantly, dogs are forbidden.
Tucked away in a distant corner of the fashionable 10th district, far beyond the central hub of Reumannplatz, near to the training ground of Austria Wien football club, is the Laarwald. A forty-acre wood under the protection of the Vienna Forestry Commission and completely off-limits to dogs and their faeces. There is a clutch of serene trails framed by copious species of trees and other floral and fauna which are probably essential to the future of mankind. The impressive southside vista and tranquillity is only marginally spoilt by the whining roar of aircraft as the Laarwald lies directly beneath the final approach to Vienna’s airport. When bored with walking and the suffocating reaches of nature, you can decamp to the adjacent Bömische Prater, the smaller fairground sibling to the more famous Wusterlprater in the 2nd district. Built a hundred years ago or more to provide leisure for Bohemian workers shipped in to work in the former Wienerberg brick factories, it is now so kitsch and retro it deserves UNESCO recognition (and a bit of paint).
Behind the humongous Hofburg in the first district – essentially the back garden of the Habsburgs back in the day – is the English inspired Burgarten. It is a place of lawns, flower beds and majestic old trees, the perfect park to park your arse on one of its many benches and meditate on what it means to be a modern Wiener. The view to the former imperial palace should keep you busy (and there is also a Mozart statue) but you may be distracted from your cheerful confidence by crap jugglers, the odd beggar with a walking stick (miraculously cured as they run for the tram) and suspiciously happy looking families having a picnic. But not to worry, sanctuary is provided by a beer in the Palmenhaus Cafe, although the concentration of expensive Bugaboo prams might cause you to have second.
If I were emperor of a huge middle-European kingdom, then I would be hanging out at the baroque palace of Schönbrunn. The gardens themselves (the Schlosspark) are also a bit special, more so that dogs are prohibited. Take a saunter round the grounds, chase squirrels, walk up the hill to the Gloriette, get lost in a maze or better visit the world’s oldest zoo and observe some real animals. Inside you will find the “big ten”, what the zoo fraternity refer to as “charismatic mega fauna”. Included are some big cats which you can dream of adopting and taking home to eat all the dogs on your street. There are several feeding stations in the park itself but my tip is to head just outside, through the west gate, opposite the Hietzing underground station and to the best Beisl in the 14th district: Zum Blauen Esel (open evenings only).
Head over to the 13th district with the other 500 hundred thousand yearly visitors and escape the canine terror in the 24 million square metre nature reserve/park – and former imperial hunting playground – of Lainzer Tiergarten. The area is run by the MA 49 Forstamt und Landwirtschaftsbetrieb der Stadt Wien (Forest and Land Management) and it is home to real wild animals – most notably boars, different types of deer and something called mouflons. But this is the reason for the ban of dogs although it would be funny to see what would happen if one of them was stupid enough to wind up a boar. There are a couple of places to rest your weary feet but the best bet is in Café Restaurant Labstelle in the historical and lavish Hermesvilla. Famous as the residence of Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) after it was commissioned by her husband (and emperor) Franz Joseph in an attempt to get her to stay more in Vienna. In the words of their website “No other place in Vienna can offer such a combination of art, culture and the enjoyment of nature” and of course peace from man’s best friend.
To find out five of the best to show off your dog skills click here
© RJ Barratt 2015