Last month the underground system in Vienna celebrated its 40th birthday. This makes it younger than me although I don’t smell as much. The first stretch of this new facility ran from Karlsplatz to Reumannplatz. With it heralded a new way to traverse the number one city because, up until then, most Wieners had still got around on pre-war bicycles.
It was always my belief, a belief orchestrated by my comprehensive scholarship of urban planning and renewal, that the installation of a fast means of subterranean transport was a reliable harbinger of economic and social development. Put another way, the proximity of better public transport usually changes the desirability of a certain locale and very quickly a part of the city becomes sought-after. And when this happens several changes take place. First, the demographic mix will shift causing the displacement of existing classes by those lured – initially – by cheaper property with potential (usually the middle classes enticed by public transport that isn’t a bus). Second, this will trigger a demand for better services and shops and before you know it, you have an organic baker, a bike store doubling as a café and an artisan vegan ice-cream seller. And third, there is an encroaching plague of smugness.
In the last decade or so, Vienna has seen many examples of this. The westerly extension of the U3 suddenly made the 16th district of Ottakring more attractive. Or the U2 over the Danube channel into the 2nd district (majorly hip with flat prices to follow). And even my good old friend the new U1 to Oberlaa has evidently sent land and property prices rocketing. And the demand for flats is clear – go and have a look at the rate of building currently going on (and then have a Puntigamer Panther in the Dorfwirt).
So what happened with the first stretch from Karlsplatz to Reumannplatz in the last forty years? Admittedly the first part which passes under the 4th district was always high on the list of people wanting an Altbau, a lift with a seat and a metal-grilled door and an address to impress. But for so long the 10th district beyond the old Südbanhof remained such an economic backwater. Renowned for its immigrant and working class inhabitants, its devotion to affordability and general state of malaise (all falsehoods expedited by people who had never visited there).
Even forty years later it is just beginning to catch up as the vast developments snake out from the rebuilt Main Station reconfiguring the demographic with expensive flats and the bohemian bourgeoisie on the march. But again, given its prized underground connection, why didn’t this corner of Vienna and the drab Favoritenstrasse witness urban regeneration sooner? Indeed, go beyond the Columbusplatz today (a short hop from the station) and anyone would think the U-Bahn had had no effect since its opening.
This all might change in the years to come, of course, as the ripple effect of the Sonnewendviertel – the spanking new residential development which came as part of the redevelopment of the Hauptbanhof – really cements itself in the consciousness of the residents of Favouriten and beyond. More so when the social and economic impact of newest part of the U1 from Reumannplatz to Oberlaa starts to make a difference (assuming it does make a difference). But until then, and as a counterpart to last year’s instalment of the five newest stations, let us celebrate the ruby wedding of Vienna’s underground system with a look at the original five.
Karlsplatz, named after Emperor Karl IV (or to his friends, Franz Joseph Wenzel Balthasar Johann Anton Ignaz) is a big, sprawling station with three intersecting underground lines and multiple exits to avoid ticket inspections. It is here that you can gain access to the Opera, the Musikverein (New Year’s Concert) the Karlskiche, the Secession (Klimt frieze) and Naschmarkt. It used to be a haven for drugs but this has largely disappeared after the extensive refit a few years ago and a beefed up police presence. Most famous café nearby is the outrageously expensive Café Museum (5 Euro and more for some coffee and frothy milk) but the best bar is Heuer in the middle. Downstairs there is a cool hat shop (Collins) if you are after the Third Man look. Alternatively, the public toilets near the Opera exit play Strauss on a never ending loop which will, after more than two visits, put you off the waltz forever. This is in spite of it being named one of the “most beautiful toilet facilities in the world” by the suspiciously made up travel portal “Virtual Tourist”. Fun fact: Karsplatz has the most escalators (26) on the Vienna network.)
One of those stations in Vienna – similar to Herrengasse or Stubentor – where very few people get on or off. This is an indication that above you is wealth. Up top we find Vienna’s most famous private school, the Theresianum, and the architecturally impressive looking Diplomatic Academy (or Vienna School of International Studies). It is also the best underground station for Mozartplatz, a place which always reminds me of one of my favourite tourist stories about Vienna, as told to me by my late brother-in-law. Sitting in the Italian restaurant in the square one day, some tourists walk in and ask to anyone listening, “Excuse me, can you tell us where Mozart was born?” (Small pause). “Er, Salzburg.”
Südtirolerplatz – Hauptbanhof
More or less on the border of the tenth district where the demographic traditionally took a dive, nowadays the station and surrounding buildings are gleaming examples of progress and investment. Reports are, however, that the retail units in the shopping centre of the station are suffering from a distinct lack of wallets. Nevertheless, if you want evidence of yuppiedom in Vienna, then look no further. It is close to the magnificent Belvedere Palace (property developers make every mention of this) and it is not far from the “Arsenal”. Here you will find a military museum full of real Nazis uniforms, a Willis jeep from the four-allied partition of post-war Vienna and the car in which Archduke Ferdinand was shot in Sarajevo in 1914. I would like to recommend somewhere for an honest pint but a couple of years ago I wandered round with a friend for about half an hour and, honestly, it was a desert. However, the Arsenalstuben might offer respite.
Johannes Kepler was a German mathematician and astronomer best known for his ideas of planetary motion. His link to Austria was that he taught mathematics in Graz and Linz. As an influential thinker in the “historical development of astronomy and natural philosophy” he would no doubt be pleased to be named after a U-Bahn station and public space in Vienna’s swanky 10th district. Arriving here you can alight for the – still – traditional Viktor-Adler market, named after the founder of Austria’s Social Democratic Party (the SPÖ). Until he got into power, it was also the favored location of Heinz Christian Strache (current FPÖ vice-chancellor of Austria) for his public espousals of inclusive politics and a hug and kiss for migrants. Fortunately, there is Sezai, the sister outlet of Naschmarkt’s famous fish trader/restaurant, Umar, although this might mean that market will soon be selling tourist tat, wasabi nuts and little bags of spices which nobody ever buys (but look adorable on Instagram). Nearby is also the Domenig House designed by Graz architect, Günter Domenig. Built originally as the headquarters for the Zentralsparkasse (Central Savings Bank) it is now simply the Domenig Gallery. But if you are looking for a bit of post-modernist shimmer amongst the post-war strip that makes up for most of the rest of Favoritenstrasse, then you are in for a treat. A Krugerl on the market itself is a must (try Rudy’s Imbiss) but the Z-Café on the ground floor of the Domenig is a veritable anthropologists dream.
Until September 2017, this was the final station of the “Bronx connection”. It is named after Jakob Reumann the first social democratic mayor of Vienna from 1919 to 1923. It is home to Vienna’s most famous ice-cream parlor (Tichy), the stately Amaliaenbad and arguably the most diverse mix of nationalities and languages anywhere in Vienna. It is still a bit rundown although I do my best to elevate the tone as I pass through it most days on my way home. Having said the project Reumannplatz Neu is up and running so it won’t be too long before we get the first cupcake shop or and a Bugaboo boutique. Two minutes walk from this former end station is the highly rated Austrian Beisl Meixner (up for sale apparently) but if you fancy a quick snifter and cheaper food your best bet is Zum Alten Beisl on the Rotenhofgasse (same street as Tichy). For those of you seeking a more international feel, try Balkan Express (Davidgasse) or if you are really desperate for a toilet, the Tschocherl to define all Tschocherls, awaits you in the form of Café Grömer (Ettenreichgasse, just up from the taxi stand).
© 2018 RJ Barratt